BART Brass Hangs Tough 

Agency board refuses to give in to union, negotiates new deal with workers, and avoids transit strike. Plus, downtown Berkeley is becoming a music mecca.

A threatened transit strike earlier this week by BART train operators and station agents nearly brought the Bay Area to its knees. The strike would have caused hellish traffic jams and cost the region's businesses billions in lost productivity. And it would have forced the Bay Area to a virtual standstill if it lasted through Labor Day when the Bay Bridge is to be closed for repairs. But following a weekend-round of intense negotiations, the BART union called off its planned labor action after it reached a tentative new deal with management.

BART brass deserves credit for hanging tough and refusing to capitulate to the union's demands. The tentative deal saves the cash-strapped agency about $38 million and allows BART management to meet its goal of slashing $100 million from employee compensation for all of the agency's workers, the Oakland Tribune reported. The deal also is for four years — not two years, as the union wanted. However, the union's rank-and-file members must still approve the pact, which is anything but a sure thing because they overwhelmingly turned down a similar deal last week.

In fact, it looked for a time as though the train operators and station agents were prepared to hold the Bay Area hostage until management met their demands. It also appeared as if the union was angling for a sixty-day cooling off period and a repeat of 2001, when then mayors Willie Brown of San Francisco and Jerry Brown of Oakland helped the train operators and station agents obtain a 22 percent raise over four years. But Governor Arnnold Schwarzenegger refused to grant the sixty-day extension, forcing the union to either carry out its strike threat or head back to the bargaining table. With Bay Area residents appearing to have no sympathy for the well-paid union workers during a severe economic downturn, the train operators and station agents chose to avoid the picket line.

UC Theater to Become Concert Hall

So is downtown Berkeley suddenly becoming a music mecca? Not only is the new Freight & Salvage scheduled to open later this month, but the old UC Theater on University Avenue is on track to become a new large concert venue. The movie theater, which became famous for hosting midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show before closing several years ago, is to be operated by the owners of San Francisco's Slim's nightclub and the Great American Music Hall. Last week, the Berkeley Zoning Adjustment board gave a unanimous green light to the latest version of the proposal, which would turn the UC into a 1,440-seat nightclub and concert hall, featuring three levels of seating.

Oakland Helping Berkeley On Bayer

But as one new business knocks on Berkeley's door, another is thinking about packing its bags. The city's largest private employer, Bayer pharmaceutical company, is looking to control costs because it says it needs to revamp its facility and retrain workers to produce a new hemophilia drug. But Berkeley is trying desperately to keep the German drug maker from leaving town with an assist from the City of Oakland, which is proposing to help Bayer obtain millions in dollars of tax breaks. Under a proposal endorsed by Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums and the Oakland City Council, Oakland would expand its West Oakland enterprise zone to include a section of Berkeley that includes Bayer's facility, which employs 1,700 people, according to the Berkeley Daily Planet and the Oakland Tribune. If approved by state officials, the proposal could net Bayer up to $19 million over the next decade.

Foreclosures and Bankruptcies Jump

In yet more evidence that the nation's economy may not recover as quickly as hoped, the Associated Press reported that foreclosure filings jumped 32 percent nationwide last month compared to July 2008. One reason is that lenders have been unwilling to modify loans for homeowners who are in trouble, despite the Obama administration's efforts to convince them otherwise. Earlier this month, the Treasury Department reported that banks had extended only 400,000 offers to 2.7 million eligible borrowers who were more than two months behind on their payments. The AP also reported that fortunes for the commercial real estate industry looked equally as grim, as the number of property defaults climbed at a record pace.

At the same time, consumer bankruptcies nationwide jumped sharply last month — up 34 percent over July 2008, according to Bloomberg News. The American Bankruptcy Institute estimated that nationwide as many as 1.4 million consumers could go belly up this year. Economists said the bankruptcies could further jeopardize the health of banks as consumers seek protection from having to repay their loans.

Three-Dot Roundup

In more BART news, the agency's embattled police chief, Gary Gee, announced that he is retiring at the end of the year, following the BART Board of Directors' decision to limit his authority. Gee came under intense criticism for how he handled the investigation and aftermath of Oscar Grant's death last New Year's. ... A five-year-old Fremont boy allegedly went missing in Oakland's Rockridge District, but authorities are questioning the version of events provided by the kid's foster father. ... The state Legislature is considering a plan that could bring back the infamous Peripheral Canal, a statewide water project that generated a firestorm three decades ago before it was abandoned. ... State Democratic leader Darrell Steinberg followed through on his threat to sue Schwarzenegger over the governor's decision to make nearly $500 million in last-minute budget cuts. ... Some backers of a California gay-marriage initiative said they will wait for the 2012 election while others plan to forge ahead with a 2010 proposition campaign.

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