Road to Nowhere 

The FBI probes links between state Senator Don Perata and a $40 million roadway project designed to enrich Alameda developer Ron Cowan.

Page 5 of 7

That was just one of many ironies in the air at the June 2004 dedication of the parkway. Another was that it was named after Cowan at all, since he had feuded with the port for the better part of three decades. Still, the Port Commission voted unanimously on the name, over the objections of some port staffers. "I was absolutely amazed," said ex-Mayor Withrow, who was on hand for the ceremony. "It was obviously politically driven."

Cowan, too, said he was "shocked" at the honor. He credits a heartfelt letter to the Port Commission on his behalf from late Alameda mayor Ralph Appezzato -- another Perata ally. But it was neither the naming of the roadway nor the loss of the business park, Cowan says, that made him cry. "It was the end of that phase of my life," he explained. "I was forced to realize that this stage of my life was over."

Scott Newman, a partner in SRM, said the business park is finally on the rebound. "The roadway went a long way to solving the problem," he said. Among the park's new occupants is Peet's, which is opening a roasting facility there. Despite Newman's cheery assessment, few people, other than those driving to and from the Harbor Bay Business Park, appear to be using the landscaped airport connector.

While the other portions of the project have helped ease traffic congestion, the Ron Cowan Parkway remains a lonely place indeed. Neither the port nor the city of Alameda has conducted a traffic study of the four-lane road, but four recent day trips by this newspaper failed to find many cars using it. During one weekday midafternoon visit, more than one hundred cars were counted meandering along nearby Doolittle Drive. The total for Ron Cowan's namesake: zero.

Editor's note: Appended below are two sidebars that ran with this feature in print: "On the Senator's Trail" is a timeline in the FBI's probe of Don Perata's activities, and 'Can't Get from There to Here" examines the dearth of useful road signs on the Ron Cowan Parkway. Also see "Commuter Glitch" in this week's Water Cooler, wherein we ponder how this pricey road ended up on online map sites such as Google and Yahoo Maps as "Ron Cohen" Parkway.


Thanks for the $40 million shortcut. Now how about some useful road signs?

If you don't know who Ron Cowan is, and you've never heard of Harbor Bay or its ferry service to San Francisco, you probably have no idea there's a new $40 million shortcut from Oakland airport to Alameda. How much of a shortcut? Well, so few people are now using the four-lane parkway, you'll likely cut your drive time in half.

Why don't you know this? Probably because there are no road signs to guide you. When you come off I-880 at 98th Avenue, either from the north or south, a few smallish green signs point to "Ron Cowan Pkwy," "Harbor Bay," or "Ferry to SF." But there's no indication that the new Ron Cowan Parkway actually gets you to Alameda. "It doesn't make sense; there are no signs that say ŒAlameda,'" said Bill Withrow, the city's former mayor, who had nothing to do with the signage.

In fact, the only signs that direct motorists from the airport to Alameda point them to Doolittle Drive -- the two-lane, overcrowded route that's been around forever.

No local officials seemed to know how this came to be. Alameda officials directed a reporter to the Port of Oakland. Steve Grossman, director of the airport, which is owned by the port, said the port approved the signs, but he was surprised that none mentioned Alameda when directing people to the Ron Cowan Parkway.

Could this be because the road was built to benefit Cowan, his ferry service, and his business park, and the decision makers didn't want Alameda residents or commuters tying up the park's corporate occupants? We may never know the answer, but we can still enjoy the drive. -- Robert Gammon


A timeline in the FBI probe of Don Perata.

September 2003


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