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Should Oakland weigh in on connector?

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

Posted in actransit, airport, bart, breakingnews, citycouncil, delafuente, janebrunner, jeanquan, larryreid, nadel, oakland, transportation.

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11 Responses

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  1. transitguy says

    Definitely merits discussion, and there are some very substantive issues, although it is very late in the game to be raising these concerns. It would be just like Oakland to shoot itself in the foot at the last possible moment just because it has not focused on making sure this project met its needs before. As long as it seemed infeasible, everyone was willing to ignore it. Now it’s real, and critics are coming out of the woodwork.

    That said, many of the criticisms are valid, including the cost of the system and the lack of intermediate stations.

    But I want to comment on a few of your funding assertions which are misleading or wrong. The ACTIA funds devoted to this project would probably go to other transportation projects in “north county” – ie Berk, Oakland, Emeryville, Alameda – not to East Oakland Bike and Ped projects specifically. Similarly, only a small portion of the stimulus funds would go to AC transit, as they would be spread out equally throughout the 9 county region (and they are for capital projects, not operating support, so they will not solve AC’s HUGE operating deficit issue).

    We definitely need something a lot better than the current AIRBart system, which has major operational problems. In a perfect world we would have a fixed guideway connection, because at the end of the day riders prefer it – but it may simply be too expensive to provide it. We shouldn’t minimize the cost of creating a bus system that will be as good or better than a rail system though..there are major capital costs there too that have been somewhat glossed over by bus advocates in their gleeful bashing of BART. But the advantage of a bus system is that it can be incrementally improved over time, and you can probably get a really good system for a fraction of the $500 million cost of the OAC.

  2. Max Allstadt says

    Transit Guy,

    The reason this is all happening so late in the game is entirely MTC, BART and BART Board’s fault.

    Through multiple meetings, transit advocates have illuminated damning data and dissembling by advocates of the OAC, but time and again, the powers that be have chosen to believe whatever was convenient to their goals, regardless of hard facts to the contrary.

    That said, I agree with you that we can get a beautiful system for way less than $500 million. If this is an economic stimulus project now, lets think of how deluxe and trendsetting a BRT system could be. Even at three times what TransForm estimates, the system would cost a third of the current proposal.

    So what could you get if you spent $150 million on BRT and why is it so much better than an overhead rail connector? Envision a high-tech Road-Tram, with a train like interior, in a well maintained dedicated lane, with magnetic guidance for most of it’s route. Envision it running an express direct line to the airport but also having local trams that stop at intermediate stations, skipped over by the airport express. And envision the local stops extending past the coliseum BART all the way to the Eastmont Mall.

    With that vision in mind, envision this Road-Tram line as a rib, and BART as the spine. A successful rib on this spine would lead to others, and lead BART into potentially running a much more effective and extensive system in the east bay.

  3. dto510 says

    I have no idea where people get the idea that stimulus funds cannot be used for transit operations. They can, and in fact most of the Bay Area’s transportation stimulus funds have already been given to the agencies to help with their operating deficits. Though AC Transit wouldn’t get the entire $70m from cancelling the OAC, it would help a lot, and certainly help mobility for Oaklanders more than the OAC.

    I strongly disagree with the idea that it’s late in the game to be raising objections. BART should have come to Oakland when they dropped the intermediate stops, or when they decided to no longer support airport expansion, or when the fare estimates starting climbing drastically. But they want to pretend the project hasn’t changed in ten years, so Oakland gets no input on these key decisions.

    The OAC was dead a year ago. Then BART and MTC staff decide that every last penny, from stimulus funds to airport expansion charges to seismic rehab funds, should be shifted to bring back the project. Since the currently-proposed OAC is the worst possible option, Oakland is risking nothing by examining it closely.

  4. blackie says

    This comment is about this…
    I heard that the city wants to either sack all the NSCs or put them under the mayor’s office.

    I believe that both of htese are very bad ideas. The NSCs are a very good liason between the police & the community. Edith Guillen, our NSC is a real asset, who goes well above & beyond the call of her job.

    Putting the NSCs under the control of the Mayor’s office to work w/ parolees & probationers is a real waste of the NSCs skills. NSCs are a real valuable resource in involving citzens with the police.

    Laying off cops is also a very bad idea, as crime is finally coming down around here.

    Please suggest that the Mayor look around at his own staff for some budget cuts. I would start with his driver.

    Thank you,

    The city (Dellums office, specifiaclly) wants to sack all the NSC, which are quite a valuable resource in crime plagued ‘hoods, like mine & yours.

  5. R Kaplan says

    Another day, another schedule change:

    Due to furloughs, Rules Committee will not meet June 18th. Will meet Thursday June 25th!

  6. Dave B. says

    This connector idea now seems ridiculous! BART can’t even make their own budget yet they want to spend millions on this. Currently the buses work fine and they are cheap ~ only 2 or 3 bucks. A connector will be five dollars and of course, it will probably cost even more the next time BART can’t balance their budget. They just had to raise the SF airport surcharge to a ridiculous $5 on top of the ticket price. Stop this madness now. Run your trains on time, supply more FREE parking for commuters resume 15 minute train times!

  7. dto510 says

    The Connector is ridiculous, even if you look at it solely from BART’s standpoint. And the likelihood that it will cover its costs or not require additional funding is dwindling by the day.

    The Rules Committee was cancelled again today. The Council has not yet decided whether or not to get an update on the Connector.

  8. R Kaplan says

    NEWS: An update and discussion on the Connector project is coming to Oakland’s Public Works Committee on Tuesday July 14th. The meeting starts at 9am, at Oakland City Hall hearing room 1.

    (No final decision will be made at this meeting, but input and Q&A will be important).

    Supplemental Agenda Materials online at:

  9. transitguy says

    dtoo510 you are wrong on this. Trust me, I’m the transit guy. :-) Take a look at the MTC report on regional ARRA funding found at:

    ARRA transit funds are channeled through the traditional Section 5307/5309 transit capital programs, and have the same requirements. For urban areas with more than 200,000 populaton, only capital, not operating expenses are allowed (with the one exception of paratransit operations). Capital includes “preventive maintenance”, so a significant portion of typical bus maintainance can be funded (and if you look at the project list on the MTC website, you’ll see that’s how AC directed most of their money, more so than most other districts). But you can very definitely not fund bus drivers, or fuel, which are both very big ticket items for bus operators.

    If the $70 million were defunded, AC would get about $7 million of that by formula (on top of the $25 million they’ve already received). Again…to fund capital projects, not operating expenses.

  10. dto510 says

    Well there you go, the preventative maintenance category means that the funds go to operations. ACT can redirect the money they’ve already earmarked for maintenance to salaries or fuel, because that’s all in the same operations pot. Unless the stimulus funds exceed their maintenance budget, ACT can use the funds to meet their operating deficit.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Don Perata on Oakland Airport Connector: “Too much money for too little transit” « Living in the O linked to this post on June 16, 2009

    [...] Then, on Thursday, the Rules Committee of the Oakland City Council will vote on a request from Councilmember Nancy Nadel to bring the OAC project before the Public Works Committee and ultimately the full Council. There are a multitude of reasons that the City Council should review the project again, as dto510 explains: [...]