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‘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 | 4 Comments »

California HSR chair to be honored at White House

California High-Speed Rail Authority Chairman Dan Richard will be honored tomorrow among “leaders who have devoted their time and efforts to helping their communities reach new heights through transportation innovation,” a White House news release says.

It’s part of the “Champions of Change” program created as a part of President Obama’s “Winning the Future” initiative: Each week, a different sector is highlighted and groups of champions are recognized for the work they are doing to serve and strengthen their communities.

“Today’s Champions are leaders in developing and implementing innovative transportation initiatives,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said in the release. “They are making a difference every day in their local communities and across the country by improving America’s transportation infrastructure and helping their friends and neighbors get where they need to go.”

Richard, 61, of Piedmont, was a BART director from 1992 to 2004, serving two terms as the board’s president. He also served as Gov. Jerry Brown’s deputy legal affairs secretary from 1982 to 1983 and as deputy assistant for science and technology from 1978 to 1979. He was advisor to the chairman of the California Energy Commission from 1978 to 1982.

He has been a principal of Dan Richard Advisors since 2010. Before that, he was managing partner and co-founder of Heritage Oak Capital Partners, an infrastructure finance firm, from 2007 to 2009, and senior vice president of public policy and governmental relations at Pacific Gas and Electric Company from 1997 to 2006. Earlier still, Richard was a principal at Morse, Richard, Weisenmiller & Associates – a firm serving the independent power industry and project finance lending community – from 1986 to 1996, and was vice president of Independent Power Corporation from 1983 to 1986.

Posted on Monday, July 30th, 2012
Under: Transportation | 1 Comment »

Legislative Counsel: MTA’s new HQ isn’t kosher

The California Legislative Counsel has determined that Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s purchase of a proposed office building in San Francisco, “was not authorized by law,” state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, said today.

“This legal opinion by the respected Legislative Counsel is clear and unequivocal that MTC has overstepped its authority,” DeSaulnier, who chairs the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee, said in a news release. “I call on MTC to comply with the law and to stop any and all expenditures and actions related to this property. MTC’s illegal actions have placed hundreds of millions of public dollars at risk.”

Randy Rentschler, MTC’s director of legislation and public affairs, declined to respond this afternoon other than to say the agency is “reviewing this opinion. We need to understand it before we can comment.”

The nonpartisan Legislative Counsel’s office concluded in an opinion issued Friday that because the Bay Area Toll Authority and MTC would occupy less than half the new building’s space, with other public agencies eventually moving into other parts of it, the “purchase and operation of a regional governance co-location facility is not among the purposes that BATA or MTC, is authorized to engage in or promote,” and that such a purchase “would exceed the statutory authority of BATA and MTC, and would be an impermissible use of bridge toll revenues.”

The “purchase is substantially related to a purpose other than the administrative needs of the two agencies for office space,” the opinion said, finding it “could be argued that the contract between BAHA (the Bay Area Headquarters Authority, a joint-powers entity created by BATA and MTC for this purpose) and the seller of the building is void, if, … it is determined that acquisition of the building with toll bridge funds was not an authorized use of those funds…”

DeSaulnier has been an outspoken opponent of the purchase, and has authored a bill – SB 1545 – that would halt the move until the State Auditor has reviewed the project. His committee approved the bill in March, but that was the last action on it.

The Joint Legislative Audit Committee in August unanimously approved DeSaunlier’s request for the State Auditor to probe the proposed move of MTC’s headquarters; that audit is scheduled to be done by June. Yet BATA voted in October to spend $93 million to buy the new building, and BAHA voted in December to spend $1 million for architectural and engineering services plus $140,000 per year for property management services.

Posted on Monday, May 7th, 2012
Under: California State Senate, Mark DeSaulnier, Transportation | 1 Comment »

Boxer seeks political truce to pass vital bills

It’s time to put politics aside for a few weeks and pass some vital bills, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer told reporters on a conference call this morning.

Boxer, D-Calif., said partisan gridlock has brought Congress to record-low approval ratings and productivity.

“Things are really dismal but we have a window of time between now and the election,” she said, adding Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., still seems pre-occupied mainly with ensuring that President Obama doesn’t win a second term. “We all are going to get out there and fight for our candidates… but not on the Senate floor. We need to come together and pass these important bills.”

Boxer identified four priorities. One, she said, is Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), the two-year surface transportation authorization bill that’s being heard in conference committee next Tuesday, May 8. This is the successor to SAFETEA-LU, the 2005 surface transportation funding bill, which expired more than two and a half years ago; that earlier bill’s latest extension is up at the end of June, so time is of the essence, Boxer said. She said the bill has no earmarks and is revenue-neutral, but would create or save about 3 million jobs nationwide, about a tenth of which are in California.

“This is the only jobs bill that we can pass this year, in my opinion,” she said.

Another priority is legislation to ensure that the interest rate on student loans doesn’t double to 6.8 percent on July 1. The Republican-controlled House has passed a bill to extend the lower rates for a year, paid for by eliminating funding for a preventative health care fund established under the Affordable Care Act; the Democrat-controlled Senate has proposed paying for it instead by eliminating tax loopholes for shareholders of certain small corporations.

A third priority is reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, an anti-domestic-violence measure that expires in September, Boxer said. The Senate passed its version – which would expand the law’s funding and protections for same-sex couples, immigrants and tribal communities – last week with bipartisan support, but House Republicans are working on their own version of the bill without those updates.

And Boxer said Congress must move to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would bar employers from retaliating against workers who share their salary information with co-workers – a means of uncovering salary discrimination. The House passed a version of this in 2009, but it was filibustered in the Senate, she said.

“It’s time to get things done right this second, there’s not a minute to waste,” she said.

Posted on Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012
Under: Barbara Boxer, education, Transportation, U.S. Senate | 27 Comments »

Oakland woman announces bid for BART board

With BART Director Bob Franklin giving up that post to run for Oakland City Council this year, candidates are emerging to vie this November for the open seat he’ll leave on the transit agency’s board.

Environmental activist and local blogger Rebecca Saltzman, 30, of Oakland, announced her candidacy in a fundraising e-mail to friends and potential supporters Tuesday morning. She wrote that her years “of public transit and policy advocacy, coalition building, grassroots organizing, and management experience with local, state, and national issue-based organizations and campaigns has prepared me well for this job.”

Saltzman said that as government affairs manager for the California League of Conservation Voters, she coordinates Green California, a network of more than 80 environmental and social justice groups working to pass and protect environmentally friendly laws in the Legislature.

Earlier she worked for four years as chief of staff of Americans for Safe Access, an Oakland-based medical marijuana advocacy nonprofit. She graduated last year from Emerge California, a candidate training program for Democratic women.

She also is vice chairwoman of Oakland’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee; has been active in several local and state political campaigns; and is the longtime proprietor of the “Living in the O” local news blog. Until recently she was an avid tweeter as @OaklandBecks; now she’s @RebeccaForBART.

“As a BART Director, I will work hard every day to make BART fiscally and environmentally sustainable, to increase transit-oriented development around BART stations, and to coordinate more closely with other transit agencies – especially AC Transit,” she said in the e-mail. “I will also work to make a dream I’ve had since my college days at UC Berkeley come true – making BART run later on Friday and Saturday nights.”

BART’s District 3 includes all or parts of Albany, Berkeley, El Cerrito, Lafayette, Moraga, Oakland, Orinda, Piedmont, San Leandro, and unincorporated areas of Alameda and Contra Costa counties; it includes the Bay Fair, San Leandro, Rockridge, Orinda, Downtown Berkeley, North Berkeley, El Cerrito Plaza and El Cerrito Del Norte stations.

Filings at the Secretary of State’s office show Nashua Kalil, 53, of Berkeley, a former BART planner, also intends to run for the seat, but apparently has not yet made the candidacy public.

Posted on Tuesday, March 20th, 2012
Under: Transportation | 10 Comments »

Simitian: ‘Hands-free’ law is saving lives

State Sen. Joe Simitian is declaring victory now that a new study shows a steep dropoff in distracted-driving deaths since his hands-free phone law took effect for California drivers.

PUT THE PHONE DOWN, DIPSTICKThe analysis, conducted by UC-Berkeley’s Safe Transportation Research and Education Center and released by the state Office of Traffic Safety, examined state crash records two years before and two years after Simitian’s hands-free legislation took effect, and found that overall traffic deaths declined by 22 percent, while hand-held cell phone driver deaths went down 47 percent.

California High Patrol data from the first year of the hands-free law’s implementation had shown a 20 percent reduction in fatalities and collisions in California compared to the annual average over the previous three to five years, Simitian noted – the largest year-to-year drop in collisions in California’s history.

“That’s 700 fewer fatalities and 75,000 to 100,000 fewer collisions each year,” Simitan, D-Palo Alto, said in a news release today. “It’s clear that most California drivers ‘get it.’ They understand just how dangerous distracted driving is, and most are doing their part to make the highway safer.”

“But we also know that there are still too many drivers texting and talking on hand-held cell phones. For drivers who still haven’t gotten the message, studies like this help underscore the fact that no phone call or text is worth the cost of a life.”

Simitian’s SB 1613 – signed into law in 2006 and taking effect in July 2008 – made it illegal for California drivers to talk on a cell phone while driving without a hands-free device. He also authored SB 33 of 2007, which bars drivers under age 18 from texting, talking on a cell phone or using any “mobile service” technology while driving, even with a hands-free device; and SB 28 of 2008, which makes it illegal for California drivers to send, read, or write text messages while driving.

Now Simitian is carrying SB 1310, which would increase fines applied under his earlier bills. Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill last year, but Simitian “hopes to find common ground with the governor this year” – and certainly hopes this new study will help.

Posted on Monday, March 5th, 2012
Under: California State Senate, Joe Simitian, Transportation, Uncategorized | 10 Comments »

Boxer goes ballistic on Spirit Airlines

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer is going toe-to-toe with a Florida-based airline that’s complaining about how airfare taxes and fees must be reported.

Boxer, D-Calif., released a letter she sent today to Spirit Airlines CEO Ben Baldanza expressing “concern with Spirit Airlines’ deliberate attempt to deceive the flying public about a new Department of Transportation (DOT) rule that will improve the transparency of airfares for consumers.”

At issue is a new rule that requires that all mandatory taxes and fees be disclosed to customers up front in the fares that airlines advertise to the public. That includes a segment fee of $3.80 per take-off and landing; a passenger facility charge of up to $18 roundtrip; and a Sept. 11 Security Fee of up to $10 roundtrip for travel within or from the U.S.; other fees may apply for international flights.

Here’s how Southwest Airlines explains it:

In the past, fares displayed in our advertising and on and included the Base Fare plus a 7.5% federal excise tax. The additional government-imposed taxes and fees were shown separately from the fare in advertising and added to the total fare at the time the reservation was priced.

With the new regulation, fares will include the Base Fare plus the 7.5% excise tax, plus all additional government-imposed taxes and fees that we collect and distribute to various government agencies.

The fare amount with all government-imposed taxes and fees included creates various dollar amounts that are difficult to use in advertising efforts; therefore we’ve decided to round up our fares to the nearest dollar for display purposes only. The rounded up fare amount will be more than what a Customer will actually pay when booking the ticket – the cost variant between the displayed fare versus the booked fare could be up to 99 cents.

At first glance, airline fares will “look” higher after the implementation of these provisions, but that is only because of the added taxes and fees that will now be included on the front end as opposed to the back end. We did not increase our air fares on Southwest or AirTran.

Put simply, travelers already are paying these taxes fees – the new rule just requires that they be disclosed sooner. Airlines can still advise their customers how much of that total cost is attributable to the government, and how much the base fare is.

But Spirit – which operates more than 175 daily flights to over 45 destinations throughout the U.S., Latin America and Caribbean, including Oakland International Airport – e-mailed customers this week and has even launched a separate website with the headline, “WARNING: New government regulations require us to hide taxes in your fares.”

“If the government can hide taxes in your airfares, then they can carry out their hidden agenda and quietly increase their taxes. (Yes, such talks are already underway),” Spirit’s website says. “And if they can do it to the airline industry, what’s next? As the transparency leader and most consumer-friendly airline, Spirit DOES NOT support this new USDOT mandate. We believe the better form of transparency is to break out costs so customers know exactly what they’re buying.”

Boxer, however, notes airline passenger advocacy groups like the Business Travel Coalition also are criticizing Spirit for misleading consumers about the new rule with “over-the-top fear tactics.”

And the Department of Transportation in November fined Spirit for violating federal aviation laws and Department rules prohibiting deceptive advertising in air travel. When it launched service from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, Spirit used billboards and hand-held posters to advertise fares of $9 each way without disclosing the additional taxes and fees. The airline also used Twitter to promote the $9 fares but required travelers to visit two separate web pages to determine the amount of the taxes and fees.

“I have been shocked by the failure of your airline to tell the truth in an email sent to your customers earlier this week as well as in warnings posted on that read, ‘New government regulations require us to HIDE taxes in your fares.’ Nothing could be further from the truth,” Boxer wrote in her letter today. “I urge you to immediately send a clarifying email to your customers and remove the misleading information from your website.”

Posted on Thursday, January 26th, 2012
Under: Barbara Boxer, Transportation, U.S. Senate | 6 Comments »

Pleasanton homebuilder reappointed to CTC

Pleasanton-based Signature Properties President Jim Ghielmetti, a Democrat, has been reappointed by the state Senate Rules Committee to the California Transportation Commission.

The commission oversees state spending on roads, transit, bridges and a host of projects.

Ghielmetti is a good choice. I’ve known him for many years and he is, above all things, a man who possesses an extraordinarily high level of common sense.

Posted on Thursday, January 19th, 2012
Under: Transportation | No Comments »