Public Comment

Beating a Dead Horse: The Bus Rapid Transit Draft EIR

By Alan Tobey
Thursday July 24, 2008 - 10:07:00 AM

Dean Metzger (July 17) and other opponents of a Bus Rapid Transit plan that would employ dedicated lanes, continue to quote the project’s obsolescent draft environmental report (DEIR) as if it’s holy writ, and as if everything preliminarily mentioned therein will inevitably come to pass. But this stance ignores the first word in the title: The 15-month-old DEIR is indeed merely a first draft that attempts to generally describe the project, but inevitably does so in a way that all interested parties know is incomplete at best and sometimes even misleading.  

For example, the DEIR describes as an alternative the conversion of the upper four blocks of Telegraph to a transit-only mall—an idea that was swiftly discardedbased on near-universal opposition. As with any complex project, it is the gathering of public comment and community discussion that in the end lets us have a more adequate, more targeted and more accurate description in the final environmental document. We should await it eagerly rather than fear it—unless the full facts threaten to undermine our predetermined positions.  

Friends of BRT, myself included, have never said or thought that the final EIR will show “there would be no environmental improvements from this project,” as Metzger wrote EIRs focus on “impacts,” not “improvements,” and are written with the intention of describing all potential environmental adverse consequences along with their potential mitigations—not just the potential problems but also how we can deal with them. So we will see in the final EIR, for example, a commitment that AC Transit has publicly made: to mitigate any loss of parking along upper Telegraph in Berkeley by providing replacement parking in the same area. That’s a likely outcome that BRT opponents fail even to acknowledge as a possibility—and it’s evidence that potential BRT adverse impacts have potential solutions that can make the project more acceptable.  

Other now-acknowledged deficiencies will also be addressed in the final document. For example, at the time of writing the DEIR was not required by the California Environmental Quality Act to analyze the impact of the project on our greenhouse gas generation. We are promised this will be thoroughly discussed in the final document. Many other sketchy treatments in the DEIR will have full attention in the FEIR.  

Therefore, if BRT opponents really want to inform the public about the project in a way that helps us decide its fate, they should join most other citizens in helping to complete a fair, comprehensive and accurate final EIR. That requires that the City Council choose a “local preferred alternative” that can be fully described in the FEIR. Only then will we know what the actual BRT project will be—an outcome BRT opponents apparently fear to see in public. Instead, they want to kill the project now, rather than let the full evidence come out before we reach a verdict.  

Opponents cling to the DEIR because it’s the most negative description of the BRT project we will ever see—primarily because mitigations were not yet addressed for most potential impacts. Citizens with any concern for fairness and an honest decision will joining us in awaiting a much more adequate environmental document that will help us decide, based on facts rather than on fears, exactly what we should decide to build.  

Finally, Mr. Metzger includes one comment that’s just flat-out ridiculous: “Once the final EIR is released, it will likely be approved in the form of the draft, and no mitigations will be required.” No major public project has ever been approved based on the verbatim EIR draft without mitigations, and none ever will be. It’s the crafting of those community mitigations that should be our focus now, not the truly uninformed assumption that the worst possible unmitigated project will inevitably come to pass.  

We need not fear learning the whole truth about BRT—unless that truth seems likely to disprove our prematurely drawn conclusions in opposition.  


Alan Tobey has been a Berkeley resident since 1970.