Bay Area Council Blog: Transportation and Land Use Archive


BART needs to get contract talks done by July 1

By Jim Wunderman

With a June 30 contract deadline approaching, now is the time for BART and its labor unions to avoid the battles of the past and negotiate a solution that will reduce a substantial deficit without hurting riders already contending with a tough economy. Riders are doing their part. On July 1, they will begin paying more when a previously scheduled fare increase is moved up six months. If riders have to act more quickly than planned, the unions and management should respond in kind and hammer out a contract agreement with a deadline of the same date. In years past, BART contract battles have extended for months, inconveniencing customers and creating acrimony that in some cases led to a strike. It doesn’t have to be that way, and in these economic times, it can’t happen this year.

What’s at stake is nothing less than the Bay Area’s public transit core. More than 360,000 people use BART every day – connecting to their destinations or other public transit systems – and riders travel more than 1.3 billion miles on the system annually.

Unfortunately, BART is now facing the same economic pressures and conditions that have forced fare increases and cuts in service at other transit agencies. The rail system must contend with an estimated $250 million deficit over the next four years. A decrease in state funding and high labor costs, which make up more than 73 percent of BART’s operational budget are key factors in this fiscal crisis. Balancing BART’s budget will come only after true sacrifice and some painful choices. The central question in this financial emergency is will BART make the changes needed to keep it a mass transit success for the years to come without penalizing its riders?

While the economic situation further deteriorates, BART management and labor unions representing some 2,800 BART workers are engaged in ongoing negotiations. One of BART’s unions has proposed extending the current contract, along with benefits and other provisions, for one year. While that might sound plausible, in reality a one-year rollover does nothing to reduce BART’s deficit. BART unions need to get serious about negotiations when they have the opportunity to choose how they can help bridge the system’s deficit.

BART management is committing to millions of dollars in savings and reductions that can be implemented now. These proposed reductions are part of the effort to avoid fare increases and cuts in service that would only erode the goodwill and customer loyalty the system has earned over the years. When it comes to mass transit, making it harder and more expensive for your riders to use your system isn’t exactly a winning formula for success.

Recent media reports have outlined wasteful contract provisions for union workers that haven’t changed in decades and aren’t needed or useful in today’s tightrope economy. To survive, BART – like many organizations – will have to adapt to the times and run leaner and more productively.

The unions representing BART employees need to come to the negotiating table with the understanding that the average BART rider cannot afford drastic fare hikes and will not suffer through another BART strike. The good times as we all knew them are over for now. Preserving what matters most is essential. Now, more than ever, we need BART – an affordable, environmentally sensitive and efficient transit option – to keep running for the common good. BART management and the unions need to find a solution in the coming weeks and mark a new, constructive chapter in labor relations. Let’s get this done by July 1.

This Editorial was printed in the San Francisco Chronicle on Monday, June 8, 2009


Affordable Housing Week Kicks-off May 15

By Scott Zengel

The Bay Area Council’s Bay Area Ross Program in Real Estate partners with SFHDC to kick-off Affordable Housing Week

Did you know that foreclosures increased by 723% in San Francisco between 2006 and 2008? Meanwhile, access to credit has severely decreased, with fewer available loans and much stricter lending practices than in past years. How does one afford to live in the Bay Area? Current stimulus opportunities and programs may provide a fresh mechanism for solving these economic setbacks.

In response to these trends, the San Francisco Housing Development Corporation (SFHDC) has organized the first ever Affordable Housing Week. This three-day event will work to resolve economic issues in the communities most affected by the recession.

SFHDC Affordable Housing Week includes a series of community workshops and other activities that focus on topics including, “Live a Greener Life,” “How to take advantage of a buyers’ market,” “Tips on how to increase your FICO score, increase your savings, and negotiate with creditors,” and “Steps to take to avoid foreclosure.” In conjunction with these workshops, SFHDC will also host an array of activities such as an “Affordable Housing EXPO,” featuring affordable homes, financial assistance opportunities, savings and asset building programs, and much more.

The Bay Area Council’s Bay Area Ross Program in Real Estate is pleased to partner with SFHDC to host a kick-off event on Friday, May 15. Participants will gather at Flora Grubb Gardens in San Francisco to hear speakers from community organizations, foundations, financial institutions and city offices share their insight on civil rights, green business and how to utilize the federal stimulus package to solve issues in urban infill. A Bay Area Ross Program information booth will also be on site Saturday, May 16 at the Affordable Housing EXPO. For more information about the program please visit the SFHDC website at: We hope to see you there!


Scaling Up: From Green Buildings to Green Cities in the US and China | May 1, 2009

By Kristen Durham

Amidst a worldwide recession, efficient use of resources becomes even more critical to the bottom line of business. For the Bay Area in particular, such an environment provides opportunities for companies both looking to reduce their energy demand and technology firms that can supply the tools necessary to achieve resource savings.

As a follow up to the US|China Green Tech Summit in Shanghai last November and ongoing activities in the technology and environment space, the Bay Area Council is excited to convene another high-level conference at the intersection of green business and policy. Working in partnership with the Asia Society of Northern California, the Council will be hosting “Scaling Up: From Green Buildings to Green Cities in the US and China” on Friday, May 1, 2009, at the PG&E Auditorium in San Francisco.

Buildings consume well over 30 percent of all primary energy in the world—more than either transportation or industry. By building green, we can increase overall operating efficiency in our buildings and reduce energy consumption in the built environment by 30-50 percent. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said in a recent work report at the ongoing annual National People’s Congress that China’s energy consumption per 1,000 yuan (147 USD) of GDP has dropped by 10.8 percent in the past three years—still leaving the country far short of its 20 percent reduction goal for 2010. The Bay Area is uniquely positioned to help China achieve these goals through knowledge and tech transfer, and the Bay Area Council is working to enable such a flow.

This one-day conference looks at the challenges and opportunities of reducing the carbon footprint of our cities while increasing global prosperity. Today, the greatest challenge for green design is to scale up — to move beyond pilot projects and piecemeal solutions to building and retrofitting on a massive scale in order to have a meaningful impact on global warming. Green materials must be mass produced, construction techniques must be standardized, and the principles of green design must inform urban planning, not simply the design of individual buildings. These are the critical issues this conference will address.

Invited speakers include (partial list): Vincent Lo, Chairman & CEO, Shui On Group; Jiang Yi, Professor of Building Science, Tsinghua University; Peter Darbee, Chairman, CEO, and President, PG&E; Jeff Heller, President, Heller-Manus; Simon Tay, Chairman, Singapore Institute of International Affairs; Dian Grueneich, Commissioner, California Public Utilities Commission; Mark Levine, Group Leader, China Energy Group, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; John Kriken, Consulting Partner, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill LLP; Stanley Yip, Director of Planning & Development, Arup China; Sabeer Bhatia, Founder, Hotmail; planner and developer, Nanocity (India).

Click here to register.


San Francisco Eastern Neighborhoods Plan passes – finally

By Matt Regan

There is an old military adage, “the first casualty of any battle is the plan”.  This would appear to be true in the battle to rezone San Francisco’s Eastern Neighborhoods, a vast swathe of the city stretching from the South of Market to Potrero Hill and the Mission.  In the 10 years of fighting over what should be allowed to be built in this part of San Francisco, any semblance of the original plan has long since disappeared and what remains is a patchwork quilt put together by every single issue pressure group who expressed an opinion.

On December 9, 2008 after over 10 years of meetings, hearings, disputes, threats and counter threats the San Francisco Board of Supervisors finally approved a plan that will allow developers to begin entitling dozens of bottled up projects that may bring as many as 7500 new housing units to the area, provided of course the developers haven’t either died of old age, completely lost interest, or more likely lost financing for their projects in the interim.
The approval of the plan is a phyrric victory; yes we will see a lot of new housing construction and yes we will see new neighborhoods grow out of what are currently vacant lots or obsolete industrial buildings, but at what cost?

One of the most vocal interest groups in this process were those seeking to protect the remaining vestiges of San Francisco’s 19th century industrial blue collar character.  They successfully pushed for large chunks of the Eastern Neighborhoods to be zoned “PDR” or Production, Distribution and Repair and strictly off limits to housing.  While we agree that there is a need for such industrial activities we are not convinced that they got the mix right and that too much land was zoned for industries that have left the city never to return.  As one observer noted, “zoning so much land for PDR is like zoning for gold mines, its nothing more than naïve wishful thinking.”

Perhaps the biggest flaw in the whole plan is the complete lack of consideration given to transit oriented development opportunities.  San Francisco proudly declares itself to be a “transit first” city yet  through this whole planning process height limits along Mission Street, arguably San Francisco’s most integrated transit corridor with MUNI, SamTrans,  and BART, were cut to the point where they are currently lower than height limits adjacent to suburban BART stations.  This however pales in comparison the missed opportunities along the 3rd Street Light Rail line.

The $800 million 3rd Street Light Rail was opened two years ago with much fanfare.  It was designed to connect the Bayview neighborhood to the rest of the city and service the new Mission Bay life sciences hub and eventually connect to a central subway running all the way to Union Square and Chinatown.  For over two miles this jewel in MUNI’s crown traverses the eastern neighborhoods, and for the forseeable future it will traverse a part of the city where nobody lives.  Bowing to pressure from the PDR lobby, planners zoned almost all of the 3rd street light rail line off limits to new housing construction.

While we are happy to see this bureaucratic bottleneck finally break, and that development will finally be allowed to proceed, we are concerned that when reality finally dawns on San Francisco and the city comes to the understanding that this region still faces a chronic housing shortage and a huge housing/jobs imbalance, it might be too late to do anything to recapture missed Eastern Neighborhoods opportunities and help solve some of these problems.


Reform and the Rails Ride to Victory with Council Support

By George Broder

Election Day was historic and a success for most of the Bay Area Council and its endorsed campaigns. Most satisfying, after two failed attempts fell just short of a 2/3 vote, was the Marin/Sonoma County SMART Train win with 69% of voters making it possible to remove 1.4 million cars annually from highly congested Highway 101. And Statewide Prop 1A, High Speed Rail, commits $9.8 billion to build a system that will move passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in just two and half hours.

In Santa Clara County, Measure B to bring BART to San Jose is a statistical sliver short of passing at 66.42%. More than 60,000 absentee and provisional ballots are still to be counted so a win is still possible for this longtime goal.

The voters, fed up with the partisanship in our capitol, adopted Prop 11 to reform the way State Senate and Assembly districts will be drawn after the next census. Redistricting reform is an important first step towards breaking the paralysis and abdication of leadership in Sacramento. The voters are demanding more of their representatives, and we will carry this message directly to the elected officials we meet with on a regular basis.

The Council’s call for a Constitutional Convention is drawing new supporters and allies every day. We will take the momentum from Prop 11 to move forward with careful study and diligence the viability of this dramatic action. The voters are engaged and activated, ready to establish California once again as a national model, and the Convention may be the perfect tool to implement their just desires.


June 3rd Elections Give Smart Growth a Boost

By Matt Regan

Now that the election waters have cleared somewhat and we’ve had a couple of weeks to digest the results, it is clear that the big winner on June 3rd was housing.  In San Francisco the Bay Area Council took strong positions in support of Proposition G and in opposition to Proposition F.   These competing measures were a thumbs up or down referendum on Lennar’s plan to redevelop Hunters Point Naval Shipyard.  Fortunately the voters were not hoodwinked by an attempt to impose an impossible standard that 50% of all units developed be below market rate, and they very much liked what they saw from Lennar.

In Napa Measure N, a restrictive no growth proposition opposed by the Bay Area Council, was also defeated by the voters.

Both these results give great encouragement to those of us who have been advocating for regional smart growth principles and sustainable development.


Major Development Goes South

By Matt Regan

After many years and many millions of dollars invested in a proposed development that would have brought up to 25,000 new housing units and as many as 50,000 jobs to the Coyote Valley in the South Bay, a consortium of developers and landowners have decided that enough is enough.

Economic and political realities are to blame for the demise of the ambitious plan to develop a large parcel of land to the west of Highway 101 on the southern boundary of San Jose. The development team have lately been fighting an uphill battle in San Jose City Hall to win support for the project with the majority of Council members nervous about the impact costs of so many new residents in need of city services. Mayor Reed has also voiced these concerns and stipulated that at least 5000 jobs be in place before the first homes are built. This, twinned with the downturn in the housing market, appeared to be the last straw for Coyote Valley.

What is next for the site remains to be seen.


NorCal Coalition Doing Well on Goods Movement

By Michael Cunningham

A coalition the Council has helped lead headed to Sacramento today to support our efforts to win billions for goods movement infrastructure – trucks, railroads, cargo ships, airports, etc. Looks good for the Northern California Coalition proposal; CTC staff recommend all projects for funding (except acquiring ACE right of way). The Council has been working on this issue for two-years now. Given the comments we heard from all parties in Northern and Southern California, it looks like we are on track for a positive outcome on April 9/10 when the Commission acts on staff recommendations

You can read the CTC staff recommendation here:


“Out of the Box” ideas that could happen with private partnerships

By Jim Wunderman

I had the honor of meeting today with the Governor and regional representatives from across the state to discuss long-stalled projects that could happen, if the state allowed what are called public private partnerships. They asked the Council to think out of the box for some ideas. Here’s what I presented:

Truck climbing lanes on the 580 Altamont Corridor
The Bay Area enjoys the distinction of having the 2nd worst traffic congestion in the United States. Over the past 15 years, as warehousing and logistics companies have moved out to the Central Valley and the Port of Oakland has expanded, the 580 freeway has become a parking lot of trucks and cars, truly the worst of the worst. Getting trucks off the road could improve safety, traffic congestion, the speed of goods delivery to other parts of the state and country, and air quality. It could be paid for with tolls or fees on private goods movement companies, Prop 1B goods movement funding, state highway funds and federal highway funds.

Fast trains between the Bay Area and Sacramento
The population centers of the Bay Area and Sacramento are rapidly and inexorably merging into one another and it has become standard for commuters to travel between them. The Capitol Corridor rail line is nearly operating at capacity and must compete with an equally increasing amount of freight. A PBI could create a standalone rapid rail line to carry passengers back and forth between the most densely populated areas of the new Northern California megaregion. It could be paid for with passenger fares, fees to rail freight companies to free up the other lines, Prop 1B public transit money, state highway funds and federal highway funds.

A Southern Crossing between the East Bay and the Peninsula
One of the biggest reasons the Bay Area is so afflicted by traffic congestion is the sheer volume of cars that attempt to squeeze onto the Bay Bridge each day, making it either the number 1 or 2 most traveled bridge in the United States, depending on the day. Senator Feinstein and the Bay Area Council have both long pushed for a new bridge to cross the Bay near the Oakland and San Francisco Airports. It would not only remove a huge bulk of traffic in the region, but could connect the regions two major international airports, allowing them to coordinate passenger and freight movement in a way never before possible. The bridge could also accommodate a BART line that would carry millions of passengers each year. Due to the coordination of the airports, the Southern Crossing might also eliminate the need to expand SFO or OAK airports and the resulting Bay fill. The project could be paid for with: tolls; BART fares; contributions from the airports or airlines; Prop 1B goods movement, public transit and highway funds; state highway funds; and, federal highway funds.