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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 »

Brown appoints 3 in advance of big reorganization

Gov. Jerry Brown appointed three agency secretaries Tuesday in preparation for an epic consolidation of state agencies and departments.

Brown’s plan cuts the number of state agencies from 12 to 10 and eliminates or consolidates dozens of departments and entities. The Little Hoover Commission has said the plan – which it approved in May 2012 and the Legislature approved (by not rejecting it) in June 2012 – is the most ambitious of the 36 reorganizations it has reviewed since 1968.

For now, unrelated departments – like Caltrans, the Department of Real Estate and the Department of Financial Institutions – are housed together, while related programs are scattered across different agencies, sometimes with duplicative results. Brown’s plan aims to improve coordination and efficiency and make government more responsive.

Effective July 1, five existing state agencies will be replaced by the following three: the Government Operations Agency, which will be responsible for administering state operations such as procurement, information technology and human resources; the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency, which will be responsible for licensing and oversight of industries, businesses and other professionals; and the Transportation Agency, which will encompass all of the state’s transportation entities.

Marybel BatjerBrown on Tuesday named Marybel Batjer, 58, of Reno, to be secretary of the Government Operations Agency. Batjer has been vice president of public policy and corporate social responsibility at Caesars Entertainment Corporation since 2005. Although she’s a Democrat, she served as cabinet secretary for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger from 2003 to 2005, chief of staff for Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn from 2000 to 2003 and undersecretary at the California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency from 1997 to 1998.

Earlier, Batjer was chief deputy director of the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing from 1992 to 1997 and special assistant to the U.S. Secretary of the Navy from 1989 to 1992. She was a national security affairs special assistant for President Ronald Reagan and deputy executive secretary for the National Security Council from 1987 to 1989. Batjer was assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Defense and Deputy Secretary of Defense from 1981 to 1987 and director of political planning for the National Women’s Political Caucus from 1980 to 1981.

Anna CaballeroBrown appointed Anna Caballero, 59, of Salinas, as secretary of the Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency. Caballero has served as Secretary of the California State and Consumer Services Agency since 2011 and was a Democratic Assemblywoman representing the 28th District from 2006 to 2010.

Earlier, Caballero was executive director of Partners for Peace, a non-profit specializing in violence prevention work, from 2000 to 2006. Caballero was mayor of Salinas from 1998 to 2006 and served on the Salinas City Council from 1991 to 1998. She was a partner at Caballero Matcham and McCarthy from 1995 to 2007 and at Caballero Govea Matcham and McCarthy from 1982 to 1995. Caballero was a staff attorney at California Rural Legal Assistance Inc., representing farm workers in consumer matters, from 1979 to 1982.

Brian KellyAnd Brown named Brian Kelly, 44, of Sacramento, as secretary of the Transportation Agency. Kelly has served as acting secretary at the California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency since 2012, where he was undersecretary in 2012. He was executive staff director for state Senate President Darrell Steinberg from 2008 to 2012 and executive principal consultant for state Senate President Don Perata from 2004 to 2008.

Earlier, Kelly was principal consultant for state Senate President John Burton from 1998 to 2004 and assistant consultant for Senate President pro Tempore Bill Lockyer from 1995 to 1998. He was a field representative for the California Senate Democratic Caucus from 1994 to 1995

All three of these appointments are subject to confirmation by the state Senate, and each carries an annual salary of $180,250.

Posted on Tuesday, June 25th, 2013
Under: housing, Jerry Brown, Transportation | No Comments »

Tough House hearing for high-speed rail project

It looks like supporters of the California High Speed Rail project took a verbal beating Tuesday as the U.S. House Transportation Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials held a field hearing in Madera.

“Since Prop 1A was approved by California voters in 2008, the project has more than doubled in cost, and, after more than $3 billion from the federal tax payer, not one shovel has hit the ground,” subcommittee chairman Jeff Denham, R-Modesto, said afterward. “Until I see a viable business plan for high speed rail in California that is fiscally sound and supported by private dollars, I will continue to hold the rail authority accountable to the voters and ensure their taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.”

Here’s some of the questioning:

The panel, also including Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, and Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, grilled witnesses including California High Speed Rail Authority Chairman Dan Richard; Preserve Our Heritage Chairman Kole Upton; Kings County Board of Supervisors Chairman Doug Verboon; Madera County Farm Bureau Executive Director Anja Raudabaugh; Lou Thompson, chairman of the Peer Review Group for the California High-Speed Rail Project; and Greater Fresno Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Al Smith.

The witnesses’ prepared testimony, and Denham’s opening statement, are available on Denham’s website.

Posted on Tuesday, May 28th, 2013
Under: Jeff Denham, Transportation, U.S. House | 7 Comments »

‘S— happens’ isn’t all Brown said about Bay Bridge

Gov. Jerry Brown’s office believes articles including mine in today’s editions have created and reinforced the impression that the governor’s May 7 “s— happens” comment regarding the Bay Bridge construction snafu was the total extent of his remarks that day, and that he suddenly got more serious yesterday.

The contention is that Brown has been concerned, engaged and serious about the issue from the get-go, and that the “s— happens” crack – while accurately quoted by my colleague, Steve Harmon, in his May 7 story – when taken alone might create the impression that the governor was being flippant about it.

I believe we’ve presented the governor’s words accurately and appropriately, but in the interest of full disclosure, here are the transcripts from the two interviews at issue.

From May 7:

Reporter: I’m on the Bay Bridge beat today, just wondering if you’re concerned at all if the public is losing confidence in the opening of the new eastern span of the bridge because of the problems of the bolts.

Gov. Brown: Well, not yet and there are very professional engineers that are looking into this thing. When they are ready to give us their report I think the public will be satisfied.

Reporter: Are you still enthusiastic in the possibility of the opening on Labor Day?

Gov. Brown: As far as I know, well I don’t want to say anything because we want to get the reports back. When we do I’ll comment on it.

Reporter: One more, one more question on the bridge. What was your initial reaction to the stories of the bolts being broken? Was it a shock to you? Did it feel like a setback?

Gov. Brown: Don’t know if it’s a setback. I mean look, s— happens. That’s all I can say.

From May 20:

Reporter: What do you have to say about the Bay Bridge?

Gov. Brown: I hadn’t known about this stuff – pickling bolts or some of this other kind of stuff. So I take it very seriously. That thing is not going to open unless it’s ready and the engineers are telling me that they’re doing the kind of work that will be needed for that.

Reporter: Do you think it will open Labor Day?

Gov. Brown: I’m not going to predict. First we want to make it safe.

Reporter: Are you confident with the caltrans from yesteryear providing the information to make that judgment?

Gov. Brown: Well, look, if the bolts fail they’ve got to go look at these records. Some of those records are ten years old. One of the companies was from Texas. Another one from Ohio. This was made actually during the Gray Davis years, fairly low down in the whole operation. So we’ve got to dig through to get the records to know what’s there. And then they have to test all of these bolts and make sure the bridge will be safe.

Reporter: So you’re personally getting involved in this?

Gov. Brown: Well, it’s a pretty big issue. I drive across that bridge too.

Posted on Tuesday, May 21st, 2013
Under: Jerry Brown, Transportation | 3 Comments »

Mark DeSaulnier named ‘Regionalist of the Year’

The Bay Area Council, a public policy group consisting of the region’s 275 largest employers, has named state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier as its inaugural “Regionalist of the Year.”

Mark DeSaulnierThe council called DeSaulnier, D-Concord, a champion of regional cooperation and solutions on issues of transportation, healthcare, economic, housing, land-use planning and environmental protection, among others.

“Sen. DeSaulnier throughout his career of service at the city, county and state levels has exhibited his commitment to the Bay Area as a region and his commitment to serve the needs of the Bay Area and all the people of this region not just those who voted for him,” council president and CEO Jim Wunderman said in a news release. “Mark understands that cities and counties and districts cannot succeed unless the region as a whole is working together to accomplish common and mutually beneficial goals. Sometimes regionalism does not play well at home, but Mark has always exhibited the political courage to do what is right for our region.”

As a Contra Costa County supervisor, DeSaulnier served on the boards of all three of the Bay Area’s regional agencies: the Association of Bay Area Governments, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. He also served on the California Air Resources Board, and the council says he was “an early and ardent proponent of taking an integrated, regional approach to housing, land use and transportation planning – long before the approach was officially codified through the current Sustainable Communities Strategy.”

DeSaulnier played a key role in creating the Joint Policy Committee, a leadership group of the Bay Area’s main regional agencies aimed at improving their efficiency and integration. And he has championed several critical regional transportation projects, including the expansion of Highway 4, BART to eastern Contra Costa County, and the Caldecott Tunnel’s fourth bore.

Posted on Monday, April 29th, 2013
Under: California State Senate, economy, Environment, housing, Mark DeSaulnier, Transportation | 4 Comments »

TSA delays knife policy; Swalwell declares victory

U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell is declaring now that the Transportation Security Administration has decided to delay implementing its new policy allowing certain knives and sporting equipment on plans.

Swalwell, a freshman member of the Homeland Security Transportation Subcommittee, had taken a lead role in grilling TSA officials at hearings and organizing other House members to write in opposition to the policy, which they say was revised without adequate input from pilots and flight attendants.

“Today’s announcement by TSA is welcome news for airline passengers and crews,” Swalwell, D-Pleasanton, said in a news release. “I appreciate that TSA Administrator Pistole listened to the 133 Members of Congress who signed our letter asking for this reversal in policy, stakeholders like pilots and flight attendants, and the general public who oppose this disturbing decision. This delay in implementation is a positive step by the Administrator that will allow stakeholders to have their rightful input into a decision that directly affects their safety and that of the flying public.”

Posted on Monday, April 22nd, 2013
Under: Eric Swalwell, Homeland security, Terrorism, Transportation, U.S. House | 3 Comments »