Disclosure: I am working on a part-time, short term basis for TransForm on the Oakland Airport Connector campaign. However, the thoughts expressed in my posts on this subject are my own and should not be construed to be those of TransForm.
Yesterday, the Oakland Public Works Committee meeting got off to a rough start for BART and stayed that way throughout the hearing on the Oakland Airport Connector. Chairwoman Nancy Nadel began the hearing by asking BART to respond to the questions that the committee sent to them last month. Tom Dunscombe, project manager for the OAC, stumbled, explaining that he had not prepared a presentation but that he was prepared to answer questions. (A kind of odd thing to say, considering the committee had already sent him the questions to which they wanted answers.) So Molly McArthur, a BART spokesperson who I’d never seen at an OAC meeting, stepped in and read off of the response BART had sent to the committee (a very late response that councilmembers did not see until Monday morning and that did not make it into the public packet).
She read about how great this project is for Oakland, claimed the OAC would provide tons of jobs, and told the councilmembers that it was Oakland’s fault that intermediate stops weren’t being built. She ended by talking about funding sources and by explaining clearly that Oakland is not funding this project, which led her to say, “Oakland does not have a stake in this project.”
I nearly jumped out of my seat to begin debating her on this claim, but instead I just wrote a bunch of exclamation points next to her remark in my notebook. I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised, since I’ve heard this before. Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty (yes, the same one who is now a Democrat) said something very similar at the last ACTIA meeting on this project. But I could not believe that BART would say this to a committee of the Oakland City Council – it is so disrespectful!
The committee wasn’t having it though. As Molly was speaking, the clerk passed out a resolution authored by Councilmembers Nadel and Rebecca Kaplan. The resolution (which you should click through to and read in full) concludes:
RESOLVED: that the Oakland City Council supports an improved connection to the Oakland International Airport, but one that does not economically jeopardize the local or regional transit, and whose fare will attract greater local and regional transit ridership and be it
FURTHER RESOLVED: that the Oakland City Council urges our regional transportation authority (Metropolitan Transportation Commission) to reconsider using the $70 million in federal funding for the current BART OAC project, and instead prioritize funding for local bus system improvements and a more cost effective and environmentally sound airport connector alternative.
After Molly spoke, Councilmembers Kaplan, Nadel, and Desley Brooks explained briefly what they think is wrong with this project, focusing on how the stimulus funds could better be used for BART and AC Transit operations, which would help the agencies avoid some of their service cuts. Brooks had to leave early to get to the Alameda County Supervisors to speak out against the rapid appointment of a District Attorney with no process (a hearing which didn’t go as well) so she moved the resolution, Kaplan seconded, and Brooks registered her yes vote before leaving.
Then the public took to the microphone to speak about this project. Seventeen people spoke against the OAC and for the resolution, including many Oakland residents, BART union members, AC Transit union members, transit advocates, and social justice advocates. The six people speaking in the support of the project mostly represented the building trades.
Pat Kernighan spoke after public comment, saying that she was not entirely decided about the project, but that she was leaning towards opposing it. She brought up four main concerns that she’d like to be addressed before the full council meeting on this issue:
- Whether the time saved over the current AirBART or the proposed BRT justifies this very large expense.
- Would the OAC reduce car travel on roads regionally? (This gets at the ongoing questions about ridership numbers.)
- The likelihood of the BART core system having to subsidize the OAC.
- Whether spending money on the OAC would take money from other transit projects.
The meeting ended with the committee directing that the resolution come before the full council on Tuesday October 6th and asking Oakland Public Works staff to provide a neutral analysis of the OAC.
You might think that BART would have heard the message loud in clear at this meeting and might have been a bit more deferential in their comments to the press. Well you would be wrong. Just after the meeting ended, I saw ABC reporter Cecilia Vega interviewing the BART rep, Molly McArthur in City Hall. This is part of what she had to say:
“We are interested in understanding what they think about it, but at the end of the day they are not a signatory to the project,” said BART project spokeswoman Molly McArthur…
“It’s shovel ready. In one week from today we’re receiving proposals on this project and we are prepared to move forward with construction,” said McArthur.
Translation: Oakland can say all it wants, but in the end, we’re building this project no matter what.
Somehow, I don’t think the Oakland City Council is going to take too kindly to that message, especially since the only reason they waited so long to have a hearing on this subject is because earlier this summer BART asked them to wait:
So clear your evening for October 6th. We need you down at Oakland City Hall for a showdown on the OAC. We need to tell BART that Oakland does have a stake in this project and that it does matter what we think. We need to make it clear why a $550 million project that is sucking money from other transit projects, won’t be much quicker than the current bus, won’t spur economic development, and is not guaranteed to provide jobs to Oaklanders is unacceptable for Oakland.
Previous posts on the Oakland Airport Connector:
- 8/11/09: Sign the Petition: Stop the Oakland Airport Connector – Demand a Better Connector!
- 7/21/09: Transportation Day of Action in Oakland Tomorrow!
- 7/17/09: Oakland Public Works Committee strongly questions Oakland Airport Connector
- 6/29/09: It’s time for the City Council to weigh in on the Oakland Airport Connector
- 6/16/09: Don Perata on Oakland Airport Connector: “Too much money for too little transit”
- 5/29/09: Oakland Airport Connector now in the hands of the Port Commission
- 5/13/09: BART staff coordinate Oakland Airport Connector astroturf campaign
- 5/8/09: Take Action: Turn Oakland Airport Connector into RapidBART
- 4/27/09: Advocates secure temporary win on the Oakland Airport Connector
- 4/22/09: BART’s brilliant plant for financing the Oakland Airport Connector
- 2/23/09: Protect Bay Area Transit: Stop MTC from Wasting Stimulus Funds