Seven Days 

Better buses on the horizon; KPFA's Amy Goodman exercises free speech

Any port in a storm: Traffic and tempers snarled at the Oakland Port when protesters blocked the entrance to the terminal that handles ships from Italy. Seems that an Italian government ship had tried to dock in Portland, only to be turned away. Longshoremen refused to unload the ship last week in protest of the Italian government's mishandling of the G-8 Summit. The cargo-laden boat then made its way to Oakland, where its crew hoped for a happier reception. Clearly the Italians weren't familiar with East Bay politics. Fifty people marched in circles at the terminal's main entrance, physically blocking trucks from entering or exiting the terminal, causing mass confusion and a backup of semis that stretched perilously across active railroad tracks. So did the ship leave in search of friendlier waters? At press time, the goods were still idling in the harbor.

Better late than never for Bus Rapid Transit: Now that the Alameda County Transit board has voted to work toward a Bus Rapid Transit system, how long before we see sleek new low-polluting buses sliding through traffic down the East Bay's inner corridor? Don't hold your breath.

Here's how it happened: AC Transit began studying the issue two years ago, wanting to find ways to improve its most popular routes -- bus lines that serve a dense inner core from Berkeley's Telegraph Avenue to San Leandro's International Boulevard. A project advisory board considered three options: light rail, bus rapid transit, and lower-cost improvements to existing buses. In July, the advisory committee chose BRT, and now the AC Transit board itself has given its go-ahead.

The bus rapid transit idea is a compromise -- much less expensive than light rail but still providing significant improvements over the old buses. "The single best investment you can make is the bus right-of-way system, a part of BRT," explains AC Transit senior planner Jim Cunradi. "When a bus approaches a stoplight, if the light is red, it will turn green a little sooner, or if it's already green, it will stay green longer. The bus would make the green light, then pick up passengers on the other side. There would be elevated boarding platforms where you can buy your ticket and then just step on and take your seat, cutting down on loading time at stops. And we would have dedicated bus lanes, probably in the median."

It's a beautiful vision to many bus riders, but it will take time to set up. Some funding for the project is expected to clear in a few years, and Cunradi hopes to have at least the right-of-way portion of the project up and running within three. "We'll be outfitting the buses with whatever device is used to communicate with the signals, and setting up protocols with the cities so we don't mess up their traffic," he says. "That's a lot of work."

And after that, more funding will have to be found. "But we're optimistic," adds Cunradi. "It's very cost-effective in terms of attracting new riders, and it also has a certain social justice to it -- it would be one of the few transit projects in the Bay Area that goes through largely nonwhite neighborhoods, as compared to BART to the airport, which is a business traveler's investment. But with Bus Rapid Transit, we could cut the commute time from Berkeley to downtown Oakland from thirty minutes to twenty -- so it's starting to be competitive with driving your private car."

Sticky subject: Oakland's newest ploy to get us to conserve energy is downright cute. Courtesy of the city's Public Works Agency, lucky Oakland residents have recently found a packet of stickers in their mailboxes with directions to slap them on appliances and light switches as reminders to use less juice. "OFF!" the stickers helpfully suggest, and "Unplug me!" Our favorite is the one that shows a fanged guy in a cape brandishing a two-pronged extension cord above the slogan "Don't be a power vampire."

If you live outside of sticker distribution range, or if they seem like a low-tech solution to a high-tech problem, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab has set up a Web site (http://homenergysaver.lbl.gov) that will satisfy your urge to conserve. Just use the pulldown menus to insert information about your home -- everything from which way the windows face to how tall the trees outside are -- and then let the Energy Advisor program calculate your home's heating and cooling needs, and how much money you could save by following the extremely detailed conservation advice provided on the site. Do your windows need low-E glass? Is your ceiling insulation at least R-38? How much will it cost to wrap your water heater? The Energy Advisor knows all. Just make sure you shut down your computer afterwards. Otherwise, you're going to get a sticker.

The Smell of the Greasepaint, the Roar of the Crowd: The air was heavy with the smell of rebellious elephants last Wednesday night, as the captive pachyderms of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus were paraded around the floor of the Oakland Arena, past a delighted crowd of children in the thousands. Perched upon a mobile, pastel-swirled pedestal, the barker belted out a mostly incomprehensible tribute to Bo, his lead elephant, and spun in his jackboots and gold lamé tails, as gray behemoths assembled in each ring and waited for their turn to roll over on command. But off in the wings, one animal, clearly discontent with his lot in life, registered his silent protest by lifting his tail to the crowd and releasing a remarkably copious supply of excrement and urine onto the floor. Ringling employees are nothing if not professional, and within seconds a young man had shoveled a hefty amount of sawdust onto the mess, leaving only the odor to rise up to the assembly. The hearty essence of elephant left no one in doubt that the circus was in town.Before the crowd could pack the Arena seats, it had to march past a platoon of animal rights activists, who passed out fliers protesting the conditions in which the animals are kept, trained, and transported. But any doubts about the ethics of circus-going were quickly erased, for lumbering among the throngs of children was one of the Bay Area's most prominent arbiters of morality. As the circus topped off its show with a parade, and the crowd made for the exits, no less a personage than Bruce Brugmann, editor and publisher of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, heaved his girth toward the doors. No grandchildren or friends seemed to accompany him; the man whose thirty-year career has been dedicated to crusading for a bumper crop of progressive causes walked alone.

Siberia in Tribeca: While the leaders of Pacifica's anti-KPFA faction tire of the fight and resign their posts, their shock troops at New York's WBAI seem intent on escalating their battles with Amy Goodman, a KPFA sympathizer and host of the national public affairs show Democracy Now! Two weeks ago, Goodman got into a series of confrontations with WBAI interim station manager Utrice Leid. Goodman reportedly found one of Leid's underlings was rifling through the personal effects of fired program manager Bernard White, and when Goodman tried to photograph the incident, she and Leid almost came to blows. Last week, WBAI management moved Goodman's show from the station's main studio to a smaller, bare-bones studio, at which point Goodman decided to produce her show elsewhere. But Pacifica execs refused to distribute Goodman's show-in-exile, and affiliates were treated instead to reruns. Undaunted, Goodman is now feeding her show to affiliates via an ISDN line, and, in yet another surreal aspect to this scandal, a station's choice to broadcast either Democracy Now! reruns or Goodman's wildcat show indicates their allegiances. Meanwhile, KPFA supporter Danny Glover has offered to serve on the Pacifica board of directors, presenting a counterpoint to Pacifica ally and entertainer Dick Gregory. They get an actor, so we get an actor.

Note to Trib: Leave the thesaurus at home: Perhaps even more interesting than the actual Japanese Scouts/City of Berkeley debacle is the press coverage of same. For the most part, say Kriss Worthington and Shirley Dean, the press coverage has been restrained if, well, "slanted." But no one expected the Oakland Tribune to come dashing to the editorial table -- then trip and sprawl across it. The astonishing tone of its editorial on the subject spares no hyperbole in condemning the hard-working Worthington as a "despicable" one-trick pony, "coward[ly]" using children to promote his homosexual agenda, then "backpedaling later in an attempt at damage control."

But three days later the Trib itself backpedaled by printing a four-paragraph statement at the bottom of the editorial page. Following six angry letters protesting the tone of the editorial, the Trib board wrote: "We might have chosen our words more carefully in the controversial editorial mentioned above."

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