MTC Gives BART Until Mid-February on Civil Rights Review

Denman.jpgReverend Scot Denman of Genesis and Oakland Airport Connector opponents rally outside MTC headquarters in Oakland. Photos: Matthew Roth

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), at its monthly meeting in Oakland today, voted 11-5 to reaffirm its commitment to the Oakland Airport Connector, despite BART’s recent problems with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) over its Title VI civil right requirements for federal stimulus money. The MTC resolution gives BART until February 16th to comply with FTA’s obligations, and if the operator fails to comply, the MTC would redistribute the $70 million to the region’s transit operators.

Elected officials, transit advocates, construction workers, business groups and numerous other speakers gave testimony and debated the merits of the OAC before an overflow audience of at least 200 people

The first speaker was Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, who used impassioned rhetoric about race and equity in an argument to support the OAC. Though he noted that the FTA ruling on BART’s Title VI deficiencies indicated the agency had a long way to go, he said, "Title VI was designed to challenge large organizations to change. That ultimately is what needs to happen here."

Dellums said he  spoke with US DOT Secretary Ray LaHood and FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff in Washington last week and urged their patience and care in dealing with BART’s Title VI obligations, which he assumed they would.

"Fairness not just about acknowledging the problem, it is about making sure there is a process for resolving this problem," said Dellums. "I asked them for time to resolve this matter."

As for BART, General Manager Dorothy Dugger said they were working around the clock to prepare their OAC action plan, which they expected to give to the FTA by next Wednesday. Beyond the airport connector, Dugger said BART would complete an equity analysis of the 2009 fare increase, ensure ongoing public involvement in its focus on civil rights and equity, expand its limited English proficiency program, and evaluate its established service standards, among other issues.

opposing_sides.jpgUnion workers hoping to be employed in the construction of the OAC stand on the opposite side of the street. The union presence was at least twice as big as the opponents of the project.

Dugger also said BART has hired consultants who worked with Houston Metro to help them develop an action plan to complete equity analysis after Metro became the first agency under new FTA rules to be compelled to do a more rigorous civil rights analysis.

Two BART Board Directors, Carol Ward Allen and James Fang, brought up the issue of race and impugned critics of the OAC on racial grounds.

"Frankly, as an African American woman who has dedicated my life to fighting for civil rights, I’m offended the project opponents would use Title VI to kill the project," said Allen. "BART is committed to equity, access, and fairness for all."

When asked to clarify her comment, Allen told Streetsblog after the hearing that "I know that part of the political posturing is, what can we throw at those folks to move our agenda.’"

BART President James Fang went even further in attacking OAC critics.  After saying he was "fully confident that we will meet this deadline that you put together and we’re going to work very hard with the FTA to get this done."  Fang added, "As an American of Asian ancestry, I too feel the bite, the sarcasm, and the insincerity of this complaint."

Bob Allen of Urban Habitat, one of the OAC opponents who brought the FTA complaint, said that BART and its directors shouldn’t be surprised or upset about the FTA complaint, that they were given ample warning that they hadn’t done enough to comply with stringent new FTA regulations.

"What’s disingenuous and insincere is that they clearly got a letter from us in June saying, ‘here are the elements in the FTA circular and you haven’t complied with them," said Allen. "This is classic spin from BART."

"I think what’s insincere is when you use a bunch of workers to advance your project goals and then you don’t do the analysis necessary to get them the jobs you say you care so much about."

unionists.jpg

Claudia Hudson, President of Amalgamated Transit Union 192 at AC Transit, lamented the divisiveness of the proceedings and wished the unions were on the same side of the issue.

"Sorry, if BART did the right thing from the beginning, following FTA, we wouldn’t be here today," said Hudson. "It doesn’t make any sense for carpenters, iron workers, bus operators and mechanics to stand up here and pit against each other."

Perhaps knowing the MTC would vote in support of BART for the February 16th deadline, the few dissenting commissioners used their time on a soapbox to decry the entire transit funding situation from the regional up to the state level.

MTC Commissioner and San Francisco Supervisor Chris Daly said that transit operators needed the money and the risk of hoping BART would fulfill its obligations to the FTA was too great.

"Perhaps it’s surprising that one of the biggest political risk-takers in the region in terms of elected officials is going to argue the safe, prudent fiscal path," joked Daly. "We have the responsibility to as prudently and as safely as possible administer the people’s money."

"There is no help from Sacramento any time in the future, we are on our own," added Daly. "Each and every one of these agencies is looking at increasing fares and decreasing service."

In the end, the commission voted to support Executive Director Steve Heminger’s proposal that the MTC wait until February 16th to see if the FTA would approve BART’s action plan. If BART fails to pass muster, the money will go to transit operators.  MTC will hold a special meeting sometime shortly after the mid-February deadline to pick up the issue again.

Dellums.jpgOakland Mayor Ron Dellums spoke in favor of the OAC, but also acknowledged that BART had a long way to go to meet its civil rights obligations.
  • We have seen Rob Anderson and he is us đŸ™‚

  • The Directors can cross their arms, stomp their feet, and insist they did the right thing all along and the mean ole bus riders are just out to get them. Fine.

    And come March the feds will say, ‘nope, you have still failed to address the equity impacts under Title VI. Peace out.’

    And we transit-dependent residents will have to pay increased fares, or wait longer for buses and trains, or ride filthy and broken buses.

    Honestly, who passes on $70 million in free money in a budgetary environment like this?!!

  • soylatte

    “BART is committed to equity, access, and fairness for all.”

    Except cyclists.

  • Ron Dellums and James Fang have no real credibility. James is a liar and Ron is a tax cheat who spends more time away from his city than in it.

    F*ck ’em. Who cares what they think? It’s time to stop buying into failed, divisive politics and be honest. A bad deal is a bad deal. And the fact the MTC and so many people went along with it doesn’t mean it’s right, it just means that lies and poor spending choices can happen anywhere. Just because this isn’t Frank Murkowski pushing a “Bridge to Nowhere” and liberals live here doesn’t mean this is a cruddy deal.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

FTA Probes MTC Civil Rights Policy, Casts Shadow on Funding Practices

|
MTC’s Executive Director Steve Heminger, foreground, listens to public testimony against MTC’s plan to use federal stimulus funds for the Oakland Airport Connector last year. Photo: Matthew Roth The Federal Transit Administration has increased the likelihood the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the Bay Area’s regional transportation planning and funding body, will undergo a full civil […]

Advocates Want Oakland Airport Connector Funds for Transit Operations

|
Image: TransForm With the civil rights imbroglio between BART and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) making news last week, a problem that could imperil $70 million in federal stimulus funds obligated to the Oakland Airport Connector (OAC), advocates are calling on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) to give the stimulus money to cash-strapped transit operators […]

MTC Staff Still Committed to Oakland Airport Connector

|
Despite the rush of negative publicity around the FTA’s letter to BART, which effectively put the agency on notice for failing its Title VI civil rights and equity obligations for the Oakland Airport Connector (OAC), MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger has faith in BART’s ability to come up with a satisfactory action plan to meet […]

MTC Confident on Civil Rights Policies, Clipper Card Rollout Begins

|
The Clipper Card readers at the Lake Merritt BART Station. Photos: Matthew Roth. One development lost in the media feeding frenzy around the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) denying BART’s request of $70 million for the Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) was a letter the FTA sent to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the Bay Area’s planning […]

Oakland’s Stimulus Flap: A Shot Across the Bow for Transport Equity?

|
The Obama administration’s warning that the Bay Area has jeopardized federal stimulus funding for its Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) project could have national consequences for other urban transit proposals that risk harming low-income riders, civil rights and transit advocates predicted today. The proposed Oakland Airport Connector train. (Photo: BART via Streetsblog SF) Several Bay Area […]

The Oakland Airport Connector: BART’s Little Engine that Could?

|
The fatigue is palpable, but the battle over BART”s Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) is nowhere near its conclusion. That’s the message coming out of yet another marathon hearing today at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the region’s transportation planning body, over the merits of the airport connector, which I would argue has now become the […]