Archive for October, 2010

Time for a Change at BART

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

Those who have seen my bike know that I prefer it unadorned and minimalist—no brand name, no logos, no stickers, no extraneous parts, and no colors except black and white. So it was not without hesitation that I temporarily scraperized it and turned it into a rolling billboard for Robert Raburn’s campaign for the BART Board of Directors:

Raburn for BART Board

I don’t have the craftsmanship of the scraper bike artists, but since I lack a yard or street-facing windows, I had to do what I could. In a mostly depressing election season, Raburn’s run for the BART Board in District 4 (encompassing Alameda and about half of Oakland) is one of the few bright spots. He is well-qualified for the position, with an academic background in transportation and urban planning, and a long history of public action on urban transportation issues. He also offers a stark choice between competing visions for what BART should be. Carole Ward Allen (the incumbent) and most of her fellow directors prioritize grandiose but imprudent projects like the Oakland Airport Connector and expensive expansions to far-flung suburbs, where ridership consistently fails to meet BART’s projections. Raburn, in contrast, wants to refocus BART’s priorities on core services, putting more resources into increasing reliability, decreasing headways, decreasing blight in and around stations, and improving passenger connections between BART and other modes of transportation, whether they be bus or bike or pedestrian.

Raburn has his work cut out for him. Not only is Carole Ward Allen a 12-year incumbent who is deeply embedded in the East Bay political machine, but Raburn is pushing back against 40 years of BART history. The sad fact is that BART has always acted more like a commuter rail system than an urban subway system, so Raburn’s focus on strengthening core services in the bay area’s most densely populated areas is surprisingly revolutionary.

It may be an uphill climb, but Raburn does have some things going for him. As the longtime director of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition, Raburn has very active support from the cycling community (see the photo above for an example—and I picked up that yard sign at a supportive bike shop in Alameda). He will also benefit from the highly motivated, highly organized opposition to the misguided Oakland Airport Connector—there are a lot of people like me who never paid any attention to the BART board before, but who are now more eager to vote for a BART director than anyone else on the ballot.

The airport connector, which will likely provide worse service than the current AirBART bus, but at twice the cost to passengers (and a cost of almost $500 million to BART) is not only a strong argument against Carole Ward Allen, who championed the project, but it also offers a more general lesson on why these down-ballot elections are important. Advocacy groups such as TransForm (not to mention a veritable army of local bloggers) fought heroically to get BART and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) to reconsider their plan to endanger BART’s financial future by taking out loans to fund a wasteful and unnecessary tram, but ultimately the MTC deferred to the BART board and approved the project. The airport connector is a prime example of why it’s more efficient—and effective—to elect the right people to these positions in the first place, instead of having to fight long, difficult battles over every lousy project.

The airport connector appears to be a fait accompli (although BART’s “groundbreaking ceremony” last week before the contracts have been finalized was a premature piece of campaign season theater), but there will be plenty of other decisions for the BART board to make down the tracks. If you live in BART District 4 and care more about increased and improved service than another expensive extension to some doomed outpost of the cheap-oil empire, then I urge you to vote for Raburn. (And if you live in BART District 8, then I urge a vote for Bert Hill for similar reasons—with the added bonus that you would be helping to defeat the unctuous James Fang, an especially unappealing character and San Francisco’s only elected Republican.)

Avanti! Avanti!

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

Almost a year and a half ago I posted a photo of The Grateful Tree a few blocks from my apartment. In the intervening months, time and the elements took their usual toll, and the little tree eventually looked like it would be grateful for a bit of sprucing up itself.

I walked the dog past there today, and was glad to see that the treelet has been given new life as The Grateful-Hopeful Tree. Passersby are now asked not only what we are grateful for today, but also what we are hopeful for tomorrow, and a small lamp has been installed, perhaps to help light the way toward that brighter future:

The Grateful-Hopeful Tree

I’m cautiously pessimistic about the future myself, but nonetheless I applaud the tree’s new forward-thinking mindset. I’m reminded of what I heard an irreverent newspaper columnist say when he was told that all the masthead editors were away at a retreat: “A retreat? Never retreat; always advance. Avanti! Avanti!” Whether the future is bright or dim, it is indisputably our destination, so the wry columnists’s exhortation is pretty hard to argue with.

Truthiness in Advertising

Monday, October 18th, 2010

Looking at this glossy 8.5 X 11 inch mailer sent to residents by the Jean Quan campaign, you would probably never guess that headline of the Tribune’s Mayoral endorsement was “We recommend Rebecca Kaplan for Oakland mayor.”

Half-Truth in Advertising

This is just one more unexpected complication of our new Instant Runoff Voting system, where we forgo primaries and instead rank our top three choices on the ballot, with 2nd- or 3rd-choice votes only coming into play if one’s 1st-choice candidate is eliminated during the vote-counting process. (There still seems to be much confusion out there about Ranked Choice Voting; helpful primers can be found at the Alameda County Registrar’s website or at A Better Oakland.) Even though the Tribune recommended putting Quan as third choice (behind Kaplan and Tuman) and the Guardian recommended putting Quan as second choice (behind Kaplan), Quan has been boasting on Facebook and Twitter, and now in these mailers, that she was “endorsed” by the Trib and the Guardian. This mailer takes that misleading claim beyond those niche markets and into the mailboxes of thousands of potentially low-information voters who won’t bother to look up the actual editorials to see what they say. (The East Bay Express endorsed Kaplan, Quan and Tuman without recommending what order they should be put in.)

Personally, I think Quan should be pretty embarrassed that the Tribune put a City Council neophyte and a college professor with no political experience above her on their list of recommendations, but I suppose that the two most common ways of dealing with embarrassing facts are to ignore them, or to deny them. As political half-truths go, I don’t know where on the scale this falls—it depends on what the meaning of “endorse” is, as Bill Clinton might say. (The Guardian’s endorsement does explicitly say that they are “endorsing” both Kaplan and Quan, even though they recommend making Kaplan the first choice vote and Quan the second.)  The inside of Quan’s mailer is less misleading, saying that “The Oakland Tribune, Bay Guardian and East Bay Express all say that JEAN QUAN should get one of your votes for Mayor,” and pointing out that all three papers specifically criticized Don Perata.

Politics as usual, or over the line? That probably depends on how one feels about Quan in the first place. I’ve made it pretty clear on several occasions in the past that I am not impressed at all by Quan, so unsurprisingly, I’m not impressed by this mailer either, but I suppose that if one sees this race (and she hopes that we will) as a two-candidate horserace between her and Don Perata, then it’s perhaps less misleading to claim that she has been “endorsed” by the Trib and the Guardian.

Goodnight Oakland

Friday, October 15th, 2010

I haven’t posted—or written, for that matter—any doggerel since my very first post, but since I apparently don’t have much else to say these days, I might as well. I happened to look up at the moon when I went out for my little just-before-bed dog walk last night, and this is the result. My apologies to the ghost of Margaret Wise Brown.

Goodnight moon
Goodnight city
Goodnight to the neighbor flattening cans
Goodnight lake
And the saxophone man
Goodnight pugs
Goodnight thugs
Goodnight fixies
And goodnight mixtes
Goodnight tacos
Goodnight potholes
Goodnight A’s
And goodnight gays
Goodnight cranes
Goodnight trains
Goodnight speeders
And psychic readers
Goodnight to the ladies
On East Fourteenth
Goodnight bars
Goodnight air
Goodnight noises everywhere

Life is So Uncertain

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

This is the first sentence of the Boston Globe’s Friday article about the latest developments in the Red Sox owner’s efforts to purchase Liverpool FC:

The Liverpool Football Club will host Blackburn Sunday; that much is certain.

The only problem is that Liverpool is playing their Liverpudlian neighbors Everton on Sunday. (They’ll host Blackburn on the following Sunday—or should I say, “Sunday week.”)

Who could have predicted that the most dramatic news story of the week would be bicontinental legal wrangling over the purchase of a football club, rather than the rescue of the Chilean miners? (And no, I’m certainly not certain about that.)