Playing With Politics

A Blog on Law, Politics, Planning, Development, and Other Vices

Why Councilman Arreguin is Wrong on BRT

Posted by Roobs on June 18, 2010

This is a follow up to my previous post “Why Berkeley is Wrong on BRT

Councilman Arreguin collecting signatures against Berkeley's Downtown Development Plan. Yea, we fought on that one too.

Somewhere along the line, you would think that the constant barrage of facts and studies would prove some point.  Whether you are for or against something, the general train of thought is that the “correct” argument is the argument that has the most support (data, literature, etc) behind it.  Bus Rapid Transit is a positive thing for the neighborhoods and cities it serves.  There are numerous examples of BRT all around the country and the world.  BRT is nothing new and has been around for decades.  So you would think when Berkeley was asked to consider studying the construction of a fully tricked out BRT system they would take to heart all these examples and past literature and data to make an informed decision.  But Berkeley has its own rules and so does Berkeley City Counciman Jesse Arreguin.

Not since John Kerry’s infamous flip-flop during the 2004 presidential campaign against George W. Bush have we seen an example of moving back and forth on the same issue as we see with Councilman Arreguin on BRT in Berkeley.  Except in this case, Councilman Arreguin first didnt vote for anything, then indicated he would vote for it before finally voting against it.

To be completely fair, Councilman Arreguin and I have more often than not been on opposite sides of the development and planning spectrum.  I tend to be rather moderate in my politics and favor development projects, especially dense development near transit, such as in Downtown Berkeley.  But you would think that me and Councilman Arreguin would actually be on a role reversal on the subject of BRT.  You would think that better public transit would actually be the priority of the once endorsed candidate of the Sierra Club vs. myself, a self described pro-development, never-going-to-completely-give-up-my-car guy.  But oddly enough, we are where we are.

Background

Back in April, the Berkeley City Council rejected a plan to study a full-build option of AC Transit’s proposed Bus Rapid Transit project connecting the cities of San Leandro, Oakland and Berkeley – the most heavily used transit corridor in the East Bay for AC Transit.  Here is a quote from my previous post:

The Council essentially had three options: 1) “Full Build”, as recommended by the city staff, which would mean dedicated lanes running up Telegraph Avenue and “island” bus stops, where passengers could board the bus in the middle of the road, much like you see in San Francisco on Market Street. 2) A “Reduced Impact Alternative” as prepared by Mayor Bates and other councilmembers, which was a watered down version of the Full Build option, but still included dedicated lanes and islands.  3) A so-called “Rapid Bus Plus” (RBP) option which, in essence, is a no-build option because it removed all dedicated lanes and made no lane reconfigurations on roads.

After impassioned, and sometimes theatrical testimony by the public, the Berkeley City Council succumbed to NIMBY pressure and rejected any elements of full-build and endorsed only option three, the so-called, “Rapid Bus Plus” plan.

The vote break down was 4-3-1 and one absent.  Councilman Arreguin was the sole abstention.  There was a lot of pressure on Jesse from pro-BRT groups and individuals, including myself, for him to change his abstention to a “yes” vote to study the full-build option.  After some convincing both Jesse and the absent councilmember, Max Anderson, pledged to support studying full-build at the next council meeting, scheduled for June 22nd where the anticipated vote would have been 6-3 in favor of the full-build option.

Following this bit of good news came news that AC Transit was going to vote on the cities current adopted LPAs on June 9th.  This meant that AC Transit was going to vote on on what route to take before Berkeley had a chance to reconsider its position and vote to study full-build.  Given this, advocates of BRT rushed to urge AC Transit to delay their vote on the LPAs.  Keep in mind that this doesn’t really make AC Transit terribly happy.  It means more work and more money to delay the project another two-weeks.  But advocates succeeded and AC Transit agreed to delay their vote to June 23rd, one day after Berkeley was to reconsider its LPA.

This would have been great news for everyone.  AC Transit would endorse a total system LPA that included full-build in every city moving us even closer to a top quality and highly efficient rapid transit system.  At least, thats would have been the outcome had Councilman Arreguin stuck to his original pledge.  However, this past Monday during the agenda meeting, Councilman Arreguin, again, succumbed the pressures of NIMBY protesters and never put BRT on the agenda.

What does this mean?

This means that Berkeley’s current vote for the no-build option is still the official LPA for Berkeley and AC Transit will now vote on that, plus the two full build options from Oakland and San Leandro on June 23rd.

From a planning perspective, NIMBY protesters and to a larger extent, Councilman Arreguin are wrong for several reasons.  In my previous post i give many reasons (PDF with handy-dandy bullet points) why the arguments against BRT are far from the truth.  I wont describe them here to save making a long post even longer but here are the topics:

  • BRT is Consistent with the Passage of Measure G, the City’s Adopted Climate Action Plan and the Defeat of Measure KK
  • BRT Would Reduce Greenhouse Gasses
  • BRT Would Improve Conditions for Cyclists on Telegraph
  • BRT Would Have Brought More Customers to Vendors
  • BRT Could Spur Economic Development on Telegraph
  • Majority of Shoppers, Workers and Residents Don’t Drive Into Downtown

In the same post, i argue that not one opponent of BRT can point to an example where BRT actually resulted in all the bad end-of-the-world scenarios they envision.  But BRT supporters always have an example to support how BRT improves, well… everything.  Sure, many people often point to the fact that proponents of BRT always use Cleveland’s Euclid Line, and this would be true.  And why not?  Its a great example.  But if opponents want more examples, here are some:

  • Euclid Line – Cleveland, OH
  • Las Vegas MAX – Las Vegas, NV
  • Silver Line – Boston, MA
  • EmX – Eugene, OR
  • Orange Line – Los Angeles, CA
  • Univ. Minnesota Transit Connector – St. Paul, MN
  • Ardmore Busway – Philadelphia, PN
  • The Busways – Pittsburgh, PN
  • Independence Blvd. – Charlotte, NC
  • Ottawa Transitway – Ottawa, Canada
  • York Univ. Busway – Toronto, Canada
  • Metrobus – Mexico City, Mexico
  • Optibus – Leon, Mexico
  • and many more, not even including those currently under construction or in development…

Even if we ignore the planning side of this (which is kind of hard), let’s just look at the politics of Councilman Arreguin’s decision.

Jesse Arreguin represents District 4 in Berkeley and is up for re-election this year.  As of just yesterday, June 15th, he has no opposition to his seat and is not really expected to have any so he doesn’t have to worry about spliting the votes.  At least, not yet.  So maybe we can say that Jesse isn’t playing politics with this issue and honestly believes that his decision is the correct one.  But if that was the case, shouldn’t he have just voted “No” instead of abstaining back in April?  Shouldn’t he have just said “No” when asked if he was going to support BRT when asked by BRT advocates instead of telling them “Yes”?  Sure, we would essentially be in the same place we are in now had he just voted “No” back in April but we would have avoided this bait and switch that is more like a really bad date than a prudent and informed legislator.

For whatever reason Jesse has chosen to vote “No”, it is clearly the wrong one.  Again, ignoring the fact Arreguin doesn’t seem to understand transit planning, he has flip-flopped on his pledge to vote “Yes” on studying full-build, which as i alluded to in the beginning, puts him in a similar boat as John Kerry found himself trying to defend his flip flops on the issues.  Whether you think BRT is an important issue or not, generally speaking, thats not the best image for any elected official to have, even if you have no significant opposition in an election.  Arreguin appears to simply be responding to whatever pressure is pointed at him at any given time.  When proponents of BRT pressured him, he told them he would support them.  When opponents reared their ugly heads, he backed down.  Where is the fight in him?

Also, this move isn’t likely to make him many friends at the Sierra Club, who gave him a lot of support during his initial campaign, or with the East Bay Young Democrats, who has come out strongly in favor of BRT and who supported him as an advocate for young voters.  But with his vote against an issue that the vast majority of young people supported and would have benefited from, he has hurt that image and risks loosing their support as well.

Whether you like, respect, agree or disagree with Councilman Arreguin, most observers can agree that his handling of the situation was poor at best.  I like to believe we can expect much more from our elected officials than a bad romance of placating.

You can contact Councilman Arreguin at jarreguin@cityofberkeley.info and let him know that BRT is a good idea for Berkeley.

What Happens Now?

Well, the bad news is that there is not much to be done.  With Arreguin not putting BRT on the agenda for next weeks council meeting, they wont bring the subject up and, therefore, wont vote on a reconsideration of Berkeley’s LPA.  And when AC Transit meets to vote on the system-wide LPA the next day, they will have no choice but to vote with Berkeley’s no-build option.

The bigger problem with that comes in how AC Transit will deal with this no-build option.  Again, here is a excerpt from my previous post:

Some will argue that BRT isn’t dead because the vote passed was a vote on a study of BRT and not the actual construction of it.  But because it’s a regional project, BRT needs a decent amount of consensus among the cities to be implemented.  Because Oakland City Council has endorsed the study of a full-build option and Berkeley has now rejected full-build in favor of no-build, if AC Transit went ahead and built the system as Oakland and Berkeley want, what would happen is that you would have dedicated lanes in Oakland along Telegraph Ave. until you reached the Berkeley border where it would switch to normal configuration from dedicated lanes to non-dedicated lanes.  This would also affect regular traffic because drivers would need to merge into one lane going each way on Telegraph once entering Oakland.  The result would be a less reliable and slower BRT in Berkeley where buses and cars would clump at the border and would cause ripple affects to the entire system, thus making the entire system less feasible.

This problem is exacerbated by the fact AC Transits might eliminate the 1/1R route north of Downtown Oakland as a way to close their budget deficit  (The proposed BRT route would have replaced the 1/1R ).  Given the complications that constructing a BRT route into Berkeley where the configurations would drastically change from city to city, AC Transit will be considering terminating the BRT route at either Downtown Oakland or MacArthur BART station.

This would be a HUGE loss to the residents of North Oakland and Berkeley.  Not only would the miss out on the improved transit, road, cycling and pedestrian conditions that are associated with the construction and implementation of BRT, the worst case scenario would be those residents would actually lose their local bus service if the 1/1R is removed and not replaced by BRT.  Better put in a really big taxi station in Temescal.

Another scenario i heard floating around would be that AC Transit would still push the BRT route into Berkeley but would eliminate the majority of stops to preserve the efficiency of the route.  This means that Berkeley would have maybe two bus stops.  One in Downtown Berkeley near BART and another at a location to be determined.  But unless you lived near one of those two stops, you would miss out on most of the benefits of BRT.  But then again, they asked for it.

The only other scenario (and probably likely) would be if the City of Berkeley forced their position on everyone else and made AC Transit put in all the stops they wanted.  However, this would adversely affect the efficiency of the overall system as described in the excerpt above.  It would also, unfortunately, play into the hands of Arreguin and NIMBYs who will use this slower, less efficient BRT as proof they were correct.  Of course, this ignoring that they created the problem.

Personally, i feel that the best way to preserve bus stops in Berkeley so to mitigate the affect of the NIMBY  minority is to preserve the 1R route north of MacArthur BART station.  The 1R would run from MacArthur BART through Temescal and Berkeley along Telegraph and Bancroft Aves. to Downtown Berkeley BART.  This would preserve the efficiency of the BRT system running from Downtown San Leandro to Oakland and still give Berkeley and North Oakalnd riders access to transit.

I admit, this plan is far from ideal and will have a lot of problems associated with it.  Like the problems that have arose with the splitting of the 51 route into a 51A and 51B routes, there will be issues with timing and clumping of buses at and on the way to MacArthur BART.  But the benefit i see with this is that it allows BRT supporters to regroup and fight another day.  If we can preserve the BRT route in San Leandro and most of Oakland, we can more easily return to Berkeley with an “extension” of the BRT route with dedicated lanes.  Call it Phase 1 and Phase 2 if you like.  Either way, i think this might be a good way to move forward to an eventual complete BRT system in the East Bay, even if Councilman Arreguin still refuses to come around next time.

You can contact Councilman Arreguin at jarreguin@cityofberkeley.info and let him know that BRT is a good idea for Berkeley.

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9 Responses to “Why Councilman Arreguin is Wrong on BRT”

  1. […] My friend Reuben has an excellent and thorough piece up on his blog explaining what happened and why Jesse’s wrong: […]

  2. Mark said

    It’s actions like Councilman Arreguin’s that contribute to the kinds of disasters we’re witnessing in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s time to get serious about alternatives to private cars. Our dependence on oil is toxic.

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Max Allstadt and Sean Sullivan, Reuben Duarte. Reuben Duarte said: Why Berkeley City Councilman Jesse Arreguin is Wrong on BRT: http://wp.me/pWkQH-35 #urbanplanning […]

  4. Alan Tobey said

    The local Sierra Club’s political advocacy group recently rejected Jesse’s request for an early city council endorsement — specifically because of his “shocking lack of support” for BRT (in the words of Andy Katz). So he is now, for many environmentalists, a suspect politician owned by NIMBYs — for good reason.

    In a followup email to the group’s executive committee, Jesse said he agrees with the Sierra Club “90% of the time” and that he really searched his conscience this time.

    But that’s like BP saying they drilled the well 90% right. It’s the consequential failures to do the right thing when needed that matter in the end, and that reveal the actual character of the actor.

    Jesse has another opportunity to meddle via the coming Council vote to put a version of Berkeley’s downtown plan on the November ballot. So far he’s been the leader against allowing any “tall” (over 4 stories) buildings in the DT — clearly captured by the local NIMBYs whose previous antigrowth effort got only 20% of the vote but who noisily berate the Council at every opportunity.

    So it’s not for nothing that some of us actual enviros have started calling him “Jesse Arreguinejad,” after the Iranian president — not for his political views but for an excessively populist way of carrying out his office, along with exceptionally obvious political ambition.

    Hopefully Jesse’s presumed run for mayor of Berkeley in 2012 will now take a little hit — by then Oakland will be building out its BRT while Berkeley is left with nothing but 1 local service. Or perhaps he will learn by then that leadership is not the same thing as pandering to whichever of your constituents are yelling loudest at the moment.

    • In a followup email to the group’s executive committee, Jesse said he agrees with the Sierra Club “90% of the time” and that he really searched his conscience this time.

      He searched his conscience and discovered he doesn’t have one.

    • Roobs said

      Just a quick note to this commenter… the section “Jesse Arreguinejad” borders on violating this site’s Comment Policy. Keep it clean, guys!

  5. […] Ask Berkeley City Councilman Jesse Arreguin how we got here.  While it would be inappropriate to lay all blame solely on his desk, because the Berkeley City Council did vote against BRT back in April, he does carry a good proportion of it following his extremely disappointing flip-flopping behavior. […]

  6. […] Why Councilman Arreguin is Wrong on BRT […]

  7. […] Posted by Roobs on September 10, 2010 Just the other day at the website: Next American City, Yonah Freemark, an Urban Leaders Fellow, sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation, wrote a column talking about one of my favorite subjects: The East Bay Bus Rapid Transit project.  As readers will have figured out, I am very much in favor of this project and have written two posts about the issue: Why Berkeley is Wrong on BRT and Why Councilman Arreguin is Wrong on BRT […]

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