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Published Tuesday, September 3, 2002, in the San Mateo Independent
Caltrain baseball buses rolling empty
PacBell Park service may be cut back due to low ridership
By Sara Zaske
SAN CARLOS -- While they love the train, Peninsula baseball fans do not
like the bus.
When Caltrain shut down on the weekends for the "Baby Bullet" track
construction, it rolled out the buses to pick up baseball fans who
normally crowded the trains. Yet only 500 people, one-fifth of the usual
2,500 baseball train riders, boarded the special "BB" bus service.
Consequently, some of the buses may have to be benched.
"We didn't get the ridership we thought we would. We anticipated 100
percent of baseball riders would translate into buses and. that just
didn't happen," said Jayme Maltbie, spokesperson for Caltrain.
As expected, the PacBell parking lots are more crowded, but PacBell
Transportation Manager Alfonso Felder attributes most of that to
construction closing nearby private lots instead of the lack of train
Caltrain will be shut down on the weekends for the next two years as
workers lay passing tracks for express train service, the so-called Baby
At the recommendation of its Citizens Advisory Committee, the Caltrain
board decided not to leave rail riders high and dry during the shutdown
and offered a bus bridge for regular and baseball rail riders on the
The RRX, the bus service for regular rail riders, starts in San Jose and
makes two stops, one at Palo Alto and one at San Mateo's Hillsdale station
on its way to San Francisco. The RRX buses see approximately 30 percent of
the normal weekend rail ridership. Caltrain, officials expected the low
RRX percentage. The low baseball numbers were somewhat of a surprise.
For years, SamTrans' regular bus service to 49er games at Candlestick has
seen a large ridership. For each game in the 2001 season, approximately
3,000 to 5,000 football fans boarded the bus.
The football bus service is more established than the new baseball weekend
bus service, explained Maltbie. Caltrain officials speculate that a number
of factors are contributing to the low baseball bus turnout, including
decreased baseball attendance in general because of the low economy.
There is also a stigma against taking the bus, because people think it
will be slow, which Maltbie said is not the case. "It is a lot faster than
people think because the bus service has limited stops. It picks you up
and takes you home. You will not be trapped on the bus for hours and
hours," she said.
On the weekends, Caltrain runs three separate "BB" routes, originating at
Hayward Park, Palo Alto and San Jose stations with limited stops. SamTrans
and Caltrain worked diligently to schedule the weekend service. Planners
actually drove the routes to make sure the buses would arrive on time.
Published Friday, August 30, 2002, in the Tri-Valley Herald
Pleasanton: One big, gated community?
How wrong-headed can things get? In its latest move to insulate itself
from the hoi polloi, Pleasanton officials think longer red traffic
lights will frustrate freeway commuters trying to cut through town,
convincing them they are better off staying on the freeway.
The city's been experimenting with the idea at the Sunol Boulevard
exit of northbound Interstate 680 since July 24. The light at Sunol
Boulevard and Arlington Drive has been reprogrammed to stay green
during the evening rush hour for just 13 seconds during each 50-second
The result, Pleasanton officials say, has been a 26 percent reduction
in cars traveling north through the intersection -- from 1,550 to
1,150 cars per hour. Maybe they're just heading north to the Bernal
Pleasanton officials contend doing this at intersections off all
freeway ramps into the city could prevent as many as 2 million cars a
year from fleeing gridlocked freeways to take shortcuts through
That may be welcome news for Pleasanton residents who think their
streets are clogged with freeway refugees, but it would be wrong. Most
of the peak hour traffic within Pleasanton -- 75 percent of it -- is
people going from one point within the city to another.
The city's plans also mean city residents wanting to get to their
homes in Pleasanton will stay stuck in traffic longer. Not to mention
the hazard of traffic backing up onto the freeways themselves.
One Caltrans official speculated Pleasanton could be liable for
resulting accidents. Although traffic does back up at other freeway
off-ramps in the Bay Area, there's not another city that is
deliberately causing that to happen.
Now, Pleasanton is gearing up to expand the experiment to other
intersections. To discourage drivers from getting off northbound I-680
at Bernal Avenue -- the next exit after Sunol Boulevard -- red light
times will be increased during the afternoon commute at the stoplight
on Bernal Avenue and Valley Avenue.
And, in the morning, red light times will be increased for westbound
traffic on Stanley Boulevard at the intersection of Valley
Avenue. Stanley Boulevard is a popular shortcut for drivers headed to
Silicon Valley when westbound I-580 becomes jammed.
To provide itself some cover, Pleasanton is applying to Caltrans for a
permit to place signs along northbound I-680 warning motorists of the
potential for backups during peak commute times.
Certainly Pleasanton is vulnerable to some cut-through traffic because
of the city's location at the intersection of the two freeways, I-580
and I-680. In the morning, commuters headed to Silicon Valley from
Livermore, Tracy and other cities east of Pleasanton clog westbound
I-580 and State Route 84.
To reach southbound I-680, some commuters get off the freeway and
drive through Pleasanton. The problem is reversed when commuters come
back up I-680 from San Jose in the evenings, putting traffic on
Pleasanton streets such as Stanley Boulevard, Valley Avenue, Sunol
Boulevard and Bernal Avenue.
But remember, much of this traffic is generated within Pleasanton, or
people coming to or going from their jobs or homes within the city.
Estimates derived from computer models show only about 6 percent of
rush-hour traffic on Pleasanton streets is due to people taking
shortcuts through the city.
Sadly, there is a growing, selfish force that sees the best future for
Pleasanton as one, big, gated community.
That's not a solution. Working toward reducing the jobs/housing
imbalance will help. It makes no sense to restrict housing supply and
force people to live farther and farther from their jobs.
We should complete the area's road network. Rather than leave major
arterial streets unbuilt or unconnected, streets like Stoneridge, El
Charro and Jack London, need to be finished. This will keep errant
commuters off residential streets.
Lastly, regional transit dollars for traffic congestion are allocated
by population. That shouldn't be the determining factor. A few years
ago, I-580 wasn't a congestion problem. Today it is. Congestion
management dollars should be allocated to deal with congestion
Lastly, Pleasanton needs to turn on its metering lights, pacing the
flow of traffic onto freeways, which will help keep traffic moving.
Published Wednesday, August 28, 2002, in the Tri-Valley Herald
Panel looks to ease Pleasanton traffic
Officials debate whether city should build long-planned major arterial roads
By Matt Carter
PLEASANTON -- In the 1980s and 1990s, the critical issue for many
Pleasanton residents -- and the officeholders they elected -- was how
fast the city would grow.
Now that most of the city has been developed, a nagging political
question remains: whether Pleasanton should build the major arterial
roads envisioned by planners when new homes and offices were approved.
A panel discussion by three transportation experts at a Castlewood
Country Club on Tuesday framed issues that will undoubtedly be
revisited in the weeks ahead by candidates for the Pleasanton City
Should Pleasanton build a new freeway interchange at West Las Positas
Boulevard and Interstate 680? Extend Stoneridge Drive to El Charro
Road? Connect El Charro Road to Stanley Boulevard?
Those projects have long been envisioned in the city's General Plan, a
state-required guide spelling out how cities will allow development to
take place, because it was believed they were necessary to handle the
city's growing population and job base.
But that was before Pleasanton streets were being used as shortcuts by
freeway commuters taking a detour through town to shuttle back and
forth between Interstates 580 and 680. Now there's a spirited debate
raging over whether the improvements should be made after all -- at
least right away.
Some residents of Pleasanton neighborhoods, who would see more traffic
if the new roads are built, are fighting the West Las Positas freeway
interchange and the Stoneridge Drive extension.
There was little debate at Tuesday's luncheon, however. The event was
sponsored by the Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce, which favors building
the roads envisioned in the city's General Plan.
The panel consisted of two veteran transportation planners who believe
Pleasanton must make the improve ments, and a city traffic engineer who
takes orders from a City Council that is divided on the subject.
"It definitely had a political slant," said Councilwoman Kay Ayala,
who doesn't want the city to rush to build the roads. "They had people
from the past there, but did nothing to address the issues of the
present council. But that's all right -- that's what the chamber has
decided to do (advocate that the city build the new roads)."
Ayala attended the luncheon but did not participate in a discussion
that was taped for future broadcasts on Community Television.
Panelists Chris Kinzel and Erlene DeMarcus, longtime Valley residents
with impressive resumes in transportation planning, said neighborhoods
opposed to roads can be a powerful NIMBY ("not in my back yard")
"Sometimes the will of the few outweighs the needs of the many,"
Kinzel said of his perception that politicians are sometimes unwilling
to stand up to small groups protesting new roads and freeways.
"When I look back to the early'60s, that's when things started to go
wrong," he said of a "freeway revolt" that led to spending reductions
at the state and federal level.
Kinzel, a consultant who has studied nearly all of the East Bay's
freeways for Caltrans and other agencies, is a member of the
Tri-Valley Business Council, a group advocating new roads.
"If these (roads) are not complete, the arterial system is
inadequate," Kinzel said. "We're forcing people to use the freeway,
even for short trips."
Those on all sides of the debate agree that Pleasanton's problems with
cut-through traffic stem from backups on I-580 and I-680. If traffic
were moving smoothly on those freeways, there would be less incentive
for commuters to take shortcuts through town.
"A lot of professional (traffic engineers) are saying 'it (I-580) will
never flow again,'" said panelist Jeff Knowles, the traffic engineer
for the city of Pleasanton. Using a sophisticated computer modeling
program, Pleasanton is studying what could happen if it does.
Paradoxically, projects such as car pool lanes have the potential to
bring more traffic to Pleasanton streets if they increase freeway
carrying capacity but don't solve gridlock.
Public transportation can help relieve gridlock, but isn't a solution
in itself, said DeMarcus, a former BART director.
"We knew BART wasn't going to be the solution to our traffic problems
when it went in (in Pleasanton), and it hasn't," DeMarcus said.
Knowles said the key to getting I-580 traffic moving again could be
freeway on-ramp metering -- a controversial idea that Livermore,
Pleasanton and Dublin are now re-evaluating. Cars are allowed on the
freeway at four or six second intervals, keeping traffic moving on the
highway but potentially causing backups in the cities.
Pleasanton is also trying an experiment with the opposite approach --
increasing red light times at freeway exits to discourage commuters
from cutting through town.
By reprogramming the light at Sunol Boulevard and Arlington Drive to
stay green during the afternoon rush hour for only 13 seconds during a
50-second cycle, the city was able to reduce northbound traffic
through the intersection by 26 percent.
The experiment also backed traffic up onto I-680 -- to the
consternation of Caltrans and the California Highway Patrol. On
Friday, the city has began trying the same strategy at a traffic light
further from the freeway, at Sunol Boulevard and Sycamore Road,
instead of Arlington.
That seems to have reduced backups on the Sunol Boulevard offramp.
"Our preliminary look at it is that traffic is not backing up as it
was before," said Capt. Steve Bell, commander of the CHP post in
Dublin. "It's a win-win compromise."
Although the experiment has worked so far, commuters returning from
jobs in Silicon Valley may learn to stay on I-680 and exit at Bernal
Avenue. The city is considering reverse metering on Bernal and on
Stanley Boulevard, which travelers use as an east-west alternative to
"This is really radical thinking," although Walnut Creek and Concord
are also using the technique, Kinzel said.
"It's possible because of the new tools where you can test the
But Kinzel doesn't see it as a substitute for building arterial roads
that carry traffic between freeways and cities.
Ayala said she's opposed to building new roads in Pleasanton if
they'll be immediately clogged by cut-through traffic. If Livermore
officials agree, the Pleasanton City councilwoman wants to focus the
debate on widening State Route 84 to four lanes.
Pleasanton's traffic projections show that plan -- which has been
opposed by environmental groups in the past -- would take pressure off
of city streets. Commuters from Livermore and other points east of
Pleasanton would be better able to use State Route 84 to reach I-680.
But Ayala said experts have put the cost of the job at $300 million to
$500 million, and that local agencies haven't taken the needed steps
to obtain it. Ayala also favors extending El Charro Road from I-580 to
"Until I get those (projects approved) and get them funded, I'm not
going to sit and waste time talking about what could be" on other
Pleasanton streets, Ayala said.
Published Sunday, September 1, 2002, in the Tri-Valley Herald
Red light for stoplight program
Pleasanton's City Council is running a pilot program that should die
an early death.
The council has approved using stoplights as guard gates at peak
commute hours. Instead of doing all they can to move traffic, the city
traffic folks have created traffic jams in hopes of deterring
commuters from driving through Pleasanton en route elsewhere.
Of course, nine of 10 peak-hour trips in Pleasanton are taken by
Pleasanton residents driving within the city. On some gateways, such
at Sunol Boulevard, the nonresident commuter percentage is
significantly higher than one of 10, but there are still plenty of
locals being affected.
The Sunol experiment throttled traffic so well that 26 percent fewer
cars came through and traffic backed up onto Interstate 680. The
liability that could be incurred from such deliberate congestion
should an accident occur on the freeway should have the City
Attorney's office sending out immediate advisories to council
members. The city has since moved the gate one light closer to town to
allow more room off the freeway.
Traffic and the so-called cut-through traffic likely will be a major
issue again this fall. The throttled gateways (Bernal Avenue and
Stoneridge Drive could be next) are a dubious and awful
finger-in-the-dike approach to solving what is a regional problem.
The Valley has a planned transportation network as panelists at the
Pleasanton Chamber of Commerce's luncheon last week pointed out.
Traffic engineer Chris Kinzel, who has worked on valley transportation
issues since the 1980s, and former BART Director Erlene DeMarcus (now
the transportation specialist for Supervisor Scott Haggerty) said that
completing the planned roads is the key to improving traffic.
And Pleasanton's relatively new traffic engineer, Jeff Knowles, said
he was hopeful that strategies could be developed to get Interstate
580 moving again.
Getting the freeway moving is critical. When southbound I-680 was so
jammed in the morning, freeway lanes that routinely carry 2,000 to
2,200 cars an hour were handling only 1,500. Unsticking the freeway
And there are some simple steps such as turning on metering lights at
Santa Rita Road and Hacienda Drive in Pleasanton. The lights have been
installed, but the City Council refuses to turn them on.
It's a curious proposition. The council welcomes the revenue that
folks who live out-of-town provide when they shop in Pleasanton, but
refuse to take a step that could alleviate congestion.
It's a backwards approach.
The key regional improvement that would help Pleasanton traffic is
fixing Highway 84 from Livermore to Sunol. Widening the road to four
or six lanes and completing a full interchange at I-580 would greatly
help traffic that currently avoids the curvy, narrow road over Pigeon
Although you hear from Pleasanton leaders supporting it, we haven't
seen any checkbooks in hand.
The second piece is completing the arterial roads that have been
played for decades so residents can get around the valley without
going on the freeways.
The Livermore Valley can avoid the transportation nightmare of the San
Ramon Valley by connecting parallel arterials to I-580 such as
Stoneridge Drive in Pleasanton, Jack London Boulevard in Livermore and
Dublin Boulevard to North Canyons Parkway in Livermore.
There just one north-south arterial in the San Ramon Valley (San Ramon
Valley Boulevard to Danville Boulevard) so people must use I-680. The
Livermore Valley can avoid that mess by linking up roads that are
planned to connect.
What's required is leadership focused on solving issues instead of
pandering to narrow, selfish interests.
Kinzel got off the best line of the day when he coined a new term to
accompany the NIMBYs -- NoMAS -- Not on my arterial street.
Asked what individuals can do, both Kinzel and DeMarcus urged people
to look at the big picture.
Published Saturday, August 31, 2002, in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat
Kelly Road section reopening to public
Contract with Sonoma County clears way for access to park,
By Tom Chorneau
A section of Kelly Road in northern Sonoma County will reopen Sunday,
restoring public access to a county park and communications facility
that were cut off two years ago in a dispute between the road's owners
and county officials.
Last month, county supervisors and Dave and Bunny Lewers agreed to a
20-year contract that gives the public the right to use a 2-1/2-mile
portion of the unimproved dirt road, which connects the coastal
community of Annapolis with Cloverdale. In exchange for the access,
the Lewers will receive $400,000 over the term of the agreement.
Starting Sunday, the public will once again be able to drive directly
to Soda Springs Reserve, a 48-acre county-owned park. The county will
also regain access to a public safety communication facility located
on nearby Oakridge Mountain.
Because of liability concerns, the Lewers installed a gate on the west
end of the road shortly after taking possession of it in 2000.
Lewers said he believes language in the contract with the county
protects him from liability and he is happy the gate is being opened.
"I want people to go to the park. That's been our contention all
along," he said. "I see all of this as a very positive thing, good for
Lewers said that while he and his family will not be liable for
people's use of the road, he has taken responsibility for a number of
roadway management tasks, including clearing roadside brush, regular
grading and watering to keep down the dust.
Along with the road maintenance, Lewers said he has installed a number
of road signs and reflectors.
Kelly Road runs about 26 miles from the coast to Cloverdale. It was
taken over by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1980 during the
construction of Warm Springs Dam. The cost of maintaining the road
grew every year and the federal agency finally sold it to a private
buyer in 1999.
County officials had considered taking over the road several times,
but gave up the idea after studies found it could cost $2.5 million to
upgrade it to county standards.
Although the western gate will be opened Sunday, another gate just
east of the park has also been installed and will be kept locked to
prevent the public from crossing onto private property.
You can reach Staff Writer Tom Chorneau at 707-521-5214
Published Tuesday, August 27, 2002, by Bay Area Air Quality Mgmt. Dist.
Air District seeks candidates for Advisory Council (mass public
The Board of Directors of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District
is seeking applicants for the District's Advisory Council. The
Advisory Council advises and consults with the Board of Directors and
the Air Pollution Control Officer on matters related to air
pollution. Council members receive no salary, but are given expenses
incurred in the discharge of duties.
The 20-member Advisory Council is comprised of persons representing
specific interest groups and occupations, such as public health
agencies, private organizations active in conservation or
environmental protection, regional park districts, park and recreation
commissions, public mass transportation systems, agriculture,
industry, community planning, transportation, registered professional
engineers, general contractors, architects, organized labor and one
seat in an unspecified category.
Applications are being sought in the mass public transportation
category to complete an unexpired term ending December 31, 2003. The
Board is also accepting applications for Council categories that are
presently filled to create a pool of candidates should vacancies
The Council meets six times a year, in the morning on the second
Wednesday of January, March, May, July, September and
November. Members are assigned to one of the Council's three Standing
Committees Air Quality Planning, Public Health, and Technical which
meet during the months between the full Advisory Council meetings. The
normal term of office is two years and members may be appointed for up
to six consecutive terms.
Applicants are preferably experienced in the field of air pollution
control, and must reside within the area of the District's regulatory
jurisdiction. For an information packet and application form, contact
James N. Corazza, Deputy Clerk of the Boards, 939 Ellis Street, San
Francisco, California 94109; phone: (415) 749-4962;
e-mail <jcorazza@...>. The deadline for receiving applications
is September 20, 2002.
For information on the Air District, visit our web page at
Published Friday, August 30, 2002, in the San Jose Mercury News
Look for tough smog tests in 2004
Davis expected to sign bill bringing program to Bay Area
By Gary Richards
Bay Area drivers will face a tougher and more expensive smog test
under legislation now awaiting Gov. Gray Davis' signature.
If Davis signs the bill as expected, the new Smog Check II program
would begin in 2004.
The tougher test is required in regions with substandard air. While
air quality is good in the Bay Area, this legislation makes Smog Check
II mandatory locally because prevailing winds cause the Bay Area to
contribute to smog in the San Joaquin Valley.
Q: What is Smog Check II?
A: It's a program now in use in most of California and requires
vehicles to be tested on a treadmill. That method better simulates
actual driving conditions and results in more cars failing. Vehicles
fail at nearly twice the rate -- 15.3 percent under Smog Check II
compared with 8.4 percent in the current Bay Area program.
Q: How much more will the test cost?
A: An additional $10 to $15 on average, but don't be surprised if the
costs are higher in more expensive areas like Santa Clara, San Mateo
and Contra Costa counties. And the cost of repairs -- $144 on average
statewide -- will probably be higher locally, perhaps by $20 on
Q: Air quality in the Bay Area is the best of any metropolitan region
nationwide. Why do we need this tougher smog check?
A: Central Valley legislators have pushed for the program, saying
prevailing winds send smog from the Bay Area toward Stockton.
Q: Will new vehicles still be exempted from tests?
A: Yes, and for longer. New cars will be exempted for six years under
this bill, a change from four years.
Q: Does most of the Central Valley's smog come from car exhaust in the
A: No. Much of it originates from diesel-operated farm equipment and
oil refineries in the region. But Bay Area smog does contribute to bad
air in places like Stockton and Fresno. Studies show that the tougher
smog check in the Bay Area would reduce nitrogen oxides by 13 tons a
day. Yet the San Joaquin Valley needs a reduction of 300 tons a day to
meet federal standards.
Q: Who is behind the new program?
A: The new legislation was written by Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza, the
Turlock Democrat seeking the congressional seat held by lame duck
Rep. Gary Condit. Senate leader John Burton is the leading Bay Area
advocate, getting Cardoza's approval earlier this summer for a
landmark measure designed to curb automotive greenhouse gas emissions.
Q: Why would costs be higher?
A: Because the equipment is more expensive. A basic smog check machine
costs $18,000, while the treadmill used in Smog Check II costs
Q: How different will the new test be?
A: The existing test is performed with the car idling, assesses only
hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide. The new treadmill test also measures
Q: Any other changes?
A: One. Unlike the current smog program in the Bay Area, Smog Check II
requires that about 15 percent of vehicles go to test-only stations,
which are not allowed to make repairs. If they fail the test, they
must go to a second shop for repairs.
Contact Gary Richards at mrroadshow@...
or (408) 920-5335. The fax number is (408) 288-8060.
Published Sunday, September 1, 2002, in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat
Press Democrat Editorial
Smog Check II
Cleaner air is worth it, but be ready to feel the pinch
One of the most significant bills to survive the end-of-session crush
in Sacramento is legislation requiring tougher smog checks for car
owners in the Bay Area, including much of Sonoma County.
The Smog Check II legislation would require the nine Bay Area counties
to meet the strict air quality standards that have been in place in
Los Angeles, San Diego and Sacramento for the past four years.
This would correct a basic unfairness. With the help of coastal air
currents, the Bay Area has been dumping its smog into the Central
Valley for some time. But the Bay Area hasn't been forced to live by
the stricter emissions test -- while Sacramento has.
Needless to say, Sacramento officials are championing this
bill. Studies indicate the new standards in the Bay Area would reduce
nitrogen oxides in the Central Valley by 13 tons a day. The valley is
under federal mandate to cut those pollutants by 300 tons a day.
The bill, AB 2637, authored by Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced,
was approved by the state Senate and Assembly last week and sent to
the governor, who has indicated he is "sympathetic" to the bill but
was unsure of the specifics.
We believe this bill has all the assurances the governor needs. It
seeks to correct a basic inequity in the state's pollution laws. But,
even more important, it will help clean up California's air -- from
Monterey to Santa Rosa, to Sacramento. The benefits of the existing
smog check laws are evident. But more work is needed.
At the same time, legislators need to be honest with Californians
about the financial impacts of Smog Check II. Supporters of this bill
claim the increased cost of a smog check will only be about $10. But
North Bay smog shop owners say the expense, at least at the beginning,
will be substantially more.
The new Smog Check II equipment can cost $30,000 to $50,000. One Santa
Rosa shop owner said he expected prices for smog checks to increase
from $39 to $100 at first.
On top of that is the added expense of bringing cars that fail the
smog checks up to code. The Bay Area's current failure rate is 8.4
percent. The state projects that rate will climb to 15.3 percent. In
some cases, it will require Californians to buy new cars at a time
when they can least afford it.
But there are exemptions. The law exempts cars made prior to 1974 and
those less than six years old.
Also vehicle owners in Sonoma County living north of Healdsburg,
including those in Forestville and Guerneville, would be exempt.
For some, Smog Check II will be expensive, but clean air is worth it.
The governor should sign this bill into law.
Published Friday, August 30, 2002, in the San Francisco Chronicle
Braced for landing
If United Airlines files for Chapter 11, SFO will roll out plan B
By David Armstrong
As United Airlines ponders whether to plunge into Chapter 11
bankruptcy protection, San Francisco International Airport is readying
itself to weather the storm.
A bankruptcy filing could, for example, lead to a falloff in airport
revenue and passenger traffic, should a reorganized United decide to
scale back its presence at SFO, where it accounts for 51 percent of
the airport's passengers and 25 percent of its revenue.
That worrisome prospect could lead some agencies to downgrade their
credit ratings of airports like SFO and Denver International, where
United has a sizable presence. Such a move would impose higher
borrowing costs on airports that are already struggling to run lean
operations in an economy soured by the economic recession and Sept. 11
Still, Airport Director John Martin said in an interview that SFO is
in a good position regardless of what happens to United in the coming
weeks. For example, he said SFO has already secured a $24 million
performance bond from United that will cover two months' of rents and
fees in the event it pulls out.
He also said United does not owe the airport money and has not asked
"They remain current on all payments," Martin said of United, which
has lost $3 billion during the past 18 months and demanded $1.5
billion in wage concessions from its employees on Thursday in an
attempt to bring costs under control.
"If United files, it's a concern for us, but we are going to remain
financially strong," Martin said.
SFO's game plan reflects hard-won experience for airports, said David
Plavin, president for North America of Airport Councils
International. "Airports have had to learn a lot about airline
bankruptcies over the years," said Plavin, director of aviation for
the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 1991, when Pan
American declared bankruptcy.
In recent years, Plavin said, Pan Am, Braniff, Trans World Airways
(twice), Continental (twice) and other airlines have gone into Chapter
11. Those filings, he said, taught airports to protect themselves,
mainly by being careful not to let airlines fall into arrears on rent
Even if an airline does tumble into Chapter 11, Plavin said, that's
not necessarily bad for airports.
"The carriers are actually much more reliable tenants during Chapter
11 than building up to Chapter 11. And they have to be, because the
bankruptcy judge enforces that," he said.
Whether United will go into Chapter 11 is uncertain. However, the
carrier's huge losses during the past year and a half led interim
Chief Executive Officer Jack Creighton to say that United might have
to file for bankruptcy as early as Sept. 15. The airline also hopes to
win $1.8 billion in federal loan guarantees as part of its attempt to
return to profitability.
If United, based in Chicago, does file Chapter 11, the airline would
continue to fly, and big hub airports such as SFO would continue to
operate at near-normal levels, aviation industry experts say.
Martin said he is confident there would be no major disruption or
reduction of service in San Francisco, which United uses as a key hub,
especially for lucrative flights to and from Asia.
"San Francisco is the most profitable international gateway in the
United system," Martin said, adding that SFO's international travel,
led by traffic from Asia, has come back fairly well since Sept. 11,
even as domestic travel continues to lag.
Asian traffic is important to United, which uses SFO and Los Angeles
International Airport as gateways to Asia. Asian fliers, Martin said,
constitute 10 percent of SFO's passengers and account for 40 percent
of sales in SFO's duty-free shops.
Even if traffic is strong and service is largely unimpeded, it won't
necessarily be all smooth flying for SFO, however.
Concerned about possible falling revenue associated with United's
travails, Fitch Ratings lowered SFO's credit rating from AA- to A+ at
the beginning of this year, according to Fitch analyst Jessica Soltz
Rudd. That is several steps below the top rating of AAA, though well
above the bottom rating of BBB-.
Another credit downgrade is possible, she said, should United's
troubles drag down the airport -- for example, if United, in a Chapter
11 reorganization, downsizes and decides to lease fewer gates from
SFO, and other airlines aren't quick to lease the newly available
That scenario would raise SFO's expenses, and could result in a
downgrade on its existing bond issues. A lower credit rating would
make it more difficult for SFO to borrow money -- a not insignificant
factor for SFO, which has budgeted just over half of its fiscal year
2002-2003 finances to service $4.3 billion in outstanding debt.
Should United file for bankruptcy, it would continue to pay full rent
on the facilities it uses, said bankruptcy attorney Martin Zohn.
But "if there is old debt, the airline could avoid paying that for a
considerable amount of time, and possibly forever," said Zohn, a
managing partner in the Los Angeles law firm Proskauer Rose LLP.
Zohn, who has represented clients in airline bankruptcy cases but
declined to name them, said airports initially shoulder old airline
debt themselves. Typically, however, Zohn said, an airport will raise
the rental rates for a new airline tenant to counterbalance that debt
-- in effect, making the new tenant pay off the old tenant's debt.
Should a bankrupt United decide it needs fewer gates, Zohn suggested,
one possible scenario would be for a nimble, low-fare carrier to lease
those gates and provide a niche service: the frequent San
Francisco-Los Angeles service, say, once dominated by the now-departed
United Shuttle or the defunct Pacific Southwest Airways.
"An airport like SFO, which is in high demand, would have a good
chance of leasing its gates," said Plavin, of Airport Councils
In the meantime, Martin said, SFO is acting prudently and riding out
what he termed "the very slow return" of air travel. Domestic fliers,
Martin said, were down by 19 percent from the first half of 2002
compared with the first half of 2001; international passengers
declined 9.3 percent in the same six months.
In line with the weak operating environment, Martin said, SFO has
slashed its budget 5.6 percent, to $570.4 million from last year's
$604.5 million. The airport has also reduced its staff from 1,537
employees in 2001 to 1,306 now, a drop of 15 percent. Staff
reductions, he said, were accomplished through attrition, with no
SFO continues to offer reduced rents to many of its terminals' shop
owners, whose sales plummeted after Sept. 11. Under the deal, once
sales return to 85 percent of concession sales in 2000, SFO's
strongest year, rents return to normal levels, Martin said. At
present, most shopkeepers pay a percentage of their net sales rather
than the normal minimum payment.
Additionally, SFO has slashed its capital spending for this fiscal
year to $200,000 -- a 98 percent drop.
The savings has been achieved chiefly by putting renovation plans for
the shuttered former international terminal on hold. The airport still
plans to revamp the terminal for domestic travel when conditions
improve, said Bob Rhoades, SFO's deputy airport director for business
Major projects already under way are continuing, Martin said, with the
AirTrain people-mover system expected to be up and running by
December, and airport BART service still on track for January.
Also still on the drawing board are new runways, pending environmental
reviews. The runways, which would be built on bay fill, are strongly
opposed by environmentalists, but Martin said when the current slump
in air travel is over, new runways will be needed to handle growth.
SFO expects $570.5 million in revenue this fiscal year.
Here's how it breaks out (in millions of dollars):
WHERE IT COMES FROM
Airline terminal rentals: $213.5
Airline landing fees: $125.2
Car rentals: $27.9
Terminal –concessions: $50.2
WHERE IT GOES
Debt service: $290
Salaries and employee benefits: $109.5
Non-personnel safety and security: $57.7
Capital outlay: $0.2
City service: $84.1
E-mail David Armstrong at davidarmstrong@...
Published Friday, August 30, 2002, in the Oakland Tribune
914,000 in great rush to get away
More Bay Area residents plan to shun planes for buses, trains in last
mad dash of summer
By Sean Holstege
More and more travelers are leaving the airports behind and heading
for the hills, beaches and favorite Labor Day getaway spots by bus and
With 80 percent of Bay Area travelers planning to go by car, the
freeways are certain to be crowded. The California Highway Patrol is
setting up 18 drunken driver checkpoints.
In the last mad dash of the summer, 914,000 Bay Area residents are
expected to flee the scene for the long weekend, according to the
California Automobile Association. Consistent with the rest of the
country, that marks a 1 percent drop in travel from a year ago.
There will be 6 percent fewer of them flying, but 7 percent more
climbing on board a bus or train.
"What we're seeing follows a trend we've seen over the year, but not a
trend from the previous holidays this year. We don't know why," CSAA
spokesman Atle Erlingsson said.
Air travel has been down all year, partly because of post-Sept. 11
jitters and extra security hassles, but mostly because of a sluggish
economy. But on the Fourth of July and Memorial Day that didn't stop
thousands of Bay Area families from taking to the skies.
They tell AAA pollsters they are comfortable with airport security,
despite widely publicized glitches and an industry plagued by recent
About 75 percent of Americans said they were confident in the level of
security, but eight in 10 insist that airports meet a Dec. 31 deadline
to screen every bag for bombs.
In a sign of growing realism about airport security, the federal
Transportation Security Administration recently announced that airline
workers no longer will ask passengers if they packed their own bags.
But the anniversary of last year's terror attacks is reviving painful
memories of exploding airplanes and burning buildings. Some airlines
offered free travel on Sept. 11.
Nonetheless, the airports still will be a mob scene this weekend, and
travelers are advised to arrive two hours before their flights to have
adequate time to clear security. Passengers must have a valid ID to
board their planes.
Oakland International Airport says the parking lots will fill up by
Saturday, as 240,000 travelers fly Oakland over the long break. Demand
will peak today and Monday at 44,000 passengers a day.
All summer long, passengers have complained about getting to Oakland
airport. In recent weeks, many passengers have reported that it took
them two hours to get from the freeway to the terminal.
Today, 108,000 will fly through San Francisco International
Airport. SFO has enough surplus parking that it is offering free
30-minute parking in the domestic terminal garage today and Monday
from 7 to 11 p.m. Overall, 352,000 people will fly through SFO.
At San Jose International Airport, 43,000 people will fill the
terminals today, up from a typical day of 34,000. Airport officials
say it will be the busiest day since last year's attacks. Parking is
All of this means Bay Area freeways are liable to start jamming up
The CHP is going beyond its usual maximum enforcement to also set up
18 drunken driver checkpoints around the Bay Area, in the first such
campaign in California outside the Christmas and New Year holiday
Some 125 law enforcement agencies will cooperate, as the CHP pays
particular attention to speeders, seat belt violators and drunken
It is all in response to some particularly bloody holiday weekends
recently. During the Fourth of July weekend, 50 Californians were
killed on highways, and 32 of them were not buckled up.
During last year's Labor Day weekend, there were 54 deaths on
California roads, two of them in the Bay Area. The CHP arrested 178
people for DUI in the Bay Area and 1,377 statewide that weekend.
Published Saturday, August 31, 2002, in the San Francisco Chronicle
Sidewalk scooter now up to Davis
Senior, pedestrian groups oppose device
By Greg Lucas
California's two-legged pedestrians will share their sidewalks with
expensive two-wheeled contraptions that zip along at 12 mph under a
bill sent to Gov. Gray Davis on Friday.
The measure is backed by a Manchester, N.H., company called Segway,
which wants to create a national market for its Human Transporter -- a
sophisticated electric scooter that looks like a high-tech push mower.
Ten years and $100 million in the making, the Human Transporter won't
be available to regular folks until some time late next year, but
Segway has already convinced 31 states to allow the $3,000-plus gizmos
Opponents of the measure claim the 65-pound people movers threaten
pedestrians, particularly blind or deaf ones.
"This is a yuppie fantasy, poorly thought out, wildly dangerous and
not at all addressing the concerns of seniors and the disabled," said
Bob Planthold of the Senior Action Network.
Segway counters that their product is perfectly safe.
"Segway is safe on the sidewalks," said Tobe Cohen, the company's
"We've been demonstrating that with the thousands of hours police
departments, EMS departments and postal workers have put on in real
sidewalk applications as well as thousands of hours we've spent
testing the product here," Cohen said.
Segway is a privately held company. One of its investors is the
venture capitalist John Doerr, whose money helped start major
companies such as Amazon. com, Netscape and Sun Microsystems.
Since June 2001, Doerr has contributed $125,000 to Davis' campaign.
Groups that oppose the measure -- SB1918 by Sen. Tom Torlakson,
D-Martinez - - say they don't object to the Human Transporter sharing
bicycle lanes, they just don't want the devices on the sidewalk.
"We see them as vehicles like any other," said Michael Smith,
president of Walk San Francisco. "The only group interested in having
them on the sidewalk is Segway because they want to make money off of
it. We feel our sidewalks should not be for sale."
Smith said his group was trying to pass a local ordinance banning the
devices from San Francisco's sidewalks.
Supporters say the bill gives cities, counties and state agencies like
Caltrans the power to regulate where, when -- and if -- Segways can be
on local sidewalks.
Torlakson's bill defines the Human Transporter as an "electric
personal assistive mobility device." Such devices are allowed on
sidewalks by defining their users as pedestrians.
Supporters of the bill include several law enforcement agencies
including the California Highway Patrol.
"We tested it a little," said Tom Marshall, a CHP spokesman. "It's
almost impossible to run into somebody on it. They're so slow it would
not really be safe to have them out in traffic."
E-mail Greg Lucas at glucas@...
Published Saturady, August 31, 2002, in the Contra Contra Times
People mover moves to governor
The electric Segway Human Transporter is meant for sidewalk use; it
would be regulated by local jurisdictions
By Andrew LaMar
A recently invented electric people mover will be allowed for use on
California's sidewalks but will be regulated by local authorities,
under legislation the Senate approved Friday.
SB1918 by Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, passed 26-7 and now goes to
Gov. Gray Davis, who is expected to sign it. Both Caltrans and the
California Highway Patrol endorsed the measure.
The Segway Human Transporter is a motorized device that looks somewhat
like a push lawnmower, and is a cross between a scooter and an
electric golf cart. Its inventors say the machine bridges the gap
between walking and driving an automobile.
Advocates for pedestrians and senior citizens, however, fought the
bill out of concern for sidewalk safety. Weighing from 83 to 95 pounds
and reaching speeds of 12.5 mph, the machine could injure other
sidewalk users, they argued.
To address the safety worries, Torlakson required the machines to have
a horn or bell and gave local governments the right to limit or ban
their use. Torlakson calls the Segway one of the solutions to
California's transportation problems.
The machine's makers say it turns the user into an "empowered
pedestrian, allowing the person to go farther, move more quickly and
carry more than could ever be achievable walking."
The Segway Co. has a manufacturing facility in New Hampshire, where it
plans to produce 40,000 Segways a month by the end of next
year. Prototypes are being used by the U.S. Postal Service and law
A commercial model will retail for $8,000 and a consumer model for
$3,000, Segway officials said.
"The Segway will help people and communities with an innovative
transportation alternative for connecting to transit, work and errands
without extra car trips," Torlakson said.
The Segway can go as many as 17 miles on a single battery charge.
Thirty-one other states have enacted similar measures for the
Segway. The legislation would take effect March 1, 2003.
Andrew LaMar covers state government. Reach him at 916-441-2101
Published Saturday, August 31, 2002, in the Contra Contra Times
Trucks rattle south Livermore
A power-line accident and fire spark complaints about traffic on
streets outside designated routes
By Sam Richards
LIVERMORE -- The Old South Side neighborhood group got its start in
late 1999, the rallying cry was to make the city enforce existing
regulations to keep large and heavy trucks off their streets.
Three years later, the problems persist. After a trailer-mounted
backhoe snapped a low-hanging phone line Aug. 20, touching power lines
and starting a roof fire that damaged a house under renovation, south
Livermore residents are again pleading for tougher enforcement to keep
large trucks off restricted streets and the weight-restricted Arroyo
"It's been an ongoing problem, and it's frustrating," said Pat Duffy,
an L Street resident unhappy with the city's lack of vigilance in
keeping heavy vehicles off neighborhood streets and light
bridges. "There's just this series of failures by the city of
Livermore to deal with this issue."
City officials say they are working hard to enforce rules that
restrict large trucks on streets not designated as truck routes. The
only legal truck routes through town are Stanley Boulevard, Livermore
Avenue between Interstate 580 and First Street, and First Street and
Holmes Street (Highway 84) west from downtown.
But increased construction in the southern part of the city, and with
L Street/Arroyo Road a straight-shot temptation for truckers, has
meant more large vehicles with business in south Livermore than police
can track, said Mohammed Pournia, the city's transportation manager.
"We've had a hard time breaking (truckers) of that habit, of using
that natural Portola Avenue to L Street route," Pournia said. Police
do periodic enforcement to keep trucks off unapproved streets, but
officer resources are stretched thin.
The latest plea by Duffy and other neighbors for enforcement came
after the backhoe, being towed on a flatbed trailer, snapped a phone
line. The snapped line, in turn, wrapped around nearby power lines,
causing a transformer to blow out and start a fire in the roofing
tarpaper, burning a hole in the roof.
Pournia said that phone line, believed to have been about 14 feet off
the ground, failed to meet the 17-foot requirement for any object
suspended over, or built over, a public roadway. Nevertheless, the
city is trying to keep trucks where they legally belong, and on a few
thoroughfares -- Isabel Avenue, Concannon Boulevard -- which either
one day will be truck routes or are best equipped to handle
neighborhood construction needs. Large and overweight trucks need a
special city permit to use non-designated routes.
Local delivery trucks are legal on most streets, Pournia said, for
delivery purposes only.
Resident Anna Siig agrees the phone-line incident was unusual. But on
an everyday level, she believes big trucks create safety problems and
wear down roads and the Arroyo Mocho bridge. She calls it a
"When the Arroyo bridge was out (in the early 1990s), people had to
find new, creative ways to get around town," Siig said. "That went on
for several months."
Reach Sam Richards at 925-847-2147 or srichards@...
Published Saturday, August 31, 2002, in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat
Golden Gate toll jumps to $5 Sunday
By Spencer Soper
Starting Sunday, motorists must pay $5 to cross the Golden Gate
Bridge, but those using the automated FasTrak system can cross for $4.
Since 1991, it has cost $3 to cross the 1.7-mile span from Marin
County into San Francisco.
The bridge district board voted in June to increase the toll to help
cover a projected five-year, $441 million budget shortfall.
Each year, 42 million vehicles cross the Golden Gate Bridge -- 11
percent of them traveling from Sonoma County, according to the bridge
The $5 toll will make only a dent in the projected deficit by raising
$134 million over the next five years, but officials say it is part of
a sweeping plan to boost revenue and cut costs.
Other ideas include raising district bus and ferry fares, cutting
transit service, and charging bicyclists and pedestrians to cross the
Bridge tolls pay half the cost of running the district's buses and
ferries, which bridge district officials said are worth supporting
because they reduce congestion.
Opponents of the toll increase say buses and ferries should be
supported by sales taxes, which would ease the burden on car
Published Monday, September 2, 2002, in the San Francisco Chronicle
Weekend crowd unfazed by $5 Golden Gate toll
Increased bridge fee doesn't slow the flow of appreciative visitors
By Katherine Seligman
There was one thing the stiff Golden Gate Bridge toll hike did not do
on Sunday: keep people away.
The tourists were there, and so were the natives, showing off their
cherished landmark that was trimmed with fog while the rest of the Bay
Area baked. They handed over their five bucks with nonchalance or
irritation -- either at the $2 increase or the fact it's still so low
that, frankly, could we please get a life here?
"It's still very cheap, $5," said Gareth Evans, a visitor from
Birmingham, England, who, as a supervisor of bridge construction in
Yugoslavia, has seen his share of bridges. "In Europe, you'd pay $12
He and his wife Rebecca Krisman, calling herself the "penny pincher in
the family," didn't pay Sunday. Like many others, they parked at the
San Francisco vista point parking lot to walk over, partly, they said,
to avoid the toll. The area was jammed with motorists trying to park,
rumbling tour buses and visitors snapping pictures of the bridge, the
swirling fog and sailboats perched on the bay.
"(The toll hike) goes along with everything else," said Eleanor Caylor
of Ukiah, climbing out of her car after crossing the bridge, where the
toll now equals the cost of a chili dog at the vista point's Bridge
Cafe or about 2.5 gallons of gas down the road. "Everything is more
expensive. It doesn't highly offend me."
But Caylor wasn't about to gripe about a toll increase that took
effect on Sunday. She came to watch a good friend finish the final leg
of a four-month, 4,744 mile bicycle journey from Manhattan to San
Francisco to commemorate her 50th birthday.
"I didn't have to pay the toll, which was really a nice treat," said
Gladys Sims, as she finished pedaling across the bridge to greet
friends and family, her bike festooned with flags and fresh flowers.
Other tourists, from New York where the toll on the George Washington
Bridge is $6, and from Guangzhou, China, where tolls are only about 25
cents, said they didn't mind forking over $5.
Mary Weitzel of Oakland, who came for a walk on the bridge with
friends, said she still thought Bay Area bridge tolls, in general,
were "too cheap."
"There are no incentives to carpool or use public transportation," she
"If the Bay Bridge were $7, maybe more people would take BART."
Regular commuters, who take the hit daily, were the most likely to be
They've been flocking in recent weeks to buy FasTrak, the electronic
toll collection system that allows them to be charged $4 per trip.
The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District decided to
increase the $3 toll to counter a projected $441 million deficit over
the next five years. The last hike, from $2 to $3, was in 1991.
"How could it cost that much to maintain the bridge?" said Heidi
Jacquin of San Francisco, who has FasTrak and was crossing the bridge
Sunday, as she does most days, to go to Sonoma, where she and her
husband are building a home. "It's not the money, it's what are they
doing with it? The bridge has already been built."
By mid-afternoon, northbound traffic was backed up all the way down
Lombard Street, typical for a Sunday holiday weekend, according to
bridge officials. Toll-payers heading toward the city were still
moving smoothly through the booths.
Bridge district spokeswoman Mary Currie said there had been no
difficulty or unusual incidents related to the toll hike so far. The
district even managed to change over its computers ahead of schedule,
at 12:01 a.m. Sunday, a full two minutes early.
Heavier traffic from the end of the Labor Day weekend was expected
today. Currie estimated traffic might be 5 percent worse than usual
holidays because of "toll issues." Though Currie said she didn't
anticipate trouble, bridge authorities have ways of catching toll
cheaters, by capturing their license plates on film.
"(Traffic) may be exacerbated slightly because of the toll change,"
Currie said. "People might have to stop and say something nasty to the
toll takers. That takes time."
E-mail Katherine Seligman at kseligman@...
Published Sunday, September 1, 2002, by the Associated Press
Motorists paying more to cross Golden Gate
Toll for most bridge users rises from $3 to $5 to help span $441
million budget deficit
By Angela Watercutter
Holiday travelers jamming the Golden Gate Bridge had to start handing
over $5 Sunday to cross into San Francisco, as the agency that manages
the span grapples with a large budget shortfall.
The Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District recently
raised tolls from $3 to $5, boosted bus and ferry fares and is
considering other measures to compensate for an anticipated $441
million budget shortfall during the next five years.
The toll increase took effect at midnight Saturday. Board members hope
the new toll will ease the deficit by $134 million.
Some Bay Area drivers said they weren't thrilled to part with an extra
"I think it stinks," said Mike Lehmann, an economics professor at
the University of San Francisco who was sitting outside the Bridge
Cafe at the southern end of the landmark Sunday. He said he thinks the
toll increase is a way for drivers to subsidize ferry service.
District spokeswoman Mary Currie said the system switch went smoothly,
but the real test lies in how well Labor Day travelers manage the
There are some ways to get a discount. Users of the FasTrak electronic
toll-paying system are charged only $4 to cross the span. Currie said
more than 5,000 have signed up since bridge directors approved the new
tolls, and she expects more motorists will join to save a buck and
ease their commutes.
About 60 percent of daily Golden Gate Bridge commuters now use FasTrak
to pay the toll, Currie said. Most visitors still pay with cash.
District board members voted in June to raise the auto toll to
$5. Tolls last increased in 1991, when they rose from $2 to $3.
The district cites inflation, costly projects including seismic
retrofitting and a loss of tax revenue from the slowed economy as some
of the reasons for its financial crisis. The Golden Gate Bridge is not
owned by the state as other Bay Area bridges are, and the toll
increase does not affect the other bridges.
Published Tuesday, September 3, 2002, by KCBS Radio AM 740
GGB Toll Kicks In But Won't Erase Budget Woes
Today is the first full commute day since the toll increased to $5 on
the Golden Gate Bridge.
KCBS reporter Holly Quan says that despite the hike, the increased
monies won't be enough to offset the district's budget problems.
Bridge district officials say they are still $300 million short and
because of increased security, a string of maintenance projects and
declining revenue from Golden Gate Transit.
"We've still got a long way to go. What we are going to be looking at
over the next 18-24 months is a number of cost cutting measures and
well as a number of revenue enhancement measures and we will be coming
to the public with some possible transit service cuts just on our
underutilized services. We're looking still at parking in Larkspur,
possible adjusting transit flows," said district spokesperson Mary
It may seem like the public is paying more on the bridge for what will
be less bus service but she reminders drivers, that unlike other Bay
Area counties, Marin and Sonoma taxpayers don't have a transit tax to
support the buses.
Published Friday, August 30, 2002, in the San Francisco Business Times
Variable tolls promise peak performance on clogged bridges
By Steve Heminger, MTC executive director
If you think the public sector should function more like a business,
you might be intrigued by an idea being suggested for the San
Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. By varying tolls in response to traffic
conditions, we could make transbay travel subject not only to speed
limits and seat-belt laws, but also to the laws of supply and demand.
The concept -- known as congestion pricing -- involves varying toll
charges so that drivers pay more during congested peak hours and less
during off-peak hours. Congestion pricing is already being used on
toll roads in Southern California, some New York toll bridges, and in
several foreign countries. If state legislators and the voters are
willing, it could be coming to the Bay Area in the near future.
Consider an option
With the base toll on the Golden Gate Bridge already set to rise to $5
on Sept. 1, and state Sen. Don Perata expected to introduce
legislation next year that would raise tolls to $3 on state-owned
bridges, the time may be right to see if there are options other than
across-the-board toll hikes that will allow us to not only finance
needed transportation improvements, but also reduce congestion,
increase transit use, and improve air quality.
Representatives from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and
other regional agencies recently asked Sen. Perata to consider
authorizing a congestion pricing pilot project on the San
Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge as part of his proposed legislation. And
the Golden Gate Bridge District is interested in assessing the
potential of congestion pricing to reduce weekend traffic jams.
Strong public support
Sixty-two percent of Bay Area voters surveyed as part of MTC's recent
Bay Crossings Study said they would support a $4 peak/$2 off-peak toll
on the Bay Bridge as an alternative to a flat $3 toll all day
long. The advantage of the variable toll is that it would generate
roughly the same amount of revenue as a flat $3 toll, while reducing
traffic delays at the toll plaza by an estimated 14 percent during
With transbay travel projected to increase 40 percent by 2025, the
imbalance between supply and demand will continue to grow. So why not
consider raising peak-hour prices to encourage drivers to shift their
time of travel or try carpooling or public transit to cross the bay?
Published Wednesday, August 28, 2002, in the Contra Contra Times
Cutting down on congestion
By Meera Pal
Schools across the community open this week, after a long and restful
Along with the new books, teachers, and classes, parents and children
are also preparing for the back-to-school traffic congestion that
accompanies every new school year.
But the car crush doesn't necessarily have to happen. There are
methods to reduce the number of cars on the road.
Unbeknownst to many Lamorinda parents, there is a free program called
SchoolPool, run by the Contra Costa Commute Alternative Network
(CCCAN) Southwest Area Transportation Committee, which represents all
of Lamorinda, Danville, San Ramon and unincorporated Contra Costa
According to their Web site, "SchoolPool is an established program
throughout Contra Costa which provides carpool ridematch lists to
parents with students attending the same school(s) to encourage
The program provides parents with a list of other parents whose
students attend the same school and who are interested in
carpooling. Parents then set up their own carpools to fit their needs,
thus saving time and reducing cars on the road.
And if carpooling doesn't work, SchoolPool also offers 20 free bus
tickets to students who would like to try using the bus as an
alternative to having their parents drive them to school.
While the program has been around for some years, not many parents
have been taking advantage of the free and confidential service, says
Lafayette's transportation planner Leah Greenblat.
"Carpooling reduces the number of vehicles on the road during peak
traffic hours," says Greenblat. "It's also a nice way to develop
community -- you meet your child's fellow classmates and your
This year marks the first time that SchoolPool has taken to the
Internet, notes coordinator Lisa Bobadilla. Previously, the program
required a parent to fill out an application and wait a few days to
receive a list of interested neighbors. The current method allows a
parent to visit the Internet and receive a quick e-mail response from
local parents interested in carpooling.
"The more people who sign up, the better chance you have of finding a
match with another parent," notes Bobadilla. "The program is only as
good as the number of parents who participate."
There is no need to worry about providing personal information, since
only the parent's name, cross street and phone number will go to those
registered in the program.
She adds that in addition to creating a sense of community, carpools
also reduce the traffic congestion before and after school, save time
for parents who have to drive students to and from school, and improve
the air quality so everyone can breathe easier.
"The less cars you have traveling on the road, the safer it is for
parents and kids," says Bobadilla.
In a letter sent to Lafayette parents, Greenblat also notes that it is
up to everyone to improve traffic safety on Lafayette's streets. She
wrote, "On Moraga Boulevard ... almost 70 percent of vehicles travel
over the 25 mph speed limit. A driver saves only 15 seconds when
driving 10 mph over the speed limit on Moraga Boulevard . . . Yet
accident data shows that the chance of a fatal injury increases by
almost 2-1/2 times for vehicles traveling at 35 mph vs. 25 mph."
If everyone drives safely, then more parents would be willing to allow
their children to walk pool and bike pool to school, creating an
overall drop in the number of cars on the road.
She adds in the letter, "Set a good example for your children. They
learn from watching you. Slow down, observe pedestrian right of way
laws, and be courteous to other drivers, pedestrians, crossing guards
For more information about the Carpool to School Program, visit their
Web site at http://www.srvpooltoschool.org or call coordinator
Lisa Bobadilla at (925) 973-2651.
Published Friday, August 30, 2002, in the Contra Contra Times
Letters to the Editor
Many of us claim we're forced to drive, but never bother to identify
those guilty of the coercion. Who are they? They're local and county
elected officials who've put a disproportionate amount of our new
growth where it's accessible and functional for motorists only.
Considering the risk of death and injury involved in driving, that
doesn't seem like appropriate decision-making on the part of those we
rely on to protect our constitutional right to life. We seem
perpetually short of funds for what we consider appropriate
But since babies are still born with legs attached, perhaps walking
should be recognized as the only transportation mode that is a
fundamental right, and make it the first priority for all
urban/suburban growth and transportation needs.
Let's forget about subsidies and tax breaks to encourage transit and
pedestrian-oriented "smart growth." This is a matter of life and
We'll get all the smart growth we need if we just prohibit development
that forces us to depend on modes of transportation so dangerous that
they require seat belts, air bags, crash helmets and personal
When the dust settles, there might still be enough room so those who
enjoy driving can take a circuitous five-mile route to get to the
grocery store that's just around the corner.
Published Tuesday, August 27, 2002, in the San Jose Mercury News
AC Transit official in hot water again
Ballot statements called misleading
By Sandra Gonzales
AC Transit board director Nancy Jewell Cross is once again at the
center of controversy, with a charge against her that she filed false
and misleading claims in her ballot statement seeking re-election in
In a legal action filed Friday with the Alameda County Superior Court,
a voter -- with support from one of Cross' colleagues -- is
petitioning the court to order the Alameda County Registrar of Voters
to change several of Cross' ballot statements.
Cross did not return calls seeking comment.
Cross is no stranger to controversy and has incurred the annoyance of
fellow board members. She has long had a reputation for running to the
beat of a different drummer, gaining notoriety in 1999 when she
reportedly bit a landlady who tried to evict her. In 1992, she was
declared a vexatious litigant in San Mateo County after filing dozens
of lawsuits that a judge found frivolous.
Cross' election four years ago to the Fremont-Newark seat was a
surprise and some board directors make no secret that they feel her
presence on the board has been more of a hindrance.
"We have a lot of work to do as a board. The funding crunch is
hitting all of us. We simply cannot continue to have our good news
stepped on by the front page of our local section, 'AC Transit
director bites landlady,'" said AC Transit board President H.E.
Christian Peeples, who filed the main declaration supporting the
latest legal action. "She's become a distraction and it's important
we get someone else in the position."
The complaint challenges Cross' claims that she secured bicycle racks
for transbay buses and upcoming Dumbarton weekend bus service. Peeples
said none of that has happened, and that, in fact, Dumbarton bus
service is being cut back.
Peeples said a court hearing will be held Thursday, where a judge will
determine the merits of the claim.
Contact Sandra Gonzales at sgonzales@...
Published Saturday, August 31, 2002, in the Fremont Argus
Judge strikes parts of Cross' ballot phrasing
Court: Transit director's statement is deceptive
By Sean R. Cabibi
Parts of AC Transit Director Nancy Jewell Cross' ballot statement have
been removed, after a court ruling determined some of the information
was false and misleading.
Cross represents Fremont and Newark as the Ward 5 director. She is
running for reelection Nov. 5 against Joe Bischofberger, the former
director whom she defeated in the 1998 election.
"The judge agreed with six out of the seven complaints AC Transit had
with (Cross') state-ment," AC Transit at-large Director H.E. Christian
Peeples said Friday, one day after Judge James Richman's ruling in
Alameda County Superior Court.
Cross did not return three phone calls Friday from The Argus.
The judge rejected claims that as the chief executive officer of Clean
Air Transport Systems, Cross is a regional and inter-regional
developer of transportation solutions.
AC Transit officials have long suspected that Cross is the only member
of Clean Air Transport Systems, saying there is no evidence her
organization has developed anything, Peeples said.
Alameda, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties have no records of a
business license or fictitious name filing for the company, officials
said. Cross lived in San Mateo County before moving to the Tri-City
Other stricken ballot language includes Cross' claims that AC Transit
changed routes in Fremont/Newark without input from others and without
holding public meetings, Peeples said.
A committee that included Fremont Mayor Gus Morrison, Fremont
Councilmember Bob Wasserman and Newark Councilman Al Nagy worked on
the changes with AC Transit and numerous public hearings were held,
Cross refused to participate on the committee, officials said.
Additional portions removed from the ballot include state-ments
calling other directors on the board "carpet baggers."
The judge, however, did allow Cross to keep statements that smaller
buses would be cheaper to run than larger buses, ruling the subject
could be argued, Peeples said.
Cross did not file a counter-claim disputing any of AC Transit's
charges, officials said.
Sean R. Cabibi covers transportation and environment for The Argus. He
can be reached at (510) 353-7014 or at scabibi@...
Published Saturday, August 31, 2002, in the Contra Contra Times
Court omits candidate's ballot statements
Siding with petitioners who claimed many of AC Transit board director
Nancy Jewell Cross' ballot statements were false and misleading, an
Alameda County judge has ordered them stricken from the ballot.
Some of them included a declaration that she had secured bicycle racks
for trans-bay buses and an upcoming Dumbarton weekend bus and
identifying herself as a transit systems developer. Some voters
challenged the claims, seeking a court hearing to have them stricken
from the ballot.
Superior Court Judge James Richman concurred with petitioners on most
of their claims.
Cross, who represents Fremont and Newark, is seeking a second term.
Published Friday, August 30, 2002, in the Contra Contra Times
Bus fares set to increase as of Sunday
AC Transit bus fares -- except for the price of a youth pass -- will
go up Sunday.
Cash fare for adults (age 18 through 64) will increase 15 cents to
$1.50 for a local trip. Youth, senior citizens and riders with
certified disabilities will pay 75 cents per trip, up from 65
cents. Since the youth category is being expanded to include children
ages 5-12, the changes actually lower the local cash fare (formerly
$1.35) for teenagers.
Two new fare options will be introduced the same day. A day pass ($5
for adults and $2.50 for all others) is purchased aboard a bus and is
good for unlimited local rides until 3 a.m. the following day. The
10-Ride Pass replaces the ticket book. It costs $13 for adults or
$6.50 for others and will be sold by the same retailers that sold
Monthly bus-pass prices for adults, seniors and those with
disabilities also go up on Sept. 1. Adults will pay $50, senior
citizens and passengers with certified disabilities will pay $15; $17
starting Jan. 1.
The 31-day pass for youth ages 5-17 was cut to $15 on Aug. 1, when AC
Transit also introduced a new annual youth pass -- priced initially at
$150, with prorated cost reductions in ensuing months, and valid for
unlimited local rides through July 31. The youth pass is a sticker
affixed to a valid middle or high school photo ID card and is sold
only at AC Transit's customer services office in Oakland.
The cash transbay fare for adults goes up to $3 for basic
service. Cash transbay fares for youth, seniors and passengers with
disabilities will be $1.50.
The new 10-ride transbay pass is $26 for adults or $13 for the
discounted categories. The 31-day transbay pass, also good for
unlimited local rides will cost $85 for adults.
For more information, visit http://www.actransit.org/riderinfo or call
Published Friday, August 30, 2002, in the Fremont Argus
AC Transit earns praise for youth bus passes
We're elated to see at least one transportation agency lower the cost
of getting around for young people.
The cost of riding an AC Transit bus, if you're under 18 years old,
has been dropped from $27 to $15 for a monthly pass.
We especially like the transit board's reason for making the
adjustment. Board members hope to get more young people to ride the
East Bay bus system, which stretches from Fremont to San Pablo,
bounded by the hills. That covers a lot of territory.
The planners expect the lower fares will stimulate from 3 million to 8
million more youth riders each year, and larger revenues for the
Of course there's more than money to be made putting a good idea to
work like this one.
AC Transit can't help but garner praise for its move, especially if
it's right about making more money by charging less. It takes a
visionary board to fight a budget problem with a move counter to the
Usually we hear about budget problems getting "solved" by raising
prices, not the other way around. Logic told AC Transit, and us as
well, that would have resulted only in fewer riders.
Even if AC Transit finds that lowering youth fares doesn't make more
money, it's still a worthy idea for its other attributes.
And with youth there's yet another payoff. By using the bus more
often, young people will learn to use public transportation -- forming
a lifetime habit -- as a means of getting around in our urban
communities. They'll learn they can get almost anywhere without a
car. More use of public transportation will help lower pollution and
improve air quality.
When school is in session, there can be no excuse for not getting to
school every day. Buses are a reliable way to travel, and most of them
stop right in front of high schools.
AC Transit also is offering free bus passes to school children who
qualify for school lunch vouchers, which is expected to boost
ridership even more.
Congratulations to this vital transit system for helping kids get
around. It's a good policy.
More information about AC Transit's lower fares is available by
calling (510) 891-4706 and at
The monthly passes are available at more than 100 stores, including
Safeway, Albertson's and Long's Drugs.
Published Friday, August 30, 2002, in the Contra Contra Times
Design OK'd for Tri Delta expansion
Board says new look will blend well with existing buildings
By Jane Ramsey
ANTIOCH -- Tri Delta Transit cleared an aesthetic hurdle Wednesday
with the Design Review Board's approval of the architecture of its
17,000-square-foot expansion project on Wilbur Avenue.
The expansion will double the size of the facility, providing 9,000
square feet for more offices and 8,000 square feet of maintenance
The present building was completed in 1987. Only minor changes to the
facility, such as installation of awnings and gates, have been made
The unanimous approval of the design came after a few items were
Board members requested that a teal canvas canopy planned for the east
side of the complex be changed to the green of the company's logo and
other areas on the existing building.
"The less teal in town, the better," said Sandra Golightly, the
board's vice chairwoman.
A gate on the trash enclosure is another requirement that must be met
in the construction.
The entry sign will be backlit and the logo replaced. Existing letters
may be reused for the sign.
Board members were pleased with the building's design, which
incorporates masonry walls and other design elements to blend well
with the existing building.
"The design is really quite nice," said board member Gary Reiman.
Board chairman Bernard Mosbacher Jr. agreed that architects had come
up with a pleasing design.
"The design blends well with the existing design," he said.
The new building should help provide a tidier look to the Tri Delta
Transit facility, which houses East Contra Costa's sole mass transit
company. Crates and pallets will be stored behind the shop in a canopy
area out of public view.
Reach staff writer Jane Ramsey at 925-779-7169 or jramsey@...
Published Sunday, September 1, 2002, by Copley News Service
Public transit in L.A. picks up speed
Rapid bus service grabs attention, may expand to 26 routes
By Gordon Smith
LOS ANGELES -- Riding a bus never seemed so much like riding a train.
The distinctive red buses on the Metro Rapid run every few minutes and
go nearly a mile between stops. Electronic message boards tell
waiting passengers when the next bus is due, and the buses have floors
at curb level to speed boarding.
Perhaps most crucial of all, the vehicles are equipped with special
priority technology that can prolong green lights, reducing delays en
With ridership increasing on its first two Metro Rapid routes, the
Metropolitan Transportation Authority later this month will consider
expanding the system to 26 routes covering a total of 400 miles.
"It's probably one of the most successful public transit innovations
in the last quarter-century," said Brian Taylor, director of UCLA's
Institute of Transportation Studies.
"I've heard people refer to (Metro Rapid) as rubber-tired light
rail. I think of it more as a local bus on steroids. It provides
service comparable to light-rail service, but does so at a fraction of
Cities around the region, including San Diego and Riverside, are
studying Metro Rapid service for possible use on some of their bus
"We've had our planners up there a couple of times to check it out,"
said Tom Larwin, general manager of San Diego's Metropolitan Transit
Larwin said that most of the innovations on Metro Rapid have been
known among transportation experts for 25 years.
"But what Los Angeles has shown is that if you put them all together --
if you treat it like a rail line -- you can get some significant
benefits," Larwin said.
For riders such as J.R. Roberts, who takes the Metro Rapid from his
home near Santa Monica to his job as a messenger in downtown Los
Angeles every weekday, the bottom line is this: Average bus speeds are
up 25 percent, to 16 mph, and his one-way commute has gone from 90
minutes to under an hour.
The Metro Rapid buses also run at user-friendly intervals of two to 15
minutes. But Taylor said the electronic "next bus" signs at each Metro
Rapid stop that show when an approaching bus is due may be even more
important in persuading people to take the buses.
"Just walking up to a shelter and seeing that your bus is due in, say,
six minutes, has a huge effect psychologically," he said.
There have been glitches. For one thing, not all the cities along the
Wilshire route have bought into the so-called priority technology that
enables the buses to prolong green lights but also requires software
to then re-set the timing for all signals in the area in order to
maximize traffic flow. When the Metro Rapid buses enter nonpriority
zones, they slow to a crawl.
One of the civic doubters -- Beverly Hills -- recently agreed to
reprogram its traffic-signal system to accommodate priority
At about $200,000 a mile, the Metro Rapid service is vastly cheaper
than light rail. The latest segment of the San Diego Trolley, from
Mission Valley to San Diego State University, is costing $70 million a
mile, said MTDB's Larwin.
"Here in San Diego we've exhausted all the inexpensive options," he
said. "If we're going to continue to improve public transportation
. . . and we can't do it by light rail because of cost, we're going to
have to have something like Metro Rapid over the next 30 years."
Still, Larwin and officials at MTA caution that the streamlined bus
routes are not a replacement for light rail.
Rex Gephart, manager of the Metro Rapid for MTA, said the service only
can go so far in meeting passenger demand before a higher-capacity
system -- probably a light-rail line -- is needed.
Showing the Metro Rapid routes have a high passenger demand may prove
crucial to winning federal funds for light-rail lines along the same
corridors, Gephart said.
The initial two Metro Rapid routes cross Los Angeles from east to
west. One runs 26 miles from East Los Angeles to Santa Monica,
following Wilshire Boulevard as it runs through the heart of the
city. The other route stretches for 16 miles along Ventura Boulevard
through the San Fernando Valley, connecting Universal City with
Later this month the MTA will decide whether to spend $110 million to
add 24 more lines over the next five years. If all are built, there
would be 400 miles of Metro Rapid routes countywide.
The MTA also is preparing to experiment with dedicated bus lanes along
short portions of the Wilshire Boulevard corridor. The lanes are
opposed by many businesses and business groups because they reduce
Jim Moore, a professor of civil engineering and public policy at the
University of Southern California and a frequent critic of the MTA,
said dedicated bus lanes definitely would improve Metro Rapid service
and attract more riders.
Moore and UCLA's Taylor agree the Metro Rapid holds the promise of
delivering an efficient, medium-distance mass transit system without
the costs -- and funding uncertainties -- of light rail.
"It takes the boring old bus and makes it high tech," Taylor
said. "But the boring old bus works because it's relatively cheap."
Published Saturday, August 31, 2002, in the Oakland Tribune
Innovative tram system arouses BART's interest
Port also looking to use small trains going to different places rather
than one large train
By Paul T. Rosynsky
OAKLAND -- A transportation system capable of whisking passengers
directly to their destinations -- touted as a cheaper form of rapid
transit than any other -- is moving toward reality in the Bay Area.
Projections of low-cost construction and overwhelming convenience have
seemed unrealistic in the past. But the idea's finally caught the
attention of BART and the Port of Oakland, for use around Oakland
International Airport and as a feeder to BART for hard-to-reach
locations such as Alameda.
Not a BART-airport connector
The system, however, would not be used to connect BART to the airport.
Based on a concept called Group Rapid Transit, the system involves
dozens of electronically powered and computer operated "trams" to take
passengers directly to their destination.
Instead of having one large train stop at many stations, the group
rapid transit concept calls for many small trains stopping at few
"Some people look at (it) and say that is Jetsons-type stuff and we
don't need to waste money on that," said Richard Lu, a senior analyst
in BART's research and development department. "It is so new that
nobody wants to look foolish, but given the politics and demand out
there for new connections, we thought that it was worthwhile to at
least take a look."
The system is constructed similar to a freeway with rest areas. The
rest areas serve as stations allowing the trams to stop without
interfering with others traveling to different areas.
Once at a station a tram is designated to another location based on
demand at the station. Each station would have several trams traveling
to different locations.
The longest wait would be about five minutes.
The key, however, is the cost of construction which has been estimated
at $10 million a mile -- compared with BART's $100 million a mile.
"We're not just making that up," said Neil Garcia-Sinclair, vice
president of corporate development for CyberTran, the company that
developed and lobbied for the new system. "It's been checked, and
cross-checked and cross-checked again."
BART and the Port of Oakland will check once more with a $100,000
investigative study to see if CyberTran's projections hold true. The
study, for which the Port of Oakland would chip in about $15,000,
still needs approval from the Port Commission and the BART Board of
Alameda firm's concept
The two agencies were turned onto the concept by CyberTran Inc., an
Alameda-based firm that developed and tested a prototype of a tram
that could be used on the system. The firm also has developed computer
models of how the system could work in and around the Bay Area.
CyberTran has tried for years to get an agency to look at its concept
and first contacted the Port of Oakland to see if its product could be
used for the Coliseum-to-airport BART connection.
But that project was too far along in the planning for either agency
to take a gamble on an unproven concept. They agreed, however, to
study if it could be used in other areas.
"The problem that we have run into ... is there is a Catch-22 in the
business," Garcia-Sinclair said. "You can't sell it until you have it
in service, and you can't get it in service until you sell it."
He added, "This study is important in that respect."
Only one such system is operating in the United States, and it was
constructed as an experiment by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Constructed in 1972, the system carts about 2 million passengers a
year to and through the University of West Virginia campus in
Morgantown, W. Va.
It has five stations, more than four miles of track and 71 trams with
about 60 in operation per day. And it only takes two people to operate
the entire system.
It cost about $126 million to construct in 1971 and has an annual
operating cost of about $2.7 million.
In its 30-year history it has never had an accident or an injury, said
Robert Hendershot, the systems director.
"The complaints we have are not about the system but about why it
doesn't go to more locations," Hendershot said. "It really, really
works nice ... I often thought that we would have a lot more problems
than what we do."
The system did not catch on, however, because its costs for
construction at the time were higher than anyone was willing to pay
and the technology a little to advanced, Hendershot said.
"I think this system was built a little ahead of its time," he
said. "The costs, at the time, were a lot more than was initially
Although the Morgantown experiment was costly, proponents of CyberTran
said advancements in technology make such a system much cheaper to
The key is in the size and weight of the trams.
The light weight cars reduced the amount of re-enforcement the system
would need on elevated tracks and their size reduced the amount of
space it needs. Therefore, the system could be built in highway
medians or along road right-of ways, Garcia-Sinclair said.
In fact, CyberTran was originally developed as a cost-cutting move by
the U.S. Department of Energy.
John Dearien, the founder and CEO of CyberTran, was working as a civil
engineer at the Idaho Engineering Laboratory when he was given the
task to find an alternative to busing employees between Idaho Falls
and the laboratory.
Dearien developed CyberTran but by the time he had the concept ready
for testing the Department of Energy scrapped the program. Instead,
Dearien received the rights to the design and engineering and formed
Steve Grossman, director of the Oakland International Airport, said
the airport could use CyberTran to replace costly buses currently used
to transport passengers between terminals and long-term parking lots.
The study is expected to be completed by the end of the year and then
the two agencies will have to decide if they want to pursue the
"My intent is that if this report comes back positive, we're going to
take a really hard look at the feasibility," Grossman said. "If we are
the first out of the chute, that's fine, I don't care. But I'm looking
at this from a business perspective, I'm not doing it for social
reasons or any other reasons, it's got to pencil out as good
Lu agreed and said BART would look to the Port of Oakland to build the
system before it would look at using it for future extensions or as a
"We are looking at the group rapid transit subject and looking at
CyberTran as a case study," Lu said. "There are a lot of people out
there who are waiting for this study. I truly believe that this is a
Published Friday, Auguest 30, 2002, in the San Francisco Business Times
Financial firms revamp transit-friendly loans
By Mark Calvey
It was with great fanfare that Fannie Mae, one of the nation's most
influential players in the mortgage industry, announced two years ago
a special loan program designed to boost inner-city home ownership and
public transit usage.
The festivities at San Francisco's Montgomery BART station that spring
day brought jubilation from environmentalists and praise from
But like frustrated commuters waiting for a tardy bus, many involved
with the effort now wonder why the so-called Location Efficient
Mortgage didn't trigger a steady stream of traffic to local lenders.
Only about eight loans totaling less than $2.5 million have been made
in the Bay Area under the LEM program, Fannie Mae said.
That's disappointing by any measure, and those involved point to a
number of factors, including these:
* The formulas are too complex.
* The features and benefits of the loan program vary for each borrower
and location of property to be purchased.
* Historically low interest rates are making it easier to qualify for
a mortgage without resorting to more complex financing schemes.
* The program only boosts purchasing power by $10,000 to $15,000,
which is less than 5 percent of a median-priced home in the Bay Area.
So Fannie Mae has gone back to the drawing board. The Washington,
D.C., company created an easier-to-understand loan program and tapped
the marketing department's expertise to come up with Smart Commute.
But don't look for Smart Commute, introduced last year in Minnesota,
to make a stop in the Bay Area anytime soon. Fannie Mae will continue
testing the LEM in this region.
At home with transit
The thinking behind LEM and Smart Commute is simple enough: Purchasing
urban housing near public transit reduces or eliminates the need for a
car. The two programs take into account those cost savings.
The Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmentalists
worked with Fannie Mae to help create the program as a means of
fighting urban sprawl.
Typically, the mortgage finance industry encourages people to move to
the urban fringe where housing is less expensive and the full costs of
commuting aren't considered when extending a mortgage.
The LEM program is part of Fannie Mae's "House Bay Area" initiative, a
five-year, $16 billion plan to finance affordable housing in the
nine-county Bay Area region that was launched in 1999. As part of that
effort, $100 million was allocated for the LEM to boost inner-city
home ownership and public transit usage.
"The Location Efficient Mortgage is the first step in the evolution of
a loan program to meet these objectives," said Jim Taylor, director of
product innovation at Fannie Mae's National Community Lending
Center. "Smart Commute is the next step."
Working the combinations
Lenders suggest that a home buyer use the LEM program in combination
with other financing techniques.
"The location efficient mortgage can give a borrower an extra edge in
buying a house," said Yvette Price, branch manager of Countrywide Home
Loans' downtown Oakland office.
Many are watching to see how Fannie Mae fares with these special loan
programs because the agency holds great sway over mortgage lending in
Meanwhile, Countrywide continues to market the program though ads on
BART trains that tout, "Public transit could be your ticket to the
Mark Calvey covers banking and finance for the San Francisco Business Times.
Published Friday, August 30, 2002, in the San Francisco Business Times
The danger zones
Bay Area planners struggle to escape transportation traps
By Ron Leuty
By 2020, Alameda County's population is expected to swell by more than
30 percent. Residents are also pouring into Contra Costa and Solano
counties, where relatively affordable homes fill the gap between the
Bay Area and Sacramento.
And you think traffic at the merging of interstates 80, 580 and 880 is
But Bay Area transportation planners, who have struggled to keep pace
with the sprawling growth of the past 40 years, believe they have a
long-range, region-wide sociopolitical solution to housing and
transit. Their plan would:
* Seek to reward local governments for providing housing instead of
* Reform construction law, specifically narrow the current 10-year
window that homeowners have to sue a contractor for construction
* Offer more grants to local governments for improving infrastructure,
from sewers to parking garages to rail lines.
Those are just a few of the hundreds of suggestions incorporated in a
plan adopted this month by participants in a series of "smart growth"
workshops sponsored by the Association of Bay Area Governments.
The workshops included manufacturers, winemakers, contractors,
environmentalists, politicians and union leaders.
It's all hypothetical, planners admit, but something must be
done. Twenty-year housing projections for the nine-county Bay Area
fall short by 250,000 people, according to the Association of Bay Area
Governments, and yet the region's scarce open land can't support all
of that housing.
"We're clogging the freeways. We're eating up open space. We're adding
to the ridiculous cost of housing in the Bay Area," says Victoria
Eisen, a regional planner with ABAG.
The question is priorities, planners say: Are Bay Area residents
willing to provide the incentives to lure housing development back to
the urban core as well as foot the tax bill to build and maintain
roads, bridges, tunnels and public transit systems? Or will they
continue to make two-hour commutes and complain about the traffic?
"The investment ability isn't there," says Randy Rentschler,
legislation and public affairs manager with the Metropolitan
Transportation Commission. "We are essentially just trying to catch up
with (development) decisions from years ago."
When the Bay Bridge opened in 1937, for example, the toll was
$1. Today it's $2.
Fuel taxes, Rentschler says, are relatively low compared to the 1950s
and 1960s, which saw the last big boom in building of schools, parks,
water and electricity capacity.
"The consensus politically hasn't been there," Rentschler says. "If
people want a serious effort to address congestion, to add
infrastructure overall -- I mean everything: water, power, electricity,
roads -- that's the real issue."
Transportation hotspots continue to pop up as housing development
moves northeast into Fairfield and the rest of Solano County. The
intersection of interstates 80 and 680 with state highway 12 is just
Solano County leaders expect to put a half-cent sales tax measure on
the November ballot that would raise $900 million to $1 billion over
the next 20 years. That money would go largely to realigning the
80-680-12 interchange at Cordelia, says Charlie Jones, director of the
Solano County Transportation Department.
The remainder of the funds would flow to Fairfield, Vallejo and
Vacaville, as well as the county, and some would be earmarked for
transit and light rail.
"Let's forget the growth issue for the time being -- that's the
800-pound gorilla. The growth agenda just makes the question more
apparent," the MTC's Rentschler says. "The question is: Is the
solution more transit, more train stations, more highways? It's really
going to have to be 'd' -- all of the above."
Ron Leuty covers transportation for the San Francisco Business Times.
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