Monday, June 20, 2005

Is BART a Good Deal? 

San Jose Business Journal | Shedding one San Jose BART station seen as compromise - 2005-06-20:

...[T]he Valley Transportation Authority is looking for ways to come up with $1 billion through a combination of taxes and cost cutting.

They'd better, because if past experience is any indicator, the annual cost of building the BART extension by 2016 will be just about $1 billion. They still think the voters will approve their tax plan. Or, at least, they try to convince the public that that is the case. They are hurriedly scrambling around Sacramento trying to convince legislators to give up more money for BART as a means of bolstering public confidence for the upcoming 2006 tax initiative.
State funding would help voters stay with us and it would help us obtain additional funding from Congress.
But there is little blood to squeeze from that turnip. And the federal government knows the project will not ease traffic congestion, so they aren't going to touch it.

VTA is the ace of spades up the sleeve of Ron Gonzales and he wants to play it as a means of furthering his own political career. He can do that if he scratches the backs of his business buddies in San Jose, who see BART as a way to attract new customers. The city also sees it as a way to attract new business to the area. Thus more tax revenues for the city.

But there are victims here, which include tax payers, commuters and transit workers. The tax payers will suffer by paying for something they will not be able to use for ten years, if ever. Commuters will suffer because projects being sacraficed now to pay for BART will not be completed. And transit workers, who's livelihoods depend on the good will and good sense of the VTA board, will suffer when their jobs are eliminated to make way for the all-important BART extension--a project that will cost double its original budget, a project that will provide zero traffic relief, a project with no financial backing whatsoever.

Does that sound like a good deal to you?

Friday, June 17, 2005

Sacrifices and Service Cuts 

Gilroy Dispatch | Up sales tax for BART:

[Don] Gage... said he doesn’t believe voters will pass a sales-tax measure. And if they do, he said, the money will barely maintain VTA’s status quo.

“Without it, we might be looking at 20 percent service cuts,” he said.

So far, VTA's board is in favor of Gonzales' proposal to move ahead with BART despite having no major sources of funding. He wants to sacrifice service and other projects, such as CalTrain electrification, to reduce the burden of paying for it.

But the difference between what can be saved through sacrifice and the total cost of the project, now projected to be $5 billion by Cipola, is immense. Gonzales is hoping to trim a hundred million here and a hundred million there without any thought to the likelihood that voters will turn down another sales tax hike, which would bring in perhaps $80 million per year.

With a 20% reduction in service how many will be laid off... again? Some have already been laid off twice. If Gonzales gets his way and the board continues denying reality, many more will be laid off in this third round. And VTA may never recover.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Another VTA Blog 

VTA Watch: The 2006 Measure A sales tax campaign starts now

The most recent post on this blog underscores how disconnected from reality Ron Gonzales and the VTA board are and how much damage to the transportation infrastructure will be done by their blind determination to build BART at any cost.

Letter to "The [Gilroy] Dispatch" Editor 

There is an alternative to BART and strongarm tactics of Ron Gonzales

Public perception quite correctly characterizes Ron Gonzales' tactics in favor of BART as "strong-arm".

Saturday, June 11, 2005

BART or Bust 

MercuryNews.com | 06/11/2005 | S.J. lawmaker predicts support for transit tax hike:
"People in our community are so anxious to have BART and traffic relief, and really believe that Silicon Valley is worth being a part of and saving, that I think we're going to get the support we need for a quarter-cent sales tax if we do that in fall 2006"
San Jose Councilwoman Cindy Chavez believes the very existence of Silicon Valley depends on building BART. Since when has BART had anything to do with the success of the high-tech industry here?

This isn't about the existence of Silicon Valley; its about the image of San Jose in the eyes of potential business newcomers.

Let's review some of the facts:One of the supposed benefits of having BART extended to San Jose is "every community within the South Bay would have direct access through another mode of transit to one of the BART stations." That is something that exists now even without the extension. VTA provides direct access to the Fremont station by way of the 180 express. This really is not a new benefit.

The real motive behind building the BART extension and the real beneficiary of its building is summed up in a statement by Jim Cunneen: "[M]any of us strongly believe that we need to create an authentic urban living and work environment in our downtown," meaning downtown San Jose. It is San Jose, and only San Jose, that will benefit by it. And it has nothing to do with traffic relief, but rather, it is being built to create the perception that San Jose is a bigger city than it is.

Why would that be so important? It is important because it can serve to attract business here, not to Silicon Valley. It is not about traffic relief. It is not about saving Silicon Valley. It is about San Jose's image. Period.

And when the federal funds needed to complete the project fail to materialize, these BART zealots will cut bus service, meaning lay you off, in order to gain the benefits for San Jose that Mr. Cunneen succinctly summarized.

Gonzales Panicing 

The Dispatch:
"San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales wants the staff of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority to draw up a new capital improvement plan and find more money to bring BART to San Jose.

In a memo distributed to his fellow VTA board members, Gonzales urged his colleagues to direct staff to formulate a plan that assumes a new sales tax...."

Gonzales says VTA can trim as much as $1 billion from its budget to devote to BART. Wow! Where is that money hiding? He suggests that it can be squeezed out by reworking current plans for BART and other projects.

This verifies the findings of the Santa Clara County grand jury report more than a year ago, which stated that VTA was grossly inefficient and needed a complete overhaul. But Gonzales has other plans. He wants his BART extension no matter what and believes that enough positive thinking on the part of VTA's employees will materialize in the form of a voter-apporved tax increase in 2006.

But he also knows that at the end of the year he will lose majority support for the extension into San Jose, because two of his BART supporters on the board will be replaced by less enthusiastic members from cities unlikely to benefit from BART. He is in a hurry to get the board to make an intractable commitment now before that happens.

Friday, June 10, 2005

The Inevitability of BART 

MercuryNews.com | 06/09/2005 | Gonzales backs added transit tax:
"It's not just BART that's at stake here," Livengood said. "There's a number of other projects and roadways that we need to get completed. We as a VTA board owe it to the voters to give them the chance to vote on a quarter-cent sales tax, and they'll make the decision whether it passes or not."

Santa Clara representative Jamie Matthews agreed.

"It's a good idea. We have a mature, educated and informed constituency, and when presented with the facts they vote time and time again to fill the gap and to complete our transportation systems," Matthews said. "In order for us to operate BART long term it appears the data indicates a sales tax is necessary."

Listening to these pinheads reminds me of Smith -- Agent Smith, in The Matrix. When holding Neo down on the subway tracks he says into Neo's ear, "Do you hear that sound, Mr. Anderson? It's the sound of inevitability. It's the sound of your death."

Neo was unwilling to accept the assumptions inundating his senses from a world built on lies. The only way those lies were believable was to build more lies on top of more lies. He was able to overcome them by simply questioning them and their source. Listen to the words used by these board members. "In order for us to operate BART long term... a sales tax is necessary."

Operate BART? Who said we have to push ahead to build a BART extension? With What money? And WE are going to operate it WHEN it is built? There is another assumption being inserted that is more subtle. These people want you to believe that if BART is not funded, that nothing else will get built either, as though funding for road and other transit projects is intimately tied to funding for BART.

First of all, there is no agreement on the feasability or the necessity of building BART. And there certainly is no agreement that the funds voted for in 2000 were only to be used for BART. Secondly, Gonzales admits in this article that we can't afford to build it. Why, then, do these idiots keep pushing for it? If they would just let it go, there would suddenly be much more flexibility for planning many more projects that have a far greater chance of making a real difference for transportation in Santa Clara County.

These people are trying to make you believe that there is no alternative to building BART and that since it WILL be built, you'd better vote to fork over more money right now. And they are doing you a favor by giving you the opportunity to vote "Yes" on it.

I hear a sound. It is a resounding NO! And it it is the sound of BART's inevitable death.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Apathy Is the Membership's Common Bond 

The Driver's Room Forum - AVOID A MAJOR 'WEDGIE' -- GET INVOLVED!:

It continues to amaze me that there is no input from the membership here. I'm not alone in my thinking:

"Where is everybody?
Without the official Union newsletter as an avenue for any member's opinions and questions, one would think this Website would be HUMMING with activity. Many kudos to Penguiniator for slugging it out alone, doing the research, probably paying the fee(s) for this Website, etc. I know exactly what it's like, having sometimes supplied every word that appeared in some issues of Route 265 years ago.
I fear I am seeing the membership sinking into a deep hibernation, while its leadership confines its activities to reaction (grievance-handling) instead of proaction. It is conceivable that the Union will eventually be seen as irrelevant to the majority of its members. That's when VTA management might try to drive a fatal wedge you-know-where; i.e., try to get the union decertified. Then what?
Hello? Hello-o-o-o-o? Anyone there?"

Richard Lofsted Badge 291

I got the idea for this web site from another driver and thought, "Wow, that could really be something great!" I started it wondering how I could get the word out, advertising on Google, making flyers and surrepticiously surfing to the site using the computers in the driver's rooms at each yard and simply leaving the front page on screen and walking away to let others discover it on their own. It has not been entirely ignored; several people at VTA read it regularly, as my server logs indicate, and it has been quoted and linked to from other sites.

But the original vision--supplying a place for drivers to sound off and stay updated on issues important to all drivers--has not materialized. Perhaps Richard is right. Maybe the membership has sunk into a deep hibernation. What will it take to rouse them from their slumber? I'm unsure if I can supply the right kind of smelling salts to wake them.

Perhaps it will take a direct threat to their individual jobs to motivate them to band together in any real way. Maybe not even then.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

No Common Sense at VTA 

The Dispatch:

We single out the VTA for two good reasons: The scathing grand jury report on its inefficient operations and the dogged pursuit, whipped on by the misguided Silicon Valley Leadership Group, of bringing BART to San Jose no matter the cost.

It seems clear that VTA and Ron Gonzales are determined to build it, even though all the evidence says commuters will not come even if they do. The board hired a man willing to say yes to whatever Gonzales wants. And why not -- he's getting paid a pretty penny to do so! How long will it take VTA to either decide to become BART's south bay area arm or to give up the fantasy and face the reality of having to really streamline its operations by making real cuts in administration, where it has been blasted for inefficiency, and focus on fulfilling its charter.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Is Burns' Divining Rod Better Than Cipola's? 

MercuryNews.com | 06/02/2005 | VTA approves new chief, projects budget surplus: "Burns probably will be measured on two fronts -- his ability to deliver BART and lure back bus riders, who have sagged from around 150,000 to 105,000 a day, the lowest in more than two decades.

But the local sales tax, which makes up 80 percent of the agency's operating fund, is beginning to inch upward, from $132 million in 2003 to a projected $181 million in 2010."

Remember the tailgate meetings Cipola led just before the first layoffs, the ones where he was taken to task for continuing to hire new drivers long after most big companies in the area began laying off workers? His response then was that there was no way he could have known what was coming. He continued operating VTA as if ever increasing sales tax funds would continue to flow his way.

The current players now are predicting a $50 million increase by 2010. Have they learned anything from the error of their ways? I don't want to cast a long shadow over the jubilent celebration the board is having over hiring Muni's Big Boss, but can we really afford to operate as if we know what the future holds? I certainly hope their predictions come true, but please--don't act as though the future economic health of VTA is a positive certainty.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

New Boss Hits VTA 

MercuryNews.com | 06/02/2005 | Muni boss bound for VTA: "Burns, 49, took over the San Francisco transit agency six years ago, coming to the Bay Area from Philadelphia where he was the No. 2 man of that transit system and where he reportedly developed a relationship as being tough on labor issues. [italics are mine]"

Get ready, because the good times are definitely not rolling at VTA.

Michael Burns will get $290,000 a year, about $67,000 more than Cipola was paid. That difference would pay an hourly employee $32.21 an hour with a 40 hour guarantee. The Merc says he has "a relationship as being tough on labor issues." Seems to me they should have used the word reputation, but who am I to nit pick their wording. The point is that the union had better be ready for some tough negotiating at a time when they have already shown themselves to be soft.

This guy is a yes man when it comes to BART. There will be no internal struggle over major policy decisions and it will cost many their jobs. VTA will be seeking to reduce front line workers again while protecting their overbloated administration, as they always have. There will be more talk from them of cutting administrative "positions" as they shuffle actual administrators into "vacant positions". The result when you go into the front office will be new and unhappy faces.

Meanwhile, there will be more fare hikes that will result in fewer riders and declining farebox revenues as the new Boss smiles his way through Sacramento and Washington greasing the wheels that fund big budget, high visibility projects like BART. His mission is to create a Brave New World of speedy, comfortable transportation that takes into consideration the regional needs of commuters. (Wow, they should hire me to write their propaganda!)

But first, the new Boss has to introduce himself to his newly acquired drudges. Of course, he will also need to bring in his Cronies, as Bosses always do, to do the unpleasant jobs that would make them look bad otherwise. So he will introduce himself as our friend and then send in his lieutenant to break the legs of the union and the spirit of solidarity.