Public Comment

Power Mongers Unite to Squash Berkeley With Bad Regional Transit (BRT)

By Gale Garcia
Thursday October 09, 2008 - 09:39:00 AM

AC Transit has a plan to take over the two center lanes of Telegraph Avenue and most of the parking for big ugly buses exceeding the speed limit. It’s called Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). Almost everyone who sees details of the plan thinks it’s a bad idea—the more you know about it, the less you like it.  

At best, this BRT proposal would shave off a few minutes for buses traveling between UC Berkeley and San Leandro, a route so unpopular that its buses often arrive at (and depart from) campus without a single passenger. At worst, it would cause massive disruption during years of construction, followed by major gridlock forever. 

Volunteers from several neighborhoods gathered signatures to get a “voter approval” measure on the Berkeley ballot, now called Measure KK. If approved, this measure would mean that plans like AC Transit’s, requiring major reconstruction of our streets for dedicated bus lanes, would go to a vote of the people. If this measure doesn’t pass, the City Council can simply give the lanes away whenever they please.  

Unfortunately, the City Council wants this project, and they get the final say on drafting ballot questions for measures—the question that voters see on the actual ballot. Mayor Tom Bates (Supreme Power Monger) insisted upon adding bogus language that makes Measure KK look extremely costly, but fails to mention that the measure would cost nothing at all unless the City Council attempts to give away lanes of our streets. 

The ballot argument against Measure KK says “Major transit projects are reviewed at many public meetings before the City Council decides whether or not to approve them.” In fact, Berkeley’s “public” process is completely broken. Citizens attend endless meetings, only to be ignored or silenced. The critical issue is often placed last on a long agenda, and important documents are unavailable to the public. “Special” meetings take place at unusual times, or right before holidays, frequently without proper notice.  

Moreover, the decision-making commissions have mostly become rubber-stamping agencies, particularly the Transportation Commission, which is stacked with the most stunningly biased transit-fanatics on earth. By the time matters reach the City Council, the councilmembers don’t even pretend to listen to us. 

The League of Women Voters (sometimes called the League of Women Developers), the Sierra Club and the Bicycle-Friendly Berkeley Coalition have also signed on in opposition to Measure KK. Do the League and the Sierra Club engage a team of eager researchers to investigate each issue before they endorse? Neither organization contacted Measure KK supporters in order to make an informed decision, and their endorsement procedures are shrouded in mystery.  

A former member of the Sierra Club told me about a sparsely attended meeting of its Executive Committee where AC Transit’s BRT proposal was endorsed. The former member attempted to correct false statements made about the proposal, but the chair of the committee refused to allow him to speak. (Perhaps the Sierra Club’s endorsement process needs a little sunshine). 

I find it hard to believe that most Sierra Club members think it would benefit the environment to expend energy tearing up Telegraph Avenue (part of which was repaved just a couple of weeks ago), to rearrange it with yet more concrete. Demolition and construction are intensely polluting activities that should be performed only when there’s an actual need for the resulting product.  

Interestingly, one member of “Friends of BRT” warned in an email message (forwarded to Measure KK supporters at his request) that lots of money would be used to defeat us. He even referred to the Sierra Club and the League of Women Voters as “charter members of the Bates Machine.” The money has begun to appear in the form of large signs boasting that “Sierra Club says. . . .” 

Money and lies are remarkably effective election tools, and if enough of both of them are used against us, they might score a hollow victory. But AC Transit’s proposal was moving through Berkeley’s corrupt “public” process, completely unknown to most Berkeley residents. Now thousands of Berkeleyans, if not tens of thousands, know about AC Transit’s self-serving proposal to take over a portion of our streets, and City Council’s irrational intention to approve it. 

Ignore the power mongers, their lies, and their back-room deals. Join with your friends and neighbors, and the merchants of our cherished local businesses—real people with real concerns. Vote to support democracy and to stop this needless giveaway of part of our town.  

Vote yes on Measure KK. 

Gale Garcia is a long-term resident of the Le Conte neighborhood.