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SamTrans, BART seek to escape disastrous agreement with SFO

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  • 6/29 SF Examiner
    Published Wednesday, June 29, 2005, in the San Francisco Examiner Agencies ask SFO for leniency Airport officials will negotiate, but future deal unlikely By
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 29, 2005
      Published Wednesday, June 29, 2005, in the San Francisco Examiner

      Agencies ask SFO for leniency
      Airport officials will negotiate, but future deal unlikely

      By Ethan Fletcher and Nat Friedland

      The tone between officials from San Francisco International Airport
      and two transit agencies has turned icy regarding millions of dollars
      in annual payments.

      The heads of SamTrans and BART have been exchanging increasingly
      chilly correspondence with Airport Commission President Larry Mazzola,
      over their desire to discuss reducing their annual $2.5 million
      payments to the airport -- SFO calls the payments rent on the
      airport's BART station, while SamTrans says it is repayment for SFO's
      original contribution to the project. Copies of the letters obtained
      by The Examiner show a first cordial tone dissolve into accusations of
      veiled threats and unprofessional behavior.

      [Speaking of grossly unprofessional behavior, BATN notes that the
      "negotiations" between Caltrain and BART -- conducted by the same
      individual on both sides of the table acting as a BART employee and
      then as a "former" BART employee!!! -- lead to a $0.7 million annual
      "rent" paid by Caltrain to BART to be allowed to use two strips of
      concrete platform in Millbrae, at the same location as a formerly
      rent-free Caltrain station and possessing the same "charm" and
      "amenities" as the formerly rent-free Caltrain station. To add to
      it, the same "negotiations" resulted also in Caltrain effectively
      losing control of much of its right of way in Millbrae and San Bruno,
      leading to hundreds of millions of dollars of extra constuction costs
      for needed grade separations. The $2.5 million rent for the BART SFO
      station seems like a bargain in comparison. BATN once again salutes
      the gross incompetence and deep-rooted corruption of the Bay Area's
      transportation "leadership"!]

      At issue is whether the transit agencies can reduce their annual
      payments to SFO in light of their recent financial woes -- both BART
      and SamTrans had to deal with budget deficits in the tens of millions
      of dollars this year. Because the BART extension came online in the
      midst of the post-Sept. 11 recession, ridership and revenue have
      failed dramatically to live up to original projections.

      Thus, SamTrans, which subsidizes BART's Peninsula service, has had to
      pay around $10 million annually to bridge BART's operating deficits --
      something they are trying to eliminate within three years.

      Earlier this year, SamTrans board Chair Jerry Hill and BART board
      President Joel Keller requested a meeting with Mazzola to discuss BART
      operations to the airport, including lowering their annual payments.
      After Mazzola rebuffed their request, the two directors wrote another
      letter June 2, stating they were "deeply troubled" at his
      unwillingness to meet, and included what the airport commissioner took
      as a veiled threat to discontinue service to SFO.

      While he agreed to a meeting -- which will likely not happen until
      BART's labor negotiations are concluded -- Mazzola ended his letter by
      stating, "Threats and derision are not my style of public service.
      But please know that I will engage on your level if necessary."

      Mazzola could not be reached for comment; however, SFO spokesman Mike
      McCarron reiterated the commission president's position in his letter
      that the rents should not be reduced. He pointed out that through a
      surcharge on SFO/BART riders, the airport station actually generated
      $1.2 million more than the $2.5 million annual payments.

      However, Hill argued that SFO renegotiated their leases with airlines
      and airport tenants in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks, and
      their agencies [SamTrans and BART] should be granted the same

      "Our goal is to meet the financial challenges of SamTrans by reducing
      our costs of running trains into SFO," Hill said. "It is imperative
      to negotiate a more favorable agreement."

      Meanwhile, SamTrans and BART also disagree about which agency is
      currently responsible for paying the $2.5 million to SFO, with Keller
      saying the bottom line is that money is tight these days.

      "You ever played hot potato?" he said. "Well no one wants to grab
      this potato, not BART, not SamTrans, not the airport."
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