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  Mallett Responds to Richmond City Council Vote
May 13, 2013

BART Director Zakhary Mallett responds on Facebook postings to Richmond City Council vote to support wBART study, but only if it extends line from Richmiond station.
Tom Butt
wBART: The Politics of the 80’s and 90’s May Still Be Around (Part I of II)
May 10, 2013
Dear Reader:
Over the last few months, I have been working diligently to try to secure support from West Contra Costa County communities to do a comprehensive study that would look at a possible BART extension in West Contra Costa County.  The goal, of course, would be to provide a viable and competitive alternative to driving on the region’s most-congested thoroughfare, Interstate 80.  The most-effective technology and alignment would not only bring traffic relief to West Contra Costa County, but also to locations downstream (i.e., Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville, etc.) that suffer due to the lack of viable transit options upstream.  To date, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, as well as the City Councils of Pinole, Richmond, and San Pablo, have all lent their support of this study moving forward.
However, at the Tuesday, May 7 meeting of the Richmond City Council, although the council unanimously agreed to support a study of wBART, its members also unanimously stipulated two things in that resolution.  Not only will the council not support any northerly extension other than one that originates from the Richmond BART Station, but they also will not support any study that includes alignment options other than those that originate from the Richmond BART Station.  The rational goes that by supporting any extension or the idea of an extension from a station other than the Richmond BART Station, the City of Richmond would implicitly be supporting subjecting itself to becoming a second-class city within the BART network because it would somehow become a dead-end spur line off of the main BART line.  Furthermore, they argue that the potential vitality of the city’s downtown – both presently and in the future – would be compromised if this were to be supported.  This was reported by the Contra Costa Times’ Robert Rogers today (link).
The long-term and effective implication of this decision is that if no alignment from the Richmond Station is found to be feasible, then this decision implies that the city would rather have no extension than an extension that originates from another station, such as El Cerrito del Norte.  Hence, in order to ensure the possibility of a feasible alternative and that we maximization traffic relief, all potential alternatives must be considered concurrently as a part of the initial study.  Taking this approach also saves on potential additional costs since it consolidates what could become multiple studies into a single comprehensive study.
While I sympathize with some of these concerns, many seem to be based on a presumption that by requiring commuters to pass through a station on a train, it will somehow improve the vitality of the station area or that by not requiring that, it will reduce the vitality (or vitality potential) of the station area.  In actuality, very few people detour from their trip to/from home and work or home and “play” on transit in order to visit a particular station area.  The reality is that the Richmond BART Station has intrinsic values to Richmond, BART, and the region ill-regardless of where BART (or an alternative rail) may extend from.  For one thing, it is the northern-most transfer point for interregional and interstate rail (Amtrak) and no extension northward can take that significance away from Richmond.  Capitalizing on this status, though, is not a function of the frequency or pass-through of BART trains.  Rather, it is largely a function of creating land uses that can produce a safe sense of place and destination for people to go to by any mode.
In conclusion, because of the Richmond Station’s status as a major intermodal transit center in the region, it will never be an “end of the line” station from a global perspective.  No extension – be it from Richmond, El Cerrito del Norte, or elsewhere – has any potential at taking that symbolic status away from Downtown Richmond.
It is my hope that the City of Richmond may be able to acknowledge this so that the West Contra Costa County sub-region may collectively and cooperatively work towards setting a first priority of bringing traffic relief to the region’s most-congested travel corridor by investing in a comprehensive study and fighting for whichever alignment and technology that study returns as the most valuable in achieving this end.  If this could occur, it would be the first time in three decades!
More on that with part two coming up...!
Sincerely submitted,

Zakhary Mallett, MCP
Director, District 7
San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART)
wBART: The Politics of the 80’s and 90’s May Still Be Around (Part II of II)
May 10, 2013
Dear Reader:
In this second and final part of this report, I will detail the three decades’ history of wBART, which will reveal how the politics three decades ago may still be around today.
Following the May 7 Richmond  City Council meeting, Richmond Councilmember Tom Butt put out an E-Forum letter (link) that calls me out and suggests an alignment from El Cerrito del Norte as being a “BART to Nowhere” option.  He also suggests that a 2009 study took place and concluded in a recommendation to extend service from the Richmond BART Station.
The study that Tom Butt refers to actually took place a decade ago in 2003 and focused exclusively on the use of either heavy rail or Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) technology via the Union Pacific (UP) or Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad right-of-ways.  Although the study concluded with ideas about what the best option(s) would be given these limited parameters, policy makers and study sponsors concluded that none of those options were cost- and productivity-feasible.
The last time that an actual BART extension in West Contra Costa County was aggressively considered was in 1992.  Before that, it was 1983.  In both instances, numerous alignments were studied; few passed minimum feasibility/scan tests; and of those that did pass the initial test and later were deemed feasible enough for an extension, the localities along the corridor were not able to come to any consensus on an alignment.  The disagreements were manifested by one locality not wanting service to be extended from anywhere other than its own downtown, another not wanting to have to divide its city and destroy its downtown to support the preceding notion of its neighbor, another fearful about an extension providing a way for persons it classified as unwanted to enter its city limits, and those localities in the middle being – well, stuck in the middle!  This lack of consensus ultimately resulted in the region and BART electing to place its money elsewhere and the region’s most-congested travel corridor falling under the rug.
In 1983 and 1992, there were effectively two alignments that had any competitive potential to them.  Take a look at them through this Google Maps link (here).  One would continue from the Richmond Station and follow Rumrill Boulevard through San Pablo to San Pablo Avenue; cut diagonally through existing development adjacent to Contra Costa College before serving the Hilltop Mall; and then join I-80 near Richmond Parkway before heading on up to Pinole, Hercules, and perhaps the areas of Rodeo and/or Crockett.   The other alternative would have come from the El Cerrito del Norte Station and then followed Interstate 80 all the way.
Now, over two decades since the second time around, this young man who was back-then a five-year-old playground boy, is trying to establish political consensus just to do a data-driven study to relook at a West Contra Costa County BART (or alternative rail) extension.  But it appears that déjà vu may have come upon us and my duties as the West Contra Costa County BART Director – in this particular case, more rightfully the wBART Extension and Study Negotiator – are quickly being built up for me!
Unlike in 1983 and 1992, though, the City of Richmond has annexed so much unincorporated land towards its north and east.  Richmond no longer is a concentrated urban center, but now has several suburban neighborhoods.  In fact, it is primarily these annexed and (some) newly developed neighborhoods – Carriage Hills, Fairmede Hilltop, Greenbriar, Hilltop Green, May Valley, Quail Hill, and many more – that would potentially reap the greatest benefits of any BART extension northward.  As the broader Richmond population becomes more attuned of these politics, I would be surprised if the various northern, northeastern, and eastern constituencies of Richmond allow central city politics to take place at their expense, particularly as a major Richmond election is glowing upon us in less than two years.
As the Contra Costa Times’ Tom Lochner reported on May 7, I have suggested the Interstate 80 alignment from El Cerrito del Norte as an option, but am interested in and committed to having a comprehensive study done so that we can objectively determine which alignment and technology would actually be the most feasible.  Given the size and area of District 7, my job is to press for an alignment that provides traffic relief for the broader West Contra Costa County sub-region and I-80 corridor by establishing a viable and competitive alternative to driving.  This means making BART (or the alternative rail option) as conveniently accessible as possible to as many people along the corridor as possible.  To that end, I cannot justify or support voiding the consideration of any alignment that is prima facie a viable candidate for achieving this purpose.
Hopefully with this historical context, West Contra Costa County can put an end to what has been a three-decade battle of parochial interests and come together for the betterment of our region by pursuing a comprehensive study for wBART.  Then, once all the facts and data are in front of us, perhaps we can more intelligently partake in this discussion and seek out what is in the factual best interest for all of us.  This is the most-congested travel corridor of the Bay Area Region for heaven’s sake!  What is on the minds of the average person is traffic relief.  Let’s put that priority first and foremost, and identify and pursue an extension that can bring us there!
There's no way to know which is best today; only a comprehensive study will tell us.
Truly yours,

Zakhary Mallett, MCP
Director, District 7
San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART)
Richmond officials adamant any BART extension must come through downtown station
By Robert Rogers
Contra Costa Times
Posted:   05/10/2013 01:49:49 PM PDT
Updated:   05/10/2013 06:37:13 PM PDT

RICHMOND -- The City Council and top bureaucrats in this city have spoken in rare unanimity: Any northern extension of the BART lines must come through Richmond, and studying other options is a nonstarter.
"Any extension that doesn't go through Richmond is a dealbreaker," Councilman Jim Rogers said at Tuesday's council meeting. "It's dead on arrival politically."
Rogers and a unanimous council Tuesday declared that subsequent studies should focus on northern expansion through Richmond, not through the El Cerrito Del Norte station along the Interstate 80 corridor.
The finality of the language and the insistence on limiting the scope of study did not sit well with BART Director Zakhary Mallett, whose District 7 covers most of West Contra Costa. Mallet was visibly discomfited during Tuesday's meeting, particularly when Rogers added a friendly amendment to Councilman Tom Butt's resolution to not participate or fund any further studies that explore "turning Richmond into a spur" and extending from Del Norte.
Mallett was still dumbfounded one day later.
"I thought they would at least allow an objective study to take place," Mallett said. "I didn't even conceive of a decision not to study alternatives."
But for Richmond, there was no hesitation. The momentum on the Richmond-or-bust philosophy built speed in the past month when Richard Mitchell, the city's director of Planning and Building Services, wrote a letter to Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, of Richmond.
The five-page memo, which was circulated among county supervisors and staff, unequivocally stated that Richmond is the superior extension point because of linkages with AC Transit and Amtrak and the city's size and projected growth rate.
Mitchell, who also sits on the Hercules Planning Commission, also wrote that extension from El Cerrito Del Norte, which already has more than twice the ridership of the Richmond station, would " ... effectively isolate and downgrade the downtown Richmond station."
Mallett said he was surprised by Mitchell's letter, which was replete with italicized and underlined statements.
"I expected such emotions to be exclaimed by politicians, as opposed to professional staff," Mallett said, adding that he saw Mitchell as the "driving force" behind the movement to quash a new study.
"(The city has) effectively stated that if there is no feasible alternative to the Richmond station, they would rather have no extension than a feasible extension that originates elsewhere," Mallett said. "I believe (it's) misrepresentative of the city's broader population because primary beneficiaries of any extension will be residents in Richmond's northern, northeast and eastern quadrants."
Richmond officials disagree, saying studies were done in the 1980s and '90s and that they think extending through the downtown station is best not just for their city but West County and the transit system.
Mitchell declined to answer when asked who authorized him to write the letter to the county. City Manager Bill Lindsay said in an email this week that he did not authorize Mitchell to write the memo but that "his comments were consistent with adopted City Council policy and, therefore, appropriate in my view."
Mallett noted that a study could be commissioned by other affected cities even if Richmond doesn't buy in.
"I'm mildly optimistic" about starting a study in the next year, he said.
Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726 . Follow him at Twitter.com/roberthrogers.