UPDATED to reflect correct meeting date, Thursday June 18.
Next Thursday (June 18), the Oakland City Council Rules Committee will hear a request from Councilmember Nancy Nadel to agendize a discussion of the proposed Oakland Airport Connector project. Ms. Nadel will request the connector be discussed at the Public Works Committee, which she chairs, and that the project then be forwarded to the full Council. The project is being sold to the region as a great investment in Oakland, yet Oakland’s elected officials have not had an opportunity to examine it in eight years, and the project has changed substantially since then. Nevertheless, transit advocates expect a fight over whether Oakland should even have a discussion.
A lot is at stake for Oakland. On one hand, project supporters claim that it will improve the Oakland Airport area, attracting more airline passengers and perhaps more businesses to Airport and surrounding area. For the reality-based community, however, there are enormous costs to the City of Oakland to moving ahead with the project. ACTIA funds that would otherwise go to East Oakland bike/ped/transit improvements, such as a mooted transit village at the Coliseum BART station, would be lost. The Port of Oakland will have to use funds that would otherwise go to airport renovation and expansion. Regional stimulus funds would go to this instead of to shoring up AC Transit and BART service. And the City of Oakland will lose the opportunity to improve transit service that would serve the workers and businesses in the Hegenberger Corridor, since the RFP for the Airport Connector does not include any intermediate stops. Many of these problems are a result of changes to the project, and many former supporters are now opponents.
A half-billion-dollar regional investment in Oakland should clearly merit some review by the Oakland City Council. However, transit advocates expect Councilmember Larry Reid, who represents the Airport and is on the Rules Committee, to resist allowing a public hearing on the project. He has claimed several times, most recently this morning at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission committee hearing, that six of the eight councilmembers support the project. If that’s true, why wouldn’t he welcome a public hearing and the opportunity for the Council as a body to weigh in? Supporters of the Oakland Airport Connector, mainly BART and MTC staff, have been resisting any review of alternatives to the project (today MTC Director Steve Heminger said it was “too late” to look at alternatives, even though they’ve been mooted for years). BART staff have repeatedly lied to decision-makers about the specifics of the project, for example telling the Port Commission about local hire and project labor agreements that are mysteriously missing from the RFP, or providing outdated ridership projections to the MTC. A well-placed City Hall source tells me that when Council staff contacted BART about having a public hearing on the project, BART said they would rather meet privately with each councilmember. Clearly Airport Connector supporters don’t think they have the truth on their side.
So, what do you think? If you agree that Oakland’s elected official should weigh in on the project, with public comment, please send an email to the members of the Rules Committee, especially Council President Jane Brunner (addresses below). If you think projects should be decided without the input of relevant elected officials, well, then you are probably quite thrilled with the direction of Bay Area transportation spending, and you don’t need to do anything. Without Oakland’s elected officials having a public hearing, the citizens of Oakland have no formal voice in the process. The Oakland City Council needs to step up to plate and make the decisions they were elected to, on behalf of the city. Please advocate for your chance to have a voice.
Rules Committee (meeting on Thursday, June 18)
Council President Jane Brunner, North Oakland: jbrunner at oaklandnet dot com
Jean Quan, Montclair-Laurel: jquan at oaklandnet dot com
Ignacio de la Fuente, Fruitvale-Glenview-Jingletown: idelafuente at oaklandnet dot com