Public Comment

Facts About Bus Rapid Transit Supporters

By Russ Tilleman
Thursday October 09, 2008 - 11:01:00 AM

Bus Rapid Transit supporters have said a lot of misleading things. From their claims that BRT will reduce greenhouse gases, to their claims that it won’t have any negative effects on the people who live and work in Berkeley, there appears to be no basis in fact for many of their statements. Now they are opposing Measure KK, the voter initiative that would declare the rights of the citizens of Berkeley to make their own choices about public transit. Let’s look at some of the people who are opposing Measure KK. 

Peter Calthorpe signed the Argument Against Measure KK in the Voter Information Pamphlet, as “Principal, Calthorpe Associates.” What does that mean? A 2001 article in the San Francisco Chronicle states “a decade of lobbying has made Calthorpe a pragmatist.” And what can be more pragmatic for a transit lobbyist than to support a $400 million transit project? Even if BRT doesn’t have any benefits for the people who live and work in Berkeley, or for the environment, you can be sure that some of the $400 million is going into the pockets of the lobbyists. 

Miriam Hawley signed the Argument Against Measure KK in the Voter Information Pamphlet, “individually and on behalf of, Vice President League of Women Voters of Berkeley, Albany and Emeryville.” What does that mean? A 2004 Resolution by AC Transit expresses deep appreciation to her for service as an “AC Transit Director.” Strange that she didn’t mention that was previously a member of the AC Transit Board of Directors. She could easily have disclosed this relevant history, as Measure KK supporter Dean Metzger did when he signed the Argument For Measure KK, “individually and on behalf of, President Claremont Elmwood Neighborhood Association and Former Commissioner, City of Berkeley, Zoning Adjustment Board.” Maybe she forgot that AC Transit’s BRT project will be affected by Measure KK. 

Berkeley’s Acting City Attorney Zach Cowan isn’t even legally allowed to oppose Measure KK in his analysis in the Voter Information Pamphlet, but he appears to be doing so anyway. His “Impartial Analysis” doesn’t seem very impartial. He stated that Measure KK “conflicts with California Vehicle Code section 21655.5” because in his opinion, this section “appears to delegate the authority to create HOV lanes on city streets to the City Council.” But based on my research of legal precedents in California, Measure KK does not appear to conflict in any way with CVC 21655.5. California courts have ruled (in Brown v. Board of Supervisors) “determining whether a street shall be opened or closed, or widened or contracted, or otherwise improved, is a legislative act", (in DeVita v. County of Napa) “We will presume, absent a clear showing of the Legislature’s intent to the contrary, that legislative decisions of a city council or board of supervisors ... are subject to initiative and referendum” and about a California law like CVC 21655.5, “reference to “legislative body” or “governing body” deserving of a weak inference that the Legislature intended to restrict the initiative and referendum power, and reference to “city council” and/or “board of supervisors” deserving of a stronger one.” The term used in CVC 21655.5 is “local authorities", which seems to indicate that the California Legislature intended the citizens of Berkeley to be able to retain the right to decide where HOV lanes are built. So as far as I can tell, Mr. Cowan’s statement that Measure KK conflicts with state law is worse than biased, its just plain wrong. 

With all the conflicting claims about BRT and Measure KK, it can be difficult to decide which side to believe. So I would ask whether Peter Calthorpe and Miriam Hawley are acting in the way that honest people would act, if they were trying to clearly present their side of the story. And whether Zach Cowan is acting in a purely impartial way, like a trial judge, showing no bias for or against Measure KK. Personally, I see them acting more in the way that people would act who are trying to mislead the public and prejudice the election for their own personal goals. I admit to being biased about BRT and Measure KK, but I am being honest about why I have the opinions I have. I don’t know if that even matters anymore. AC Transit and the City of Berkeley have the influence and resources to make unreasonable claims appear legitimate, whereas the BRT opposition is mainly just neighborhood residents and small business people. We’ll see who wins in November. 


Russ Tilleman is a Berkeley resident.