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Neel Kashkari wants ‘Crazy Train’ derailed

Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari launched a “Crazy Train” online petition and video today taking aim at Gov. Jerry Brown’s unwavering support of the high-speed rail project to connect the Bay Area with Los Angeles.

With California ranking among states with the highest unemployment and poverty rates, the rail project is evidence of Brown’s misplaced priorities, Kashkari contends – one of the clearest differences so far between him and the Democratic incumbent.

I’m guessing they couldn’t buy the rights for this:

Posted on Tuesday, January 28th, 2014
Under: 2014 primary, Jerry Brown, Neel Kashkari, Transportation | 1 Comment »

House members battle over high-speed rail

California House members battled over the future of the state’s high-speed rail project at a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee hearing Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

Here’s what Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, chair of the state’s democratic House delegation, had to say in favor of the project:

And here’s what House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, said in opposition:

My colleague, Jessica Calefati, wrote a great story last week about how this battle is playing out on the ground in the Central Valley – check it out.

Posted on Wednesday, January 15th, 2014
Under: Transportation, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | No Comments »

Transit strike ban bill dies on party-line vote

A bill to ban all California public transit workers from going on strike died on a party-line committee vote Monday.

SB 423 by state Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, R-Brea, had gone first to the Senate Public Employees and Retirement Committee. There, senators Jim Beall, D-San Jose; Leland Yee, D-San Francisco; and Marty Block, D-San Diego, all voted against it, while senators Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Niguel, and Ted Gaines, R-Granite Bay, voted for it.

BART strike (AP photo)Huff suggested in a news release that the bill should’ve been heard first by the Senate Transportation Committee, since it’s all about making sure our transit systems actually work for the public.”

“But instead it was sent to the committee that focuses on the concerns of public workers,” he said. “That should tell you something about the priorities of the majority party.”

“Last year Californians witnessed the Bay Area come to a screeching halt not once, but twice, as leaders of the BART employee union called strikes and BART trains went dark,” Huff said in a news release. “Hundreds of thousands of Bay Area residents could not get to work, go to school, see the doctor, or visit with family and friends and it cost the region $73 million each day. We have made the public rely on public transit, but as a legislature, we have failed to make public transit reliable. That’s a major failure. Californians deserve a government that works for everyone but today they were let down.”

Huff in September had gutted and amended SB 423 to compel BART workers to honor the no-strike clause in their contracts even after those contracts expire. But he only amended the bill on the last working day of the legislative session, so no action was taken.

He later amended the bill further to ban strikes by all California public transit workers, with anyone who violates the ban subject to removal or other disciplinary action. Huff said the bill provided “a fair violation determination process” for such workers, but if a violation is found, such workers would lose two days of pay for every day of strike. Public transit unions similarly would have been banned from instigating strikes, and if the Public Employee Relations Board found a violation, that union’s rights would have been forfeited for an indefinite period; after three years of forfeiture, an employee organization could have sought reinstatement by the Legislature.

UPDATE @ 1:11 P.M.: Beall says he voted against the bill because it “just was not solution-oriented. It offered nothing to resolve the underlying bargaining issues that separate employees and management or to keep both sides at the table, such as binding arbitration.”

Posted on Tuesday, January 14th, 2014
Under: Bob Huff, California State Senate, Jim Beall, Leland Yee, Mimi Walters, Transportation | 3 Comments »

Senate GOP leader offers new transit-strike ban

All public transit employees in California would be prohibited from striking, under a bill rolled out Monday by the state Senate’s Republican leader.

State Sen. Bob Huff, R-Brea, pitched the reworked bill during an interview with Ronn Owens on KGO Radio.

Bob Huff“If we’re going to make the people of California reliant on public transit systems, then we also have an obligation to make sure those systems can be relied on,” Huff said. “Shutting down public transit is neither safe nor fair. Police officers and fire fighters aren’t allowed to strike because they provide a vital public service. The same reason applies here. Public transit is a vital public service and it’s too important to be used as a bargaining chip against the needs of the people.”

Huff in September had gutted and amended SB 423 to compel BART workers to honor the no-strike clause in their contracts even after those contracts expire. But he only amended the bill on the last working day of the legislative session, so no action was taken.

When BART workers did go on strike, it cost the Bay Area about $70 million per day, according to the Bay Area Council, and public opinion weighed heavily against the striking workers.

“There are approximately 400 public transit agencies in California serving 1.35 billion riders each year and when union contracts are up, threats of strikes increase dramatically,” said Huff. “Workers for the two largest transit systems in California – San Francisco and Los Angeles – have combined to strike nine times since 1976. Management is just as responsible for creating these situations, and enough is enough.”

Yet Huff’s new bill would control and penalize only workers and unions, not management.

Huff’s newly amended SB 423 would ban strikes by all California public transit workers, with anyone who violates the ban subject to removal or other disciplinary action. Huff says the bill provides “a fair violation determination process” for such workers, but if a violation is found, such workers would lose two days of pay for every day of strike.

Public transit unions similarly would be banned from instigating strikes, and if the Public Employee Relations Board finds a violation, that union’s rights would be forfeited for an indefinite period; after three years of forfeiture, an employee organization could seek reinstatement by the Legislature.

BART’s biggest unions didn’t immediately respond to phone calls or emails seeking comment.

Posted on Monday, December 9th, 2013
Under: Bob Huff, California State Senate, Labor politics, Transportation | 14 Comments »

20,000 petition signatures favor transit-strike ban

An East Bay Assembly candidate who’s been crusading for a legislative ban on transit strikes says he’ll deliver 20,000 petition signatures to an influential lawmaker’s office Friday.

Steve Glazer“Back to back, the petitions are larger than a 10-car BART train,” said Steve Glazer, who is an Orinda councilman, political adviser to Gov. Jerry Brown, and Democratic candidate in the 16th Assembly District.

Glazer and supporters intend to walk Friday from the Pleasant Hill BART station to the district office of state Senate Transportation and Housing Committee Chairman Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, to deliver the petitions.

During the BART strike earlier this month, DeSaulnier had said that what Glazer is doing “is popular, but the reality is more complex than that.” The senator said he’s interested in an idea advanced by Stanford Law Professor Emeritus William Gould IV — who chaired the National Labor Relations Board in the Clinton administration — to enact a law providing for arbitration and prohibiting strikes in public-transit disputes. “But I’m not going to do it if it has no chance of success, if both sides are against it,” he said.

A few days later, when BART and its unions settled their negotiations and ended the strike, DeSaulnier issued a statement saying his committee “is investigating how other metropolitan areas around the nation avoid this kind of situation. After conducting the investigation, the committee will pursue every possible remedy to ensure this never happens again.”

Glazer said Thursday that “the complexity is kind of a smokescreen for those who don’t want to take action… Bans such as this are done in many places in the United States successfully, so there are plenty of templates to examine.”

Glazer said that besides the petition signatures, more than 1,300 people have used his website to send individualized emails of support for such legislation to DeSaulnier.

“By my count he has nine BART stations in his district, he probably has the most riders on BART of any legislator… so we’re certainly looking for his leadership and courage and backbone,” he said.

Among other 16th Assembly District candidates, Republican Catharine Baker, a Dublin attorney, voiced support this month for a Republican Senate bill that would force BART employees – not all transit employees – to honor the no-strike clause in their contract even after that contract expires. Senate Republicans since have said they intend to introduce a broader strike-ban bill covering all transit workers.

Danville Mayor Newell Arnerich, another Democrat in the 16th District race, said Glazer and Baker are engaging in “political gamesmanship” when neither was privy to the BART negotiations. The third Democrat in the race, Dublin Mayor Tim Sbranti, has declined to comment on the matter.

Posted on Thursday, October 31st, 2013
Under: 2014 primary, Assembly, California State Senate, Mark DeSaulnier, Transportation | 6 Comments »

More calls for Legislature to nix BART strike

With little or no progress apparent at the bargaining table, calls are growing louder for the Legislature to throw an obstacle on tracks as BART rolls toward another strike as early as Oct. 11.

Steve Glazer16th Assembly District candidate Steve Glazer, a Democrat who also is an Orinda councilman and a political adviser to Gov. Jerry Brown, will be at the Orinda BART station Thursday morning to hand out fliers to commuters and meet the press regarding his online petition drive urging the Legislature to ban BART strikes.

“A BART strike will cripple our economy, hurt workers getting to their jobs, limit access to schools and health care, and damage our environment,” his petition says. “The impact of a BART strike will be felt across the state. It should not be in the hands of a regional BART board. We need a statewide law.”

Glazer is running to succeed Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, who’ll be term-limited out of office next year. Also seeking that seat are Danville Mayor Newell Arnerich and Dublin Mayor Tim Sbranti – both Democrats – and attorney Catharine Baker, a Republican from Dublin.

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers sent a letter to Brown on Wednesday urging him to call an emergency legislative session in order to act on SB 423, which would compel BART unions to honor the no-strike clause in their expired contracts. Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff, R-Brea, introduced the legislation by gutting and amending another bill on the last day of the regular legislative session, and started touting it a few days later.

“The hundreds of thousands of Bay Area residents who rely upon BART to get to work or school each day deserve peace of mind that they can get to where they need to go without the threat of a strike,” Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway, R-Visalia, said in a news release Wednesday. “We call upon the governor to take swift action to ensure that this labor dispute does not create a transportation nightmare.”

Posted on Wednesday, September 25th, 2013
Under: Assembly, Bob Huff, California State Senate, Connie Conway, Transportation | 5 Comments »

CA House freshman on CREW’s ‘most corrupt’ list

A California freshman has been named one of Congress’ most corrupt members of 2013 by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

CREW’s list of the dirtiest 13 included four Democrats and nine Republicans including Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford; another two from each side of the aisle made the “dishonorable mention” list. Valadao was the only Californian called out, accused by CREW of abused his position on the House Appropriations Committee to benefit his own financial interests.

“Congressman Valadao has only been in Washington a few months, but it didn’t take long for him to abuse his position for his personal financial benefit,” CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said in a news release. “Americans expect their elected representatives will look out for their constituents’ interests. Rep. Valadao, on the other hand, apparently believes the purpose of his office is to look out solely for his own interests.”

David ValadaoValadao’s office issued a statement Wednesday afternoon calling this “nothing more than a misleading political attack.”

“Congressman Valadao has been opposed to High Speed Rail since entering public life. He campaigned, and was elected, on fighting High Speed Rail. This project is bad for the 21stCongressional District, the Central Valley, and California,” the statement said. “Congressman Valadao will continue to fight the High Speed Rail on behalf of his constituents.”

Valadao’s family operates Valadao Dairy, which owns hundreds of acres of land along the proposed path of California’s high-speed rail project, many opponents of which argue it will reduce their property values. Valadao in June successfully offered an amendment to the House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill for 2014, which would require that the federal Surface Transportation Board approve the high-speed rail project in its entirety rather than letting it incrementally approve the construction of new segments.

But CREW says as Valadao offered his amendment and twice argued for its adoption, he never told his fellow lawmakers about his financial interest in its passage. House rules say members can’t sponsor legislation, advocate or take part in a committee proceeding when their financial interests are at issue.

“Rep. Valadao seems to have skipped the ethics portion of new member orientation,” Sloan said. “Using his position to advance his personal financial interests is a serious infraction, not a freshman faux pas. In July, CREW asked the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate. We look forward to the results.”

Posted on Wednesday, September 18th, 2013
Under: Transportation, U.S. House | 6 Comments »

Senate GOP leader wants to prohibit BART strike

BART employees would be compelled to honor the no-strike clause in their contract, under a bill introduced by state Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff.

Bob HuffHuff, R-Brea, also has written a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown asking him to call a special session of the Legislature in time to pass his SB 423 and head off a possible BART strike next month.

“The bill is very clear,” Huff said in a news release. “It simply compels the BART unions to honor the no-strike clause in their existing contract. Time is of the essence. With millions of dollars at stake, it’s time for the governor to step up and bring the Legislature back to Sacramento to resolve this pending strike before the governor’s cooling-off period closes.”

Huff notes that Section 1.6 of the Amalgamated Transit Union Unit 1555′s current 2009-2013 contract includes the following language:

NO STRIKES AND NO LOCKOUTS; A. It is the intent of the District and the Unions to assure uninterrupted transit service to the public during the life of this Agreement. Accordingly, No employee or Unions signatory hereto shall engage in, cause or encourage any strike, slowdown, picketing, concerted refusal to work, or other interruption of the District’s operations for the duration of this Agreement as a result of any labor dispute;

Existing contracts with AFSCME LOCAL 3993 and Service Employees International Union, Local 1021 also contain similar No-Strike clauses.

The unions were about to go on strike in August when Brown, via the courts, imposed a 60-day cooling off period. Negotiations resumed only a week ago.

Huff said the unions have been offered a sweet deal while many California families are still struggling, and a strike would cause havoc for the Bay Area’s economy.

“We can’t lose this opportunity. The law doesn’t allow for a second cooling-off period,” he said. “The window of opportunity is closing rapidly, because BART union employees repeatedly shout they will strike, unless their demands are met. The governor and Legislature have the responsibility to act now to resolve this labor dispute before October 11th, when the 60-day cooling-off period the governor imposed expires.”

Posted on Monday, September 16th, 2013
Under: Bob Huff, California State Senate, Jerry Brown, Transportation | 13 Comments »

Senator: $20m bonus for Bay Bridge builder? Bull!

A state lawmaker wants to make sure there’s no chance that the builders of the Bay Bridge’s new eastern span will receive a $20 million bonus.

State Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, issued a statement Monday saying he’d been pleased last month to hear the bridge’s opening might be delayed in order to ensure safety issues – broken anchor rods embedded in seismic stabilizers – could be addressed.

Anthony Cannella“I was surprised that just two days following the announcement that the bridge opening would be delayed, there was a last-minute proposal to use shims as a temporary fix,” Cannella said. “The news that the eleventh-hour decision to open the Bay Bridge will result in a $20 million bonus warrants an investigation.”

“I find it egregious that the lead builder is going to be in line to receive $20 million in bonuses when the increased costs stemming from construction errors could well exceed that amount,” he said. “I am working with my colleagues in the Legislature to ensure that this decision to use a last-minute temporary fix is completely investigated. We have already been working to address issues relating to other safety issues, massive cost overruns and previous delays in construction. As an engineer, I continue to be baffled by the decisions made in the building of this bridge.”

As my colleagues Lisa Vorderbrueggen and Matthais Gafni reported last week, American Bridge/Fluor Enterprises – the main contractor for the self-anchored suspension span segment – could earn up to $20 million in incentive payments for completing a set of seismic readiness construction tasks whether or not the bridge opens to traffic Sept. 3. Bay Area Toll Authority executive director and oversight committee Chairman Steve Heminger has cast doubt on whether the contractor would get the money, given the cracked-rod fiasco.

Posted on Monday, August 19th, 2013
Under: California State Senate, Transportation | 4 Comments »

Politicians take different tones on BART strike

It’s always interesting to compare the tones that various politicians take when weighing in on labor issues.

In this case, of course, it’s the still-threatened Bay Area Rapid Transit strike. California U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein today wrote to BART management and union leaders to urge a resolution to the standoff:

“We write to strongly encourage all parties involved in the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) contract negotiations to use the seven-day ‘cooling off period’ declared by Governor Brown to end the labor dispute.

“The Bay Area relies on a safe, affordable, and reliable public transportation system, and any BART service disruption has significant impacts on our region’s economy and the hundreds of thousands of commuters who use the system. According to the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, the four-day BART service disruption in July cost the Bay Area at least $73 million in lost productivity.

“We urge you to resume negotiations in good faith, end the dispute, and work together to avoid any further disruptions to BART service.”

That seems pretty even-handed. But yesterday, Assemblymembers Rob Bonta, D-Oakland; Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley; and Bill Quirk, D-Hayward, issued a statement after the inquiry board appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to review the dispute held a public hearing in Oakland:

“We’re pleased today’s meeting redirected focus on the ultimate goal of finalizing a fair contract that continues to ensure a safe, dependable public transit system. The panel asked important questions, obtaining documents and testimony that revealed the true financial picture of BART, the actual wages workers earn, and the significant safety issues confronted by employees every day.

“Testimony revealed inconsistencies in information BART management made public. For example, the figure given for average BART worker pay has been $79,500. But that figure includes management pay. BART’s own documents given to the panel show train operators earn less than $63,000 and station agents earn $64,000 on average. In addition, we learned that workers have offered to significantly increase contributions to pensions and employee medical.

“These are the type of facts that need to be the focus at the bargaining table. We believe that BART riders deserve good faith negotiations to resume so that rail service can continue uninterrupted.”

No question where they stand, huh?

Posted on Thursday, August 8th, 2013
Under: Assembly, Barbara Boxer, Bill Quirk, Dianne Feinstein, Labor politics, Nancy Skinner, Rob Bonta, Transportation, U.S. Senate | 4 Comments »