Public Comment

BRT: Why the ‘Voter Approval’ Initiative?

By Dean Metzger
Thursday July 17, 2008 - 09:54:00 AM

On July 8 the Berkeley City Council voted unanimously to put the “Voter Approval” initiative on the November ballot.  

Already the opposition to the initiative has begun. The first and most typical complaint against any initiative is that it is poorly written. Don’t believe it—this initiative does what it is supposed to do—it lets you, the voter, have a say in how our streets are to be used.  

The second common argument is that the initiative process is a bad way to legislate. Many would agree with this, but there are times when elected officials make laws that are potentially so detrimental to their constituents that citizens must take direct action.  

If our City Council actually approved any one of AC Transit’s three proposals for BRT with dedicated lanes, it would be massively detrimental to our neighborhoods and the local business community. The fourth option, the no-build option, would get the whole BRT issue back to the drawing board where a better, more effective plan could be developed. 

Over the past months and years there have been meetings and workshops discussing BRT. At one such meeting Alan Tobey, representing a group called Friends of BRT, was asked if that group would still support BRT if the final environmental impact report confirmed the draft EIR’s claim that “there would be no environmental improvements from this project.” Alan’s answer was to wait and see, and that the final EIR would solve the problems with this project. Yet the draft EIR and the plan within is the only document available to the public, and it shows BRT’s goals to be marginal at best. Once the final EIR is released, it will likely be approved in the form of the draft, and no mitigations will be required.  

The six members of Friends of BRT argue that the initiative is anti-environment, the result of fear of the unknown, and anti- public transit. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those of us who are working to improve public transportation want plans that actually accomplish that purpose.  

BRT supporters need to look at reality and join the forces for positive change instead of trying to support anything that moves. 

The city planners have already started whining that the initiative will make them prepare a comprehensive plan and put it to the public for a vote before it can be implemented. Well, shouldn’t the public know in detail what is likely to happen to them before it is approved?  

The talk about added cost is nonsense. Projects have to be planned—at a cost. Why is this any different? This is just an excuse to try to get the voters to defeat the initiative. Election costs are another bogus argument. The City of Berkeley must hold elections every two years anyway. There is no reason why special elections need to be held. Planning for any large project (BRT is huge) takes multi-years and should be timed to be presented on the city’s election cycle. In short, with proper planning, the cost of this initiative would be minimal. 

With all of the hysterics focused on the initiative by its opponents, they forget that this initiative does not stop the BRT project. All it says is that if the City Council is to give away city property to any project restricting use of our streets, the voters must have the final say—yes or no! What could be more democratic than that? 

Any project that is well thought out, planned, and benefits the community will get the support of the voters. BRT as currently configured just doesn’t fit; nor does it qualify as a good project that will accomplish the goal of getting people out of their cars and onto public transportation. 


Dean Metzger is a resident of the Claremont-Elmood neighborhood.