BART Expansion Backers Bring Out the Big Guns

Mineta, Reed, Others Come Out to Give BART Approval

Wednesday, Oct 22, 2008  |  Updated 8:42 AM PDT
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BART Expansion Backers Bring Out the Big Guns

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OAKLAND, CA - UNDATED: (FILE PHOTO) A Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train is seen in this undated file photo as it pulls into Oakland, California. Will it soon be pulling into Northern California's largest city, San Jose? (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed wants BART to expand into the city's downtown, and he wants voters to help him make it happen.

Backers of Santa Clara County's Measure B will meet Wednesday to support the BART expansion, which will increase the county's economy by $4 to $7 billion, according to an independent economic analysis.

 Former Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, Reed and California Department of Transportation Director Will Kempton will be some of the dozens of local officials and business leaders backing the measure that will expand BART into the South Bay. The report indicates that the $6 billion project will create up to 2,500 construction jobs and between 2,400 and 7,300 permanent jobs along the rail corridor.

 The measure will initiate a one-eighth cent sales tax increase that would cost county residents around $13 a year for 30 years, according to the county Registrar of Voters.

 Despite the upbeat statistics, there are still opponents to the measure who have condemned Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority for helping campaign for the expansion, and not informing the public about the total costs of the project.

 The main concern of the group is that financial numbers for 2008 for how much Measure B would cost. VTA watchdog Margaret Okuzumi said opponents believe the cost of running the expansion will "increase exponentially" once it is figured out in 2008 dollars, and that the measure tax will not be sufficient to deliver what the agency is promising.

 Former Monte Sereno Mayor and former VTA policy advisory board member Mark Brodsky said the proposed Measure B project would "destroy the possibility" of having a functioning transit system in Santa Clara County.  The agency is pushing to have a transportation system that diverts all transit to the downtown area, when many other areas, such as north San Jose, need a better public transit system for commuters, he added.

 Brodsky added that "hiding the numbers" is not the way democracy should work and that VTA should release any updated numbers they have about the project.

 VTA spokeswoman Jennie Loft denied that the agency is hiding numbers from the public, saying officials make every effort to provide accurate, timely information in a fair and open manner.

 Opponents are also decrying the ethical standards of the company, saying that by providing information to the campaign promoting the measures they are actually working on for the campaign. E-mails released after a Public Records Request show that VTA members met with members of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, which is advocating the measure, to address numbers and coordinate information about the BART expansion.

 VTA board member David Casas said he is "personally appalled" that agency staff would ethically approve of providing information to and working with the campaign staff. Their actions "call into question the validity of the Yes on B campaign in its entirety."

 While perhaps ethically unusual, the current laws state that the information VTA provided to the campaign was legal, Santa Clara County Counsel Ann Ravel said. While law states that it is illegal for government entities to use public money for political purposes, "they are allowed to provide informational materials relating to a ballot measure that is impacting themselves," Ravel added.

 Loft reiterated what Ravel said, stating, "there is no basis for the claim of Measure B opponents that these documents show that VTA officials violated laws."

 "Staff requested guidance on permissible campaign activity once the ballot measures were adopted by the VTA board of directors, and they have followed that guidance," Loft said.

 The meeting for Measure B supporters will take place at the Diridon Station in San Jose at 9:15 a.m. Wednesday.

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