Opinion 1999, part 1
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
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!
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
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
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)
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
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 email@example.com
(July, August 1999)
Run dates: 1999-08-01 - 1999-07-01