I have been too busy lately to post regularly, but there is still plenty going on in the world of Bay Area planning and transit. My guess, and hope, is that people will still want to discuss the news, even though I am unable to pull enough time together to prepare full posts on these topics. Others may want to initiate topics, rather than simply respond to prompts in blog posts. Many websites fill in this niche by setting up open threads. I haven’t tried that yet, because I was not really sure if there would be enough interest, or if there was a critical mass of people commenting and checking in. I am also testing the waters with removing comment moderation, despite ongoing problems with managing spam comments. So this is an experiment with open threads. If it looks to be well-used, it could be made into a regular feature. Please feel free to leave any feedback on the open threads if you feel so inclined.
The last post discussed the SFCTA report on Geary BRT, so here is a roundup of other recent news:
SFMTA Budget is up for debate: To close a $128.9 million shortfall, the SFMTA Board adopted a budget that raised the adult and paratransit individual fares to $2 and adult fast passes to $60 on January 1, 2010. The budget also raises some parking fees, but it eliminates several lines altogether and institutes considerable service cuts on many other lines. As promised, Board President David Chiu will introduce a motion (PDF) at today’s Budget and Finance Committee meeting to veto the MTA-adopted budget. If you’d like to attend, the meeting is in the Board chamber, 2nd floor of SF City Hall, at 1:30 pm.
Update: At the Budget and Finance Committee, the vote was 4-1 (Carmen Chu dissenting) against the MTA’s budget, and Chiu has the seven votes needed to overturn the budget at the full Board.
New parking lot in Oakland defeated: Last night, I learned via Twitter that the Oakland City Council rejected the Redevelopment Agency’s proposal for a temporary surface parking lot on Telegraph Avenue in Downtown Oakland, next to the Fox Theater. The City Council requested that staff investigate the possibility of art installations instead, which would be a considerable improvement over a parking lot. Whatever use is ultimately installed will be temporary, to be dismantled in 2011 when construction will begin on the second phase of Forest City’s Uptown project.
Caltrain to declare a fiscal emergency: Despite ridership gains in 2008 and already having raised fares 25 cents on January 1, Caltrain is scrambling to close its budget shortfall, in light of the lost STA funds; it plans to declare a fiscal emergency in order to exempt service cuts from environmental review.
High-Speed Rail: The controversy on the Peninsula over high-speed rail continues. Palo Alto has already demanded that trains run in a tunnel, and now Burlingame is following suit, though of course without offering suggestions as to how it plans to foot the bill. Palo Alto’s Vice Mayor Jack Morton is also calling for the High-Speed Rail Authority to be dissolved. But these Peninsula protests may be frustrated by Galgiani’s bill AB 289, which is making its way through the California legislature. AB 289 would exempt from CEQA review all grade separations carried out in connection with California High-Speed Rail. (Grade separations are of course what Palo Alto has already protested as being a divisive “Berlin Wall”, although it would increase safety to fully separate train traffic.) CEQA exemptions are often a thorny subject. CEQA, when placed into the hands of persistent NIMBYs, can be a powerful tool for indefinitely delaying projects, including very desirable projects like high-speed rail. But CEQA is, at its heart, about disclosure; so exempting any type of project from CEQA suggests that the lead agency will proceed without having as full knowledge of the situation as one presumably would have after preparing an EIR. It also sets a dubious precedent to establish CEQA exemptions on a project-by-project basis. In principle, it is preferable to exempt classes of projects, rather than individual projects, because individual exemptions that are not based on some sort of underlying rationale are a double-edged sword. Just one example of this: earlier this year, transit advocates were up in arms at the Governor’s budget proposal to exempt specific freeway projects from CEQA; but now, those same advocates may well relish the idea of fast-tracking high speed rail with a bypass of environmental review. It is indeed frustrating to watch CEQA — legislation whose purpose is to facilitate protection of the environment — be used in ways that delay or block environmentally-beneficial projects, like high-speed rail and the San Francisco Bicycle Plan. But simply exempting projects on an ad hoc, case-by-case basis does little to deepen our understanding of how to implement successful CEQA reform. That said, the AB 289 exemption is also not exactly ad hoc, because railroad grade separations are already exempt from CEQA; this bill explicitly extends that existing policy to construction undertaken by the CHSRA. Aside from the AB 289 CEQA bill, three other HSR-related bills are working their way through the state legislature: SB 783 (requires the CHSRA to prepare a business plan to receive bond funding), SB 451 (endows the CHSRA with certain eminent domain powers), and SB 409 (creates a Department of Railroads).
We have an election in two weeks: On May 19, Californians will vote on Propositions 1A-1F. Ideally, I would have a post for you on these propositions, but I’m not sure if I’ll get a chance to write it. To get up to speed, check out the running analysis at Calitics, the California Budget Project, and the Courage Campaign, among many other sources.
J-Get Me to the Church on Time? Not so fast: For those who ride the J-Church regularly (or who perhaps don’t ride it, instead hiking to BART because your J train never arrived), it may not be too surprising to learn that the J-Church is once again Muni’s worst performing line, with a 65% on-time rate. And yes, Supervisor Bevan Dufty is eyeing another pilot study of the line.
These are just some topics in the news recently. Posting will necessarily be sparse for the next couple of weeks, so please feel free to continue using this open thread as a forum to discuss these topics, or whatever else is on your mind.