A Tram to Nowhere? 

The Oakland City Council votes to support a $500 million airport project, despite evidence it's a boondoggle. Plus, Oakland rolls back meter hours.

East Bay transit activists suffered a setback last week when the Oakland City Council voted to reaffirm its support for a half-billion-dollar tramway from the Coliseum BART station to Oakland International Airport. The council voted 5-2 in favor of the airport connector and turned down a proposal by Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan and transit activists to oppose it. Project opponents now have virtually no hope of derailing it.

Critics had made a strong argument that the city and airport would be better served by a rapid-bus system that would cost about one-tenth the price. But several councilmembers, including President Jane Brunner, decided to voice their support for the connector because of concerns that most of the funding for the project would not be spent in Oakland if it was scrapped. In addition, Councilwoman Jean Quan argued that if the connector was killed, it would be several years at least before a rapid-bus system could gain approval.

Ultimately, the majority backed a resolution by Vice Mayor Ignacio De La Fuente in support of the connector that included a demand that BART construction contractors hire Oakland residents to help build the tramway. To date, BART only has set "goals" for local hiring. Also, De La Fuente's resolution called on BART to build a station along Hegenberger Road if the bids for the project come in at less than what the agency estimated. Along with Kaplan, Councilwoman Nancy Nadel opposed the connector.

The council also voted 6-1 to roll back parking meter hours from 8 p.m. to 6 p.m. after enduring months of outrage from local retailers who said the decision in June to extend meter hours, raise parking rates, and increase parking ticket prices had hurt business. The council had made the changes to help balance the city's massive budget deficit, and didn't expect they would create such a strong backlash.

The council hopes to regain the estimated $1 million in lost revenue from the rollback by adding parking meters throughout the city and possibly erecting a giant new billboard near the Bay Bridge. The council, at the urging of Councilwoman Pat Kernighan, also voted to conduct a study of the city's parking program. Among other things, the study would examine whether to adopt market-based pricing, in which parking meter rates would be tied to demand and could be priced differently throughout the city and change depending on the time of day.

No More Buses from Hell?

The AC Transit Board of Directors will consider a resolution on Wednesday that could spell the end of the agency's controversial partnership with Belgian bus-maker, Van Hool. The so-called "Buy America" resolution by board member Elsa Ortiz would direct the agency's staff to "employ its best efforts" to procure goods made in America in the future, and give "first priority" to California-made products "when possible." According to the Berkeley Daily Planet, the board's three-member Finance and Audit Committee approved the resolution last week.

AC Transit has come under heated criticism in recent years for purchasing hundreds of Van Hool buses even though they're more expensive than some American models and despite the fact that the agency has repeatedly slashed service and raised fares. The buses have proven dangerous for the elderly and people with mobility problems, and many bus drivers dislike them because they handle poorly. In addition, last month AC Transit officials acknowledged that some models have been accident prone.

According to agency documents, state Senator Loni Hancock of Berkeley also supports the Buy America resolution as does the Alameda Labor Council. The resolution notes that California and the nation are experiencing extremely high unemployment rates and that local public agencies should do all they can to promote domestic manufacturing and jobs. The resolution could be a boon for Hayward-based bus maker Gillig and the hundreds of union workers it employs.

Governor Calls Off Veto Threat

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger abandoned his threat to veto more than 700 bills over the weekend, saying legislative leaders had made significant progress in solving the state's water problems. The governor then called a special legislative session to deal with the controversial water issues, which include proposals to build a series of new dams and construct a large peripheral canal around the fragile Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

Among the hundreds of bills the governor signed was legislation that will force first-time drunk-drivers to install ignition locks that test blood-alcohol content. The locks won't allow drivers to start their cars if they've had too much to drink. The program begins in several jurisdictions, including Alameda County.

Three-Dot Roundup

The Bay Area's supply of swine flu shots won't arrive until the end of the month, raising concerns that they may come too late to do much good. ... Gay marriage opponents are attempting to throw out a federal same-sex lawsuit brought by a lesbian couple from Berkeley. ... Books Inc., a San Francisco-based independent bookstore chain, opened a new store on Fourth Street in Berkeley, not far from where Cody's Books used to be. ... The Napa County District Attorney's Office is deciding whether to file charges and arrest Oakland Raiders' head coach Tom Cable for allegedly breaking the jaw of one of his assistants. ... And the Oakland City Council decided to appeal a court ruling over Measure Y, the citywide crime-prevention initiative, because it would force the city to make at least $10 million in debilitating budget cuts and possibly assign rookie cops to community policing positions that they're not capable of handling.


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