Port commissioner appointments stalled, Bus Rapid Transit gets green light
on July 19, 2012
It was the final meeting before the council adjourned for its summer break. The agenda was packed, and so was the room as representatives came out to support or oppose two particular items on the agenda: Mayor Jean Quan’s proposed appointees for the Board of Port Commissioners, and a Bus Rapid Transit project that would extend 10 miles from San Leandro to Oakland and make passenger service throughout the area more efficient.
Quan had asked the council to confirm the reappointment of James Head and the appointment of Bryan Parker and Cestra “Ces” Butner to the Board of Port Commissioners. Discussion among the councilmembers started with a request from council president Larry Reid (District 7) to have the item put over until the council returns from summer recess, because the issue of the reappointment of current commissioner Margaret Gordon has not been resolved. Gordon’s name was not on the list of appointees advanced by the mayor.
Reid indicated that past presidents had received cooperation from the council when making a request for a delay. “I hope the same courtesy and respect that has been extended in the past will be extended to me and I will just leave it at that,” Reid said.
Councilmember Desley Brooks (District 6) said that every councilmember present previously said they would vote for Gordon if a proposal to re-appoint her came before them. “I ask you to honor your word because if your word doesn’t mean anything then we send the wrong message to the public,” Brooks said.
In response to Reid’s request for a delay, the mayor said, “Change is hard, but the change to the Port of Oakland is absolute critical. There are things down there, construction projects that have to be finished in the next 17 months or we lose millions of dollars.”
Reid’s motion to delay failed with 4 no votes and 3 ayes.
Following the vote to move forward with the appointments, dozens of employees from organizations including the Alameda Central Labor Council, the Metropolitan and Oakland Chambers of Commerce, Teamsters from Local 853 and members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245 and other union workers wearing tags supporting Butner, Head and Parker asked the council to approve the mayor’s appointment recommendations.
Rodney Smith, a teamster with Local 853, said he has resided in Oakland for 30 years and has had the opportunity to work for Butner in West Oakland and at Horizon Beverage. “On behalf of Ces Butner, he will be a great commissioner he looks out for the best interest of the working family,” Smith said. “If if wasn’t for Ces Butner, myself and my family would not be in the great position we’re in today. He has done countless things in this area and he will be a voice for West Oakland. I support the mayor’s slate and I urge the council to vote yes.”
But Oakland resident Matt Duncan asked the council to instead retain Gordon, saying she became a voice for West Oakland when she was appointed and that she has worked hard on environmental issues such as the pollution problem in the port. “If you do not re-appoint commissioner Gordon, West Oakland will lose that voice. I urge you to please consider retaining commissioner Margaret Gordon,” he said.
Following the public comments, Reid made a proposal to go forward with the reappointment of Head and move the discussion of the appointments of Parker and Butner to the first meeting after the break, but the council declined the proposal.
The council then took a vote to approve all three appointees, but the motion, which required a majority vote of 5-2 to pass, failed with a final count of 4-3. Pat Kernighan (District 2), Nancy Nadel (District 3), Libby Schaaf (District 4) and Jane Brunner (District 1) voted in favor of the proposal with Reid, Brooks and Ignacio De La Fuente (District 5) opposing. Rebecca Kaplan (At-Large) was absent from meeting.
The agenda item that drew the most attention from the public was the motion to approve the Bus Rapid Transit project, also known as BRT. The $170 million AC Transit project will extend from San Leandro to downtown Oakland with the goal of making bus travel more efficient.
According to AC Transit director of services Tina Spencer, who gave a presentation at the meeting, the new service would be more efficient than the current system, which has long wait times, and will operate much like a train station in that it would add raised platforms and bus-only lanes. Buses on the line will arrive every 5 minutes. The project will also include street resurfacing projects and reconfigure driving lanes.
It is projected that the new system design would increase ridership, drawing an additional 5,900 commuters, Spencer said. The new transit system would also require reconstruction and reconfiguration of some areas on Broadway and International Boulevard that would eliminate approximately 600 parking spaces.
During the public comment period, some residents expressed concerns about the project, stating that a better use for the money might be to use it to replace old buses. ”I am one of the biggest opponents for this project,” said Elmhurst resident Jacquee Castain, objecting to the extended construction period, which would begin in 2014 and continue into 2016. Castain said the construction would be more harmful than beneficial to businesses in the area.
“Do you think a city like San Francisco would agree to remove two out of four traffic lanes on a major commercial corridor and 537 on-street parking spaces?” said Oakland resident Joyce Roy. She argued that this would lead to traffic congestion. “You are going to find that we are going to have another College Avenue when this opens,” she said.
Alyssa Evans from Youth Uprising read a letter in support of BRT from one of its young adult board members, Nick Harris, who was unable to attend the meeting. Harris’ letter said the group is excited that public transit will become more efficient and that the raised platforms will provide better accommodations for people in wheelchairs.
Dave Campbell, the program director for the East Bay Bicycle Coalition, said he spoke for the nearly 1,000 members who are Oakland residents and who support the BRT Project. “It’s not only a great bicycle project because it’s going to get continuous bike lanes from downtown Oakland to downtown San Leandro,” Campbell said. “It is a wonderful achievement and it is also going to make this corridor a much better corridor for transit service.”
Construction for the project is expected to generate as many as 7,000 jobs, according to AC Transit. The council asked AC Transit representatives about finding options that would encourage hiring Oakland residents to work on the project. “How will we ensure Oaklanders reap the benefit of these contracts?” asked Brooks.
As a result of this discussion, councilmember Nadel (District 3) suggested an amendment stating that AC Transit representatives must provide periodic reports that include information about the construction companies utilized for the BRT project. AC Transit General Manager David Armijo agreed to amend the resolution to state that AC Transit will encourage project contractors and subcontractors to voluntarily hire local Oakland residents.
With this agreement in place, the council voted unanimously to approve the amended resolution. There was a round of applause from the room.
Finally, the council reviewed a proposal to adopt a resolution amending the Oakland Army Base construction project’s jobs policies. Brooks requested weekly reporting requirements for contractors and subcontractors in lieu of the current monthly reporting guideline. The data contained in the report would provide information about the workers such as their trade, city of residence, work hours, sex and race. The objective is to give Oakland residents an equal opportunity to work on the Army Base project, Brooks said.
Brunner, who supported Brooks’ amendment, said she was concerned about the broad language regarding hiring requirements contained in the original port agreement that the council previously voted on. “If we don’t have a process that we are tracking and if we don’t have a process that—in a timely manner—we can ask the contractor to fix, then we are not going to get local hires,” she said.
Brunner pointed out to Marc Stice, counsel for California Capital Investment Group, one of the Army base project developers, that there were not enough favorable votes in the room at the moment to pass the resolution amending the reporting guidelines and finalize the contract agreement with the city. Brunner suggested that the Stice advise the developer to continue to work with the city to come up with a process for monitoring jobs until the matter can be discussed again at a future council meeting.
A motion to move the resolution to the agenda for the meeting after the break was approved.
In other business, the council approved a resolution to honor Rev. Wortham Fears, who served as a Marine during World War II, and who last month received the Congressional Medal of Honor during a ceremony at the White House. Fears was among 20,000 black men who trained at the segregated Montford Point.
De La Fuente said that Fears helped to influence President Harry Truman’s decision to de-segregate the armed forces, and read an excerpt from the speech given by President Obama during the June 27 ceremony: “For outstanding perseverance and courage that inspired social change in the Marine Corps.”
“Semper fi,” Reid said to Rev. Fears, a term used by Marines meaning “always faithful.”
“I never dreamed in this lifetime that I would be a recipient of the Congressional gold medal,” Fears said. “20,0000 [African American soldiers] were trained at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and 13,000 were deployed to the South Pacific. Many did not return. Thank God he spared my life, I came back.”
Council meetings will reconvene in September.
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