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Opinion 1999, part 1

Guest column:

Think Pool, Think Pool-ing of Resources!

by Peter Loubal

The Sept. 13 Council meeting was devoted to two major topics:

1. How to come up with $5 million for a refurbished swimming pool that everybody wants, but not everybody wants to pay for.

2. What do we do about our $6 million "BART parking garage" fund that everybody wants to spend, without turning El Cerrito even more into a parking lot for Solano County.

Several speakers urged us to "think outside the box". Even more encouraging were our BART directors. Willie Kennedy called for "doing what the community wants", and Roy Nakadegawa for spending the money wisely on BART feeder access rather than on structures that will only worsen congestion.

All this leads to a very simple "outside the box" solution to BOTH above problems:

A. Six million dollars will build a 400-space garage, but take up one acre, which already parks 120 cars. The net parking space increase is therefore just 280 new spaces. Meanwhile, at least 200 unused daytime spaces are readily available close to the Community Center, by Cerrito Vista Park and along non-residential Portola street. This area is also within walking access of several hundred BART commuters that would otherwise drive the mile or more to the closest BART station.

B. It costs $100,000 per year to operate a shuttle bus for 4 hours per workday, two each during the morning peak (7:30 to 9:30) and the evening peak (4:30 to 6:30). It takes five minutes to drive from Community Center to Plaza BART. A back and forth loop, with a five minute wait to pick up passengers at one end in the morning or the other in the evening, would take 15 minutes.

C. Two buses (one every 7.5 minutes) can serve about 500 or more commuters, morning and evening, with about half arriving via 200 cars that require parking, and the rest by walking, bicycling, or being dropped off, with each of the two buses making four loops per hour while carrying 25 passengers or more on each trip.

D. Passengers would be served free, but $2 would be collected to pay for all-ay parking. Since most passengers would be regulars and the money "goes toward the pool" we should expect compliance and fairness, and hopefully not have to worry about extra neighborhood parking control.

E. The parking revenue would offset the cost of one of the two buses since $2 x 200 spaces x 250 workdays per year = $100,000.

F. BART would actually "save" the equivalent of 400 parking spaces. Since it costs BART $1 per day to maintain each parking spaces, it would be fair to request BART to come up with the $100,000 needed to operate the second bus. The shuttle buses would therefore not need any other subsidy.

This gets us to the solution:

1. BART, in view of getting more parking than it would otherwise, joins with 23,500 El Cerritans to convince the Contra Costa Transportation Authority to rethink the money allocation and provide $5 million to the City of El Cerrito to build the Swim Center. Note that the bond measure passed in 1988 permits the spending plan to be adapted to changing circumstances. El Cerrito neighborhoods close to BART stations would breathe a sigh of relief. El Cerrito would become not just "The City of Homes", but also the "City that loves BART".

2. "Friends of the Pool" would operate a volunteer small van shuttle service, to drive commuters back to their cars (or even homes) if they return outside the shuttle bus service hours. The Swim Center office would serve as the dispatch office with commuters telephoning for service. This would be their contribution to the effort. It would constitute a more profitable use of their energy and resources, than trying to convince the nine out of ten El Cerrito families that are not pool users to come up with the bond money.

3. This leaves $1 million of untapped measure-C funds. These would go to Peter Loubal for having the idea. Since Peter Loubal would hate to see the IRS get hold of most of this money, he pledges to donate $900,000 toward the soccer field and $100,000 toward the Canyon Trail Clubhouse. Even more people are happy!

This solves the problem of both the $5 million we need, the $6 million we don't really know how to spend, plus a bit more.

The New Task Force can go and jump in the New Pool!

Next problem, please.

Archived oct. 1999


E-mail to the editor:

Teachers' union president asks support in pushing for comparable wages

United Teachers of Richmond continues to struggle for salaries that will attract and retain teachers for the children in the West Contra Costa Unified School District.

The WCCUSD teachers continue rank at the bottom of salary schedules when compared to other districts in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. Teachers continue to leave this District, although many would remain if the salaries were comparable to other districts.

United Teachers of Richmond and the West Contra Costa Unified School District met for three days this week in a fact finding hearing regarding negotiations. The hearing was not completed and an additional day, September 7, 1999 has been scheduled. This hearing is the latest stage in the negotiations process which began in the fall of 1998. The teachers have been without a contract since June 30, 1998 and have not had any salary increase for '98/99 nor for the upcoming school year.

UTR is asking for an 8 percent salary increase. This is the minimum amount necessary to even begin to have competitive salaries. The district's latest offer was a 2 percent, non-retroactive increase. Last spring a state mediator was appointed and met with both parties. A mediated agreement, which included a 3.5 percent raise, was rejected by the WCCUSD School Board.

The findings of the fact finding panel are not binding, but will have an impact on what happens next in this District. When the hearing is completed, the neutral fact finder will have up to thirty days to issue a report. An agreement can still be reached at any time, or the teachers may vote to strike after the report is made public.

UTR is asking members of this community to join us in the fight for a fair salary increase. Please call or e-mail school board members and the superintendent and let them know that this contract must be settled so that we can all focus on teaching and learning. Our children deserve it!

Thank you.

Marta Dragos,

President United Teachers of Richmond, CTA/NEA


Officials need to get started at cyber-speed to meet vision of 2020

El Cerrito leaders have a wonderful vision for the year 2020. It is of an attractive city with well- tended parks, tastefully designed office buildings, and charming shops. Young professionals stroll down the Avenue, stop for a cup of coffee, then head to a meeting center near one of the BART stations. They do most of their work from home or offices in other cities, but ocassionally need to meet in person with colleagues. Some have walked from their homes nearby, while others are coming into town by BART or train. El Cerrito was chosen for the meeting site because it is centrally located, well served by public transportation, and everyone agrees El Cerrito is a great place to shop and dine after the work is done.

It's a beautiful vision. But if we want it to be a reality, we have to get busy. Now.

The vision is based on a section of the draft General Plan, which will guide development in the city for the next 20 years. The City Council will consider the final version Aug. 30. Also in the works are efforts to develop an "Ecomomic Development Action Plan" for El Cerrito. Government and business leaders are looking to develop a long-term plan for stimulating El Cerrito's economy. But they also recognize that if El Cerrito is going to be the city we want it to be in coming years, we've got get started immediately. The group suggests talking with local businesses to find out what their needs are, now and for the future, and creating a brochure and web site to attract new businesses.

The group, which was put together July 6, has in its short existence zeroed in on some key factors of what it will take El Cerrito to achieve the rosy future the General Plan envisions: We need to plan seriously for the city's economic future; We need to start soon; and, Understanding business needs and advancing technology is critical.

Whether you care most about police services, parks and recreation programs, preserving creeks, or improving transportation, money sure helps. There's only so much the city can squeeze out of its residents. If we want more money for city services, if we want local jobs, if we want convenient shopping and dining, we need to convince people El Cerrito is a place they want to live and do business.

The city needs to talk to existing businesses. We've seen from the town's prickly response to redevelopment efforts over the years that many of us are sentimental about the businesses we patronize.

But the city is also going to need to be smart enough to cultivate businesses that aren't in El Cerrito today, that aren't anywhere today. While familiar faces will speak up for existing, local businesses, future businesses don’t have a ready advocate. City leaders will have to see El Cerrito through the eyes of that young professional of the year 2020 if El Cerrito is to become the city we want it to be.

Community leaders can start by making themselves familiar with every bit of technology available today, and having a vision of what that technology will look like in 20 years. Because by the year 2020, every business will be high-tech.

The city can start by fully utilizing technology in its own operation. Someone who is interested in developing a business or moving to El Cerrito should be able to reach chamber officials, city staff, council members, and commissioners by e-mail and get a quick response. Interested parties should be able to access extensive information about the city on the Internet.

A web page would be a much more appropriate public relations vehicle for a forward-looking city than a brochure, which will be out of date by the time it is printed. And if the city is going to start a web page that’s going to impress today’s business people, it had better be good. Frequent users of the Internet are used to getting a lot of information, quickly, and if your site is too slow, disorganized, seldom updated, too heavy on PR and too light on information, visitors can leave your site for a more inviting venue with a single click of the mouse.

Exciting things are happening with technology and El Cerrito can be a part of it. But fortunes are made and broken in hours in cyberspace. If El Cerrito is going to come up one of the winners, it’s going to have to get up to speed and fast. Because it sure would be nice to live in that El Cerrito of 2020 envisioned in the General Plan.

(July, August 1999)


Guest column

By Peter Loubal

Last Chance for a Rational General Plan

Many El Cerritans have over the past several months voiced criticism of the General Plan and associated Environmental Impact Report, both about to be adopted. The three main areas of concern are:

A. Preserving open space

This issue has produced its adherents, mainly from among the most affected neighbors. Commissioners and Council are likely to be responsive. Still, it would be good to tie this to economics and social equity. Costs need to be balanced against park benefits - preserved quality-of-life and housing values under increasing density. We also need to recognize that though El Cerrito is blessed with adequate open space, there is a shortage of parks within walking access of the flatland neighborhoods earmarked for denser development.

B. Traffic

The draft Plan is based on unbelievably low traffic projections. The consultants assume a regional traffic growth (along I-80 corridor or across town, but with origins and destination outside of El Cerrito) at about one sixth to one tenth that of what is forecast by others.

Recent projections by ABAG, MTC, CalTrans and BART assume annual employment and job growth of over 2% in Contra Costa. The annual growth of traffic on state highways has been 2.8% over the last 3 years. BART projects a 38% increase in ridership in just 10 years while BART ridership at the two El Cerrito stations has increased 58%. The forecast is for a 249% increase in highway congestion. Yet El Cerrito's General Plan projects a scant 5% increase in both auto and transit access traffic over the whole 20 year period. This is less than past growth from year to year.

The consultant's estimates have been questioned by several residents, and also by Caltrans. Answers, when provided, have been evasive and unconvincing. The General Plan ignores good and recent data: Caltrans monitors traffic at nine I-80 and SR 123 (San Pablo Avenue) El Cerrito sites. Congestion Management Agencies utilize much more valid techniques for measuring travel time and service levels than the outdated and formalistic LOS measurements of El Cerrito's consultant. In the most recent correspondence of June 30, 1999, the consultants justify their conclusions by two studies, 1994 WCCTAC (County Transport Agency) and 1995 CCS (a Consultant), supposedly predicting a drop in San Pablo Avenue traffic. They claim regional growth represents only a small portion of total traffic growth. Actually, these two by now rather outdated reports, if anything, also support the much higher growth expectations.

The CCS report accepts the WCCTAC findings as the most recent ones at the time. CCS clearly rejects a major part of El Cerrito's own 1994 Supplemental Environment Report findings, "these projections assumed an extension of BART beyond Richmond by 2010, and did not address queuing along San Pablo Avenue", (page 2-6). So much for the report that guided our Redevelopment for the last five years. It also stresses that "traffic on San Pablo Avenue is largely regional.... rather than customer traffic accessing local businesses" (page 2-2), and that WCCTAC "proposed a light rail line from Oakland to Hilltop... a capital improvement that is not likely to occur.." (page 2-1). Should we base our newest General Plan on yet one more pipe dream?

The 1994 WCCTAC report states (on page 36) that "planned highway and transit improvements will not be enough to accommodate traffic growth in the I-80 corridor." On the same page is the statement that "..the I80/San Pablo Avenue corridor will operate at 17% over its capacity in the year 2010." From the relative numbers projected for various highway elements, it should have been obvious that WCCTAC's projected reduction of San Pablo Avenue traffic for the year 2000 largely reflected the model's tendency to over assign to freeways and under assign to surface streets. The consultant and management should have recognized the model's individual link volumes were meant to be interpreted as potential rather than actual traffic, that most drivers would much prefer freeway speeds than a slower arterial route, even if shorter, that WCCTAC did not even try to account for how a light rail line would affect auto traffic on San Pablo Avenue. In this respect the WCCTAC model is not just outdated, but wrong. The consultants had no business using it when newer data and models were available.

C. Economic Issues

Unfortunately, the General Plan's failures in traffic analysis invalidates most planning and economic assumptions and conclusions. Areas in the immediate vicinity of BART stations should be reserved for more extensive transit operations to help moderate the auto traffic onslaught. Proper provision must be made to let pedestrians cross our increasingly busy arterials. San Pablo Avenue will become a less and less desirable location for residential housing, but hopefully have sites suited as trip destinations. Residential neighborhoods will need to be protected. Businesses will have to decide how best to translate congested traffic into customers.

The challenge of ever more traffic will bring new opportunities. Customers may increasingly avoid freeways and try to shop locally. El Cerrito Del Norte could become a major transit hub for travel to the airport and to sports events. There is money to be made.

Sensible planning would have entailed putting numbers onto the relative costs and benefits of alternative ways to handle the various challenges and opportunities. This was promised in the General Plan proposal but never delivered, "economic consultants will provide baseline analysis..market overwiew...reality checks...fiscal evaluation of alternatives." No serious attempt seems to have been made to put in place a mechanism for achieving cooperation between El Cerrito and neighboring communities. So much effort went into visioning that little was left for honest down-to-earth planning. This is a failure of management. As a result, our General Plan is not a suitable tool for decision making and we had better start the new process of sub-area planning for Mid Town, Del Norte, etc., based on credible economic and traffic projections. Will we ever learn? The very flawed General Plan has cost us $225,000 for the consultant and possibly some $175,000 in staff costs.

Moved to archives Sept. 1, 1999

E-mail to the editor

At a recent meeting on "Free Choice" the point was made that one tactic used by social conservatives is to get their members elected to local school boards. The tactic is, once elected, to oppose the teaching of sex education and perhaps recommend that the theory of evolution be replaced by the teaching of creationism. Could this happen in El Cerrito? We have a school board election coming up soon. Is there any way of making sure this does not happen on the WCCUSD board?

Ralph McLaughlin mclaughlin1@compuserve.com


(July, August 1999)

Run dates: 1999-08-01 - 1999-07-01

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