High-speed Rail

Newsom travels while supervisors work


paris small.jpg
Newsom and his wife with Francois Lacote, “the Father of the TGV.” Photo courtesy of the Mayor’s Office of Communications.
By Steven T. Jones

While the San Francisco Board of Supervisors today wrestles with deep budget cuts and the uphill battle for calling a June special election for new revenue measures, Mayor Gavin Newsom will be wrapping up a five-day trip to Paris and packing up to once again jet over to Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum.
And all this international jet-setting during this time of crisis follows weeks of gallivanting all over California to build support for his long-shot run for governor. This is the same mayor who rejects the June special election because, as press secretary Nate Ballard told us a couple weeks ago, “It’s not fully baked. It will take a citywide coalition (a la Prop A) to win something like this and the coalition just hasn’t been built yet.”
Might I humbly suggest that the reason that coalition (which would require buy-in from the business community, a key Newsom constituency) hasn’t been built yet is that our mayor is more concerned with taking free trips to Europe and moving past San Francisco than he is on running this troubled city.
To be fair, yesterday he did take a ride on France’s high-speed rail, the TGV, and released a statement calling for federal money to help bring California’s version of high-speed rail into the Transbay Terminal, saying, “Including the rail box as part of the terminal construction is necessary for this grand vision to be realized.”
Today, he met with representatives of Velib, Paris’s rent-a-bike program that has 20,000 bikes, as well as some environmental ministers. And he used the occasion to remotely announce plans to start a bike-sharing service here in San Francisco…with a whopping 50 bikes, at a cost of almost $1 million (up to $500,000 to start and $450,000 annually to operate), all going to Clear Channel. And that’s assuming this administration actually follows through on this promise, and finds the money to do so.
“Bike sharing will help connect thousands of residents and commuters to their workplaces and shopping destinations by providing bikes that they can easily borrow,” Newsom said. “This bike sharing pilot project will allow us to test and perfect the bikes and technology that will be used in our citywide network.”
So, while San Francisco may have to shut down environmental programs and social services and anything else that Newsom isn’t using to campaign for governor, at least our celebrity mayor is still out there, somewhere, representing this city.

Transportation bonanza


› steve@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY The first year of President Barack Obama’s term could see the biggest federal investment in transportation projects since the creation of the interstate highway system, so there’s now a mad scramble to determine where — both geographically and in terms of transportation modes — that money will go.

Transportation activists were already geared up for this October’s omnibus transportation bill reauthorization, the first serious chance in four years to alter federal policies and spending priorities. But now that Congress is considering economic stimulus bills as large as $825 billion — including $71 billion to $85 billion in transportation projects — it’s looking like a potentially even more bountiful year.

Many Bay Area groups and agencies have forwarded their wish lists to state and federal policymakers and transportation officials, from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s $500 million in capital projects to the $1.6 billion "Bay Area Conference of Mayors Transit Infrastructure Wish List," which claims it would create 14,197 jobs.

San Francisco has the biggest chunk of that latter proposal at $713.9 million, including such big ticket items as $200 million for the so-called train box in the new Transbay Terminal project (see "Breaking ground," 12/10/08), $275 million for projects associated with Muni’s Transit Effectiveness Project, and $100 million for the Doyle Drive rebuild.

Randy Rentschler, public affairs directors for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, told us that for too long, the federal government has simply deferred transportation decisions to the states.

"Just having a block grant program to states does not assert a federal interest in transportation," he said.

Yet Rentschler acknowledges the difficulty of creating federal transportation mandates. Unlike programs such as carbon capture, which affect large factories, or fuel standards, which affect automakers, making big changes to transportation policy potentially impacts every citizen.

"When you talk about transportation, what you’re really asking for is the participation of 300 million Americans," he said.

Tom Radulovich, director of Livable City and an elected BART board member, is worried about the political dynamics of the stimulus package.

"Stimulus is sort of garbage in, garbage out," Radulovich said, noting that the federal imperative for "shovel-ready projects" that can break ground in a matter of days or weeks means that road projects that have been lined up waiting for money will get priority over more complicated, visionary efforts to create a green infrastructure and better alternatives to the automobile.

Radulovich and other activists have been focused on the quadrennial transportation bill, and on persuading Congress to shift priorities that reflect the current 80 percent of federal transportation dollars that go to automobile projects.

"The danger is Congress will shoot its wad now on all these highway projects and then say they’re out of money," Radulovich said.

Rod Diridon, executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute and a board member on both the American Public Transit Association and California High-Speed Rail Authority, agrees that a shift in federal priorities is overdue.

"You see a lot more money in the highway and bridge projects than you see for transit," he told the Guardian.

Yet Diridon expressed more hope than Radulovich that Democrats in Washington, DC, particularly Obama and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, are taking the right steps to promote the transformation we need. He said the stimulus bill is a good example.

"Speaker Pelosi has been a real crusader for doing this the right way," Diridon said, noting that she is refusing to allow members to attach earmarks for favored projects; instead she is basing the list of recipients on Department of Transportation criteria.

Quentin Kopp, chair of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, is trying to get more money for the $33 billion first phase of the high-speed rail project that voters approved a $10 billion down payment for in November.

"You don’t want to expect anything. You want to be pleasantly surprised," Kopp said. "I’m not counting on the money, but we will seek several billion dollars on the theory that we can get contracts with people who are threatened or have encountered employment setbacks."

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

I was going to do New Year’s resolutions this week. I got started: turn the cell phone volume down when the kids are in the car and Aaron Peskin is on the line. ("That man sure does like to use the f-word when he talks about PG&E," my nine-year old noted this fall.) Stop shouting "Yo, asshole!" when cars come too close to my bicycle. (I know I can be way more creative and foul-mouthed than that.) Return Gavin Newsom’s phone calls. (Hey, the poor guy must be lonely.)

But really, it’s not all about me.

So instead, in honor of the end of the Bush Years and in the hope of a 2009 we can all be proud of, here are some things I would like to see other people do:

I would like to see the California Legislature and US Congress raise the gas tax enough to bring the price to about $3 a gallon, making sure SUVs remain unattractive forever.

I would like to see the new progressives on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors make open government a real priority; I would like to stop having to fight to get even routine information out of City Hall. I would like everyone in public office to read Bob Herbert’s column in Dec. 27’s The New York Times and understand that one reason FDR was successful with the New Deal was that he understood the importance of restoring faith in government; transparency, accountability, and oversight were a central part of the package.

I would like Anchor Steam to start making a light beer.

I would like someone to get Wi-fi installed at City Hall.

I would like Gavin Newsom to stop hiding behind Nathan Ballard.

I would like the right lane of the stretch of I-80 near Lake Tahoe repaved so those of us with small cars don’t get bounced up and down like ping pong balls.

I would like the federal drinking age lowered to 18.

I would like everyone to stop talking about the death of newspapers and stop pretending that blogs and citizen journalism can ever replace full-time trained reporters.

I would like the San Francisco police to stop turning immigrants over to the feds.

I would like the executive editor of Village Voice Media to shave his head, move to Tibet, become a monk, and accept the karmic implications of the way he’s lived his life.

I would like the state to tax the millionaires instead of the college students.

I would like some really rich person to die and leave $20 million for a public power campaign so that for once we could match Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s money and have a fair fight.

I would like Barack Obama to appoint Arnold Schwarzenegger ambassador to some meaningless country so we can have a new governor.

I would like Newsom to liquidate his personal fortune and use the money to pay rent and grocery bills for the front-line city workers he’s laying off.

I would like the Catholic archbishop of San Francisco to quit the gay-hating.

I would like all my fellow dog owners to clean up the poo on the sidewalk.

I would like to be able to ride high-speed rail to Los Angeles before I start collecting Social Security. Happy New Year.

Breaking ground


› steve@sfbg.com

The long-awaited process of rebuilding the Transbay Terminal formally begins Dec. 10 with a groundbreaking ceremony led by Mayor Gavin Newsom. But the agency pushing the project is still a long way from finding the money to build the project’s voter-mandated centerpiece: a high-speed rail and Caltrain station.

Even as the Transbay Joint Powers Authority embarks on the fully funded, $1.2 billion first phase of the project — which includes building a temporary bus station, demolishing the current building, and rebuilding the 1 million-square-foot transit hub by 2014 — the agency still hasn’t included the crucial $300 million "train box" in its plans.

Transportation planners say the train box, which is essentially the shell structure in which the train station would be built during the project’s second phase, is very important both logistically and financially (doing it later could be very expensive and disruptive to the station’s operation), particularly since the TJPA has secured little of the $3 billion needed for phase two.

"It would be a misuse of taxpayer money not to build the train box now," Dave Snyder, transportation policy director for the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, told the Guardian. "The most urgent thing now is to make sure the train box is built as part of phase one."

"We are working hard to identify the funding for the train box in phase one," TJPA executive director Maria Ayerdi-Kaplan told the Guardian. "It’s more expensive to build it later."

But that source must be found by spring to be included in construction contracts.

Critics have questioned whether the trains will ever arrive at Transbay Terminal’s downtown location, and those doubts grew in recent weeks after Judge Quentin Kopp, the California High Speed Rail Authority chair, publicly suggested that the existing Caltrain station at Fourth and Townsend streets would be a fine high-speed rail terminus and that tunneling the final 1.4 miles to Transbay might not be worth the money (see "High speed derailment?", SFBG Politics blog, 11/18/08).

Kopp’s comments were prompted by premature TJPA efforts to secure funding guarantees from the $10 billion in high-speed rail bond money approved by voters Nov. 4 and by his concerns about how the project is being managed by Ayerdi-Kaplan and the high-priced public relations firm she relies on, Singer & Associates.

That rift, its lingering aftermath, and the failure of the TJPA to identify funding for Transbay Terminal’s rail components have rattled those who see the project as the linchpin for the region’s transportation system.

"I don’t think it works with the rail terminal at the current Caltrain station at Fourth and Townsend," Snyder said. "The access to downtown just isn’t good enough. The trains have to come downtown."

The Transbay Terminal was built in 1939 as the truly multimodal facility that supporters want it to become again. It received both buses and the commuter trains that traveled along the lower deck of the Bay Bridge until the bridge was converted to handle cars alone in 1959. At its peak at the end of World War II, 26 million passengers used the station annually, but those numbers dropped off precipitously as private automobile use increased.

The neighborhood around the terminal at First and Mission streets deteriorated and became a redevelopment district full of dormant public land, which the state turned over to facilitate development activity that includes the terminal rebuild (with a rooftop park), a neighborhood of 2,600 new homes (35 percent of which are required to be affordable), and a series of towering office buildings (including the tallest one on the West Coast).

Land sales expected to total $429 million are the single biggest funding source for phase one of the Transbay Terminal project, with the rest coming from state and federal funds, participating transit agencies such as AC Transit, a loan that will be repaid by increased property taxes, and increases in the sales tax and bridge tolls that were dedicated to the project by past ballot measures.

The prospects of bringing trains into the terminal seemed to rely on the high-speed rail project, which Kopp instigated as a legislator in the mid-’90s. Since then, the project has been studied and certified, with its documents explicitly spelling out how trains will travel from Transbay Terminal to Los Angeles Union Station in about two hours and 38 minutes.

After years of delays in bringing the $9.9 billion high-speed rail bond measure to the ballot, Proposition 1A was narrowly approved by voters Nov. 4. The TJPA immediately asked CHSRA for priority funding and was rebuffed by Kopp, who on Nov. 13 wrote, "Please do not attempt to secure California High Speed Rail Project funds to defray the enormous cost of the 1.4 mile ‘downtown rail extension.’ Such effort will not be welcomed by me."

In comments to both the Guardian and the San Francisco Chronicle, Kopp raised questions about wasteful spending at TJPA, the leadership of Ayerdi-Kaplan (who has met with Kopp and CHSRA director Mehdi Morshed just once), and the TJPA’s use of Singer and Associates, whose multiyear contract of up to $900,000 calls for paying the TJPA’s main contact, Adam Alberti, $350 per hour. "We don’t have a PR person deflecting media inquiries," Kopp said of his agency.

Ayerdi-Kaplan, who had little transit or executive experience before being appointed to the post at the urging of then–mayor Willie Brown, met with the Guardian editorial board last week and glossed over her past inaccessibility and conflicts with Kopp, saying the project is on track, she’s engaged with it, and she’s confident of its success.

"We have raised over $2 billion for the project and have a fully funded phase one. We’re still working on identifying the funding for the rail," Ayerdi-Kaplan said. TJPA has developed a list of possible funding sources, the biggest item being $600 million from the CHSRA.

She admitted that she hasn’t personally tried to contact Kopp about the funding request or worked to develop a good relationship with him or his agency, both of which Kopp has criticized. "At some point, we are going to sit down and talk," Ayerdi-Kaplan said.

She said there’s strong public support for the project. "We take a very positive approach," she told us. "You have to believe in what you’re working on, you have to believe it’s going to happen — as anything in life: you have believe your relationships are going to work, that your business is going to work, that your project is going to happen — or you have no business doing it," she said. Ayerdi-Kaplan said the project is fully certified and just waiting for funding, which should make it attractive to increased infrastructure spending proposed by President-elect Barack Obama. "There’s a lot of things that are in the works immediately with his economic stimulus package," she said.

Alberti said he has reached out to Morshed and received assurances that the CHSRA is still planning to use Transbay Terminal, something Morshed also confirmed for the Guardian — but with some hedging.

"Transbay Terminal is our terminal station in San Francisco as of now, based on our environmental documents," Morshed told the Guardian. Yet he said the authority is beginning more project-specific environmental studies, "and part of the requirements of environmental analysis is we need to look at all options."

Kopp said it’s unlikely that the Transbay Terminal — or any other project — will get a commitment for bond money soon: "We’re not going to be spending money or making funding commitments for years."

Making the Transbay Terminal work


EDITORIAL The Transbay Terminal project is way too important to get bogged down in a pointless political fight. But that’s what’s going on — and it’s the responsibility of the terminal project director, Maria Ayerdi-Kaplan, to put an end to it.

Ten years from now, the terminal is supposed to be a centerpiece in the city’s transportation infrastructure. Buses from around the Bay Area will pick up and unload passengers upstairs, while Caltrain and the new high-speed trains from Los Angeles stop below ground. Shops, restaurants, and other services should make it a grand San Francisco landmark, like the great urban train stations of years past.

As Steven T. Jones reports in this issue, the project is breaking ground this week. But there’s currently not nearly enough funding secured for the rail component.

It’s going to be expensive to bring trains into the new terminal. The Caltrain line now ends at Fourth and King streets; extending it a mile or so (and boring the necessary tunnels) will cost more than $2 billion. The full build-out, including the platforms, will run close to $3 billion. As of today, the terminal authority has only shaky commitments for about $600 million of that.

The project plans mandate a multiuse terminal for trains and buses. And Ayerdi-Kaplan promised us, repeatedly, that there’s no way the project will end up getting built without the facilities for rail in the basement.

But Quentin Kopp, a retired judge who heads the state’s high-speed rail agency, has nothing but harsh words for Ayerdi-Kaplan and her operation. He insists that she hasn’t been working with him and that none of the $10 billion in bond money approved in November for the project will go to extend the tracks beyond the existing Caltrain terminal at Fourth and King. In fact, Kopp is making noises about keeping the end of the line exactly where it is today.

That would be a mistake — building an adequate terminal for high-speed rail at its present location would cost at least $750 million, money that would be better spent funding the downtown extension. But Kopp has some legitimate gripes. Ayerdi-Kaplan, who is supposed to be building the station that will serve as the northern anchor for high-speed rail, has met with Kopp only once. She’s going ahead with the project before she has any guarantees that even the framework for the underground station will be funded. And frankly, it’s not going to work for the head of the Transbay Terminal project to remain at odds with the head of the high-speed rail authority.

Ayerdi-Kaplan has managed to secure money for the first part of this project, which is an accomplishment (even if the city is going to have to accept a giant, hideous skyscraper as part of the deal). But building the Transbay Terminal with no rail connection would be a disastrous waste of money — and waiting and hoping for more money later isn’t a very good financing plan.

At this point, the project is also as much a political challenge as a fiscal and management problem. Ayerdi-Kaplan needs to demonstrate, and quickly, that she can mend fences with Kopp and get the two agencies working together — or the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, which oversees Ayerdi-Kaplan’s work, needs to step in.

Editor’s Notes


› Tredmond@sfbg.com

Muni is heading for a hiring freeze and delaying system improvements at the same time that Mayor Gavin Newsom says this is "not a time to raise fees and taxes on business." The head of the California High-Speed Rail Authority is fighting with the head of the Transbay Terminal project over money to extend train tracks downtown. The United States of America is bailing out car companies that have been fighting for years against tougher emissions standards and still can’t seem to make fuel-efficient vehicles. And we’re all worried about global warming and a deepening recession.

I’m not getting this.

Historians and economists can argue forever about the causes of the Great Depression, but most people agree about what brought it to an end: massive, over-the-top levels of public spending. Huge investments in infrastructure. Huge investments in employment programs.

Tax cuts didn’t end the Depression. Government layoffs and belt-tightening didn’t end the Depression. Under President Roosevelt, the government taxed and spent, borrowed and spent — and spent and spent and spent — starting with the New Deal and continuing through the gigantic reindustrialization of America known as World War II. And money went into things that actually created jobs — in many cases, public-sector jobs.

So now we’re in a period where San Francisco, California, and the nation desperately need new infrastructure . We need to shift, fairly radically, away from a car-based transportation system to one based on energy-efficient transit, particularly trains. We need to profoundly shift the electricity grid, away from nuclear and fossil fuels (and away from private control). All these things create jobs. It’s kind of a no-brainer.

California just approved $9.9 billion in bonds for a high-speed rail system between San Francisco and Los Angeles. But even that money isn’t going to be enough, and progress is going to be slow. Take 1/10th of the $800 billion the federal government is putting into propping up big banks and spend it on an emergency plan to build high-speed rail all the way from Seattle to San Diego, and imagine how many jobs that would produce. Jobs for planners, engineers, accountants, office-support people, steel fabrication, construction work, heavy equipment operators … jobs for college grads, jobs for high school grads, union jobs, steady jobs, jobs that train people for other jobs –tens of thousands of them.

Take another 10 percent of that and spend it building solar panels on every public building on the West Coast. Again: jobs of every sort, at every level. Mandate that all the work gets done in America, and you’ll develop an entire new industry or two (we don’t build trains in this country much, but we could, and we already have auto workers and factories that are about to be idled).

I hear some talk about this from the Obama administration, but I also hear some caution and some discussion about budget deficits and keeping the financial sector happy. Fact: the financial sector will be happy when a few million more people are working and spending money. That’s where the economy starts.

I just watched all 34 minutes of the economic segment of Newsom’s state-of-the-city YouTube extravaganza. In and around the rhetoric, he devoted a few moments to the city’s budget deficit and how he was going to institute a hiring freeze, lay off workers and consolidate departments. All wrong.

In fact, this is an excellent time to raise taxes and fees — on the rich, the well-off commuters, the big businesses, the billionaires … Shifting wealth from the top to the bottom, creating public sector jobs in the process, is an fine recipe for economic stimulus. At every level of government.

High-speed derailment?


train crash.jpg

By Steven T. Jones

After navigating a political gauntlet on the way to the momentous Nov. 4 voter approval of the California high-speed train project that he set in motion 14 years ago, you might think Quentin Kopp would savor a moment of conflict-free peace. You’d be wrong.

Instead, he decided to kick a hornet’s nest in his native San Francisco by voicing opposition to plans to bring the trains all the way into downtown San Francisco’s new Transbay Terminal – a proposed Grand Central Station-style multi-modal hub that would also include affordable housing and several towers, including the tallest one of the West Coast — suggesting the current Caltrain terminus at 4th and Townsend streets would do just fine.

In addition to raising issues of cost (almost $3 billion to tunnel the bullet trains that final 1.4 miles into downtown), Kopp also blasted Transbay Joint Powers Authority director Maria Ayerdi-Kaplan – a one-time protégé of Kopp’s old nemesis Willie Brown – for bungling the project and relying too heavily on Singer and Associates, the brash crisis communications firm now being sued for slandering and blaming the victims of the Christmas Day tiger attack at the SF Zoo.

The myriad San Francisco supporters of high-speed rail – from business community backers downtown to the alternative transportation geeks – are quietly scrambling to try to heal the rift and ensure that the trains reach Transbay, the terminus envisioned in the proposal approved by voters.

The future is on track


> steve@sfbg.com

On the day after the election, retired judge Quentin Kopp was finally able to exhale and enjoy his martini, even though there’s still much work to be done in the coming years creating a high-speed rail system for California.

"I feel relaxed for the first time since June," Kopp, the proud father of high-speed rail in the state, told the Guardian at the Thirsty Bear brewpub in San Francisco shortly after arriving to an enthusiastic ovation from the large crowd of project engineers and contractors who had gathered to celebrate on the night after the election.

Proposition 1A — the $10 billion bond measure that finally launches high-speed rail in California, the most expensive and ambitious public works project in state history — got the nod from about 5.4 million voters, or a too-close-for-comfort 52.3 percent of the total. Combined with federal, state, local, and private funding, the measure will finance the San Francisco-to-Anaheim segment of a system that is eventually planned to stretch from Sacramento to San Diego.

The previous few months had been an emotional roller coaster for Kopp and other high-speed rail supporters. "It was like The Perils of Pauline," said Kopp, who sponsored the project as a state legislator representing San Francisco in the mid-90s and now chairs the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the agency charged with building the project.

Last year, Kopp had to overcome the resistance from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who sought to delay the bond measure for a third straight year (see "The silver bullet train," 4/17/07). This year, Kopp had to fight through many setbacks, starting with Schwarzenegger-allied CHSRA board member David Crane’s insistence on the creation of a detailed business plan before the project could go before voters.

To incorporate that plan into the bond measure required new legislation, Assembly Bill 3034, which replaced the former Prop. 1 with the new Prop. 1A and included new fiscal standards. Meanwhile, the CHSRA in July voted to choose Pacheco Pass over Altamont Pass as the preferred Bay Area alignment, triggering controversy and a lawsuit (see "High-speed rail on track," 7/16/08).

Although high-speed rail still appeared to enjoy strong support in the California Legislature, AB 3034 was stalled by partisan bickering and appeared doomed to miss a key legislative deadline. Kopp and supportive legislators, mostly notably Assembly member Fiona Ma, managed to get the legislation through, only to again be stymied when Schwarzenegger announced he would sign no legislation until a budget was approved.

Kopp persuaded the governor to make an exception for AB 3034 and things started to look good, with the measure ready for voters and polling data showing a healthy margin of support. "Then the financial markets collapsed and we lost 10 points," Kopp recalled. That apparent voter anxiety over big-ticket expenditures was compounded by campaign fundraising drying up and newspapers in regions outside the initial project area urging readers to vote against the measure.

"From there, it was tight all the way," said Kopp, noting that by election night, "I didn’t think it would pass."

But on the positive side, the campaign against the measure was weak, particularly after the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association blew its wad in June on an ill-fated ballot measure which attacked eminent domain laws and rent control. The closeness of the poll numbers caused the thousands of contract employees who will work on the high-speed rail project to take active roles campaigning for Prop. 1A.

Peter Gertler, national transit director for HNTB Corp., the engineering firm working on the peninsula section of the project, helped organize his colleagues to hit the streets and phones. "We were very nervous. I didn’t go to bed until 4 a.m.," he told the Guardian. After doing street-level campaigning, Gertler said he learned, "Overwhelmingly, everyone thinks this is a good idea."

Gertler said voters in California approved almost all the public transit measures on the ballot, signaling a new recognition of its importance: "Something fundamentally has changed."

He said the combination of high land values and the narrow corridor on the peninsula will present challenges in getting the section up and running — challenges that abound through the project area — but they’re confident in the project’s ultimate success.

"There are always going to be problems. This is the largest project in the history of the state," Kopp said. "The hard work is just beginning. But this was a foundational step."

The bond sales will likely be delayed by the current turmoil in the financial markets, but Kopp expects to get $50 million in the next state budget to complete the engineering work on the project. Construction could begin as soon as late 2010 and be completed in 2018, with some segments ready even earlier. The segment between San Francisco and San Jose could be operational by 2015, allowing trains to travel at speeds of up to 150 mph and complete the trip in just 30 minutes.

"It’ll come in pieces, but at some point it’ll really come together," said Brent Ogden, vice president of AECOM Transportation, one of the project’s contractors, who is working on the regional rail connection over Altamont Pass. While not part of the main project, for which Prop. 1A set aside $9 billion, the Altamont connection is eligible for part of the $1 billion in the measure earmarked for regional connections.

"The first job for the Altamont is figuring out what it’s going to be," Ogden said, adding that it could upgrade existing Altamont Commuter Express Rail lines and come on line even before the larger project.

Even if California and the rest of the country are in for a prolonged economic recession or even a depression, Kopp said the project would still likely move forward, noting that all the great public works projects — from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Hoover Dam — were built during the Great Depression and helped to revive the economy by creating jobs and stimuutf8g economic activity.

"We need projects," Kopp said. "We need to rebuild and expand the infrastructure of America."


<\!s>About 230 trains per week will travel between Transbay Terminal in San Francisco (where there will be about 9 million annual boardings) and Los Angeles’ Union Station (about 10.8 million boardings). Trains will reach 220 mph and the trip will take two hours and 38 minutes.

<\!s>Fares will be about half that of air travel and generate about $2.4 billion in revenue to cover $1.3 billion in costs by 2030, thus generating about $1.1 billion in annual profits for the state once the project is paid for.

<\!s>The project will generate about 160,000 construction jobs and is projected to create 450,000 permanent jobs by 2035, including those indirectly created by the project.

<\!s>Even if there are unforeseen problems obtaining the full $33 billion in funding for the project, Prop. 1A could be a major boon for the Bay Area, funding improvements in Caltrain’s peninsula corridor and possibly a new rail line over the Altamont Pass.

<\!s>"The high-speed train system will reduce California’s dependence on fossil fuels and foreign oil — a reduction of 12 billion pounds of CO2 and 12.7 million barrels of oil per year by 2030."

<\!s>"High-speed trains will alleviate the need to build — at a cost of nearly $100 billion — about 3,000 miles of new freeway plus five airport runways and 90 departure gates over the next two decades."

Source: California High-Speed Train Business Plan

Election day luncheon in SF


Former Mayor Willie Brown, with luncheon co-hosts Angelo Quaranta (left) and Alex Clemens (right) behund.

By Steven T. Jones

I ran into Willie Brown as we were both headed into today’s Election Day luncheon at the California Culinary Academy – a two-decade-long tradition hosted by political power brokers Angelo Quaranta and the late Bob McCarthy (with Alex Clemens now stepping into that host role) – and asked for his electoral predictions.

“There’ll be no surprises,” Brown told me, “not a one.”

I took that as a hopeful sign that Barack Obama will win the presidency by an electoral landslide and Democrats will add significantly to their congressional majorities, but it didn’t tell me much about tonight’s nail biters, including the fate of the same sex marriage Proposition 8 or the balance of power on the Board of Supervisors.

Inside, many of the political luminaries expressed real anxiety over Prop. 8, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who warned Brown and the media against any early Obama victory parties that might hurt Prop. 8, the high-speed rail bond measure Prop. 1A, or the other crucial measures that need every Obama supporter they can muster.

A classic Kopp smackdown


Watching former Sup. and State Sen. Quentin Kopp take on a bumbling politician or incompetant bureacrat used to be one of the great works of political theater in California. Now that he’s a retired judge, who has to show some sort of judicial temperament, you don’t see it as often, but this smackdown of Republican state Sen. Roy Ashburn, in a hearing on high-speed rail, is one for the ages.

(Thanks to Ken Bruce for the tip, and for pointing out the wonderful YouTube title:

October 23, 2008, in the California State Senate: Quentin Kopp delivers an epic smackdown to galactic
asshat Senator Roy Ashburn of Bakersfield

Anniversary Issue: Beyond the automobile


› steve@sfbg.com


Download the the transportation roundtable discussion (DivShare)

Transportation is the linchpin of sustainability. Fix the transportation system, and almost every other aspect of the city’s ecological health improves: public health, conservation of resources, climate change, economics, and maintaining our culture and sense of community.

The region’s unsustainable transportation system is the biggest cause of global warming (more than half the Bay Area’s greenhouse gas emissions come from vehicles) and one of the biggest recipients of taxpayer money. And right now, most of those public funds from the state and federal governments are going to expand and maintain freeway systems, a priority that exacerbates our problems and delays the inevitable day of reckoning.

It’s going to have to change — and we can do it the easy way or the hard way.

“We’ll get to a more sustainable transportation system. The question is, are we going to be smart enough to make quality of life for people high within that sustainable transportation system?” said Dave Snyder, who revived the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and founded Transportation for a Livable City (now known as Livable City) before becoming transportation policy director for the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association. “People will drive less, but will they have dignified alternatives? That’s the question.”

That notion — that transportation sustainability is inevitable, but that it’ll be painful if we don’t start now in a deliberate way — was shared by all 10 transportation experts recently interviewed by the Guardian. And most agreed that needed reform involves shifting resources away from the automobile infrastructure, which is already crowding out more sustainable options and will gobble up an even bigger piece of the pie in the future if we continue to expand it.

“Yeah, it’ll be more sustainable, but will it be just? Will it be healthful? Will it be effective? Those are the questions,” said Tom Radulovich, director of Livable City and an elected member of the BART Board of Directors. “You can’t argue against geology. The planet is running out of oil. We’re going to have a more sustainable transportation system in the future. That’s a given. The question is, is it going to meet our other needs? Is it going to be what we need it to be?”

And the answer to all those questions is going to be no — as long as politicians choose to fund wasteful projects such as a fourth bore in the Caldecott Tunnel and transferring $4 billion from transit agencies to close California budget deficits accruing since 2000.

“Our leaders need to be putting our money where our collective mouth is and stop raiding these funds,” Carli Paine, transportation program director for Transportation and Land Use Coalition, told us. “I’m hopeful, but I think we all need to do more.”



There is reason to be hopeful. With increased awareness of global warming and high gasoline prices, public transit ridership has increased significantly in the Bay Area. And one study indicates that the number of people bicycling in San Francisco has quadrupled in the last few years.

“Look at what’s happening on the streets of San Francisco: you have biking practically doubling every year without any new bike infrastructure. I think the demand is out there. The question is, when is the political leadership going to catch up to demand?” Jean Fraser, who sits on the SPUR and SFBC boards and until recently ran the San Francisco Health Plan under Mayor Gavin Newsom, told us.

But the political leadership and federal transportation spending priorities are behind the times. Of the $835 million in federal funds administered by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission for the nine Bay Area counties in 2006-07, 51.4 percent went to maintain and expand state highways. Only 2.5 percent went for expansion of public transit, and 2.4 percent for bike and pedestrian projects. Overall, Paine said, about 80 percent of all state and federal transportation funding goes to facilities for automobiles, leaving all modes of transportation to fight for the rest.

“Historically we favor the automobile at the expense of all those other modes,” Radulovich said at a forum of experts assembled by the Guardian (a recording of the discussion is available at sfbg.com). “It’s been given primacy, and I think everyone around this table is saying, in one way or another, that we need a more balanced approach. We need a more sustainable, sensible, and just way of allocating space on our roads.”

Yet the Bay Area is now locking in those wasteful patterns of the past with plans for about $6 billion in highway expansions, which means the MTC will have to spend even more every year keeping those roads in shape. Highway maintenance is the biggest line item in the MTC budget, at $275 million.

“We can’t pay for what we have now — to maintain it, repair it, seismically retrofit it — so why we’re building more is kind of beyond me,” Radulovich said. “We continue to invest in the wrong things.”

The experts also question big-ticket transit items such as the Central Subway project, a 1.7-mile link from SoMa to Chinatown that will cost an estimated $1.4 billion to build and about $4 million per year to run.

“There are 300 small capital projects we need to see,” Snyder said. “That’s really the answer. The idea of a few big capital projects as the answer to our problems is our problem. What we really need are 100 new bike lanes. We need 500 new bus bulbs. We need 300 new buses. It’s not the big sexy project, but 300 small projects.”

The most cost-efficient, environmentally effective transportation projects, according to renowned urban design thinkers such as Jan Gehl from Denmark, are those that encourage walking or riding a bike.

“I think Jan Gehl put it best, which is to say a city that is sweet to pedestrians and sweet to bicyclists is going to be a sustainable city,” Fraser said. “So I think focusing on those two particular modes of transportation meets the other goals of the financial viability because they’re the cheapest ways to get people around — and the healthiest ways — which I submit is one of the other criteria for sustainable transportation…. And it helps with the social justice and social connections.”



In fact, transportation sustainability has far-reaching implications for communities such as San Francisco.

“I think of sustainability in two ways,” Fraser said. “The first is sustainability for the environment. And since I have a background in health care, I think of a sustainable transportation system as one that’s actually healthy for us. In the past at least 50 years, we’ve actually engineered any kind of active transportation — walking to work or to school, biking to school — out of our cities.”

But it can be engineered back into the system with land use policies that encourage more density around transit corridors and economic policies that promote the creation of neighborhood-serving commercial development.

“If my day-to-day needs can be met by walking, I don’t put pressure on the transportation system,” Manish Champsee, a Mission District resident who heads the group Walk SF, told us.

The transportation system can either promote that sense of community or it can detract from it. Champsee said San Francisco needs more traffic-calming measures, citing the 32 pedestrian deaths in San Francisco last year. Almost a third as many people are killed in car accidents as die from homicides in San Francisco — but murder gets more resources and attention.

“There’s a real sense in the neighborhoods that the roadways and streetscapes are not part of the neighborhood, they’re not even what links one neighborhood to another. They’re sort of this other system that cuts through neighborhoods,” said Gillian Gillette of the group CC Puede, which promotes safety improvements on Cesar Chavez Street.

Radulovich notes that streets are social spaces and that decisions about how to use public spaces are critical to achieving sustainability.

“A sustainable transportation system is one that allows you to connect to other people,” he said. “Cities have always thrived on connections between humans, and I think some of the transportation choices we’ve made, with reliance on the automobile, have begun to sever a lot of human connections. So you’ve got to think about whether it’s socially sustainable. Also economically sustainable, or fiscally sustainable, because we just can’t pay for what we have.”

So then what do we do? The first step will take place next year when Congress is scheduled to reauthorize federal transportation spending and policies, presenting an opportunity that only comes once every four years. Transportation advocates from around the country are already gearing up for the fight.

“We’ve built out the freeways. They’re connecting the cities — they’re pretty much done. So what do we need to do to make streets more vibrant and have more space for people and not just automobiles?” asked Jeff Wood, program associate for the nonprofit group Reconnecting America and the Center for Transit-Oriented Development.

Then, once communities such as San Francisco have more money and more flexibility on how to spend it, they can get to work on the other sustainability needs. “The key component is having all the transportation systems fully linked,” Paine said. That means coordinating the Bay Area’s 26 transit agencies; expanding on the new TransLink system to make buying tickets cheaper and easier; funding missing links such as connecting Caltrain from its terminus at King and Fourth streets to the new Transbay Terminal; and timing transfers so passengers aren’t wasting time waiting for connections.

And the one big-ticket transportation project supported by all the experts we consulted is high-speed rail, which goes before voters Nov. 4 as Proposition 1A. Not only is the project essential for facilitating trips between San Francisco and Los Angeles, it takes riders to the very core of the cities without their having to use roadways.

Paine also notes that the bond measure provides $995 million for regional rail improvements, with much of that going to the Bay Area. And that’s just the beginning of the resources that could be made available simply by flipping our transportation priorities and recognizing that the system needs to better accommodate all modes of getting around.

At the roundtable, I asked the group how much a reduction in automobile traffic we need to see in San Francisco 20 years from now to become sustainable — with safe streets for cyclists and pedestrians, free-flowing public transit, and vibrant public spaces. Sarah Sherburn-Zimmer, an organizer with SEIU Local 1021 and the Transit Not Traffic Coalition, said “half.” Nobody disagreed.

That may sound outrageous by today’s standards, when cars use about 30 percent of our roadways to handle about 5 percent of the people-moving (a similar ratio to how Americans constitute 5 percent of the world’s population but use more than 25 percent of the world’s resources). A sustainable, just, efficient mix would drastically beef up the operating budgets of Muni, BART, and other transit agencies, and transfer all the capital set aside for new freeways into new transit lines that would better serve, for example, the Sunset and Excelsior districts.

Alternative transportation advocates insist that they aren’t anti-car, and they say the automobile will continue to play a role in San Francisco’s transportation system. But the idea of sustainability means beefing up all the other, more efficient transportation options, so it becomes faster, cheaper, and easier to walk, bike, take transit, or rideshare (probably in that order of importance, based on the resources they consume). As Fraser said of residents choosing to drive cars, “We should make it so it’s their last choice.” *


Endorsements 2008: State ballot measures



Proposition 1A

High-speed rail bond


California hasn’t taken on a major improvement to its public infrastructure in several generations, the last significant one being the construction of the California State Water Project back in the 1950s. But with the state’s growing population and the travel penchant of its citizens, there will be dire consequences to ignoring the need for more and better transportation options.

The state has been studying and planning for the creation of a high-speed rail system for more than 10 years, and this is the moment for voters to make it a reality.

Proposition 1A is a $9.95 billion bond measure. Combined with contributions from the federal government and private sector, the measure would fund the first leg of a system that would eventually stretch from Sacramento to San Diego. The train would carry people from downtown San Francisco to downtown Los Angeles in 2.5 hours for just $55.

The benefits are overwhelming. High-speed rail works well in Asia and Europe, on a fraction of the energy used by cars and planes and with almost no emissions. The system is projected to pay for itself within 20 years and then be a source of revenue for the state. And it would make trips directly from one city core to another, facilitating tourism and business trips without clogging our roads.

Unfortunately, the costs of not approving this measure are also huge: more congestion for road and air travelers, more freeway lanes, larger airports, dirtier air, and increased greenhouse-gas emissions. Building a high-speed rail system is something California can’t afford not to do. Vote yes.

Proposition 2

Farm animal protections


It’s hard to argue against a proposal that would allow farm-raised animals to stand up, lie down, and move around in their enclosures. This is a step in the direction of more humane treatment of animals; plenty of organic farms already comply, and the milk, meat, and eggs they produce are healthier for both humans and animals.

According to big agricultural companies and the operators of factory farms, a vote for Proposition 2 is a vote for an avian influenza outbreak, the spread of food-borne illnesses like salmonella, huge job losses, and even increased global warming. But we find it hard to believe that simply permitting creatures like veal calves, breeding pigs, and egg-laying hens to stretch their limbs and turn around will cause these Chicken Little predictions to come true. Vote yes on Prop. 2.

Proposition 3

Children’s hospital bonds


This one sounds great unless you stop to think about it. Proposition 3 would provide more money for hospitals that care for sick children, which seems fine. But a lion’s share of almost $1 billion in public bond money would go to private children’s hospitals for capital improvements. While 20 percent of the cash would be tabbed for public institutions like the five University of California–run hospitals, the other 80 percent would go to places like Lucile Salter Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford. We don’t discount the valuable work these hospitals do. But many of them have sizable endowments and ample resources to fund improvements on their own — especially since voters approved $750 million in children’s hospital bond money just four years ago. Why is the state, which is broke, giving public money to private hospitals? Vote no on Prop. 3.

Proposition 4

Parental notification and wait period for abortion


This measure was horrible when it was on the ballot twice before, in 2005 and in 2006, and it’s still horrible now. If passed, it would require doctors to notify parents of minors seeking abortions, make teenagers wait 48 hours after the notification is made before undergoing the abortion, penalize doctors who don’t abide by the rule, and make kids go through a court process to get a waiver to the law. The doctors would have to hand-deliver the notice or send it by certified mail.

Proponents have spun this as a way to "stop child predators," a baseless claim, as teenage victims of predators seeking abortions are still victims of predators whether their parents know or not. Opponents say it’s a dangerous law that will drive more kids seeking abortions underground and do nothing to truly improve family relations. This proposal represents another erosion of abortion rights.

The last two attempts to require parental notification were narrowly defeated — but this time, with so much else on the ballot, it’s attracting less attention, and polls show it might pass.

Big funders backing the measure are San Diego Reader publisher James Holman and Sonoma-based winery owner Don Sebastiani, who have collectively spent more than $2 million supporting it. A broad coalition of medical, education, and civil rights organizations oppose it. Vote no.

Proposition 5

Treatment instead of jail


In 2000, California voters approved Proposition 36, which sent people convicted of certain drug-related offenses to treatment programs instead of to prison. Proposition 5 would revamp that earlier measure by giving more people a shot at addiction services instead of a jail cell and would provide treatment to youth offenders as well as adults. It would also make possession of less than 28.5 grams (1 ounce) of marijuana an infraction instead of a misdemeanor, something we wholeheartedly support.

Opponents of the plan say it would cost too much and would allow criminals a get-out-of-jail-free card. But punitive approaches to addiction clearly don’t work. And while the new programs Prop. 5 calls for will need an initial infusion of cash, taking nonviolent inmates out of jail and keeping them out of the system by helping them overcome their addictions should save the state considerable money in the long run.

Proposition 6

Prison spending


There are 171,000 people in California’s 33 prisons. All told, the state shells out $10 billion every year incarcerating people. This prison boom has enriched for-profit corrections companies and made the prison guards’ union one of the most powerful interest groups in the state — but it hasn’t made the streets any safer.

Nonetheless, backers of Proposition 6 say the state needs to spend $1 billion more per year on new prisons, increased prison time (even for youth offenders), and untested programs that few believe will have any positive impact — without identifying a way to pay for any of it.

Bottom line, Prop. 6 would divert funding from necessary areas like health care and education and waste it on a failed, throw-away-the-key approach to crime. Even the staunchly conservative Orange County Register‘s editorial board called the measure "criminally bad." Vote no on Prop. 6.

Proposition 7

Renewable-energy generation


We’re all for more renewable energy, but this measure and the politics around it smell worse than a coal-burning power plant.

Proposition 7 would require all investor-owned and municipal utilities to procure 50 percent clean energy by 2025. It would allow fast-tracked permitting for the new power plants and suggests they be placed in "solar and clean energy zones" in the desert while still meeting environmental reviews and protections. There’s a hazy provision that the solar industry groups argue would discredit any power sources under 30 megawatts from counting toward renewable portfolio standards (RPS), which the Yes on Prop. 7 people refute.

The measure is confusing. The California Energy Commission and the California Public Utilities Commission would play somewhat unclear roles in the state’s energy future. Overall, the CEC would site power plants and the CPUC would set rates. Penalties levied to utilities that don’t meet the new RPS would be controlled by the CEC and used to build transmission lines connecting the desert-sourced solar power with cities.

The coalition supporting Prop. 7 is an interesting mix of retired public officials, including former San Francisco supervisor Jim Gonzalez, former state senator John Burton, former mayor Art Agnos, and utility expert S. David Freeman. Interestingly, Gonzalez was a staunch ally of Pacific Gas and Electric Co. when he was a local politician, and Burton has done legal work for PG&E. The bankroll for the campaign comes from Arizona billionaire Peter Sperling, son of medical marijuana proponent John Sperling.

A number of solar and wind companies, which would presumably profit by its passing, are lined up against it, but the No on 7 money comes entirely from PG&E, SoCal Edison, and Sempra, which have dumped $28 million into the campaign. That, of course, makes us nervous.

But other opponents include all the major green groups — Environmental Defense, the League of Conservation Voters, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, and the Union of Concerned Scientists — none of which were consulted before it was put on the ballot.

We’re obviously uncomfortable coming down on the side of PG&E, but renewable energy is a major policy issue, and this measure was written with little input from the experts in the field. Gonzalez told us it’s mostly aimed at pushing giant solar arrays in the desert; that’s fine, but we’re also interested in small local projects that might be more efficient and environmentally sound.

Vote no.

Proposition 8

Ban on same-sex marriage


Same-sex couples have been able to marry legally in California since June. Their weddings — often between couples who have spent decades together, raised children, fought hard for civil rights, and been pillars of their communities — have been historic, joy-filled moments. San Francisco City Hall has witnessed thousands of these weddings — and to date, there has not been a single confirmed report that gay weddings have caused damage to straight marriages.

But now comes Proposition 8, a statewide measure that seeks to take this fundamental right away from same-sex couples.

Using the exact same argument that was used in 2000, Prop. 8 contends that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."

Back then, the measure passed. This time, the landscape has shifted radically and is full of same-sex brides and grooms who have already legally tied the knot. This time around, the stale "man and woman only" argument is being used to attempt to deny individuals their existing rights based on their sexual orientation. Polls suggest that a majority of Californians are unwilling to support this measure, but it would only take a simple majority to deny gays and lesbians their marriage rights. Vote no on Prop. 8 and protect hard-won marriage equality.

Proposition 9

Restrictions on parole


It’s tempting simply to repeat our reasons for voting no on Proposition 6 in our discussion of Proposition 9. While the details of the two measures are different — Prop. 6 would send more people to jail; Prop. 9 would keep them there longer — the two would have a similar unfortunate result: more people crowding our already overflowing and outrageously expensive prison system. Prop. 9 would accomplish this by making it much more difficult for prisoners to gain parole. But California already releases very few inmates serving long sentences for crimes like murder and manslaughter. Moreover, many of the other provisions of Prop. 9 have already been enacted, which would mean costly redundancies if the measure is approved.

One man is largely responsible for both the misguided "tough on crime" propositions on this year’s ballot: billionaire Broadcom Corp. cofounder Henry Nicholas, who has poured millions into the two campaigns. But a funny thing happened to Nicholas on the way to becoming California’s poster boy for law and order. In June, he was indicted on numerous counts of securities fraud and drug violations (including spiking the drinks of technology executives with ecstasy and operating a "sex cave" staffed with prostitutes under his house). He insists he’s innocent.

Vote no on Prop. 9.

Proposition 10

Alternative-fuel vehicles bond


This is another "green" measure that looks good and smells bad. It would allow the state to issue general obligation bonds worth $5 billion to fund incentives to help consumers purchase alternative-fuel vehicles and research alternative-fuel and renewable-energy technology.

Proponents argue this is a necessary jump start for the industry. Opponents say the industry doesn’t need it — Priuses are on back order as it is, and the measure was craftily written to exclude subsidies for purchasing any other plug-in or hybrid vehicle that gets less than 45 miles per gallon. Though the measure would have provisions for vehicles powered by hydrogen and electricity, critics point out that the subsidies would be first come, first served and would be gone by the time these technologies even reach the consumer market.

In reality, Proposition 10 is a giveaway designed to favor the natural gas industry and was put on the ballot by one of its biggest players, T. Boone Pickens, who owns Clean Energy Fuels Corp., a natural gas fueling and distribution company based in Seal Beach. He wrote the measure, paid more than $3 million to get it on the ballot, and spent a total of $8 million supporting it.

Beyond the blatant attempt to manipulate public money for private good, there are a number of other problems with the bill. It would mostly subsidize purchases of large trucks but wouldn’t require that those trucks stay in California, so companies could use the $50,000 rebates to improve their fleet, then drive the benefit out of state.

While natural-gas-burning vehicles emit far less exhaust and air pollution than gas and diesel cars, natural gas is still a fossil fuel with carbon emissions that are only 20 percent less than that of a typical car. It’s another dinosaur technology that only marginally improves the situation. The Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters are against Prop. 10, as are consumer groups and taxpayer associations, who hate the $10-billion-over-30-years payback on this special-interest bond. Vote no.

Proposition 11

Redistricting commission


Almost everyone agrees that California’s process for drawing the boundaries of legislative districts is flawed. History has proven that allowing elected officials to redraw their own political map every 10 years is a recipe for shameless gerrymandering that benefits incumbents. It has also resulted in uncompetitive districts, voter disaffection, and a hopelessly polarized legislature. But Proposition 11 is not the answer.

The idea of placing redistricting in the hands of an independent citizen commission sounds good on the surface. But as Assemblymember Mark Leno points out, the makeup of this incredibly powerful commission would be dependent only on party affiliation — five Democrats, five Republicans, and four independents. That’s not an accurate reflection of California’s population; Democrats far outnumber Republicans in this state. To give Republicans an equal number of commissioners would ignore that fact. And there is no provision to ensure that the body would reflect the state’s racial diversity, or that it would be composed of people from different religious (or nonreligious) backgrounds. The same goes for things like gender and income levels. Also, people must apply to join the body — limiting the pool of potential commissioners even further. And state legislators would have the power to remove some applicants.

In other words, the same people the law seeks to take out of the process would still wield a great deal of influence over it. Vote no on Prop. 11.

Proposition 12

Veterans bond act


Proposition 12 would authorize the state to issue $900 million in bonds to help veterans buy farms and homes. It’s true that, as opponents say, the act doesn’t discriminate between rich veterans and poor veterans, and it probably should, but the vets most likely to use this — from the Gulf War and the Iraq war — have faced so many daunting problems and have received so little support from the government that sent them to war that it’s hard to oppose something like this. Vote yes.

>>More Guardian Endorsements 2008

Endorsements 2008: National and state races





This is the most important presidential election of our lives.

The nation is in a state of political and financial meltdown. The war in Iraq drags on, sucking money out of the US Treasury and costing more and more lives. The gap between the rich and the poor has risen to unsustainable levels, global warming threatens to permanently alter the ecology of the globe … and all the Republican candidate offers is more of the same. It’s scary.

The Democrat we proudly endorsed in the California primary isn’t the exact same candidate who’s trying to get elected president today. Barack Obama, like just about all Democrats at this stage of a campaign, has moved a bit to the right. He supported the $700 million Wall Street bailout that’s essentially a huge giveaway to the same people who caused the problem. He talks about promoting "safe nuclear energy" and "clean coal" — oxymora if there ever were any.

Back in February, we noted that "our biggest problem with Obama is that he talks as if all the nation needs to do is come together in some sort of grand coalition of Democrats and Republicans, of ‘blue states and red states.’ But some of us have no interest in making common cause with the religious right or Dick Cheney or Halliburton or Don Fisher. There are forces and interests in the United States that need to be opposed, defeated, consigned to the dustbin of history, and for all of Obama’s talk of unity, we worry that he lacks the interest in or ability to take on a tough, bloody fight against an entrenched political foe."

But Obama remains one of the most inspirational candidates for high office we’ve ever seen. He’s energized a generation of young voters, he’s electrified communities of color, and he’s given millions of Americans a chance to hope that Washington can once again be a friend, not an enemy, to progressive values at home and abroad.

His tax proposals are pretty good. He’s always been against the war. His health care plan isn’t perfect, but it’s at least a step toward universal coverage.

And frankly, the nation can’t afford another four years of Bush-style policies.

The election is a turning point for the United States. It’s about a movement that can change the direction of the country; it’s about mobilizing people in large numbers to reject the failed right-wing policies of Bush and the Republican Party. We’re pleased to endorse Barack Obama as the standard-bearer of that movement.

Congress, District 6


Lynn Woolsey comes from the more moderate suburbs, and she’s far better than Nancy Pelosi, who represents liberal San Francisco. Just look at the bailout: Pelosi wants to prop up the Wall Street banks, and Woolsey wanted to fund any bailout with a modest tax on risky financial instruments. Woolsey richly deserves reelection.

Congress, District 7


George Miller, who has represented this East Bay district since 1974, is an effective legislator and strong environmentalist. Sometimes he’s too willing to compromise — he worked with the George W. Bush administration on No Child Left Behind, a disaster of an education bill — but he’s a solid opponent of the war, and we’ll endorse him for another term.

Congress District 8


The antiwar leader and Gold Star mom who put George Bush on the defensive is at best a long shot to unseat the Speaker of the House. Cindy Sheehan has only recently moved to the district, has no local political experience, and is taking on one of the most powerful politicians in the United States.

But we can’t endorse Nancy Pelosi, who has consistently supported funding the war (and has refused to meet with antiwar protesters camped out in front of her house). Pelosi pushed the Wall Street bailout and privatized the Presidio.

Sheehan wants a fast withdrawal from Iraq, opposes any bailout for the big financial institutions, and is a voice against business as usual in Congress. This is a protest vote, but a valid one.

Congress, District 13


After 32 years, Pete Stark has become in some ways the most radical member of the Bay Area congressional delegation. He’s furious with the war and shows no patience for the Bush administration’s nonsense. He is the only member of Congress who admits he’s an atheist. We just hope he doesn’t decide to retire any time soon.


Superior Court, Seat 12


It’s unusual to see contested races for judge in San Francisco. Most of the time, incumbents retire midterm to allow the governor to appoint a replacement, and almost nobody ever challenges a sitting judge. So the San Francisco bench has been shaped more by Republican governors than by the overwhelmingly Democratic electorate.

So we were pleased to see Gerardo Sandoval, a termed-out supervisor and former public defender, file to run against Judge Thomas Mellon. A conservative Republican appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson in 1994, Mellon has a lackluster record, at best. California Courts and Judges, a legal journal, calls him unreasonable and cantankerous. In 2000, the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office sought to have him removed from all criminal cases because of his anti-defendant bias. He needed a challenge, and he’s got one: in the June primary, Sandoval came in well ahead, but because there were three candidates, this contest has gone to a November runoff.

Sandoval has been a generally progressive member of the Board of Supervisors, although we were critical of some of his votes. But he would bring the perspective of a public defender to a bench dominated by former prosecutors and big-firm civil lawyers. Vote for Sandoval.


State Senate, District 3


The drama in this race took place back in June, when Leno beat incumbent Carole Migden and former Marin Assemblymember Joe Nation in the Democratic primary. Like most Bay Area Democrats, he’s a shoo-in for the general election. But it’s worth noting that Leno has an extensive record in the Assembly and has demonstrated an ability to get things done. Long before the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage the law of the state, Leno got both houses of the Legislature to approve marriage equality bills (which the governor then vetoed). He got the Ellis Act, that terrible law that allows landlords to evict all their tenants and sell their buildings as condos, amended to protect seniors and disabled people. And while we were worried in the spring that Leno might be too close to Mayor Newsom when it came to local endorsements, he’s shown both independence and progressive leanings. He has been a strong, visible and effective backer of Prop. H, the Clean Energy Act and has endorsed Mark Sanchez for supervisor in District 9, breaking with Newsom (and the moderates) who backed Eva Royale. We expect Leno will go on to a stellar record in the state Senate and we’re happy to endorse him.

State Senate, District 9


A part of Berkeley politics since she first ran successfully for city council in 1971, Lori Hancock has spent the past six years in the State Assembly. She defeated Wilma Chan in a heated primary for this State Senate seat and faces little opposition in November. She’s one of the most experienced progressives in California and has a solid grip on the state’s budget issues. We wish she wasn’t so willing to back more moderate candidates for local office, but we’re happy to see her move up to the senate.

State Assembly, District 12


Fiona Ma has been a pleasant surprise. We didn’t support her for this post two years ago, but she’s become a leading advocate of high-speed rail, a foe of plans to privatize the Cow Palace, and a visible, out-front backer of the Clean Energy Act. We hope she continues to evolve into a progressive leader in Sacramento.

State Assembly, District 13


The only problem with Tom Ammiano moving up to Sacramento is that we’ll miss his presence at City Hall. Ammiano’s record is stellar — although he was once nearly a lone voice for progressives on the Board of Supervisors, he’s become one of its most effective members, with a long list of groundbreaking legislation. Ammiano authored the city’s domestic partners law. He created Healthy San Francisco, the universal health care program. He sponsored the 2001 and 2002 public power measures. He created the Children’s Fund and the Rainy Day Fund, which is now saving programs in the public schools.

He’s also responsible — as much as any one person ever can be — for dramatically changing the climate of San Francisco politics. Ammiano’s 1999 mayoral challenge to incumbent Willie Brown brought the progressives together in ways we hadn’t seen in years, and the district-elections measure Ammiano authored brought a completely new Board of Supervisors into office a year later.

We’re happy to see Ammiano move on to Sacramento.

State Assembly, District 14


Nancy Skinner won the June primary for this seat, and while we supported her opponent, Kriss Worthington, we acknowledged that she would make an excellent assembly member. Skinner has plenty of experience: she was on the Berkeley City Council from 1984 to 1992 and has founded and run a nonprofit that helps cities establish sustainable environmental policies. She understands state budget issues, is a strong advocate for education, and will hit the ground running.

>>More Guardian Endorsements 2008

Lawsuit challenges high-speed rail project


Four environmental groups and two cities today filed a lawsuit in Sacramento Superior Court challenging the California High Speed Rail Authority’s recent decision to lay track over Pacheco Pass, rather than going with the Altamont Pass option preferred by the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit isn’t likely to directly affect this November’s Proposition 1, the $10 billion bond measure that would allow work to begin on the San Francisco-Anaheim high-speed rail project. Yet the language in the bond measure could be updated to include new fiscal oversight and other provisions if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signs Assembly Bill 3034, which this week broke through a logjam in the Assembly and appears likely to win Senate approval next week.

The lawsuit was filed by the Planning and Conservation League, Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund, California Rail Foundation, Bay Rail Alliance, and the cities of Atherton and Menlo Park.
A press release from CRF says, “The environmental and transit groups advocate a well-planned, cost- effective, and environmentally sensitive high-speed rail system in California. They want high-speed trains along the Altamont route, to help commuters from the Central Valley and Sacramento, who currently clog up Interstates 80 and 580. This route would divert millions of regional trips annually to electrified rail, yielding extremely significant air quality, greenhouse gas reduction, and energy savings benefits.”

CHSRA staffers and board members argued that Pacheco was a cheaper, faster route that eliminated the need for a costly and logically difficult bay crossing to reach San Francisco. South Bay political leaders also threatened to oppose the project if Altamont was chosen. Yet CHRSA is also working on a regional rail connection over Altamont that would eventually tie into the high-speed rail system, which is at least a decade away from being operational.

High speed rail moves forward



The California High Speed Rail Authority, during a meeting this morning in San Francisco, voted unanimously to set the Bay Area route through the Pacheco Pass and up the peninsula into the Transbay Terminal and to approve the related environmental documents. The action ends a three-year controversy over whether to bring the proposed high-speed rail line over Pacheco Pass, a cheaper and easier option favored by most Bay Area politicians and government agencies, or over the Altamont Pass, an option favored by groups such as the Planning and Conservation League and California Rail Foundation, which are threatening a lawsuit over today’s decision. The CHSRA board also voted unanimously today to pursue creation of a separate, regional rail line over Altamont that would connect into the high speed rail system.
Meanwhile, there are battles in Sacramento over Assembly Bill 3034, which would update the language and financial oversight provisions of Proposition 1, the $10 billion high speed rail bond measure on the November ballot, replacing current language that was written six years ago when the measure was first approved for the ballot before it was repeatedly pushed back by the Legislature. That bill, which needs a two-thirds vote of both legislative houses, is being heard tomorrow by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Once built, the high speed trains would travel at up to 220 mph and make the trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles Union Station in about two and a half hours, mostly likely running entirely on renewable energy sources without the huge greenhouse gas output from either driving or flying. For a lengthy discussion of the project, its complicated politics, today’s vote, and the dramas surrounding AB 3034 and Senator Leland Yee, read next week’s Guardian.

Editor’s Notes


› tredmond@sfbg.com

I was dreading the drive home from Lake Shasta. Sunday afternoon. The end of a major holiday weekend. Every car in Northern California would be converging on the Bay Bridge right around the same time I got there. Figure two hours from the Carquinez Bridge to the toll plaza. Hot weather. Tired, hungry kids who have to pee. Nowhere to go, no way to move. An impatient driver (me), who can’t stand waiting five minutes in a grocery store line, stuck in an endless, hellish queue with no outlet for the anger except to crab at my long-suffering partner. It wasn’t going to be pretty.

We did what we could. We got up early Sunday morning, de-fusted the boat, pulled into the dock by 11 a.m., and got on the road by noon. But still: 210 miles to San Francisco. We’d hit the Bay Area right about 3 p.m., along with every other auto-mad idiot who drove somewhere for the Fourth of July.

But a funny thing happened: we cleared Vacaville, and Crockett, and Vallejo, and I kept waiting for the traffic to hit. And then Albany and Berkeley and … whoa: we were on the bridge approach at 3:15, not one single stop-and-go spot, and the bridge was no worse than a typical pre-rush-hour weekday afternoon. It seemed as if nobody was driving.

Nobody is a bit too strong of a term — there were still plenty of people on the road. But for the first time in a decade, the California State Automobile Association reported a decline in car use over the holiday. "Less disposable cash and an overall increase in travel expenses have caused Californians to postpone or downsize their holiday getaways," CSAA spokesperson Cynthia Harris announced.

You could see that up at the lake, where rows of empty houseboats sat at the dock. Part of it was the incessant media coverage of the fires (in fact, Shasta was fine). But the biggest factor was the price of gas. At $4.50 a gallon, people don’t drive as much.

This is good.

For the first time in many, many years, people are talking about fuel efficiency again. I’m obsessed with it: change the oil, keep the car tuned and the tires inflated, and our utterly uncool Saturn wagon, with two-wheel drive and a small, weak four-cylinder engine, gets almost 40 mpg on the highway. We burned maybe 12 gallons round trip, which cost a little more than $50. Twice what it cost a few years ago, but not a deal-breaker. All of a sudden, the SUVs are grounded, and we’ve got the trick ride.

And I started to think: imagine what would have happened if courageous politicians in California had put a $2-a-gallon tax on gas five years ago. The SUVs and Hummers would be long gone. Public transit would be booming. And with 1.5 billion gallons of gas sold per year in the state, there would be $3 billion more each year in new revenue. Enough to fund huge improvements in urban transportation systems. The high-speed rail line to Los Angeles would be well underway. Traffic (and pollution, and global warming) would have dropped dramatically.

Yeah, the price of gas hits hard on working-class people who have to drive. I get that. It’s not the world’s most progressive tax. But the price has gone up anyway (as we all knew it would eventually) — and now all of that money is going into private oil company profits instead of going into public benefits. Something to think about.

Driving to death


With all the understandable concern about global warming lately, we tend to forget that our over-reliance on automobiles also has a more immediate impact: death, lots and lots of death.
Research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration already shows that traffic accidents are the leading cause of death for people ages 3-6 and 8-34, and is the third leading cause of death for all Americans after cancer and heart disease, some of which can also be traced back to the automobile.
Today’s Chronicle reports on new research showing that particulate matter, much of it from automobiles, causes far more premature death than previously thought, up to 24,000 annual deaths in California alone. In another piece, the Chron speculates that people might be driving less on Memorial Day weekend, the mother of all road trip holidays, but I still know lots of people who drove down to Lightning in the Bottle and other spots without pausing to consider the externalities.
Yet even after cutting more than $1 billion in transit funding last year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger turned around and did the same thing this year, cuts that would cost the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency $37 million in the coming fiscal year. This isn’t just stupid and short-sighted: it’s deadly.
But there are countervailing forces fighting back, from a strong local bicycle movement to this fall’s high-speed rail bond measure to the international car-free movement, whose biggest annual event, the International Carfree Conference, will be held in Portland next month, the first time it has been in the U.S. And the Guardian will be there (arriving by train) with live daily coverage and interviews with leading thinkers and activists. Stay tuned.

Growing up


› news@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY Arguments about urban sprawl and the need to drastically improve transit services at the Transbay Terminal are driving plans for massive new skyscrapers in the SoMa District. Although the project is still in its initial phase, as many as seven towers — some higher than the Transamerica Pyramid — would surround the centerpiece Transbay Tower.

At an April 30 public hearing on the project at Golden Gate University, about 150 people, mostly developers and architects, voiced their opinions as they listened to the city’s updates on the proposal. For the most part, the business community audience wanted buildings as high as possible and felt that even the city’s most ambitious proposal, to build a Transbay Tower more than 1,200 feet high — almost twice the height of One Rincon Hill — was insufficient.

"I support raising the heights. By increasing density, we’re taking better care of our environment," Rincon Hill resident Jamie Whitaker told the room.

The original plan called for a 550-foot Transbay Tower, but the city wants to double its height to ensure sufficient funds for the Transit Center, the Caltrain extension, and other infrastructure improvements. The project’s environmental impact report will study three height options: 850, 1,000, and 1,200 feet. The addition of a couple of hundred feet would raise revenue from about $150 million to between $310 million and $410 million, according to the San Francisco Planning Department.

Although increasing the height of the planned office buildings will bring in more money for other improvements, the increased density comes with transit and quality of life costs. Some worry that the higher population will create an unlivable space.

"Mission Street is turning into a canyon," Jennifer Clary, president of the urban environmental group SF Tomorrow, told the Guardian. "Already there are virtually no parks in this side of the city. They’re creating a demand for more open space, but they’re not fulfilling it."

Although a new park will extend about 11 acres on the roof of the Transbay Terminal, some existing open spaces may be in jeopardy. If the Transbay Tower is higher than 1,000 feet, it will cast a shadow for part of the day over Justin Herman Plaza and possibly Portsmouth Square.

Even though Proposition K, which passed in 1984, states that new buildings cannot cast shadows on public parks, the city’s planning department has the ability to waive that rule. "The law says no new ‘significant’ shadows, so it’s really a judgment call and can be interpreted in a variety of ways," Joshua Switzky, project manager for the San Francisco Planning Department told the Guardian.

For example, the city allowed the Asian Art Museum, remodeled in 2003, to cast a small shadow over Civic Center Plaza. "Shadow impacts can be precisely calculated, and we’re working to mitigate the impact on parks," Switzky said.

In addition to thoughts on how to keep parks sunny, several ideas to ease congestion were introduced at the meeting, including changing one-way streets, restricting terminal access to public vehicles, installing more bike lanes, and increasing curb width.

According to a 2004 Planning Department study, 70 percent of downtown workers commute using public transit, 17 percent drive, and the rest walk or bike. Sufficient funding has yet to be secured to connect Caltrain tracks to the Transbay Terminal, instead of its present end at 4th and King streets. Either way, the planning department hopes to increase commuters using transit by 6 percent, according to the April 2008 Transit Center District Plan.

"Right now all we have is a huge skyscraper for a bus terminal, and it’s not clear if the city will invest the extra money from taller buildings to improve transit," Clary told us.

The planning department estimates it will need an additional $1.9 billion to connect Caltrain, and if it doesn’t reach that goal, SoMa may be inundated by even more cars since there will be no direct commute route from the Peninsula to the new Transbay Terminal offices. In November, California voters will decide on a $10 billion bond measure to create a high-speed rail line linking Los Angeles to San Francisco at the new Transbay Terminal, the centerpiece of the planned project.

The next public meeting will be held at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts on Thursday, May 8 at 5:30 p.m.



>>Click here for the full-text version of this story

Wait, wasn’t the primary election back in February? Yes, it was — in a way. The California Legislature, in an effort to make the state more relevant (that turned out well, didn’t it?) moved the presidential primary several months earlier this year but left the rest of the primary races, and some key initiatives, for the June 3 ballot. There’s a lot at stake here: three contested Legislative races, two judicial races, a measure that could end rent control in California … vote early and often. Our endorsements follow.

National races

Congress, District 6


It’s an irony that the congressional representative from Marin and Sonoma counties is far to the left of the representative from San Francisco, but Lynn Woolsey’s politics put Nancy Pelosi to shame. Woolsey was against the Iraq war from the start and the first member of Congress to demand that the troops come home, and she continues to speak out on the issue. At the same time, she’s also a strong advocate for injured veterans.

Woolsey, who once upon a time (many years ago) was on welfare herself, hasn’t forgotten what it’s like to have trouble making ends meet. She’s a leading voice against cuts in social service spending and is now pushing a bill to increase food stamp benefits. She richly deserves reelection.

Congress, District 7


George Miller, who has represented this East Bay district since 1974, is an effective legislator and strong environmentalist. Sometimes he’s too willing to compromise — he worked with the George W. Bush administration on No Child Left Behind, a disaster of an education bill — but he’s a solid opponent of the war and we’ll endorse him for another term.

Congress, District 8


Cindy Sheehan, the antiwar activist, is moving forward with her campaign to challenge Nancy Pelosi as an independent candidate in November, and we wish her luck. For now, Pelosi, the Speaker of the House and one of the most powerful people in Washington, will easily win the Democratic primary.

But Pelosi long ago stopped representing her San Francisco district. She continues to support full funding for Bush’s war, refused to even consider impeachment (back when it might have made sense), refused to interact with war critics who camped out in front of her house … and still won’t acknowledge it was a mistake to privatize the Presidio. We can’t endorse her.

Congress, District 13


You have to love Pete Stark. The older he gets, the more radical he sounds — and after 32 years representing this East Bay district, he shows no signs of slowing down. Stark is unwilling to be polite or accommodating about the Iraq war. In 2007 he announced on the floor of the House that the Republicans "don’t have money to fund the war or children. But you’re going to spend it to blow up innocent people if we can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the president’s amusement." He happily signed on to a measure to impeach Vice President Dick Cheney. He is the only member of Congress who proudly admits being an atheist. It’s hard to imagine how someone like Stark could get elected today. But we’re glad he’s around.

Nonpartisan offices

Superior Court, Seat 12


There aren’t many former public defenders on the bench in California. For years, governors — both Democratic and Republican — have leaned toward prosecutors and civil lawyers from big downtown firms when they’ve made judicial appointments. So the San Francisco judiciary isn’t, generally speaking, as progressive or diverse as the city.

Sup. Gerardo Sandoval, who will be termed out this year, is looking to become a judge — and there’s no way this governor would ever appoint him. So he’s doing something that’s fairly rare, even in this town: he’s running for election against an incumbent.

We’re happy to see that. It’s heartening to see an actual judicial election. Judges are technically elected officials, but most incumbents retire in the middle of their terms, allowing the governor to appoint their replacements, and unless someone files to run against a sitting judge, his or her name doesn’t even appear on the ballot.

Sandoval is challenging Judge Thomas Mellon, a Republican who was appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson in 1994. He’s not known as a star on the bench: according to California Courts and Judges, a legal journal that profiles judges and includes interviews with lawyers who have appeared before them, Mellon has a reputation for being unreasonable and cantankerous. In 2000, the San Francisco Public Defenders Office sought to have him removed from all criminal cases because of what the defense lawyers saw as a bias against them and their clients.

Sandoval hasn’t been a perfect supervisor, and we’ve disagreed with him on a number of key issues. But he’s promised us to work for more openness in the courts (including open meetings on court administration), and we’ll give him our endorsement.

State races and propositions

State Senate, District 3


It doesn’t get any tougher than this — two strong candidates, each with tremendous appeal and a few serious weaknesses. Two San Francisco progressives with distinguished records fighting for a powerful seat that could possibly be lost to a third candidate, a moderate from Marin County who would be terrible in the job. Two people we genuinely like, for very different reasons. It’s fair to say that this is one of the hardest decisions we’ve had to make in the 42-year history of the Guardian.

In the end, we’ve decided — with much enthusiasm and some reservations — to endorse Assemblymember Mark Leno.

We will start with the obvious: this race is the result of term limits. Leno, who has served in the state Assembly for six years, argues, convincingly, that he is challenging incumbent state Sen. Carole Migden because he feels she hasn’t been doing the job. But Leno also loves politics, has no desire to return to life outside the spotlight, and if he could have stayed in the Assembly, the odds that he would have taken on this ugly and difficult race are slim. And if Leno hadn’t opened the door and exposed Migden’s vulnerability, there’s no way former Assemblymember Joe Nation of Marin would have thrown his hat into the ring. We’ve always opposed term limits; we still do.

That said, we’ll hold a few truths to be self-evident: In a one-party town, the only way any incumbent is ever held accountable is through a primary challenge. Those challenges can be unpleasant, and some — including Migden and many of her allies — argue that they’re a waste of precious resources. If Migden wasn’t scrambling to hold onto her seat, she’d be spending her money and political capital trying to elect more Democrats to the state Legislature. But Leno had every right to take on Migden. And win or lose, he has done a laudable public service: it’s been years since we’ve seen Migden around town, talking to constituents, returning phone calls and pushing local issues the way she has in the past few months. And while there will be some anger and bitterness when this is over — and some friends and political allies have been at each other’s throats and will have to figure out how to put that behind them — on balance this has been good for San Francisco. Migden has done much good, much to be proud of, but she had also become somewhat imperious and arrogant, a politician who hadn’t faced a serious election in more than a decade. If this election serves as a reminder to every powerful Democratic legislator that no seat is truly safe (are you listening, Nancy Pelosi?), then the result of what now seems like a political bloodbath can be only positive.

The Third Senate District, a large geographic area that stretches from San Francisco north into Sonoma County, needs an effective, progressive legislator who can promote issues and programs in a body that is not known as a bastion of liberal thought.

Both Migden and Leno can make a strong case on that front. Leno, for example, managed to get passed and signed into law a bill that amends the notorious pro-landlord Ellis Act to protect seniors and disabled people from evictions. He got both houses of the Legislature to approve a marriage-equality bill — twice. During his tenure in the unpleasant job of chairing the Public Safety Committee, he managed to kill a long list of horrible right-wing bills and was one of the few legislators to take a stand against the foolish measure that barred registered sex offenders from living near a park or school. Migden helped pass the landmark community-aggregation bill that allows cities to take a big step toward public power. She’s also passed several key bills to regulate or ban toxic substances in consumer products.

Migden’s record isn’t all positive, though. For a time, she was the chair of the powerful Appropriations Committee — although she gave up that post in 2006, abandoning a job that was important to her district and constituents, to devote more time to campaigning for Steve Westly, a moderate candidate for governor. When we challenged her on that move, she showed her legendary temper, attacking at least one Guardian editor personally and refusing to address the issue at hand. Unfortunately, that isn’t unusual behavior.

Then there’s the matter of ethics and campaign finance laws. The Fair Political Practices Commission has fined Migden $350,000 — the largest penalty ever assessed against a state lawmaker — for 89 violations of campaign finance laws. We take that seriously; the Guardian has always strongly supported ethics and campaign-finance laws, and this level of disregard for the rules raises serious doubts for us about Migden’s credibility.

Sup. Chris Daly posted an open letter to us on his blog last week, and he made a strong pitch for Migden: "While there are only a few differences between Carole and Mark Leno on the issues," he wrote, "when it comes to San Francisco politics, the two are in warring political factions. Carole has used her position in Sacramento consistently to help progressive candidates and causes in San Francisco, while Leno is a kinder, gentler Gavin Newsom."

He’s absolutely right. On the local issues we care about, Migden has been with us far more than Leno. When the public power movement needed money and support in 2002, Migden was there for us. When the University of California and a private developer were trying to turn the old UC Extension campus into luxury housing, Migden was the one who helped Sup. Ross Mirkarimi demand more affordable units. Migden was the one who helped prevent a bad development plan on the Port. Migden stood with the progressives in denouncing Newsom’s budget — and Leno stood with the mayor.

The district supervisorial battles this fall will be crucial to the city’s future, and Migden has already endorsed Eric Mar, the best progressive candidate for District 1, and will almost certainly be with John Avalos, the leading progressive in District 11. Leno may well back a Newsom moderate. In fact, he’s made himself a part of what labor activist Robert Haaland aptly calls the "squishy center" in San Francisco, the realm of the weak, the fearful, and the downtown sycophants who refuse to promote progressive taxes, regulations, and budgets at City Hall. His allegiance to Newsom is truly disturbing.

There’s a war for the soul of San Francisco today, as there has been for many years, and Leno has often tried to straddle the battle lines, sometimes leaning a bit to the wrong camp — and never showing the courage to fight at home for the issues he talks about in Sacramento. We’ll stipulate to that — and the only reason we can put it aside for the purposes of this endorsement is that Leno has never really had much in the way of coattails. He supports the wrong candidates, but he doesn’t do much for them — and we sincerely hope it stays that way.

While Leno is too close to Newsom, we will note that Migden is far too close to Gap founder and Republican leader Don Fisher, one of the most evil players in local politics. She proudly pushed to put Fisher — who supports privatizing public schools — on the state Board of Education.

A prominent local progressive, who we won’t identify by name, called us several months ago to ask how were going to come down in this race, and when we confessed indecision, he said: "You know, I really want to support Carole. But she makes it so hard."

We find ourselves in a similar position. We really wanted to support Migden in this race. We’d prefer to see the state senator from San Francisco using her fundraising ability and influence to promote the candidates and causes we care about.

But Migden has serious political problems right now, baggage we can’t ignore — and it’s all of her own making. Migden says her problems with the Fair Political Practices Commission are little more than technical mistakes — but that’s nonsense. She’s played fast and loose with campaign money for years. When it comes to campaign finance laws, Migden has always acted as if she rules don’t apply to her. She’s treated FPPC fines as little more than a cost of doing business. This latest scandal isn’t an exception; it’s the rule.

Unfortunately, it’s left her in a position where she’s going to have a hard time winning. Today, the election looks like a two-person race between Leno and Nation. And the threat of Joe Nation winning this primary is too great for us to mess around.

Despite our criticism of both candidates, we would be happy with either in the state Senate. We’re taking a chance with Leno; he’s shown some movement toward the progressive camp, and he needs to continue that. If he wins, he will have a huge job to do bringing a fractured queer and progressive community back together — and the way to do that is not by simply going along with everything Newsom wants. Leno has to show some of the same courage at home he’s shown in Sacramento.

But right now, today, we’ve endorsing Mark Leno for state Senate.

State Senate, District 9


This is another of several tough calls, another creature of term limits that pit two accomplished and experienced termed-out progressive assembly members against each other for the senate seat of termed-out Don Perata. We’ve supported both Loni Hancock and Wilma Chan in the past, and we like both of them. In this one, on balance, we’re going with Hancock.

Hancock has a lifetime of experience in progressive politics. She was elected to the Berkeley City Council in 1971, served two terms as Berkeley mayor, worked as the US Department of Education’s western regional director under Bill Clinton, and has been in the State Assembly the past six years. On just about every progressive issue in the state, she’s been an activist and a leader. And at a time when the state is facing a devastating, crippling budget crisis that makes every other issue seem unimportant, Hancock seems to have a clear grasp of the problem and how to address it. She’s thought through the budget calculus and offers a range of new revenue measures and a program to change the rules for budget passage (two-thirds vote in the legislature is needed to pass any budget bill, which gives Republicans, all but one who has taken a Grover Norquist–inspired pledge never to raise taxes, an effective veto).

Chan, who represented Oakland in the assembly for six years, is a fighter: she’s taken on the insurance industry (by cosponsoring a major single-payer health insurance bill), the chemical industry (by pushing to ban toxic materials in furniture, toys, and plumbing fixtures), and the alcoholic-beverages lobby (by seeking taxes to pay for treatment for young alcoholics). She’s an advocate of sunshine, not just in government, where she’s calling for an earlier and more open budget process, but also in the private sector: a Chan bill sought to force health insurance companies to make public the figures on how often they decline claims.

But she seems to us to have less of a grasp of the budget crisis and the level of political organizing it will take to solve it. Right now, at a time of financial crisis, we’re going with Hancock’s experience and broader vision.

State Assembly, District 12


We were dubious about Ma. She was a pretty bad supervisor, and when she first ran for Assembly two years ago, we endorsed her opponent. But Ma’s done some good things in Sacramento — she’s become one of the leading supporters of high-speed rail, and she’s working against state Sen. Leland Yee’s attempt to give away 60 acres of public land around the Cow Palace to a private developer. She has no primary opponent, and we’ll endorse her for another term.

State Assembly, District 13


This one’s easy. Ammiano, who has been a progressive stalwart on the Board of Supervisors for more than 15 years, is running with no opposition in the Democratic primary for state Assembly, and we’re proud to endorse his bid.

Although he’s certain to win, it’s worth taking a moment to recall the extent of Ammiano’s service to San Francisco and the progressive movement. He authored the city’s domestic partners law. He authored the living wage law. He created the universal health care program that Mayor Newsom is trying to take credit for. He sponsored the 2002 public-power measure that would have won if the election hadn’t been stolen. He created the Children’s Fund. He authored the Rainy Day Fund law that is now saving the public schools in San Francisco. And the list goes on and on.

Beyond his legislative accomplishments, Ammiano has been a leader — at times, the leader — of the city’s progressive movement and is at least in part responsible for the progressive majority now on the Board of Supervisors. In the bleak days before district elections, he was often the only supervisor who would carry progressive bills. His 1999 mayoral challenge to incumbent Willie Brown marked a tectonic shift in local politics, galvanizing the left and leading the way to the district-election victories that brought Aaron Peskin, Matt Gonzalez, Jake McGoldrick, Chris Daly, and Gerardo Sandoval to office in 2000.

It’s hard to imagine the San Francisco left without him.

Ammiano will do a fine job in Sacramento, and will continue to use his influence to push the progressive agenda back home.

State Assembly, District 14


This is another tough one. The race to replace Loni Hancock, one of the most progressive and effective legislators in the state, has drawn two solid, experienced, and well-qualified candidates: Berkeley City Council member Kriss Worthington and former council member Nancy Skinner. We like Skinner, and she would make an excellent assemblymember. But all things considered, we’re going with Worthington.

Skinner was on the Berkeley council from 1984 to 1992 and was part of a progressive majority in the 1980s that redefined how the left could run a city. That council promoted some of the best tenant protection and rent control laws in history, created some of the best local environmental initiatives, and fought to build affordable housing and fund human services. Skinner was responsible for the first local law in the United States to ban Styrofoam containers — a measure that caused McDonald’s to change its food-packaging policies nationwide. She went on to found a nonprofit that helps cities establish sustainable environmental policies.

Skinner told us that California has "gutted our commitment to education," and she vowed to look for creative new ways to raise revenue to pay for better schools. She’s in touch with the best economic thinkers in Sacramento, has the endorsement of Hancock (and much of the rest of the East Bay Democratic Party establishment), and would hit the ground running in the legislature.

Worthington, Berkeley’s only openly gay council member, has been the voice and conscience of the city’s progressive community for the past decade. He’s also been one of the hardest-working politicians in the city — a recent study by a group of UC Berkeley students found that he had written more city council measures than anyone else currently on the council and had won approval for 98 percent of them.

Worthington has been the driving force for a more effective sunshine law in Berkeley, and has been unafraid to challenge the liberal mayor, Tom Bates, and other leading Democrats. His campaign slogan — "a Democrat with a backbone" — has infuriated some of the party hierarchy with its clear (and intended) implication that a lot of other Democrats lack a spine.

"All of the Democrats in the assembly voted for 50,000 more prison beds," he told us. "We needed a Barbara Lee [who cast Congress’ lone vote against George W. Bush’s first war resolution] to stand up and say, ‘this is wrong and I won’t go along.’"

That’s one of the things we like best about Worthington: on just about every issue and front, he’s willing to push the envelope and demand that other Democrats, even other progressive Democrats, stand up and be counted. Which is exactly what we expect from someone who represents one of the most progressive districts in the state.

It’s a close call, but on this one, we’re supporting Kriss Worthington.

State ballot measures

Proposition 98

Abolition of rent control


Proposition 99

Eminent domain reforms


There’s a little rhyme to help you remember which way to vote on this critical pair of ballot measures:

"We hate 98, but 99 is fine."

The issue here is eminent domain, which is making its perennial ballot appearance. Californians don’t like the idea of the government seizing their property and handing it over to private developers, and the most conservative right-wing forces in the state are trying to take advantage of that.

Think about this: if Prop. 98 passes, there will be no more rent control in California. That means thousands of San Francisco tenants will lose their homes. Many could become homeless. Others will have to leave town. All the unlawful-evictions laws will be tossed out. So will virtually any land-use regulations, which is why all the environmental groups also oppose Prop. 98.

In fact, everyone except the Howard Jarvis anti-tax group hates this measure, including seniors, farmers, water districts, unions, and — believe it or not — the California Chamber of Commerce.

Prop. 99, on the other hand, is an unapologetic poison-pill measure that’s been put on the ballot for two reasons: to fix the eminent domain law once and for all, and kill Prop. 98 if it passes. It’s simply worded and goes to the heart of the problem by preventing government agencies from seizing residential property to turn over to private developers. If it passes, the state will finally get beyond the bad guys using the cloak of eminent domain to destroy all the provisions protecting people and the environment.

If anyone has any doubts about the motivation here, take a look at the money: the $3 million to support Prop. 98 came almost entirely from landlords.

This is the single most important issue on the ballot. Remember: no on 98, yes on 99.

San Francisco measures

Proposition A

School parcel tax


Every year, hundreds of excellent teachers leave the San Francisco Unified School District. Some retire after a career in the classroom, but too many others — young teachers with three to five years of experience — bail because they decide they can’t make enough money. San Francisco pays less than public school districts in San Mateo and Marin counties and far less than private and charter schools. And given the high cost of living in the city, a lot of qualified people never even consider teaching as a profession. That harms the public school system and the 58,000 students who rely on it.

It’s a statewide problem, even a national one — but San Francisco, with a remarkable civic unity, is moving to do something about it. Proposition A would place an annual tax on every parcel of land in the city; the typical homeowner would pay less than $200 a year. The money would go directly to increasing pay — mostly starting pay — for teachers. The proposition, which has the support of almost everyone in town except the Republican Party, is properly targeted toward the newer teachers, with the goal of keeping the best teachers on the job past that critical three to five years.

Parcel taxes aren’t perfect; they force homeowners and small businesses to pay the same rate as huge commercial property owners. The way land is divided in the city most big downtown properties sit on at least five, and sometimes as many as 10 or 20 parcels, so the bill will be larger for them. But it’s still nowhere near proportionate.

Still, Prop. 13 has made it almost impossible to raise ad valorum property taxes (based on a property’s assessed value) in the state, and communities all around the Bay are using parcel taxes as a reasonable if imperfect substitute.

There’s a strong campaign for Prop. A and not much in the way of organized opposition, but the measure still needs a two-thirds vote. So for the sake of public education in San Francisco, it’s critical to vote yes.

Proposition B

City retiree benefits change


San Francisco has always offered generous health and retirement benefits to its employees. That’s a good thing. But in this unfortunate era, when federal money is getting sucked into Iraq, state money is going down the giant deficit rat hole, and nobody is willing to raise taxes, the bill for San Francisco’s expensive employee benefit programs is now looking to create a fiscal crisis at City Hall. Officials estimate the payout for current and past employees could total $4 billion over the next 30 years.

So Sup. Sean Elsbernd and his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors have engineered this smart compromise measure in a way that saves the city money over the long run and has the support of labor unions (largely because it includes an increase in the pensions for longtime employees, partially offset by a one-year wage freeze starting in 2009) while still offering reasonable retirements benefits for new employees.

Previously, city employees who worked just five years could get taxpayer-paid health benefits for life. Under this measure, it will take 20 years to get fully paid health benefits, with partially paid benefits after 10 years.

It’s rare to find an issue that has the support of virtually everyone, from the supervisors and the mayor to labor. Prop. B makes sense. Vote yes.

Proposition C

Benefit denials for convicts


On the surface, it’s hard to argue against Prop. C, a measure promoted as a way to keep crooks from collecting city retirement benefits. Sup. Sean Elsbernd’s ballot measure would update an ordinance that’s been on the books in San Francisco for years, one that strips public employees found guilty of "crimes of moral turpitude" against the city of their pensions. A recent court case involving a worker who stole from the city raised doubt about whether that law also applied to disability pay, and Prop. C would clear up that possible loophole.

But there are drawbacks this measure.

For starters, the problem isn’t that big: cases of rejected retirement benefits for city workers are rare. And the law still uses that questionable phrase "moral turpitude" — poorly defined in state law, never clearly defined in this measure, and as any older gay person can tell you, in the past applied to conduct that has nothing to do with honesty. The US State Department considers "bastardy," "lewdness," "mailing an obscene letter" and "desertion from the armed forces," among other things, to be crimes of moral turpitude.

Besides, Prop. C would apply not only to felonies but to misdemeanors. Cutting off disability pay for life over a misdemeanor offense seems awfully harsh.

The law that Elsbernd wants to expand ought to be rethought and reconfigured for the modern era. So vote no on C.

Proposition D

Appointments to city commissions


Prop. D is a policy statement urging the mayor and the supervisors to appoint more women, minorities, and people with disabilities to city boards and commissions. It follows a study by the Commission on the Status of Women that such individuals are underrepresented on the policy bodies that run many city operations.

Despite the overblown concerns raised by local Republicans in the ballot arguments, this advisory measure would do nothing to interfere with qualified white males — or anyone else — getting slots on commissions.

Vote yes.

Proposition E

Board approval of San Francisco Public Utilities Commission appointees


"The last thing we need is more politics at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission," was the first line in Mayor Gavin Newsom’s ballot argument against Prop. E. That’s ironic: it was Newsom’s recent political power play — including the unexplained ousting of SFPUC General Manager Susan Leal and the partially successful effort to reappoint his political allies to this important body — that prompted this long overdue reform.

The SFPUC is arguably the most powerful and important of the city commissions, controlling all the vital resources city residents need: water, power, and waste disposal chief among them. Yet with the mayor controlling all appointments to the commission (it takes a two-thirds vote of the Board of Supervisors to challenge an appointment), that panel has long been stacked with worthless political hacks. As a result, the panel never pursued progressive approaches to conservation, environmental justice, public power, or aggressive development of renewable power sources.

Prop. E attempts to break that political stranglehold by requiring majority confirmation by the Board of Supervisors for all SFPUC appointments. It also mandates that appointees have some experience or expertise in matters important to the SFPUC.

If anything, this reform is too mild: we would have preferred that the board have the authority to name some of the commissioners. But that seemed unlikely to pass, so the board settled for a modest attempt to bring some oversight to the powerful panel.

Vote yes on Prop. E — because the last thing we need is more politics at the SFPUC.

Proposition F

Hunters Point-Bayview redevelopment


Proposition G


On the face of it, Proposition G sounds like a great way to restart the long-idle economic engine of the Bayview and clean up the heavily polluted Hunters Point Shipyard.

Who could be against a plan that promises up to 10,000 new homes, 300 acres of new parks, 8,000 permanent jobs, a green tech research park, a new 49ers stadium, a permanent home for shipyard artists, and a rebuild of Alice Griffith housing project?

The problem with Prop. G is that its promises are, for the most part, just that: promises — which could well shift at any time, driven by the bottom line of Lennar Corp., a financially stressed, out-of-state developer that has already broken trust with the Bayview’s low-income and predominantly African American community.

Lennar has yet to settle with the Bay Area air quality district over failures to control asbestos dust at a 1,500-unit condo complex on the shipyard, where for months the developer kicked up clouds of unmonitored toxic asbestos dust next to a K-12 school.

So, the idea of giving this corporation more land — including control of the cleanup of a federal Superfund site — as part of a plan that also allows it to construct a bridge over a slough restoration project doesn’t sit well with community and environmental groups. And Prop. G’s promise to build "as many as 25 percent affordable" housing units doesn’t impress affordable housing activists.

What Prop. G really means is that Lennar, which has already reneged on promises to create much-needed rental units at the shipyard, now plans to build at least 75 percent of its housing on this 770-acre waterfront swathe as luxury condos.

And with the subprime mortgage crisis continuing to roil the nation, there is a real fear that Prop. G’s final "affordability" percentage will be set by Lennar’s profit margins and not the demographics of the Bayview, home to the city’s last major African American community and many low-income people of color.

There’s more: The nice green space that you see in the slick Lennar campaign fliers is toxic and may not be fully cleaned up. Under the plan, Lennar would put condo towers on what is now state parkland, and in exchange the city would get some open space with artificial turf on top that would be used for parking during football games. Assuming, that is, that a deal to build a new stadium for the 49ers — which is part of all of this — ever comes to pass.

In fact, the lion’s share of a recent $82 million federal funding allocation will be dedicated to cleaning up the 27-acre footprint proposed for a new stadium. In some places, the city is planning to cap contaminated areas, rather than excavate and remove toxins from the site.

If the environmental justice and gentrification questions swirling around Prop. G weren’t enough, there remains Prop. G’s claim that it will create 8,000 permanent jobs once the project is completed. There’s no doubt that the construction of 10,000 mostly luxury homes will create temporary construction jobs, but it’s not clear what kind of jobs the resulting gentrified neighborhood will provide and for whom.

But one thing is clear: the $1 million that Lennar has already plunked down to influence this election has overwhelmingly gone to line the pockets of the city’s already highly paid political elite, and not the people who grew up and still live in the Bayview.

But there’s an alternative.

Launched as a last-ditch effort to prevent wholesale gentrification of the Bayview, Proposition F requires that 50 percent of the housing in the BVHP/Candlestick Point project be affordable to those making less than the median area income ($68,000 for a family of four).

That’s a reasonable mandate, considering that the city’s own general plan calls for two-thirds of all new housing to be sold or rented at below-market rates.

And if the new housing is built along Lennar’s plans, it will be impossible to avoid large-scale gentrification and displacement in a neighborhood that has the highest percentage of African Americans in the city, the third highest population of children, and burgeoning Latino and Asian immigrant populations.

Lennar is balking at that level, saying a 50-percent affordability mandate would make the project financially unfeasible. But if Lennar can’t afford to develop this area at levels affordable to the community that lives in and around the area, the city should scrap this redevelopment plan, send this developer packing, and start over again.

San Francisco has an affordable housing crisis, and we continue to doubt whether the city needs any more million-dollar condos — and we certainly don’t need them in a redevelopment area in the southeast. Remember: this is 700 acres of prime waterfront property that Lennar will be getting for free. The deal on the table just isn’t good enough.

Vote yes on F and no on G.

Proposition H

Campaign committees


This one sounds just fine. Promoted by Mayor Gavin Newsom, Proposition H is supposedly aimed at ensuring that elected officials don’t solicit money from city contractors for campaigns they are sponsoring. But it lacks a crucial legal definition — and that turns what ought to be a worthy measure into little more than an attack on Newsom’s foes on the Board of Supervisors.

The key element is something called a "controlled committee." It’s already illegal for city contractors to give directly to candidates who might later vote on their contracts. Prop. H would extend that ban to committees, typically run for or against ballot measures, that are under the control of an individual politician.

Take this one, for example. Since Newsom put this on the ballot, and will be campaigning for it, the Yes on H campaign is under his control — he would be barred from collecting cash from city contractors, right? Well, no.

See, the measure doesn’t define what "controlled committee" means. So a group of Newsom’s allies could set up a Yes on H fund, raise big money from city contractors, then simply say that Newsom wasn’t officially aware of it or involved in its operation.

When Newsom first ran for mayor, the committee supporting his signature initiative — Care Not Cash — raised a fortune, and the money directly helped his election. But that wasn’t legally a "controlled committee" — because Newsom never signed the documents saying he was in control.

Prop. H does nothing to change that rule, which means it would only affect campaign committees that a politician admits to controlling. And guess what? Newsom almost never admits that, while the supervisors, particularly board president Aaron Peskin, are a bit more honest.

When Newsom wants to clearly define "controlled committee" — in a way that would have brought the Care Not Cash effort under the law — we’ll go along with it. For now, though, vote no on H.

San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee

The DCCC is the policy-making and operating arm of the local Democratic Party, and it has a lot of influence: the party can endorse in nonpartisan elections — for San Francisco supervisor, for example — and its nod gives candidates credibility and money. There’s been a struggle between the progressives and the moderates for years — and this time around, there’s a serious, concerted effort for a progressive slate. The Hope Slate, which we endorse in its entirety, has the potential to turn the San Francisco Democratic Party into a leading voice for progressive values.

There are other good candidates running, but since this group will have consistent support and is running as a slate, we’re going with the full crew.

13th Assembly District

Bill Barnes, David Campos, David Chiu, Chris Daly, Michael Goldstein, Robert Haaland, Joe Julian, Rafael Mandelman, Aaron Peskin, Eric Quezada, Laura Spanjian, Debra Walker

12th Assembly District

Michael Bornstein, Emily Drennen, Hene Kelly, Eric Mar, Jake McGoldrick, Trevor McNeil, Jane Morrison, Melanie Nutter, Connie O’Connor, Giselle Quezada, Arlo Hale Smith

Alameda County races

Superior Court judge, Seat 21


There are two good candidates running for this open seat. Dennis Hayashi, a public-interest lawyer, would make a fine judge. Victoria Kolakowski would make history.

Kolakowski, who works as an administrative law judge for the California Public Utilities Commission, would be the first transgender person on the Alameda bench and, quite possibly, in the entire country. That would be a major breakthrough and important for more than just symbolic reasons: transpeople have extensive interactions with the judicial system, starting with the work to legally change their names; and, all too often, members of this marginalized community wind up in the criminal justice system. Having a sitting TG judge would go a long way toward educating the legal world about the importance of trans sensitivity.

Kolakowski is eminently qualified for the job: as a private intellectual property lawyer and later an ALJ at the CPUC, she’s handled a range of complex legal issues. She currently oversees administrative hearings that are very similar to court proceedings, and she has a calm and fair judicial temperament.

That’s not to denigrate Hayashi, who also has an impressive résumé. He’s spend much of his life in public-interest law, working for many years with the Asian Law Caucus, and he was co-counsel in the historic case that challenged Fred Korematsu’s conviction for refusing to report to a Japanese internment camp during World War II. He’s run the state’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing and was a civil rights lawyer in the Clinton administration.

We’d be happy to see either on the bench, but we’re going to endorse Kolakowski.

Board of Supervisors, District 5


Keith Carson, the leading progressive on the board, has no real opposition this time around. He’s been a voice for protecting the fragile social safety net of the county, and we’re happy to endorse him for another term.

Oakland races

City Attorney


John Russo, who has made no secrets of his political ambition, failed in a bid to win the State Assembly seat for District 16 in 2006, and now he’s running unopposed for reelection. Russo has voiced some pretty ridiculous sentiments: he told a magazine for landlords in May 2006 that he opposed all forms of rent control and was against laws requiring just cause for evictions. That’s a horrible stand for a city attorney to take in a city with a huge population of renters. But Russo is smart and capable, and he’s one of the few city attorneys who consistently supports sunshine laws. We’ll endorse him for another term.

City Council, District 1


An attorney and former teacher, Jane Brunner spends a lot of time pushing for more cops; crime is the top issue in the North Oakland district she represents. And while we’d rather see anticrime approaches that go beyond hiring more officers, we appreciate that Brunner takes on the police department over its hiring failures. We also find her far more preferable on the issue than her opponent, Patrick McCullough, a longtime neighborhood activist who has become something of a celebrity since he shot a teenager who was hassling him in front of his house in 2005.

Brunner is one of the council’s strongest affordable housing advocates and has worked tirelessly for an inclusionary housing law. She deserves reelection.

City Council, District 3


Nadel is hardworking, effective, a leader on progressive economic and planning issues, and one of the best members of the Oakland City Council. She asked the hard questions and demanded improvements in the giant Oak to Ninth project (although she wound up voting for it). She’s pushing for better community policing and promoting community-based anticrime efforts, including a teen center in a part of her district where there have been several homicides. She was a principal architect of the West Oakland industrial zoning plan, which she hopes will attract new jobs to the community (although she also pissed off a few artists who fear they’ll be evicted from living spaces that aren’t up to code, and she needs to address the problem). We’re happy to endorse her for another term.

City Council, District 5


Somebody has to try to oust Ignacio De La Fuente, and this time around, Juarez is the best bet. A small-businessperson (he runs a real-estate operation with around 60 employees), he has some surprisingly progressive positions: he not only supports inclusionary housing but told us that he wanted to see the percentage of affordable units increased from 15 to 25 percent. He wants to see community policing integrated fully into Oakland law enforcement. He suggested that Oakland look into putting a modest fee on all airport users to fund local education. And he’s in favor of stronger eviction controls and tenant protections.

De La Fuente, the City Council president, has been the developers’ best friend, has run meetings with a harsh hand, often cutting off debate and silencing community activists, and needs to be defeated. We know Juarez isn’t perfect, but his progressive grassroots-based campaign was strong enough to get him the nod of both the Democratic Party and the Alameda County Greens. We’ll endorse him, too.

City Council, District 7


Neither of the candidates in this race are terribly impressive, but incumbent Larry Reid has been so terrible on so many issues (supporting big-box development, inviting the Marines to do war games in Oakland, supporting condo conversions, etc.) that it’s hard to imagine how Clifford Gilmore, director of the Oakland Coalition of Congregations, could be worse.

City Council, at large


Rebecca Kaplan is exactly what the Oakland City Council needs: an energetic progressive with the practical skills to get things done. As an AC Transit Board member, she pushed for free bus passes for low income youths — and defying all odds, managed to get all-night transit service from San Francisco to the East Bay. She did it by refusing to accept the conventional wisdom that transit agencies on the two sides of the bay would never cooperate. She put the key players together in a meeting, convinced the San Francisco supervisors to allow AC Transit buses to pick up passengers in the city late at night, and put through an effective program to get people across the bay after BART shuts down.

Kaplan is running for City Council on a progressive platform calling for affordable housing, rational development, and community policing. Her latest idea: since Oakland has so much trouble attracting quality candidates for vacancies in its police department, she suggests the city recruit gay and lesbian military veterans who were kicked out under the Pentagon’s homophobic policies. Her proposed slogan: "Uncle Sam doesn’t want you, but Oakland does."

Vote for Rebecca Kaplan.

School Board, District 1


The Oakland schools are still stuck under a state administrator; the district, which was driven by mismanagement into a financial crisis several years ago, paid the price of a state bailout by giving up its independence. The school board has only limited authority of district operations, though that’s slowly changing. The state allowed the board to hire an interim superintendent, meaning issues like curricula and programs will be back under local control. So it’s a time of transition for a district that has had horrible problems, and the board needs experienced, level-headed leadership.

We’re impressed with Jody London, a parent with children in the public schools who runs a small environmental consulting firm. She has been active in the district, co-chairing the 2006 bond campaign that raised $435 million and serving on the bond oversight committee. She has a grasp of fiscal management, understands the challenges the district faces, and has the energy to take them on.

Her main opposition is Brian Rogers, a Republican who has the backing of outgoing state senator Don Perata and is a big fan of private charter schools. Tennessee Reed, a young writer and editor, is also in the race, and we’re glad to see her getting active. But on balance, London is the clear choice.

School Board, District 3


Not a great choice here — we’re not thrilled with either of the two contenders. Jumoke Hinton Hodge, a nonprofit consultant, is too willing to support charter schools. Oluwole, who works with parolees, has limited experience with education. But on the basis of his community background (he’s on the board of the Oakland Community Organization) and our concern about Hodge and charter schools, we’ll go with Oluwole.

School Board, District 5


Noel Gallo, the incumbent, is running unopposed. He’s been a competent member of the board, and we see no reason not to support his reelection.

School Board, District 7


Alice Spearman, the incumbent, isn’t the most inspiring member of the board — and she’s known for making some ill-considered and impolitic statements. But her main opponent, Doris Limbrick, is the principal of a Christian school and has no business running for the board of a public school district. So we’ll go with Spearman again.

Alameda County measures

Measure F

Utility users tax


Measure F extends and slightly increases the utility tax on unincorporated areas of the county. It’s not the greatest tax, but it’s not terrible — and it provides essential revenue to pay for services like law enforcement, libraries, and code enforcement. The parts of Alameda County outside any city boundary have been dwindling as cities expand, but the county provides the only local government services in those areas. And, like every other county in California, Alameda is desperately short of cash. So Measure F is crucial. Vote yes.

Oakland Measure J

Telephone-user tax


Measure J would update a 40-year-old tax on phone use that goes for local services. The tax law applies only to old-fashioned land lines, so cell phone users get away without paying. This isn’t the world’s most progressive tax, but Oakland needs the money and Measure J would more fairly share the burden. Vote yes.

Transit or traffic


Click here for the Clean Slate: Our printout guide to the Nov. 6 election

› steve@sfbg.com

San Francisco is at a crossroads. The streets are congested, Muni has slowed to a crawl, greenhouse gas emissions are at all-time highs, and the towers of new housing now being built threaten to make all of these transportation-related problems worse.

The problems are complicated and defy simply sloganeering — but they aren’t unsolvable. In fact, there’s remarkable consensus in San Francisco about what needs to be done. The people with advanced degrees in transportation and city planning, the mayor and almost all of the supervisors, the labor and environmental movements, the urban planning organizations, the radical left and the mainstream Democrats — everyone without an ideological aversion to government is on the same page here.

The city planners and transportation experts, who have the full support of the grass roots on this issue, are pushing a wide range of solutions: administrative and technical changes to make Muni more efficient, innovative congestion management programs, high-tech meters that use market principles to free up needed parking spaces, creative incentives to discourage solo car trips, capital projects from new bike and rapid-transit lanes to the Central Subway and high-speed rail, and many more ideas.

In fact, the coming year promises a plethora of fresh transportation initiatives. The long-awaited Transit Effectiveness Project recommendations come out in early 2008, followed by those from the San Francisco County Transportation Authority’s Mobility, Access, and Pricing Study (an unprecedented, federally funded effort to reduce congestion here and in four other big cities), an end to the court injunction against new bicycle projects, and a November bond measure that would fund high-speed rail service between downtown San Francisco and Los Angeles.

But first, San Franciscans have to get past a few downtown developers and power brokers who have a simplistic, populist-sounding campaign that could totally undermine smart transportation planning.

On Nov. 6, San Franciscans will vote on propositions A and H, two competing transportation measures that could greatly help or hinder the quest for smart solutions to the current problems. Prop. A would give more money and authority to the San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Agency while demanding it improve Muni and meet climate change goals.

Prop. H, which was placed on the ballot by a few powerful Republicans, most notably Gap founder Don Fisher (who has contributed $180,000 to the Yes on H campaign), would invalidate current city policies to allow essentially unrestricted construction of new parking lots.

New parking turns into more cars, more cars create congestion, congestion slows down bus service, slow buses frustrate riders, who get back into their cars — and the cycle continues. It’s transit against traffic, and the stakes couldn’t be higher.

"If we are serious about doing something about global warming, it’s time to address the elephant in the room: people are going to have to drive less and take transit more" was how the issue was framed in a recent editorial cowritten by Sup. Sean Elsbernd, arguably the board’s most conservative member, and Sup. Aaron Peskin, who wrote Prop. A.

Peskin says Prop. H, which Prop. A would invalidate, is the most damaging and regressive initiative he’s seen in his political life. But the battle for hearts and minds won’t be easy, because the downtown forces are taking a viscerally popular approach and running against city hall.

The San Francisco Examiner endorsed Prop. H on Oct. 22, framing the conflict as between the common sense of "your friends and neighbors" and "a social-engineering philosophy driven by an anti-car and anti-business Board of Supervisors." If the Examiner editorialists were being honest, they probably also should have mentioned Mayor Gavin Newsom, who joins the board majority (and every local environmental and urban-planning group) in supporting Prop. A and opposing Prop. H.

The editorial excoriates "most city politicians and planners" for believing the numerous studies that conclude that people who have their own parking spots are more likely to drive and that more parking generally creates more traffic. The Planning Department, for example, estimates Prop. H "could lead to an increase over the next 20 years of up to approximately 8,200–19,000 additional commute cars (mostly at peak hours) over the baseline existing controls."

"Many, many actual residents disagree, believing that — no matter what the social engineers at City Hall tell you — adding more parking spaces would make The City a far more livable place," the Examiner wrote.

That’s why environmentalists and smart-growth advocates say Prop. H is so insidious. It was written to appeal, in a very simplistic way, to people’s real and understandable frustration over finding a parking spot. But the solution it proffers would make all forms of transportation — driving, walking, transit, and bicycling — remarkably less efficient, as even the Examiner has recognized.

You see, the Examiner was opposed to Prop. H just a couple of months ago, a position the paper recently reversed without really explaining why, except to justify it with reactionary rhetoric such as "Let the politicians know you’re tired of being told you’re a second-class citizen if you drive a car in San Francisco."

Examiner executive editor Jim Pimentel denies the flip-flop was a favor that the Republican billionaire who owns the Examiner, Phil Anschutz, paid to the Republican billionaire who is funding Prop. H, Fisher. "We reserve the right to change on positions," Pimentel told me.

Yet it’s worth considering what the Examiner originally wrote in an Aug. 2 editorial, where it acknowledged people’s desire for more parking but took into account what the measure would do to downtown San Francisco.

The paper wrote, "Closer examination reveals this well-intentioned parking measure as a veritable minefield of unintended consequences. It could actually take away parking, harm business, reduce new housing and drive out neighborhood retail. By now, Californians should be wary of unexpected mischief unleashed from propositions that legislate by direct referendum. Like all propositions, Parking For Neighborhoods was entirely written by its backers. As such, it was never vetted by public feedback or legislative debate. If the initiative organizers had faced harder questioning, they might have recognized that merely adding parking to a fast-growing downtown is likely to make already-bad traffic congestion dramatically worse."

The San Francisco Transportation Authority’s Oct. 17 public workshop, which launched the San Francisco Mobility, Access, and Pricing Study, had nothing to do with Props. A and H — at least not directly. But the sobering situation the workshop laid out certainly supports the assessment that drawing more cars downtown "is likely to make already-bad traffic congestion dramatically worse."

City planners and consultants from PBS&J offered some statistics from their initial studies:

San Francisco has the second-most congested downtown in the country, according to traffic analysts and surveys of locals and tourists, about 90 percent of whom say the congestion is unacceptably bad compared to that of other cities.

Traffic congestion cost the San Francisco economy $2.3 billion in 2005 through slowed commerce, commuter delays, wasted fuel, and environmental impacts.

The length of car trips is roughly doubled by traffic congestion — and getting longer every year — exacerbating the fact that 47 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions come from private cars. Census data also show that more San Franciscans get to work by driving alone in their cars than by any other mode.

Traffic has also steadily slowed Muni, which often shares space with cars, to an average of 8 mph, making it the slowest transit service in the country. Buses now take about twice as long as cars to make the same trip, which discourages their use.

"We want to figure out ways to get people in a more efficient mode of transportation," Zabe Bent, a senior planner with the TA, told the crowd. She added, "We want to make sure congestion is not hindering our growth."

The group is now studying the problem and plans to reveal its preliminary results next spring and recommendations by summer 2008. Among the many tools being contemplated are fees for driving downtown or into other congested parts of the city (similar to programs in London, Rome, and Stockholm, Sweden) and high-tech tools for managing parking (such as the determination of variable rates based on real-time demand, more efficient direction to available spots, and easy ways to feed the meter remotely).

"As a way to manage the scarce resource of parking, we would use pricing as a tool," said Tilly Chang, also a senior planner with the TA, noting that high prices can encourage more turnover at times when demand is high.

Yet there was a visceral backlash at the workshop to such scientifically based plans, which conservatives deride as social engineering. "I don’t understand why we need to spend so much money creating a bureaucracy," one scowling attendee around retirement age said. There were some murmurs of support in the crowd.

Rob Black, the government affairs director for the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, which is the most significant entity to oppose Prop. A and support Prop. H, was quietly watching the proceedings. I asked what he and the chamber thought of the study and its goals.

"We have mixed feelings, and we don’t know what’s going to happen," Black, who ran unsuccessfully against Sup. Chris Daly last year, told me. "The devil is in the details."

But others don’t even want to wait for the details. Alex Belenson, an advertising consultant and Richmond District resident who primarily uses his car to get around town, chastised the planners for overcomplicating what he sees as a "simple" problem.

Vocally and in a four-page memo he handed out, Belenson blamed congestion on the lack of parking spaces, the city’s transit-first policy, and the failure to build more freeways in the city. Strangely, he supports his point with facts that include "Total commuters into, out of, and within San Francisco have only increased by 206,000 since 1960 — more than 145,000 on public transit."

Some might see those figures, derived from census data, as supporting the need for creative congestion management solutions and the expansion of transit and other alternative transportation options. But Belenson simply sees the need for 60,000 new parking spaces.

As he told the gathering, "If someone wants to build a parking lot and the market will support it, they should be able to."

The San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) is generally allied with the downtown business community on most issues, but not Props. A and H, which SPUR says could be unmitigated disasters for San Francisco.

"SPUR is a pro-growth organization, and we want a healthy economy. And we think the only way to be pro-business and pro-growth in San Francisco is to be transit reliant instead of car reliant," SPUR executive director Gabriel Metcalf told me in an interview in his downtown office.

He agreed with Belenson that the free market will provide lots of new parking if it’s allowed to do so, particularly because the regulatory restrictions on parking have artificially inflated its value. "But the negative externalities are very large," Metcalf said, employing the language of market economics.

In other words, the costs of all of that new parking won’t be borne just by the developers and the drivers but by all of the people affected by climate change, air pollution, congested commerce, oil wars, slow public transit, and the myriad other hidden by-products of the car culture that we are just now starting to understand fully.

Yet Metcalf doesn’t focus on that broad critique as much as on the simple reality that SPUR knows all too well: downtown San Francisco was designed for transit, not cars, to be the primary mode of transportation.

"Downtown San Francisco is one of the great planning success stories in America," Metcalf said. "But trips to downtown San Francisco can’t use mostly single-occupant vehicles. We could never have had this level of employment or real estate values if we had relied on car-oriented modes for downtown."

Metcalf and other local urban planners tell stories of how San Francisco long ago broke with the country’s dominant post–World War II development patterns, starting with citizen revolts against freeway plans in the 1950s and picking up stream with the environmental and social justice movements of the 1960s, the arrival of BART downtown in 1973, the official declaration of a transit-first policy in the ’80s, and the votes to dismantle the Central and Embarcadero freeways.

"We really led the way for how a modern dynamic city can grow in a way that is sustainable. And that decision has served us well for 30 years," Metcalf said.

Tom Radulovich, a longtime BART board member who serves as director of the nonprofit group Livable City, said San Franciscans now must choose whether they want to plan for growth like Copenhagen, Denmark, Paris, and Portland, Ore., or go with auto-dependent models, like Houston, Atlanta, and San Jose.

"Do we want transit or traffic? That’s really the choice. We have made progress as a city over the last 30 years, particularly with regard to how downtown develops," Radulovich said. "Can downtown and the neighborhoods coexist? Yes, but we need to grow jobs in ways that don’t increase traffic."

City officials acknowledge that some new parking may be needed.

"There may be places where it’s OK to add parking in San Francisco, but we have to be smart about it. We have to make sure it’s in places where it doesn’t create a breakdown in the system. We have to make sure it’s priced correctly, and we have to make sure it doesn’t destroy Muni’s ability to operate," Metcalf said. "The problem with Prop. H is it essentially decontrols parking everywhere. It prevents a smart approach to parking."

Yet the difficulty right now is in conveying such complexities against the "bureaucracy bad" argument against Prop. A and the "parking good" argument for Prop. H.

"We are trying to make complex arguments, and our opponents are making simple arguments, which makes it hard for us to win in a sound-bite culture," Radulovich said.

"Prop. H preys on people’s experience of trying to find a parking space," Metcalf said. "The problem is cities are complex, and this measure completely misunderstands what it takes to be a successful city."

When MTA director Nathaniel Ford arrived in San Francisco from Atlanta two years ago, he said, "it was clear as soon as I walked in the door that there was an underinvestment in the public transit system."

Prop. A would help that by directing more city funds to the MTA, starting with about $26 million per year. "I don’t want to say the situation is dire, but it’s certainly not going to get better without some infusion of cash to get us over the hump," Ford told the Guardian recently from his office above the intersection of Market and Van Ness.

The proposed extra money would barely get this long-underfunded agency up to modern standards, such as the use of a computer routing system. "We actually have circuit boards with a guy in a room with a soldering iron keeping it all together," Ford said with an incredulous smile.

The other thing that struck Ford when he arrived was the cumbersomeness of the MTA’s bureaucracy, from stifling union work rules to Byzantine processes for seemingly simple actions like accepting a grant, which requires action by the Board of Supervisors.

"Coming from an independent authority, I realized there were a lot more steps and procedures to getting anything done [at the MTA]," he said. "Some of the things in Prop. A relax those steps and procedures."

If it passes, Ford would be able to set work rules to maximize the efficiency of his employees, update the outdated transit infrastructure, set fees and fines to encourage the right mix of transportation modes, and issue bonds for new capital projects when the system reaches its limits. These are all things the urban planners say have to happen. "It should be easy to provide great urban transit," Metcalf said. "We’re not Tracy. We’re not Fremont. We’re San Francisco, and we should be able to do this."

Unfortunately, there are political barriers to such a reasonable approach to improving public transit. And the biggest hurdles for those who want better transit are getting Prop. A approved and defeating Prop. H.

"It’s clear to people who have worked on environmental issues that this is a monumental election," said Leah Shahum, director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and an MTA board member. "San Francisco will choose one road or the other in terms of how our transportation system affects the environment. It will really be transit or traffic."

Shahum said the combination of denying the MTA the ability to improve transit and giving out huge new parking entitlements "will start a downward spiral for our transit system that nobody benefits from."

"We are already the slowest-operating system in the country," Ford said, later adding, "More cars on the streets of San Francisco will definitely have a negative impact on Muni."

But even those who believe in putting transit first know cars will still be a big part of the transportation mix.

"All of it needs to be properly managed. There are people who need to drive cars for legitimate reasons," Ford said. "If you do need to drive, you need to know there are costs to that driving. There is congestion. There are quality impacts, climate change, and it hurts transit."

"There are parking needs out there, and the city is starting to think of it in a more responsive way. We don’t need this to create more parking," Shahum said. "If folks can hold out and beat down this initiative, I do think we’re headed in the right direction."

Yet the Yes on A–No on H campaign is worried. Early polling showed a close race on Prop. A and a solid lead for Prop. H.

Fisher and the groups that are pushing Prop. H — the Council of District Merchants, the SF Chamber of Commerce, and the San Francisco Republican Party — chose what they knew would be a low-turnout election and are hoping that drivers’ desires for more parking will beat out more complicated arguments.

"The vast majority of San Franciscans call themselves environmentalists, and they want a better transit system," Shahum said, noting that such positions should cause them to support Prop. A and reject Prop. H. "But they’re at risk of being tricked by a Republican billionaire’s initiative with an attractive name…. Even folks that are well educated and paying attention could be tricked by this."

For Metcalf and the folks at SPUR, who helped write Prop. A, this election wasn’t supposed to be an epic battle between smart growth and car culture.

"For us, in a way, Prop. A is the more important measure," Metcalf said. "We want to focus on making Muni better instead of fighting about parking. We didn’t plan it this way, but the way it worked out, San Francisco is at a fork in the road. We can reinforce our transit-oriented urbanity or we can create a mainly car-dependent city that will look more like the rest of America."

High-speed rail’s split decision


The California High Speed Rail Authority will hold a hearing in San Francisco City Hall tomorrow (Thursday/23) at 4 p.m. to take public input on the study of two possible Bay Area alignments for the high-speed rail line, the first of six such meetings in Northern California. At issue is whether the line coming from the Central Valley should go over Pacheco Pass or Altamount Pass, and both options have large and vocal constituencies, so it should be a tough call. You can do your homework here before weighing in.
The CHSRA ended up getting about $20 million in the just-approved state budget, although it’s possible that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (who, as we’ve reported, has been the project’s biggest obstacle) could still line-item veto the expenditure. But the $10 billion high speed rail bond measure is still on the November ’08 ballot, the politics of which make the Bay Area alignment decision a crucial one for the CHSRA. So come weigh in on a project that is crucial to addressing global warming, air quality, and freeway and airport congestion and expansion over the coming decades.

Slowly derailing high speed rail


By Steven T. Jones
Our political leaders in Sacramento apparently still can’t muster the courage to create a high-speed rail system for California, which is perhaps the single most important public works project for addressing climate change and the hopelessly congested freeways and airports we’ll otherwise see in coming decades. After a tentative agreement two months ago to give the California High-Speed Rail Authority less than half of the $103 million it needs to move the project forward (which was better than the insulting $1.2 million offered by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger), the most recent deal gives the authority just $15.5 million. And even that could get line item vetoed by the Governator.
Assemblymember Fiona Ma had pledged to safeguard this important project and it doesn’t appear she’s been very effective so far (maybe she should spend less time doing Clear Channel’s bidding in trying to line our freeways with obnoxious electronic billboards). But her flak, Nick Hardman, tells me she’s working hard to make sure the high-speed rail bond measure remains on the fall 2008 ballot, from which is can be removed with a simply majority this year, but only with a two-thirds vote of both houses after Jan. 1. This will be an important test for Ma, who has said that the project is one of her top priorities.
Stay tuned.

Editor’s Notes


› steve@sfbg.com

I’ve been obsessed with high-speed rail for a couple of months now. It started in March when I was in France and had my first experience on the TGV trains that zip between Paris and Lyon in less than two hours, about a third of the time it takes by car. The ease with which I stepped onto the train made my airport experiences seem like torturous tests of my capacity to endure long lines, inexplicable delays, nosy cops, bureaucratic madness, and fellow travelers made cranky by it all.

As the French countryside flew past me at 200 mph, I wondered why California has been unable to build a high-speed train connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco, cities quite similar to Paris and Lyon in terms of distance and cultural importance. So I researched the issue and learned that the single biggest obstacle is Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, as I reported recently in "The Silver Bullet Train" (4/18/07), a story that the San Diego CityBeat then ran as its cover article in its last issue.

So I was intrigued to hear what Schwarzenegger had to say on the subject last week when he came to speak in a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. auditorium for an event sponsored by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. When asked about it, the governor said, "I’m a big believer in mass transit. I’m a big believer in high-speed rail. I think this high-speed rail is a great possibility, but I want us working on the public participation — private partnerships — then we can commit to the $10 billion to put in from the public sector."

Which, of course, is complete bullshit. The governor’s budget made big cuts in mass-transit spending, including chopping $28 million from BART and $36 million from Muni. And it proposed gutting the California High Speed Rail Authority, which has long planned for the need for private-sector funding support that Schwarzenegger claims will preclude next year’s $10 billion high-speed rail bond measure. Those who know the issue know how ridiculous the governor sounds.

"Based upon your encouragement, we have prepared the financing plan. If your support for an appropriate level of funding in 2007–<\d>08 is contingent upon securing specific commitments of funding from various public and private entities, you are the logical leader who can bring together California Congressional leaders and private financiers," CHSRA chair Quentin Kopp wrote to Schwarzenegger on May 25.

And still Schwarzenegger does nothing to support the project, which the downtown think tank San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) makes the focus of its June newsletter under the headline "High Speed Rail Essential to Keep California on Track: Trains Offer Best Bet for Fast, Clean Transport as State Grows."

It’s time for Schwarzenegger’s deeds to start matching his words, particularly on this crucial project.*

Half-speed progress on high-speed rail


By Steven T. Jones
The Legislature is poised to rebuke Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s obstructionism on creating a much-needed high-speed rail system for California. As Guardian readers know, the California High Speed Rail Authority had asked for a $103 million budget allocation this year to move the project forward in advance of next year’s planned bond measure, but Arnold only offered them $1.2 million in his budget. Since then, the Assembly (where SF’s Fiona Ma has been championing the project) approved a $51 million budget for the agency, while the Senate voted for give it $40 million. A conference committee will determine the actual budget amount, likely somewhere between those figures. It’s a good sign, particularly if the Legislature holds firm and refuses the governor’s request to indefinitely postpone the $10 billion high-speed rail bond issue now set of the November 2008 ballot.