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Environmental Justice Coalition Seeks to Stop Oakland’s BART Airport Connector

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Thursday September 10, 2009 - 12:13:00 PM

A coalition of environmental justice organizations filed a formal administrative complaint to the Federal Transportation Commission last week seeking to derail plans by the Bay Area Rapid Transit District to build a 3.2-mile rail connection between BART’s Coliseum Station and the Oakland Airport. 

The organizations say that the Oakland Airport Connector will have adverse effects on the high-minority, low-income communities surrounding it’s planned route, and they want BART to reconsider an alternative proposal to run a rapid bus line between the Coliseum Station and the airport along Hegenberger Road. 

The FTC administrative complaint against the Oakland Airport Connector was jointly filed by Urban Habitat Program, Transform, and Genesis, three local environmental justice organizations that have been active in the fight over BART’s airport connector. 

BART’s media spokesperson was not available to answer questions about the complaint filing. 

Meanwhile, the Public Safety Committee of the Oakland City Council has scheduled a discussion next Tuesday concerning the Oakland Airport Connector, and is expecting a response from BART to a series of questions the committee raised last month about the project. The committee meeting is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. at Oakland City Hall, with full council consideration of the project scheduled for Oct. 6. While the city of Oakland and the Oakland City Council have no legal say in the airport connector project, opponents of the connector are hoping that a resolution by the council opposing the project as it is currently proposed would have serious political implications, and might throw enough political weight to force BART to consider the bus rapid transit alternative. 

Meanwhile, BART has secured federal funding for the connector project and is ready to move forward, holding a pre-proposal outreach meeting with prospective developers late last month. BART has posted a sign-in sheet with the names of some 200 developer representatives who attended the pre-proposal meeting. Proposals are due back in by Sept. 22, and BART then has approximately two and a half months to have a developer signed up to construct the project in order to continue to qualify for the federal stimulus money included in the project’s complicated funding packet.  

If the FTC agrees with the complainants, however, the agency could withhold federal funding for the project until a new environmental impact report is done examining the economic impacts of the connector to residents of the surrounding communities. A representative of San Francisco-based Public Advocates, Inc., the law firm representing the organizations in the filing, said that, to their knowledge, this is the first time the FTC’s administrative complaint procedure has been attempted. 

According to the complaint, the Oakland Airport Connector is “situated in an East Oakland community with a very high minority and low-income population and will “traverse a corridor with many low-wage jobs that employ local residents, yet it will apparently be built without any intermediate stops.”  

“Even if such stops were added in the future,” the complaint continues, “its extremely high [$6] fare will exclude low-income riders from the delayed benefits of the new service. … More than just a procedural shortcoming, BART’s failure to evaluate the equity impacts of the OAC project, and weigh appropriate alternatives to find a less discriminatory one, is likely to have disparate impacts on Environmental Justice populations in East Oakland, low-income and minority BART riders, and the many low-wage workers with jobs at the Airport and along the Hegenberger corridor in which the OAC project would operate. Those populations either rely on the existing bus connection or would benefit from a low-fare transit option with stops at the Airport and along the way.” 

“Of equal concern to these populations,” the complaint concluded, “is the massive capital cost of the OAC project, which will drain scarce funds from local, state and federal sources that could otherwise provide operating and capital assistance for low-cost transit on which East Oakland residents rely very heavily to access employment, education and other essential opportunities.”