When local activists filed a federal civil rights complaint against BART last year over the Oakland airport connector project, the public agency dismissed the allegations as frivolous. After all, the feds hadn't shown much interest in BART's treatment of minority and low-income riders. But BART officials failed to realize that the Obama administration, unlike its predecessor, takes civil rights issues seriously.
Late last week, the Federal Transit Administration showed just how serious it is when it took away $70 million in federal stimulus funds from BART's planned automated guideway to the Oakland airport. In a strongly worded letter, FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff called the civil rights complaint "well founded," and indicated that BART should not have ignored it. The complaint essentially said that BART should have examined the effects on minorities of replacing a $3 shuttle to the airport with an expensive automated guideway that will cost passengers up to $6.
The move means that the $500 million airport connector is probably dead in the water. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that another $105 million that was earmarked for the project and tied to federal stimulus money also is in jeopardy. Moreover, Rogoff threatened to take the $70 million away from the Bay Area entirely, unless the Metropolitan Transportation Commission redirects the funds immediately to other qualifying projects. As a result, AC Transit could receive nearly $7 million in new funding this week.
BART officials still seem in denial. In a prepared statement, General Manager Dorothy Dugger said: "BART's commitment to Title VI and Civil Rights is strong and abiding and we are fully committed to completing and correcting any deficiencies in our program." She didn't note that BART has repeatedly raised fares and cut service in recent years, while plowing forward with line extensions that serve mostly white, suburban riders.
Rogoff warned BART last month that it needed to devise a plan to correct its civil rights violations right away. BART officials apparently acknowledged to him that it would have been impossible for them to complete the study and come into compliance by September 30, the deadline for stimulus dollars.
Berkeley Faces Pot Club Suit
The Berkeley City Council decided last week to allow a pot club to move near a private elementary school and daycare center. The council could have altered an existing law that prohibits pot clubs of being within 1,000 feet of public schools. But Mayor Tom Bates said that the council decided that altering the law would have been unfair because the Berkeley Patients Group medical marijuana dispensary had submitted its request to relocate under the existing rules.
If the council had chosen to also prohibit pot clubs from moving next to private schools and daycare centers, then the Berkeley Patients Group likely would have sued. But because the council didn't, it probably will be sued by area businesses, and possibly, the private Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley. "It was just a situation of who was going to sue us," Bates said.
Berkeley, San Leandro Okay Instant Runoffs
The Berkeley council adopted ranked choice voting for the November election after the San Leandro council did the same, according to the Berkeley Daily Planet. The decisions mean that Oakland's costs for implementing the new voting format will be much lower this year. If Berkeley and San Leandro leaders had reject ranked choice voting, then Oakland would have had to spend up to $1.5 million in 2010. But because they agreed to go forward with it, then Oakland's expenditure is estimated to be no more than it would normally spend on a June primary. In other words, concerns that ranked choice voting would significantly harm Oakland's budget are probably unfounded.
Bates said last month that the Berkeley council was prepared to say no to ranked choice voting if San Leandro didn't adopt it, because without its involvement, then Berkeley's costs would have been too high. Unlike Oakland, Berkeley and San Leandro did not have a strict voter mandate to implement the new voting format, which allows people to rank politicians on their ballots, and thus eliminate the need for a primary election.
The owners of the Berkeley Daily Planet announced that it will become a web-only publication beginning March 1. However, it's unclear how long the online newspaper will survive. The Planet took a beating during the recession, and it was damaged by a payroll fraud scam, its sometimes anti-business editorial slant, and a boycott mounted by ultra-conservative Jews who objected to the publication of opinions critical of Israel. ... A San Francisco judge indicated last week that the San Francisco Bay Guardian will be allowed to take half of the SF Weekly's advertising revenues as a downpayment on a $20 million judgment. The move, if it goes forward, threatens the Weekly's survival. ... Berkeley city revenues have declined because more residents are recycling and don't need to pay so much for curbside garbage pickup.