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Letters for the Week of July 31

Readers sound off on BART financing, Berkeley's minimum wage increase, and more.


"BART's Big Gift to Wealthy Corporations," News, 7/17

BART Responds

Darwin BondGraham's piece, "BART's Big Gift to Wealthy Corporation," correctly refers to the potential benefit that the SF Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) District can realize if it leverages the real estate land value around its stations that have resulted from proximity to public transit. It is true that BART adds value to land around its system and that we have not captured that value to date through the development of "benefit assessment districts."

But the author criticizes BART for not taking action to tap into this value. There is a reason for that. BART hasn't had the legal authority to do so.

BondGraham's article refers to the Mills Act (Cal. Public Util. Code Section 99000 et seq.) as the authority for BART to impose special assessments on real property. But the Mills Act was passed by the California legislature in 1968, before the passage by California voters of state Proposition 218, which introduced several new requirements and restrictions related to the imposition of assessments on real property. As a result, the Mills Act includes some requirements for the imposition of assessments that conflict with Proposition 218. Accordingly, BART determined that it cannot rely on the Mills Act as authority to impose special assessments on real property, because the Act does not permit compliance with Proposition 218.  

Because of this, BART is currently seeking new state legislation to allow the creation of special assessments in compliance with Proposition 218. BART is sponsoring legislation (SB 142, DeSauliner) that would not only allow BART to establish benefit assessment districts — and therefore possibly reap the value of properties around BART stations — but would also authorize all California public transit systems to establish such assessments. In addition, BART is also sponsoring a bill (SB 628, Beall) that would expedite local development of Infrastructure Finance Districts (IFDs) that would help finance important transit infrastructure projects with the assistance of tax increment finance.

Public transit continues to increase the value of the property in communities it serves, and BART is working to make the possibility of benefitting from that increased value a reality.

Grace Crunican

BART General Manager

Preposterous Pandering

Oh please. This is beyond preposterous. Twenty-three percent is not a "modest raise." The 8 percent that management is offering is both reasonable and more than most people are getting in real life.

The expansions should have happened decades ago, especially to the areas in the eastern parts of the counties, which have been paying taxes for service they haven't been getting for almost half a century. It is entirely proper for BART to dedicate funds to making it happen at last.

The Express is starting to border on self-parody with its predictable attempts to divert attention from the intolerable behavior of those to whom it panders with this hand-waving.

The union is claiming this is about "safety," but has not put forth one substantive public document making this case — which leaves the taxpayers and riders with the distinct impression that this is all about greed. There's certainly nothing from the union about what the taxpayers and riders will get in return for all this.

Mary Eisenhart, Oakland

"Proposed Minimum Wage Hike Sparks Conflict," News, 7/17

We Need a Fair Base Wage for All

In the midst of the debate over the proposed minimum wage increase in Berkeley, July 24 marks the fourth year that has passed since the federal minimum wage increased in 2009 to $7.25 per hour. The statewide minimum wage has stagnated at $8.00 per hour since 2008.  

Today, millions of Americans find themselves struggling in poverty even while working a full-time job. The largest low-wage employer in the country, accounting for 39 percent of all workers earning at or below the minimum wage, is the restaurant industry. Restaurants are a multibillion-dollar-a-year industry and one of the fastest-growing sectors in today's economy, yet workers are not seeing the benefits. In fact, seven of the ten lowest-paying jobs and the two absolute lowest-paying jobs in the country are restaurant jobs.

In Alameda County, food prep workers earn a median wage of $9.19/hour and waiters/waitresses earn a median wage of $9/hour, meaning that the people who put food on tables of restaurant-goers struggle to feed themselves and their families. The benefits of a minimum wage increase to these low-wage workers are clear, yet in Berkeley now, many restaurant owners are advocating strongly to exclude tipped workers from the proposed minimum wage increase.  

At the federal level, the tipped minimum wage is currently $2.13 an hour, which the National Restaurant Association has been successful in keeping in place since 1991. As the state with the largest restaurant industry in the nation, California has had no distinction between the tipped minimum wage and regular minimum wage for a quarter century. California is a stellar example of how we can pay equal wages to both tipped and non-tipped workers, while growing a robust and thriving restaurant industry. Berkeley, as a beacon of progressive values, should not be the first city in the state to set a regressive precedent by subsidizing the low wages that restaurants want to pay their tipped workers. Instead, Berkeley should join the regional momentum and its neighbors, San Jose and San Francisco, whose minimum wage is $10/hour and $10.55/hour respectively, in setting a fair base wage for all workers.

A common myth is that increasing the minimum wage would destroy the restaurant industry. On the contrary, a study from UC Berkeley Institute for Research on Employment and Education found that the minimum wage increase in San Francisco did not create a detectable employment loss among restaurants. Other credible studies show that raising the minimum wage for tipped workers would improve productivity and decrease turnover rates, generating sustainable benefits to businesses.  

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