BART Oakland Airport connector roars back to life
Streetsblog and the Bay Citizen are reporting that BART has a tentative plan to take money from local agencies to realize its plans to build a train to the Oakland Airport. BART would use this money to replace the funding revoked by the federal government when Washington learned that the project was not in compliance with the Civil Rights Act.
There are two big problems with this: First, if a project doesn’t comply with a federal law, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to continue investing money to move if forward. Second, this funding plan drinks the milkshake of other transportation projects, while putting taxpayers on the hook for millions more in taxes and debt.
After the Feds slapped its hand back in February, a chastened BART began holding public meetings to ask low-income and minority riders how they could improve the planing process and make decisions that reflected their needs. This seemed to be more than a show: Rather than acting like a sullen teenager sulking through his court-ordered Narcotics Anonymous meeting - BART appeared to be admitting it had a problem. Here’s my exchange with Molly Burke, a community relations representative for BART:
JOHNSON: And are you confident that BART will take this and listen and change based on this?
BURKE: Oh we will, we will. We are serious about this, we understand how important this is and the time has come.
But apparently it wasn’t important enough to make BART go back to the drawing board and re-ask: Is this project the best way we can serve these people?
It would also be useful to re-ask: Is it the best way to spend money to serve anyone? The projected cost of this train has gone from $200 million to $500 since voters approved the tax that was supposed to pay for it (and a bunch of other things).
The new financing plan assumes that voters will extend that tax (which will expire in 2020). In addition, the public will pay a greater share of that cost since all private partners have pulled out of the project, citing lack of confidence in the opportunity for any return on investment.
The thing that bothers me most about this, however, is that there have been no personal consequences for the BART employees who were caught cooking the books. Documents posted by KALW showed strong evidence that BART staffers knew the project would violate the rules of the Civil Rights Act, and that they successfully concealed that fact from elected decision makers. The message the BART board is sending to its staff by failing to hold anyone accountable is this: It’s okay to obfuscate, to respond to a direct question with misleading legalese, to deceive the board and the public, as long as it serves the larger goal of moving a project forward. This, I’d argue, is the wrong message.