Lavish opening of new SFO international terminal
- Published Wednesday, November 29, 2000, in the San Jose Mercury News
S.F. Airport celebrating opening
By Aaron Davis
The new international terminal at San Francisco International Airport is
party central through the weekend as officials stage gala events to
introduce the $1 billion centerpiece of a decadelong airport improvement
At a lavish black-tie soiree Tuesday night, San Francisco Mayor Willie
Brown headed a parade of elected officials and local bigwigs who packed
the terminal's main hall to dine on filet mignon and to dance.
Also in attendance were hundreds of corporate executives whose companies
helped finance the week's festivities, which cost an estimated $1 million.
Among the top contributors is United Airlines, which operates 55 percent
of the airport's daily flights.
Tuesday's gala was the first of three major parties ushering in full-scale
use of the new terminal by Dec. 10.
A party for airport employees is scheduled Thursday, and a huge street
fair open to the public is scheduled Sunday. The airport has already sold
48,000 of the 50,000 available tickets.
While Brown has made it clear that he's proud of the new terminal -- the
largest international terminal in North America -- he was adamant that San
Francisco's airport will need to expand its runway system into the bay to
maintain its status as a major player in the region's economy.
In 1999, passengers at the airport lost 3.2 million hours because of fog
and other airport delays, according to a report released earlier this
month by the Bay Area Economic Forum, which is funded by the Association
of Bay Area Governments and the Bay Area Council.
If San Francisco and Oakland airports do not expand runway capacity by
2010, approximately 5.2 million passengers may be blocked annually from
entering the Bay Area at their desired times. Economically, that
congestion could translate into 92,000 lost jobs, nearly $7.5 billion in
lost business revenue and nearly $570 million in lost state and local
taxes, the forum concluded.
Before the party began Tuesday, Airport Director John Martin outlined the
schedule for moving airlines into the new terminal. On Dec. 5, the first
major batch of international flights will roll out of the new terminal.
After that, new flights will be added each day through Dec. 10, when all
international flights will depart from the new terminal.
Officials had originally planned the transition from the old to the new
terminal for mid-September, but telecommunication glitches that could have
sent planes to the wrong gates and misdirect luggage forced a three-month
Throughout the fall, the airport used a handful of daily chartered flights
to test the terminal's computer systems. Martin said he's confident the
terminal has been properly tested and that all the major bugs have been
found and fixed.
Still, switching international terminals could prove chaotic for
passengers during the transition week. The airport will have to switch
road signs each night to direct passengers to the correct
``international'' terminal as flights will be split between the existing
terminal and the new one.
Contact Aaron Davis at acdavis@... or call (650) 688-7590.
- Published Thursday, November 30, 2000, in the San Jose Mercury News
Buy-in to join BART is asked
Santa Clara County should pay some type of a financial buy-in because it
will take advantage of the existing BART system, legislators say.
By Matthai Chakko Kuruvila
Santa Clara County will pay a buy-in fee to join the BART system, but the
question is how much and in what form, according to state Sen. Liz
At a transportation-oriented town hall meeting Wednesday in Fremont,
Figueroa, D-Fremont, said she had persuaded other state legislators to
approve funding for the extension to San Jose in the spring on the
condition that Santa Clara County pay some form of a buy-in fee.
``It's not a low amount,'' Figueroa said. ``It's going to be a high
amount, but it's going to be realistic.''
Officials in Santa Clara County, however, say the issue is far from
The subject of a buy-in is the latest challenge in the continuing effort
to bring the Bay Area Rapid Transit District's system to San Jose. Despite
the $6.5 billion that Santa Clara County voters approved Nov. 7 as a
30-year, half-cent transportation sales tax to pay for BART, some East Bay
legislators have insisted that Santa Clara County pay a buy-in fee.
In September, the Legislature defeated a bill by Assemblyman Tom
Torlakson, D-Martinez, that would have required the fee and mandated BART
extensions to Antioch and Livermore be built before the extension to San
Jose. Opponents said Torlakson's bill was legislating the fee rather than
allowing BART and local bodies to work it out.
A spokesman for San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales said that how a buy-in fee
would be characterized and calculated has yet to be determined.
David Vossbrink, the mayor's communications director, said the fee would
factor in how the extension to San Jose would add to the value of the
``It should be considered an enhancement to the system,'' Vossbrink said.
``East Bay commuters would be able to take advantage of BART.''
Vossbrink said that rather than a formalized fee, the county might assume
infrastructure costs that BART might pay otherwise. The Valley
Transportation Authority and the BART board will decide on specifics in
the coming months.
``The mayor has said all along how everyone can find a benefit through
this in broad, creative ways,'' Vossbrink said.
He also said the $760 million the project received from the state would
not have come to pass were it not for Gonzales, so those funds should be
considered in fee negotiations. Torlakson argued that because residents of
Contra Costa and Alameda counties have paid sales taxes for BART for many
years, they should benefit first.
Fremont City Councilwoman Judy Zlatnik, who also criticized Torlakson's
bill, said Fremont residents have long paid BART taxes but haven't
received a second BART station with an extension to Warm Springs.
Figueroa also added that there might be transportation alternatives for
Antioch and Livermore residents but there was no question that BART to San
Jose would serve the most people.
``There's absolutely no way your needs can measure to ours,'' Figueroa
said. ``We're willing to pay our part of it . . . but in terms of moving
people, our needs come first.''
Contact Matthai Chakko Kuruvila at mkuruvila@... or (510)
- Published Thursday, November 30, 2000, in the San Jose Mercury News
FasTrak gets slow start on Bay Bridge
Delays on opening day: morning commuters scrambled to get in and out of
designated lane for the electronic toll system.
By Putsata Reang
Despite its name, FasTrak didn't shave any time off the morning commute
for hundreds of drivers who used the electronic toll system on its opening
day Wednesday on the Bay Bridge.
Instead, the new system created more delays as commuters scrambled to
switch into the designated FasTrak lane.
``It was a tough merge for the 880 traffic and 580 traffic,'' said Colin
Jones, Caltrans spokesman. ``But all in all, it went pretty smoothly.''
About 700 commuters Wednesday morning tested out the system on the Bay
Bridge, which became the fifth Bay Area bridge to offer the program. The
one FasTrak lane in operation averaged about 300 cars per hour, compared
with 400 cars per hour in the 18 stop-and-pay lanes, which Caltrans
officials called a ``limited success.''
FasTrak is an electronic toll collection system in which drivers place a
transponder device, about the size of a keycard, on their windshields. The
system automatically deducts a discounted toll of $1.85 per trip (15 cents
off the regular $2 toll) from the driver's pre-paid account.
But beyond the convenience of being able to get through the tolls without
stopping to search for $2 in cash, FasTrak doesn't offer much else in
incentives. FasTrak users must still stop at the metering lights once they
pass through the toll plaza. Jones said that won't change because Caltrans
wants to reserve that benefit for carpoolers, who can drive through either
of two carpool lanes on each side of the plaza without paying the toll or
stopping for the metering lights.
``It's a terrific convenience, and a little bit of time saving,'' said
Elizabeth Deakin, director of the Transportation Institute at the
University of California-Berkeley.
Ann Lehman, who occasionally commutes over the Bay Bridge with her
husband, Bob Zimmerman, recently applied for a FasTrak transponder.
Although they mostly commute by BART, they hope FasTrak will save them
time driving into San Francisco on the weekends when the carpools lanes
``I'm hoping it's a bigger deal on the weekends,'' Lehman said. ``The Bay
Bridge is horrendous on Saturday nights.''
Despite its questionable efficiency, the program is gaining popularity.
About 400 people sign up each day, with some 37,000 FasTrak users around
the region, Jones said.
Caltrans officials expected the delays on the first day as some drivers
tried to back out of lane No. 11, which becomes a FasTrak lane 500 feet in
front the toll booth. Other motorists had a hard time accessing the
awkward location of the FasTrak lane -- in the middle of the toll plaza.
But Jones said there are no plans to move FasTrak to either the right or
left lanes because cars coming off three highways -- interstates 880, 980
and 580 -- would then have to jump several lanes to reach the FasTrak
Although Jones said FasTrak probably won't cut commute times for morning
Bay Bridge users, it will save a few minutes in the afternoon and evening
when the other toll lanes are backed up.
Currently, lane No. 11 will only take FasTrak users, and lane No. 12, a
multi-use lane, will handle both stop-and-pay and FasTrak customers. By
the end of December, Caltrans plans to offer a third lane with FasTrak
capabilities, lane No. 20.
By the end of 2001, FasTrak technology is expected to be installed in each
lane of all Bay Area toll bridges, Jones said.
Contact Putsata Reang at preang@... or (415) 434-1024.
- Published Thursday, November 30, 2000, in the San Jose Mercury News
No reason for cyclists to die on city streets
By L.A. Chung
Mercury News Staff Columnist
If there is any comfort that Lauren Robertson can take, it might be that
her big brother Chris died doing what he loved, surrounded by friends.
But I doubt she feels much comfort at all. Not for the world would anyone
want her brother to go that way, that night, that occasion. It was too
senseless. Too unnecessary.
He was, after all, only 30. And he still had scripts he wanted to write.
Chris Robertson died after being run over by a big rig Nov. 17 on Fourth
Street, not far from the new ballpark and the Caltrain station. He was
part of a large group of cyclists traveling in a bunch in the roadway as
they returned from a funeral. Early on, published reports speculated it
was a case of road rage. Cyclists physically restrained the driver of the
truck from leaving the scene.
Chris Robertson's considerable circle of friends -- bike messengers,
recreational cyclists, bicycle commuters, customers of Rainbow Grocery
where he worked -- have been trying to make sure that his death is not
chalked up as just another unfortunate ``accident'' in the war between
cars and anything smaller and slower -- like bikers and pedestrians.
In this city, tensions between bicyclists and drivers in a hurry have been
ever-present since the Critical Mass bicycle movement began taking up city
streets a day each month during rush hour. Plenty of tempers flare when
masses of cars are blocked at 5 p.m. on Market Street, but this particular
ride was no muscle flex of pedal power, no act of protest. It was a
funeral procession of cyclists at night, in a lightly traveled part of
town that is an in-between land between Potrero Hill and the bustling part
of the South of Market district.
The police report remains, strangely, lost in the system, but the sketchy
police version is that Reuben Espinoza, the driver of tractor-trailer,
apparently became annoyed that the procession of some 40 cyclists had
``taken the lane,'' as it's called in public safety parlance, and threw a
block of wood at them. Words were exchanged. And in the end, Chris
Robertson had been run over.
``How stupid can you be to put your 150-pound body in front of a
tractor-trailer?'' Lauren Robertson asked, the day after she and her
parents had returned to New Orleans from her brother's funeral in San
She is sure that the answer is that he wasn't, and he didn't.
``We will never, ever know that driver's intent. But I know Chris was a
very safe bicyclist, and he wasn't stupid.''
This column isn't about intent right now. That's up to the district
attorney's office and the police to determine, now that they're acting
with some alacrity.
It's about stopping this madness.
District Attorney Terence Hallinan has a chance to step up and be a
leader. He can do his job with the investigation, and he can do what DA
Paula Kamena did in Marin after two cyclists were killed by cars last
year: start a bike-car safety task force with law enforcement and cyclists
and endorse its educational efforts.
Kamena's been meeting with the group once a month since last winter. And
you can see the difference.
Marin's Share the Road campaign began last June and has turned into a
full-blown campaign in its six short months. All the major police
departments, the California Highway Patrol, the Marin County Sheriff's
Department and the district attorney's office support the campaign. Signs
saying ``Share the Road,'' indicating a bicycle and a car, have gone up in
23 locations in the county.
``When you're out there bicycling on the road every day, there's a general
mood out there,'' said Debbie Hubsmith, executive director of the Marin
Bicycle Coalition. ``In general, people have been more respectful.''
And what's that? Drivers need to understand -- really understand -- that
bicyclers are legally on our streets whether it's convenient for cars or
not. (Please see page 48 of this year's California Driver Handbook; it's
the same laws for bikes and cars, and they've been on the books all these
years.) And cyclists need to assert their rights in a fashion that's not
The bottom line is that I've never known the car driver to come out dead
in a car-vs.-bike collision.
We could be talking about this anywhere you find bikes and cars on the
same roadway -- Santa Cruz, Fremont, Palo Alto, Berkeley -- but this
happens to be San Francisco, thank God.
Because it's an activist community. And that's what you need right now.
Enforcing safety rules
Hubsmith said the Marin County bicycle coalition had been working on a
Share the Road effort, but it only took off because Malcolm Foster, a
friend of Cecy Krone, one of the dead cyclists, turned it into a real
campaign with bumper stickers, water bottles, and road signs under an
The Marin program hinges on courtesy, cooperation and safety. But it also
contains some teeth: enforcement.
`Accidents' are avoidable
``One of the most important aspects of the `Share the Road' Program,' ''
Hubsmith wrote in a letter faxed to Hallinan on Wednesday requesting a
full investigation and prosecution in Chris Robertson's case, ``is the
knowledge that law enforcement agencies in Marin will uphold bicyclists'
and pedestrians' rights to our public roadways and they will prosecute
when drivers are negligent or intentionally harass bicyclists and
Lauren Robertson just wants to see appropriate charges brought against the
driver who ran over her brother. It won't change the fact that her brother
is gone, but it may help change the tone in this city that these
``accidents'' are unavoidable and acceptable.
``Nothing that happens to this man is going to bring him back,'' she said.
``But my brother isn't the first and he won't be the last killed in this
See www.sharetheroad.cc for details of its driver-cyclist awareness
L.A. Chung appears Tuesdays and Thursdays and wants you to share your
stories with her. Contact her at lchung@... or (415) 394-6881.
- Published Thursday, November 30, 2000, in the San Francisco Chronicle
Feared Traffic Nightmare Fails to Materialize
Michael Cabanatuan, Suzanne Herel, Chronicle Staff Writers
Caltrans says its long-awaited electronic toll-collection system worked
well on its debut day at the Bay Bridge, even though commuters who used
FasTrak to roll through the toll plaza saved little or no time.
"Things went very well for the first day," Colin Jones, spokesman for the
state Department of Transportation, said yesterday. "Nobody was backing up
or stopping or changing lanes to get in or out of the FasTrak lane."
With rain combining with FasTrak's introduction on the region's busiest
span, many commuters and transportation officials feared an ugly morning.
Much to everyone's relief, the feared monumental traffic jam never
"It looked like a pretty typical day out there," Jones said.
Toll Sgt. Marian Lamier switched on the FasTrak system with a tap of her
computer keyboard at 4:59 a.m. During the first two hours of operation,
330 vehicles passed through Lane 11 -- the unstaffed, dedicated FasTrak
"That's pretty good considering that a normal toll lane can only handle
about 400 commuters in an hour," Jones said.
The number of FasTrak users dropped to about 250 between 7 and 8 a.m.,
then to about 150 the following hour before rebounding to about 280
between 9 and 10 a.m. Jones said the number of users was greater than
FasTrak allows commuters with a battery-powered plastic transponder the
size of an ink pad on their windshields to pay their tolls without
stopping. In addition to the dedicated lane, Lane 12 has been set aside as
a mixed-use lane for FasTrak cars and motorists paying cash or tickets.
Electronic toll-payers still have to stop and wait for the metering lights
to turn green, however. Only carpools and buses are allowed a free ride
through the lights.
"FasTrak hasn't been billed as a commuter panacea," Jones said. But in
off- hours, when traffic across the bridge is lighter, he said, FasTrak
users should sail through the toll plaza and onto the bridge.
Bay Bridge commuters get a 15-cent discount on each toll for using
FasTrak, a perk guaranteed for at least a year.
FasTrak is already in use at the Golden Gate, Carquinez, Benicia-Martinez
and Richmond-San Rafael bridges. The Dumbarton, San Mateo-Hayward and
Antioch bridges are scheduled to get FasTrak by the end of the year.
Also in that time, Caltrans plans to erect another mixed-use FasTrak lane
in the far right of the Bay Bridge toll plaza to accommodate traffic from
Interstate 880. It is virtually impossible for those commuters to get to
the FasTrak lanes that opened yesterday.
E-mail Michael Cabanatuan at mcabanatuan@..., and Suzanne
Herel at sherel@....
- Published Thursday, November 30, 2000, in the San Francisco Chronicle
County May Yet Have Runway Say
Authority comes from section of state code
Those runways San Francisco International Airport is hungry to build on
the bay might have to go through San Mateo County for approval.
This is an astonishingly delightful piece of news for those of us who have
long resented the way San Francisco is allowed to do what it wants in San
A little-known section of the state Public Utilities Code governing
airports requires San Mateo County's approval of any plan by SFO to
acquire new land for expansion, according to a legal interpretation by San
Mateo County's attorneys.
In virtually every other instance, a city or a county can do what it wants
with land it owns in another city or county.
That's why San Francisco can rebuild its jail near San Bruno or add a new
international terminal at SFO and never seek approval of San Mateo County
or any other local government. It worked the same way when San Mateo
County wanted to build a new jail in Redwood City -- the city complained
and the county went ahead and did what it wanted.
But the airport is different, and it provides the first opportunity San
Mateo County has ever had to have some say in what happens at SFO.
The section of the Public Utilities Code specifies that if an airport is
located in another government's jurisdiction, and that airport acquires
land for expansion, the expansion plans must be submitted to the local
government for approval.
"This is a watershed moment when we can claim the citizens of San Mateo
County are going to have a voice in what happens at the airport," said a
clearly intrigued Rich Gordon, president of the San Mateo County Board of
"At one point, most of us assumed we weren't part of the road map of this
project and now we think we are. We can assert that we have a planning
right," he said.
San Mateo County officials have been weaving their way through the
legalities of the expansion approval -- ever since a meeting with SFO
officials when a San Francisco deputy city attorney brought the matter up.
"SFO is well aware of this issue," said Kandace Bender, spokeswoman for
the San Francisco Airfield Development Bureau, the team of top-level
staffers Mayor Willie Brown has put together to push through the runway
"In fact, airport and San Mateo County officials have been involved in
healthy and constructive dialogue for nearly a year about precisely what
might be required and what is the proper process," she said. "Those
discussions are ongoing, and because they're ongoing it's really not
appropriate to elaborate in any detail about the discussions."
The crucial issue is what is meant by acquisition of land, a condition
that would trigger local approval of expansion plans.
SFO doesn't own the land where it wants to put the runways.
That property is owned by the state and is under the jurisdiction of the
State Lands Commission, which oversees all lands beneath public waters,
such as the bay.
The Lands Commission can't sell the land, but it can lease it or make a
gift of it.
Lease or gift, San Mateo County officials would argue that either one is
an acquisition of land by SFO and subject to the local approval
San Mateo County Counsel Tom Casey, at the direction of the supervisors,
is drafting a letter to the state attorney general's office seeking
affirmation that the county is interpreting the law correctly.
Early indications from officials at the Bay Conservation and Development
Commission is that the county is right.
For any other kind of development by one county within another, there is a
requirement that project plans be submitted to the local government.
But there's no requirement the local government's objections be heeded.
"We get beat up a lot for not standing up to San Francisco. A lot of
times, we don't have the ability to take them on," said Gordon.
In fact, the pro forma submission of plans is something San Francisco has
largely ignored, Gordon said.
Earlier this year in a meeting with SFO officials, Gordon and Casey
assumed they were paying a courtesy call that would have little bearing on
the runway project, despite the fact that it would cut into the bay in the
heart of San Mateo County.
Instead, they were told the county may be a major stop along the way to
And, unexpectedly, the supervisors will have to formulate a position on
"I'm aware that the airport has an incredible impact on the economy of
this county and the region," Gordon said. "So, the economic pressures for
new runways are going to be very, very strong.
"At the same time, I have grave concerns about the health of the bay. So,
I, for one, am going to need to see that the project that's proposed
benefits the economy without destroying the environment," he said.
Simon can be seen 7:30 p.m. Fridays on The Chronicle's "Peninsula This
Week" on cable Channel 26, and at other times on local access channels.
You can reach him at (650) 299-8071, by fax at (650) 299-9208, or by
e-mail at msimon@....
- Published Wedneday, November 29, 2000, by the Alameda Newspaper Group
Caltrans chief supports BART development
Focus expanding business at hubs
From Staff Reports
OAKLAND -- BART on Tuesday reaffirmed its growing commitment to building
transit villages around its stations and got a boost from the state's top
At a BART forum entitled: "How Will Our Future Develop?" developers,
academics and regulators bandied around the usual buzzwords --
transit-oriented development and smart growth. They explained the hurdles
to concentrating apartments, shops and offices around train stations.
Topping the list: a labyrinth of regulation, economics and political
opposition from neighbors.
But BART has found a powerful ally in Caltrans Director Jeff Morales.
He indicated that the state agency is driving in the same direction as he
announced new initiatives to promote urban redevelopment around transit
hubs. Caltrans has:
Established an Office of Community Planning to help cities map out
developments that don't add freeway gridlock;
Launched a one-year study of successful transit developments around the
Offered state grants to California cities to plan them.
"When the average commute is 60 miles you have to wonder if transportation
is really the problem," Morales said, citing a sobering statistic about
commuters over the Altamont Pass. He said transportation problems are
symptoms of unwise development.
BART Spokesman Mike Healy could not remember the last time a Caltrans
director participated in a BART hearing, but agreed that it was
Caltrans has historically been labeled by its critics as a
"It's a recognition by a state agency like Caltrans of how important the
issue is," Healy said.
- Published Friday, December 1, 2000, in the San Jose Mercury News
Commuting costs rank low
Bay Area among cheapest metropolitan regions in U.S. based on households'
annual transportation expenses
In a study of 28 areas in the United States, 23 posted worse
transportation costs than the Bay Area, where households spend 15 cents
per dollar on getting around.
By Gary Richards
Bay Area motorists howl about paying the highest gas prices in the country
and commuting on some of the most congested roads nationwide.
But maybe we're not that bad off.
The Bay Area ranks among the cheapest regions when annual transportation
costs per household are calculated -- 24th-worst out of 28 metropolitan
areas, according to a study released Thursday.
The average Bay Area household devotes 15 cents of every dollar it spends
for getting around town and to work. By comparison, the most expensive
region is Houston, where transportation costs soaked up 22 cents of every
dollar spent. The nationwide average is 18 cents.
``It could be worse -- that's for sure,'' said James Corless, California
director of the Surface Transportation Policy Project, which conducted the
Nationwide, driving costs rank just behind housing in the family budget --
more than those of health, schools and utilities combined. That's true in
the Bay Area as well, where costs for housing (22 percent) are followed by
transportation (15 percent), food (13 percent) and insurance (11 percent).
The non-profit transportation group advocates more transit and
pedestrian-friendly streets. It contends that motorists aren't always
aware of the costs of driving.
``It's there, and I sometimes think about it,'' said Dennis Norton, 52, a
Capitola-to-Santa Clara commuter. ``But I resign myself to putting 20,000
to 25,000 miles a year on my auto. I consider that a part of life right
Houston motorists pay nearly $8,900 a year for transportation, while Bay
Area motorists pay $7,150 a year for driving or taking the train. The
national average is around $6,400, according to the report. The study
factors in everyday costs of living, such as housing and health care, plus
income levels and transit options. High salaries in the Bay Area, combined
with transit options, helped lower the cost of getting around.
Transit now rings the Bay Area, with expansion planned for BART, Caltrain,
light rail and trains over the Altamont Pass. By comparison, Houston
residents have essentially one way to travel: the highway.
And though gas prices and insurance costs often enrage motorists in the
Bay Area, the study concludes that these had little effect on overall
transportation expenses. Three-quarters of all transportation bills stem
from the price of a car and the interest on a loan, regardless of how much
you drive the vehicle.
Los Angeles and Southern California ranked 15th on the list, with each
household spending $7,224 for transportation or slightly more than 17
percent of a year's bills.
Drivers in Houston average nearly 39 miles a day; those in Atlanta, the
second most expensive place to drive, 36. Motorists in the South Bay
average less than 25 miles a day.
About 98 cents of every dollar for personal transportation went toward
People who live in sprawling areas 30 or more miles from work spent $1,300
more a year on transportation.
Living downtown near transit and using it is a money-saver. Living near
Powell Street in San Francisco, a household could save more than $6,800 in
annual transportation costs by taking the train. Near a BART station in
Oakland, over $5,000 a year. Near First Street in San Jose, nearly $3,600
These costs and potential savings, said Corless, are items that many
motorists fail to take into consideration when choosing where to live.
``When you pay to take transit, you pay up front,'' he said. ``When you
get into the car, you may not remember how much the car loan, insurance
and maintenance is costing.''
It's not something that worries Norton, the Capitola resident who every
weekday climbs out of bed early to make his commute over the Santa Cruz
Mountains and into Silicon Valley. He's looked for jobs closer to home,
but the salaries aren't comparable. He figures the two-bedroom condo he
bought in Capitola for around $132,000 12 years ago would cost him
$300,000 or ``plenty more'' in Silicon Valley.
There's another factor.
``I'm two blocks from the beach,'' said Norton, a buyer for Network
Associates' international program. ``That's tough to get in San Jose.''
Contact Gary Richards at mrroadshow@... or (408) 920-5335.
HOUSTON vs. BAY AREA
Transportation costs are highest in Houston, soaking up 22 percent of a
family's annual bills compared with 15 percent in the Bay Area. Here is a
look at costs of living in the two regions.
HOUSTON BAY AREA
Category Cost/year % Cost/year %
Transport $8,840 22.1% $7,150 15.1%
Shelter $6,536 16.3% $10,467 22.1%
Food $4,906 12.3% $6,377 13.4%
Insurance $4,190 10.5% $5,132 10.8%
Other household $2,894 7.2% $3,309 7.0%
Utilities $2,802 7.0% $2,276 4.8%
Entertain $1,804 4.5% $2,316 4.9%
Clothing $1,878 4.7% $1,995 4.2%
Education $ 642 1.6% $1,076 2.3%
Misc. $3,312 8.3% $4,974 10.5%
Source: Surface Transportation Policy Project
- Published Friday, December 1, 2000, in the San Jose Mercury News
Judges leave Vacaville to stew in its own foul air
Court rejects claim that S.F. is to blame for polluting suburb
By Dan Reed
Oh sure, Vacaville, blame San Francisco.
The city by the bay may be a lot of things: a place where an Assembly
candidate can campaign in a butterfly outfit. A place where a discarded
refrigerator carton can rent as a smallish home for $1,500 a month -- OK,
that one may not be true; well, at least we don't think so.
But San Francisco as a polluter of the backwater northern 'burb of
Vacaville? Even top judges rejected that, at least in their own legalistic
Town blames city
In a decision mailed to the town last week, the state Supreme Court said
it has refused to hear a lawsuit that claims Vacaville should not be
penalized for failing to meet stricter-than-usual vehicle emissions
standards, even if its foul air, as the city claims, supposedly drifted in
from San Francisco and its environs.
The rigid standards were imposed because Vacaville was among the
Sacramento basin towns that logged higher-than-allowed levels of air
At a city council meeting Tuesday, Mayor David Fleming said he might ask
the Legislature to exempt Vacaville from the more stringent standards.
Once before, the city obtained a bill that would exempt it, said city
attorney Charles Lamoree, but then-Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed the measure,
arguing that an exception for Vacaville might jeopardize the city's
standing under federal clean air laws.
Asked why Vacaville is trying to pick on San Francisco, Lamoree said:
``You're the one causing all the problems for us.''
He and others in this ``cow'' town -- vaca is Spanish for cow -- figure
the concentrated population of the Bay Area is producing dirty air that
floats up to their city, unfairly making them pollution outlaws. Once it
was lumped in with the other smelly little towns of the Sacramento basin,
Vacaville sued the state and the Bureau of Automotive Repair, which
carries out California's smog program.
It lost at Superior Court, lost at the appeals level, and now has been
rejected by the state Supreme Court.
``We're done,'' Lamoree said Thursday.
A phone call to the state Attorney General's Office, which defended the
state in the Vacaville suit, was not returned Thursday.
While the state Supreme Court made no comment in turning down Vacaville's
appeal, the appeals court earlier noted, in effect, that the state can
designate blanket areas of non-attainment to minimal smog levels while not
breaking them down by city.
Can't sue as car owners
It also seemed to say the city could not sue the state because it's a
subdivision of the state, and rejected its claim of a right to sue as
owners of cars subject to smog laws.
Mayor Fleming said Thursday that the court has never heard the city's
argument on its merits but has only focused on such legal issues as
standing. ``We think that's wrong,'' he said.
Contact Dan Reed at dreed@... or (415) 434-0371.
- Published Friday, December 1, 2000, in the San Francisco Chronicle
Big Wheels Will Rule S.F. Roads
State Farm to decrease SUV insurance rates
The woman came barreling through the red light, almost leaving me flat in
the crosswalk beneath her behemoth sports utility vehicle. That's bad
enough, but par for the race course of San Francisco streets.
She flipped me off with her well-manicured finger. That's worse, but
expected. I had almost slowed her down on her way to Nordstrom. Besides,
flipping off those you fail to kill is required by the rules of Bay Area
The worst, though? The woman's insurance rates will be going down.
She's being rewarded because of how flat she can make me, while my crummy
old fuel-efficient Honda Civic will cost more to insure because it isn't
even a speed bump to her SUV.
Now this woman can afford to make even more trips to Nordstrom, while I'll
be making fewer trips to Target. Someday maybe she'll finally get that
little silhouette of a pedestrian painted on the side of her battlewagon,
and maybe it will be mine.
What do we expect from insurance companies, the people who gave America
the HMO and all of us a bad case of HMOphobia?
State Farm has decided to reward the overwhelmingly wealthy drivers of
SUVs for owning cars rated as safe for occupants. Forget those who get in
What kind of rate can I get on a Sherman tank?
America is ruled by big wheels, literally as well as figuratively. This is
especially true in the Bay Area, despite its goody-two-hiking-shoes
We put "Save the Environment" on the rear bumpers of our Explorers and
Land Rovers. The front bumpers are reserved for pedestrians and small
We pretend we like bicycles more than cars, then we put our mountain bikes
on top of our cars and drive to the nearest mountain -- where we complain
about all the smog we see below.
We all support mass transit and carpooling -- for other people.
Then what happens? We are rewarded for our hypocrisy with gifts of money
by the insurance companies and time by the bridge authorities.
With the new FasTrak electronic toll system, single occupant vehicles can
breeze through the tollbooths of the Golden Gate Bridge much faster than
carpools can get through for free.
It's not clear, however, that FasTrak will do anything for the Bay Bridge.
It's on permanent slow track.
But let's get real here. When insurance companies lower rates for SUVs and
other luxury cars, and bridge authorities start FasTrak systems, life
becomes more untenable on the streets of San Francisco. Drivers are being
rewarded to come to the city and run over people.
Then, as happens all too often, city authorities don't even prosecute
them. And then they want to sue gunmakers for hurting people? The
hypocrisy never ends.
San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, who usually tools around in a limo
escorted by a half dozen motorcycles, is always pushing San Francisco's
"transit first" policy. Transit first is a great idea, but first there has
to be transit.
What's the best way to get good mass transit? Make it the mother of all
necessities, the only way to get around besides shoe leather and muscle
Almost 15 years ago, then-Supervisor Bill Maher advocated closing off all
of downtown San Francisco to private automobiles, replacing them with
squadrons of vans. I thought it was just Maher waxing visionary. But the
idea has kept coming back in a variety of forms, including an abortive
plan by Mayor Brown a few years ago to exclude private traffic from Market
It's time San Francisco got serious, and instituted a transit-only policy,
at least within the core of the city. And the core is a constantly
expanding core, with parking lots replaced by highrises, and traffic jams
interrupted only for moments of accelerating terror.
I'm serious about this. Downtown San Francisco and most of its
neighborhoods are now paved with cars -- parked, double-parked and parked
on the sidewalk.
Drivers internally combust, so when they finally get moving, they move way
too fast. They see red, but not red lights. Then they flip us off as they
This isn't America, or even Los Angeles, so why should we be crushed under
the wheels of, well, wheels.
Just think. When cars are evicted from downtown San Francisco, the
bicyclists, skaters and scooter idiots can all take to the streets.
Walkers can enjoy the mayhem from the sidewalk, which once again will be
Chronicle columnist Rob Morse appears on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and
Sundays. His e-mail is rmorse@....
- Published Friday, December 1, 2000, in the San Francisco Chronicle
Transportation No. 2 on List of Bay Area Costs
Only housing ranks higher, study finds
Michael Cabanatuan, Chronicle Staff Writer
The average Bay Area household spends $7,150 a year on transportation,
making getting around the region the biggest expense behind housing,
according to a study released yesterday by a pro-transit group.
Transportation costs -- most attributable to driving -- eat up more of the
typical family budget than health care, education and utilities combined,
the study by the Surface Transportation Policy Project concluded. The
report also found that where you live can make a big difference in what
you pay. Transportation costs for people living in Livermore, Brentwood,
west Marin or Los Altos Hills, for instance, can be $4,000 to $6,000 a
year more than for residents of San Francisco, Oakland, Emeryville,
Pleasant Hill or Daly City.
The difference is sprawl, said James Corless of the group's San Francisco
More compactly developed cities have better mass transit access and easier
walks to stores and schools, resulting in the lower transportation cost.
"It's not just about distance," Corless said. "It's also about the style
of development, how spread out your community is."
The policy project, whose headquarters are in Washington, D.C., encourages
alternatives to driving. It arrived at transportation costs by analyzing
demographic data to determine how many cars a typical household in a given
community would own, and how far its residents would drive.
Costs included insurance, gas, fuel taxes, maintenance, vehicle cost and
the price of public transportation.
Nationally, the Bay Area's average household transportation cost ranked
10th of the 28 metropolitan areas the group surveyed. But as a percentage
of total household spending, it placed 24th, with transportation
accounting for 15.1 percent of the average family budget.
The Houston-Galveston-Brazoria region of Texas topped the list in both
categories, with annual transportation costs of $8,840 that consume 22.1
percent of the average household budget.
The survey also ranked transportation costs in Bay Area cities. Emeryville
was the cheapest, followed by San Francisco, Albany, Berkeley and El
Cerrito. The most expensive was Los Altos Hills, followed by Portola
Valley, San Martin,
Windsor and Ross.
Compared with a Los Altos Hills resident, an Emeryville citizen would save
$4,177 a year in transportation expenses, the study concluded.
Costs can also differ from neighborhood to neighborhood within cities, the
study said. In San Francisco, for instance, someone living near Powell
Street downtown -- the city's cheapest transportation neighborhood --
would spend $6, 531 less per year than those who live in former military
housing at the Presidio.
And even in cities with fairly high transportation costs -- Walnut Creek,
for example -- the downtown neighborhood is close to transit, shopping,
entertainment and schools, keeping down the cost of getting around. The
study ranked downtown Walnut Creek as the Contra Costa County area with
the lowest transportation cost.
The group's reports on the Bay Area and other metropolitan areas can be
viewed at http://www.transact.org
Surviving Without a Car
The 15 best and 15 worst cities in the Bay Area for getting around without
a car, according to the Center for Neighborhood Technology:
Los Altos Hills
Source: Center for Neighborhood Technology Chronicle Graphic
E-mail Michael Cabanatuan at mcabanatuan@....
- Published Friday, December 1, 2000, in the San Francisco Chronicle
Mayoral Friends' SFO Deal Questioned
$32 million limo contract concerns budget analyst
Chuck Finnie, Lance Williams, Chronicle Staff Writers
A company run by a longtime friend and political fund-raiser for Mayor
Willie Brown is in line for a highly unusual $32 million city contract to
manage limousine traffic at San Francisco International Airport.
But the Board of Supervisors' fiscal watchdog has urged the city not to
approve the deal until airport officials provide more information about
the services the company would provide to earn the money.
At issue is a proposed four-year airport agreement involving Daja Inc., a
consulting firm owned by Jacqueline Besser. She is a longtime mayoral
friend who helped run a fund-raising effort called "Women for Willie"
during Brown's 1999 re-election campaign.
With the assistance of her husband, lobbyist Stephen Besser, also a
confidant of the mayor, she and her company were partners in more than $70
million in city contracts since moving to San Francisco from Los Angeles
after Brown took office in 1996.
The proposed airport deal is sure to raise new questions about the way the
Brown administration does business with people who have close political
and business ties to the mayor. No other major U.S. airport has hired a
single firm to manage all airport curbside transportation services, city
Last year, Besser's firm and a company called Shuttleport formed a
partnership to win a one-year, $5.9 million contract to supervise and
dispatch all limousine, van and taxi traffic at San Francisco
International, according to city records.
Now the city's Airports Commission, whose members are appointed by the
mayor, wants to extend Daja's contract and raise its fees by as much as 17
percent over last year. That would bring the total five-year package to
more than $32 million.
ANALYST RAISES OBJECTIONS
Because of the size of the contract, it must be approved by the Board of
Supervisors. But Harvey Rose, the board's budget analyst, has complained
that the agreement lacks performance measurements and does not explain
clearly what Daja does for its money, leading to two postponements of
hearings on the deal.
"We have requested that the airport provide us a detailed and
comprehensive itemization of the exact services the contractor is going to
provide," Rose said. "As of now, that information is not contained
anywhere in the proposed contract."
The contract will come before the supervisors' Finance Committee next
where it will be reviewed by two of the mayor's most ardent detractors:
its chairman, Leland Yee, and Board of Supervisors President Tom Ammiano,
who lost to Brown in last year's mayoral runoff.
Besser is a former employee of the Los Angeles city attorney's office who
in the 1980s volunteered as a Southern California fund-raiser for then-
Assembly Speaker Brown, according to people who know her. In 1995, Brown
appointed her to the state Commission on Aging.
Her husband is a former lead lobbyist for the powerful Los Angeles law
firm of Christensen, White, Miller, Fink & Jacobs, where Brown moonlighted
during his legislative career.
After Brown's 1996 mayoral win, he sold his San Francisco law office to
the Christensen firm for four annual payments of $25,000, Brown's tax
BIDDING BEGAN AFTER BROWN'S WIN
Also that year, the Bessers moved to San Francisco. Stephen Besser went to
work as a City Hall lobbyist. Jacqueline Besser headed one of Brown's
citywide meetings on women's policy issues and continued to raise campaign
funds for Brown.
She also set up Daja Inc. and began bidding on city parking and
transportation contracts in conjunction with other companies, even though
she had no experience in either area. Her husband served as lobbyist for
In 1997, the Parking and Traffic Commission awarded Daja and a partner
Parking Concepts Inc., a $3.68 million contract to manage two city garages
-- the St. Mary's Square Garage on Kearny Street and a second garage at
Hoff and 16th streets -- for five years.
Besser, who is African American, won the contract after the city's Human
Rights Commission program certified her firm as a disadvantaged
minority-owned business. At the same time, the rights commission
decertified a competing minority company that had underbid Daja for the
job. The competitor said he was told by a rights commission official that
he lost out because he was in "the wrong place at the wrong time."
The contract later attracted the attention of the FBI's continuing probe
of municipal corruption.
In January, another city commission awarded Daja and a ShuttlePort
affiliate, Intelitran, a $66.4 million, five-year Muni contract to provide
transit services to the disabled.
And in February, Daja obtained yet another contract to manage a city
garage at 5200 Geary Blvd. for $11,457 per month.
GRAND JURY SCRUTINIZING MEETINGS
In January, a federal criminal grand jury subpoenaed the mayor's office
for records of any meetings between Brown and Jacqueline or Stephen
Besser. The grand jury, empaneled by federal prosecutors to review
evidence in the FBI's corruption probe, also wanted records of any mayoral
meetings involving Daja or its partner in the parking contract.
Daja won its airport contract in September 1999 after forming a joint
venture with Shuttleport, a Chicago company represented by a former San
Francisco airport executive, Sheldon Fein.
Called ShuttlePort/Daja, the joint venture won the contract even though
its $11.9 million bid was nearly double that of two other bidders, the
Airport Director John Martin said he selected ShuttlePort/Daja on merit.
He defended the contract as a smart way to "take control of the curb" and
stave off gridlock on the airport roadways. He points out that the money
to pay for it comes from fees charged to the transit operators themselves.
"They are not perfect," Martin said of ShuttlePort/Daja. "I think there
have been improvements, and we are getting fewer complaints."
Martin said he agreed with budget analyst Rose's recommendations and was
in the process of having a tighter contract written.
But Yee, the supervisors' Finance Committee chairman, is digging in his
"Given the concerns that have been raised by the budget analyst, I can't
see this item moving out of the committee with a positive recommendation,"
"There is no way to measure the value of this particular contract," he
"So we are basically being asked to give $32 million to somebody to do
nothing. I can't believe we are going to do that. . . . I could use the
$32 million to help with seniors, children and the health care system in
Email Chuck Finnie at cfinnie@... and Lance Williams at
- Published Thursday, November 30, 2000, in the San Francisco Chronicle
VIPs Take In New Terminal's Soaring Spaces
S.F. International Airport scene of black-tie celebration
Carolyne Zinko, Chronicle Staff Writer
Nine hundred people spent five hours in the new International Terminal at
San Francisco International Airport on Tuesday night, where none of the
ticket machines were working and nobody went anywhere.
Not that anyone wanted to. The International Terminal was the scene of a
big gala to celebrate its opening after three years of construction -- the
largest public works project in the nation, according to airport
As the first of three SFO parties to occur this week, the black-tie event
drew the VIP set. A crowd of 50,000 is expected for the public open house
While violinists played at a cocktail reception in the airport museum, a
re- creation of the 1937 terminal, Mayor Willie Brown -- accompanied by
his Transbay Terminal project director, Maria Ayerdi -- began mixing it up
with David Malcolm, a San Diego airport commissioner invited up for the
Each contended he had the better airport, but Brown insisted that flying
into San Diego "is like going to Mineola," his Texas hometown.
"He said he'd like my terminal. I said I'd exchange it for a runway,"
United Airlines CEO Jim Goodwin, who flew in from Chicago for a quick
visit to the airline's largest hub and international gateway, also briefly
mentioned the need for more runway capacity.
But neither he nor the mayor went any further on the topic, which has been
a hot issue for environmentalists who oppose filling in the bay.
"We can work on those issues bright and early tomorrow morning," Goodwin
said. "Tonight, we're here to celebrate."
John Marks, president of the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau,
was there with his wife, Marty. He called the new terminal "spectacular."
"Visitors will arrive in a style that is commensurate with the most
popular city in the U.S.," he pronounced. Marks was at that moment handed
a very large vodka martini by a senior vice president of United Airlines.
"That's customer service," he said, winking.
Charlotte Shultz, the city's chief of protocol, and her husband, George,
the former secretary of state, were there as well. She and the mayor mixed
business with pleasure. Before the party, they and Gov. Gray Davis met
with the president of Chile, Ricardo Lagos, who jetted in to talk business
with government and Silicon Valley leaders this week.
Out on the main floor, restaurateur George Chen of Betelnut and Shanghai
1930 fame was busy with his wife, Cindy, showing friends around his posh
new airport restaurant, Qi. It has a wine-tasting bar, places to stow
luggage beneath wall-mounted fountains, and laptops for patrons to use. In
case that's not enough to lure people in, there are terra-cotta lion
statues -- 2,000 years old, he says -- behind glass.
During the evening's dinner of crab salad and filet mignon, Michael
Willis, one of the International Terminal's architects, waxed poetic about
the three- dimensional trusses and cantilevers supporting the ceiling.
"What you see is the design," he said. "Structurally, it's breathtaking."
But partygoer Kusun Kini, whose husband, consultant P.A. Kini, worked on
the project, thought the effect was too industrial.
"It's nice, but they could have made it a little more colorful -- it's too
gray," she said.
Guests were treated to a song by Ryan Houston, 14, a Bay Area singing
sensation, and a performance by Project Bandaloop, aerialists who "danced"
while suspended from ropes on the ceiling trusses.
And then, like a final boarding call, it was time to go.
The Federal Aviation Administration's Walter Smith said to be sure to tell
everyone it was "an extraordinary evening."
Assemblyman Ted Lempert of San Carlos agreed.
"Not too crowded, people dressed well, good food," he said. "This is the
best terminal I've ever seen."
INTERNATIONAL TERMINAL: The public is invited to view the San Francisco
International Airport's new terminal from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday Dec. 3.
The event, co-sponsored by The Chronicle, is free, but tickets are
required. Go to www.flysfo.com cq or call (650) 821-6401.
E-mail Carolyne Zinko at czinko@....
- Published Friday, December 1, 2000, in the Marin Independent-Journal
Airport's 'Great Hall' nears opening
2.5 million-square-foot facility to debut Dec. 10
By Mark Prado
When airport architects named the main foyer of San Francisco
International Airport's new international terminal the 'Great Hall,' you
know they had something grand in mind.
And as much as air travel is the focal point of the new
2.5-million-square-foot building, art, shops,
food and a museum will vie for equal billing as the facility readies for
full operations starting Dec. 10.
"The existing international terminal opened in 1954 before there were
jets. This building will serve us
into the middle of this century," said Jane Sullivan, airport spokeswoman,
standing outside the Great Hall near what she
called the "Rolls Royce" of revolving doors.
Indeed, no expense was spared during construction of the nearly $3 billion
project that included the terminal, two new
parking structures and other support features. The project was financed
entirely by airport revenue via bonds.
Visitors and travelers will spend much of their time in the Great Hall, an
expanse of space flooded with natural light, and
some soft magentas and purples cast on the floor and walls as the sun
penetrates colored slats near the ceiling.
The apex of the hall's roof, which reaches about 80 feet, is lined with
sails, a nautical touch offered by the architect. The vast
design brings back memories of a bygone era.
"It is like the old train station when traveling was something special
instead of some sort of an ordeal," Sullivan said.
The hall's floor has aisles of ticket counters. A key element: counters
are not assigned to specific airlines, allowing for
additional ticket-taking space to be open if there is a need.Hoping for
Officials hope that will result in shorter lines.
Customs areas are larger as well, and officials hope the process will take
45 minutes. It usually takes much longer.
Bay Area gourmets will recognize such favorite eateries on the main floor
and concourses as Palo Alto's Andale Mexican
Restaurant and Bar.
"We're very excited to be here," restaurant general manager Victor Alvarez
said, describing the new venture as a move into
the big leagues. "It's nice to be mentioned in the same breath as that
He thinks the constant exposure to millions of people, even if they don't
pop in for a $5.25 chicken mesquite burrito, can
only help the restaurant. Ultimately, Alvarez hopes, other airports may
take interest in Andale's nosh.
Those who eat at the airport will not have to pay jacked-up airport prices
"There will be street pricing, so what you pay normally at these
restaurants you will be charged here, too," said Liv Faris,
who is helping coordinate the opening of the terminal for the airport.
Aside from food and high-end shops, the new facility is dripping in art.
Art on walls, art behind glass, art in terminals, even art on the floors.
An aviation museum will also open.
"There is a lot to do here, and we hope people will come and check it
out," Sullivan said.
Restaurants within the terminal will begin offering validated parking for
two hours to allow people to come and eat and shop.
"This is really like a mall in a way," said Faris, as she glanced around
at the myriad of options for shopping and eating.
Intense growth in international flights out of the airport was the impetus
for building a new terminal.
"That's where most of our growth will come. We can't bring in any new
airlines because we are flat out of space," Sullivan
The number of Pacific Rim travelers using the airport is projected to
increase by 70 percent in the next 10 years. Airport
traffic is expected to be 51 million by 2006 compared with 40 million in
1998. International travel at the airport has doubled
Instead of 10 international gates, there will be 24 gates at the new
"Everything was built with the idea that there is room to grow, so we are
not obsolete the moment we open," Sullivan said.
The biggest challenge for travelers -- at least initially -- will be
finding the new terminal. While the new building dwarfs
existing structures and is easy to see, there are a set of new roads and
off-ramps that lead to it that will be unfamiliar to even
the seasoned airport user.New airport
"The big difference is they won't go into the old airport," Sullivan said.
"They will never see the airport as they knew it, unless
they are flying domestically. Our biggest concern is people will gravitate
toward going to the old terminal."
The old international terminal will be shut down, revamped and re-opened
for domestic flights.
Shuttle bus operators in the East Bay and on the Peninsula don't expect
"The new terminal should translate to more customers," said Jay Ver
vice-president of Brisbane-based Bayporter Express.
He said his fares would not change.
While there is excitement with the opening, there is some trepidation.
"Through the end of this year and in the new year, people will need to
give themselves more time," Sullivan said. "Everything
is not going to work perfectly."
STAFF WRITER Sean Holstege contributed to this report.
There will be a community open house at the new terminal on Sunday from 9
a.m. to 7 p.m. The event is free, but advance
passes are required. Passes are available at http://www.ticketweb.com or
by calling 650-821-6401.
- Published Friday, December 1, 2000, in the San Mateo County Times
One-seventh of family incomes go to transport
By Sean Holstege
Bay Area residents spend an average of $7,150 a year getting around --
more than they spend on education, food or health care, according to a
report released Thursday by mass transit advocates.
On average, transportation gobbles up $1 in $7, or 15 percent, of
household spending money in the Bay Area. People in 23 U.S. metropolitan
areas spend a higher proportion of their money getting around, topped by
Houston at 22 percent.
The Bay Area ranks 10th most expensive for annual transportation costs.
The most expensive is Houston at $8,840 per person, followed by Dallas and
Anchorage at just more than $8,700.
In the Bay Area, where eight commuters in 10 go by car, suburbanites pay
more to drive than inner city dwellers, according to the Surface
Transportation Policy Project report. A typical Emeryville motorist, for
example, pays $4,688 a year, while in Hayward a car can cost $6,734
"Part of our congestion strategy in the Bay Area has to be a housing
strategy. We ought to think more about building housing closer to mass
transit. It would be cheaper for homeowners and better for the rest of
us," said the group's California director, James Corless.
A pilot federal lending program attaches a value to living near mass
transit. That premium, which can be applied to a home loan, climbs as high
as $3,656 for an Emeryville home.
According to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, only a quarter of
Bay Area trips is a commute. Shopping and mid-day errands each account for
slightly more trips.
Thursday's report calls for more spending on mass transit, building homes
in cities rather than suburbs and pay-as-you-drive car insurance.
Highway advocates and growth-control opponents at the California Alliance
for Jobs dismissed the report as a biased attempt to influence public
"Anyone sitting out in Tracy looking at gas bills already knows that
transportation is expensive," said Alliance for Jobs Communications
Director Dennis Oliver. "If they are assuming people don't know this
already, that's an elitist position."
"Having a car and well-maintained roads is important because it's freedom.
It gives you the opportunity to go where you want when you want without
waiting for BART to open," Oliver added.
Thursday's report does not factor in that comparable homes and auto
insurance are more expensive in cities, offsetting the extra money
suburbanites pay for transportation.
"The problem in the Bay Area is that high housing costs have forced people
to live on the outskirts," said California State Automobile Insurance
Spokeswoman Bronwyn Hogan, pointing out that driving costs are probably
higher than reported because of high gas prices.
Oliver says people are willing to pay the extra cost -- and make the
longer commutes -- for the chance to own a house. He says growth control
has driven the cost of homes up, forcing people to look farther afield for
Corless disagrees. He says homebuyers want, but cannot find, a choice
between Manhattan-style apartments and picket fences in Tracy. He points
out that there are relatively affordable detached homes in places like El
Cerrito, which are close to mass transit.
"Transit-oriented development won't make every house in Emeryville or
Richmond affordable, but it will take a few people off the freeway and
lower the costs for taxpayers in the rest of the region," Corless said.
- Published Friday, December 1, 2000, in the San Mateo County Times
State car insurance program gets little use
SACRAMENTO -- Five months after California launched its landmark program
to provide auto insurance to low-income drivers, hardly anyone is taking
advantage of it -- and state officials want to know why.
The experimental low-cost policy, the first of its type in the nation,
first was offered July 1 in Los Angeles and San Francisco counties. The
three-year pilot project was approved by the Legislature and Gov. Gray
Davis to reduce the number of uninsured drivers.
Uninsured motorists total about a fifth of California's 21 million
licensed drivers. Most of them are in Los Angeles County, which has a
third of the state's vehicles.
Estimates varied dramatically as to how many drivers would take advantage
of the new program. Supporters of the low-cost plan, while acknowledging
they were in uncharted terrain, estimated that as many as 50,000 motorists
would sign up in the first year.
State Insurance Department regulators were more cautious, issuing no
public estimates but expecting perhaps 10,000 to 20,000 signups.
But as of Oct. 31, the most recent period for which figures are available,
434 people have obtained the low-cost policies, almost all of them in Los
Angeles, according to figures compiled by the state Insurance Department.
In San Francisco, 12 people signed up.
The figures are expected to be publicly released to the Legislature after
Jan. 1, a reporting requirement that was included in the original law that
set up the issue.
Insurance Commissioner Harry Low has made the program a major priority in
his new administration, Low's spokesman said.
"He has put an emphasis on making every attempt to make this program
work," spokesman Scott Edelen said.
The low numbers are proving puzzling to insurers, consumer groups and
One reason may be that auto insurers are offering similar or better
coverage at lower costs. Another is that people with conventional policies
are not "buying down" to the low-cost policies, as expected.
And still another is that some people will not purchase car insurance
under any circumstances -- even though state law requires it and carries
stiff penalties for violators -- because they have few assets to protect.
A fourth possible reason is that few people are aware the program exists.
"Some people are not going to buy it, they are spending 40 percent to 50
percent of their income on rent and food. It just stands to reason that a
family that is struggling to provide food for their children every day may
have no assets to protect," State Farm spokesman Bill Sirola said.
State officials and insurers estimate that perhaps 4 million motorists
statewide, or roughly 20 percent of the total, drive without coverage.
Many of the drivers are concentrated in high-risk inner-city areas, where
the uninsured rate exceeds 80 percent.
These drivers, often the poorest motorists who live in areas where
insurance premiums are highest, are the target of the new program. But
they aren't lining up to buy the policies.
Doug Heller of the Santa Monica-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer
Rights, a sponsor of the original legislation, said the state has failed
to adequately advertise the program.
"The chief problem is that you've got probably 500,000 drivers in Los
Angeles and San Francisco counties who would qualify for this low-cost
program, but very few of them even know that it exists. There's been no
outreach," he said.
"They have these billboards in low-income areas that say, 'Need low-cost
auto insurance? Call this number,' but they never say the program is
backed by the state of California. People think it's some private agent,"
The low-cost program is administered by the California Automobile Assigned
Risk Plan, a pool set up by insurers to provide auto insurance to
high-risk drivers who can't get coverage from conventional companies.
An advisory board, which includes a number of insurers, gives broad
direction to CAARP and is controlled largely by the Department of
For good drivers over 25 years of age, the no-frills policies cost $450 a
year in Los Angeles and $410 in San Francisco, with a 25 percent surcharge
for single male drivers under 25 years of age. The policies provide $5,000
for personal liability, $10,000 for multiple liability and $3,000 for
In conventional policies, the minimum coverage is $15,000, $30,000 and
The new policies are intended to go to low-income families who make 150
percent or less of the federal poverty level, or about $21,000 a year for
a family of three.
But insurers note customers can get better coverage for the same amount
spent on the low-income plans.
"Sure you can. In certain parts of L.A. or San Francisco, you can spend an
equal premium for more coverage, or even less in premium for more
coverage. That's what shopping around is all about," said Jerry Davies, a
spokesman for the Personal Insurance Federation of California, a
trade-lobby group that includes State Farm and Farmers.
- Published Wednesday, November 29, 2000, in the San Mateo County Times
State Farm offers auto discounts
Leading U.S. insurer's new policy favors vehicles deemed 'safest'
CHICAGO -- The nation's leading automobile insurer is revising its pricing
policies and giving the biggest rate breaks to drivers of what it finds
are the safest cars -- primarily luxury cars, vans or SUVs.
State Farm said Tuesday the new system, which will replace its
across-the-board discount for all vehicles with air bags, will result in
no more than a $50-a-year difference in insurance costs. Owners of sport
utility vehicles and
other big cars will still pay more for their insurance than small-car
But announcement of the change still provoked immediate criticism from
consumer safety experts, who said it's unfair to
drivers of smaller vehicles who may not be able to afford large ones and
are more likely to be hurt in a crash.
Imani Khayyuh, a Chicago motorist who drives a sedan that wouldn't qualify
for the biggest discount, also was displeased
when informed of the plan.
"I shouldn't be penalized for driving a sensible car," she said.
Bloomington, Ill.-based State Farm said its pricing program, which
discounts the medical portion of coverage by up to 40
percent, accurately reflects its safety data. It will cut rates for
vehicles that generate the fewest injury claims for occupants.
Along with some larger models, including SUVs and pickup trucks, big autos
such as some Acuras, BMWs,
Mercedes-Benzes and Jaguars also fall under that category.
"This is not about big cars and little cars, it's about safer cars,"
company spokesman Dick Luedke said. "Cars that produce
the fewest injuries are the type of car you shouldn't pay as much to
Experts said other insurance companies are likely to follow State Farm's
lead. Mike Trevino, a spokesman for Allstate, the
second-biggest U.S. insurer, said it instituted a similar rate structure
about a year ago.
But because the medical portion of coverage typically accounts for only 10
percent to 20 percent of the total premium, the
change isn't likely to have a huge impact on policyholders.
"We're talking about a discreet and limited aspect of the overall
coverage," said Christopher Guidette of Insurance Services
Office, a private New York company that provides actuarial and statistical
information to insurers.
Insurers already consider the likelihood of a crash or theft when setting
comprehensive and collision premiums.
Now a related but different consideration is being applied to medical
payments coverage, Luedke said. "We're not
measuring 'crashability,' we're not measuring 'theftability,' we're
State Farm has for years given discounts of up to 30 percent for vehicles
with both driver and passenger air bags. The
discount is offered to owners on the portion of their premium covering
personal injuries to occupants.
Since all new cars now have air bags, State Farm decided to base the rate
discount on which makes and models generated
the fewest injury claims from accidents. Those vehicles will receive the
biggest discount, 40 percent. Vehicles with air bags
that offer the least protection to occupants will receive 20 percent
discounts. These vehicles tend to be smaller, like the Ford
Contour, Chevrolet Cavalier and many popular Japanese models.
Those in between will receive a 30 percent discount.
J. Robert Hunter, director of insurance for the Consumer Federation of
America, called the new pricing plan unfair to most
"If I have a tank, I'll get the biggest discount," he told The New York
Times. "But I'll be smashing into people, killing and
maiming them at a much higher rate than if I were in a smaller car."
Research has shown that light trucks, including SUVs and pickups, are more
likely than cars to kill the other driver in a
crash. Trucks tend to weigh more, sit higher and have stiffer frames than
State Farm sees no reason to increase its insurance fees for the liability
portion of coverage, however, because its database
shows that large vehicles are involved in fewer crashes.
The discounts go into effect Jan. 1. California, Pennsylvania and New
Jersey must approve these changes.
- Published Saturday, December 2, 2000, in the San Francisco Chronicle
Drawing Up Mass Transit Wish List
What would get you out of your vehicle?
How good should our mass transit be? Real good, or just good enough?
Mass transit debates are always about systems and technology, whether it's
buses or Caltrain or BART, and never about what kind of mass transit we
would find acceptable or even preferable to the automobile.
So, let's not wait until someone has shoved a system down our throat.
Send me your wish list. And don't be modest. Make it as pie-in-the-sky as
you want, limited only by available technology.
The only guide should be what it would take to get you out of your car.
For example, my mass transit system is going to have a seat for everyone
and a way to listen to music or the radio without having someone else
complain and without having to listen to someone else's choices.
That's just the beginning, and I'll give you the rest of my wish list
But first, let me explain why we have to do this now.
If we don't, someone else will.
BART is coming to San Jose, thanks to the overwhelming approval by Santa
Clara County voters of a sales tax extension.
So, that takes care of San Jose's mass transit needs. San Francisco, of
course, can be counted on to take care of itself.
That leaves the Peninsula as the missing link -- the only gap in a
ring-the- bay transit system that is interconnected.
BART is coming to San Francisco International Airport and adjoining
The pressure to build BART down the rest of the Peninsula will be immense
and will only grow.
There are only two reasons the Peninsula doesn't have BART, one ancient
history and one more recent.
The ancient history is that the San Mateo County supervisors in 1962 voted
not to put a measure on the ballot asking the public whether the county
should join the BART district.
At the time, the cost seemed high. There were no assurances when the
Peninsula might get BART, and there was widespread public resistance to
In the past two decades, the county, in partnership with Santa Clara
County and San Francisco, has acquired Caltrain and nearly all the
property along the train route, keeping the commuter rail line alive.
Because of this considerable asset, there has been a continuing debate
whether the future mass transit of the Peninsula should be an upgraded
Caltrain or a BART system running on the Caltrain right-of-way.
There are two camps, deeply divided over this very issue, and it appears
they'll never agree.
But the plain reality is that the train is coming down the tracks, and at
some point, someone is going to decide which technology it will be.
All of which makes it imperative that we express in a loud, clear voice
what we want.
So, send me your thoughts. Send me your wish list. Be specific. Include a
drawing, if you'd like. Send it to any of the phone numbers and addresses
at the bottom of this column.
Speak up now, before it is too late.
One rule: No transit chipmunks.
That would be the people who have been locked in a death struggle over
BART versus Caltrain for decades and who chew over every comment, every
comma and every dust mote related to transit. We have no trouble hearing
from those people. The problem is getting them to stop.
No, this is about the rest of us -- people who would like to take mass
transit but can't or won't because it doesn't work for us.
What would it take for it to work for you?
For me, it would have to be as convenient and as comfortable as my car.
If I need to go somewhere, I want to be able to walk a short distance and
get on a bus or a train or some kind of transit. And I don't want to wait
longer than 10 minutes until the next bus or train comes along.
That's the way it works in the big cities, and, as I've been saying with
annoying frequency, we're not the 'burbs anymore.
Once I'm on the transit, I want to get where I'm going as fast as I can on
a good day driving. If I'm going to Pac Bell Park, I want to get there in
30 minutes and get home just as quickly.
Then, while I'm riding transit, I want creature comforts. I want what I
have in my car -- my own seat, my own music, a chance to talk to the
people traveling with me.
And I want it to run all the time everywhere.
Is that too much to ask?
Now, I understand it's mass transit, and I'm sharing it with other people,
so I might be willing to compromise on some of these things, in the spirit
of communal cooperation.
On the other hand, this is my wish list, so to heck with compromise.
If we start off compromising, we'll end up where we already are.
What we need is to think big. We can always scale back from there.
Mark Simon can be reached at (650) 299-8071, by fax at (650) 299-9208 or
by e-mail at msimon@.... Write him c/o The Chronicle, Press
Room, 400 County Center, Redwood City, CA 94063.