Oakland deserves better than the Airport Connector with our transportation dollars

I know you guys are tired of hearing about the Oakland Airport Connector. Believe me, I’m completely sick of it too. I have been going to meetings about the damn Airport Connector since January. Over and over and over again, I have watched dozens of people stand up and beg decision makers to be reasonable, to think of the future, to think of all the better ways this money could be spent.

And I have watched decision makers, over and over and over again, agree that the Airport Connector pretty much sucks and is a waste of money, but conclude in the end that since some people have been wanting to build a rail connection to the Airport for 20 years, and we have the money now, even if it is basically all of our money and building it means Oakland will not get anything else for almost two decades, and even though this isn’t actually rail and won’t offer the benefits of rail, it will kind of look like rail from the ground, we might as well just go ahead and do it.

It hasn’t helped, of course, that BART staff has lied about the project at pretty much every turn. They have lied to their own Board, they have lied to the MTC, and they have lied to the City Council. They probably lied to the Port Commission too, except I can’t say for sure because I wasn’t at those meetings because they conflicted with the City Council. I have a meeting to get to and limited internet access at the moment, so forgive the lack of links. When I’m done with my meeting I will go to use the awesome free wifi at AAMLO.

I think Becks is going to be covering the endless lies in a little more detail this morning, but there are three specific things that proponents of the project have been saying lately that I want to address. First, BART keeps saying to the press that they don’t care what Oakland thinks and that we have no stake in the project. However, they had quite a different story when they came to Rules Committee two weeks ago, basically threw a temper tantrum over tonight’s proposed resolution, said that the City of Oakland is one of their partners on the Airport Connector and threatened to sue for breach of contract if the Council passed a resolution saying they didn’t want it. So it kinda seems like they do care to me.

Second, BART’s job numbers are ridiculous. For ages, all their documents said the Airport Connector would create 200-300 jobs. Then, as soon as people started hammering them about how that is fewer jobs created than people who are going to get laid off because they’re taking those stimulus funds that could go to system preservation, they all of a sudden had new numbers. Their new “very conservative projections” had tacked a zero onto the old numbers, and Kerry Hamill sent an e-mail out to supporters that was basically one step away from encouraging people to just make job numbers up out of thin air. (The email does explicitly suggest that people claim the project will create 15,000 jobs.) BART’s official documents, submitted to the FTA, of course, tell a different story. How many jobs has BART actually figured the job will create? A grand total of 689 direct and indirect jobs, nearly all short-term construction jobs. That’s about $800k a job, and it’s a very far cry from what the ever-increasingly backwards and pathetic Chamber of Commerce promised in a letter to the City Council about how they support the Airport Connector, in which they claimed that the Airport Connector alone will reduce Oakland’s unemployment rate by 10%. I can’t figure out if the Chamber is really that stupid, or if they just think the City Council is that stupid.

Finally, there’s the issue of money. Project supporters, unable to convince anyone that this is actually a good thing to build, have basically settled on argument that since we have the money, we might as well spend it on this, because if we don’t, it will go away. That is, of course, not true. The only money that will go away if the OAC dies is $25 million (out of $550 million, remember) of a Federal public-private partnership grant. Most of the project cost is being funded by local, state, and regional money that will stay right here if this project isn’t going to be built. It can be reprogrammed to other projects.

Some people say “Oh, well maybe it will stay local, but the MTC and ACTIA hate Oakland so they won’t spend it on us.” Fuck that. The MTC has treated Oakland like a redheaded stepchild for decades, and telling us that the damn Airport Connector is the best we deserve is just another part of that. It is time for Oakland to demand better, and for Oakland to fight for its share of regional transportation dollars, and I don’t know if anyone’s noticed, but all these people against the Airport Connector can make an awful lot of noise and do not get tired of fighting. If the funds are being reprogrammed, we will go back to the MTC and to ACTIA and to the CMA and fight for Oakland to get the money and the transportation infrastructure and improvements that we deserve because we love Oakland.

I certainly have no illusions that changing suburban-oriented regional transportation priorities is going to be an easy task, but there’s a lot of people willing to put a lot of time and energy into ensuring that the inner East Bay starts to get its fair share, and you know what? That fight would be a whole lot easier if we have the Oakland City Council on our side. Because if the City Council is not willing to stand up and say that Oakland deserves better than another flyover connection like the one that destroyed 7th Street for our transportation dollars, then why should the MTC listen to anyone else who says so?

Anyway, the slides below illustrate where the OAC money is coming from, and what happens to it if the OAC is not built.

I apologize for any typos and errors, I am putting this up without proofreading. My computer is running out of batteries and I have to go and I just really wanted to put this up in the morning, but I will return and fix it when I get back.

If you haven’t contacted the Council about the airport connector yet, time is running out. You can of course come speak against it at tonight’s meeting, but if you can’t make that, call or send an e-mail RIGHT NOW this morning. Instructions at Living in the O.

40 thoughts on “Oakland deserves better than the Airport Connector with our transportation dollars

  1. Ken O

    I both emailed and called all relevant city council members this morning.

    Thank you VSmoothe and Becks and everyone for keeping on top of this dry heave that BART+MTC are trying to shove down our throats.

    Keep up the good work!


  2. Andy K

    Called yesterday.

    Good luck with the council.

    I cannot understand how anyone who has taken a serious look at this project can support it.

  3. Jim T

    I hope to make the council meeting tonight, but it may not happen. I have at least written the council… Good luck, V (and Becks and everybody involved). I really hope that the Council can show MTC that we have some backbone in Oakland.

  4. Becks

    Thanks for this post V. I’m unfortunately probably not going to get to my post breaking down the pro-OAC lies since I’m busy doing last minute prep for tonight. But I hope everyone will note what V wrote about jobs.

    Half a billion dollars for 689 jobs!

    Even if BART met it’s local hiring goals (which are just goals, not requirements) and hired 25% of its workers from Oakland, that would only create 172 jobs for Oaklanders. So the Chamber’s claims about impact on unemployment are absurd.

  5. Michal Migurski

    I called the whole list, never done that before.

    Jean Quan’s chief of staff said: “Let me guess, you think it’s a boondoggle? You’re about the thousandth caller we’ve gotten on the issue.”

  6. walnut creeker

    I think the airport connector is a great idea. I live in Walnut Creek and fly out of the Oakland Airport 1 – 2 times a month. I know there are many nice areas of Oakland, but the Coliseum/Airport area isn’t one of them. I usually drive to the airport because I don’t want to stand outside the BART station waiting for the shuttle, especially at night. With the connector I can safely take BART, which will be really convenient. An elevated connector is much better than a ground level shuttle or bus for safety and to avoid street traffic, allowing for a more regular schedule. It might take a little longer, but it is more important to have a dependable schedule to be able to make your flight. Sure, it might be somewhat expensive, but mass transit is never cheap, and it gets people out of their cars.

  7. len raphael

    WC, you are braver than you think posting that here :)
    There is a psychological divide between my friends who live in the burbs and the ones in oakland on how they perceive oakland street safety. Will take years of greatly improved well publicized facts on the ground to change that. shame, somewhat of a viscious cycle.

  8. Max Allstadt

    Walnut Creeker,

    I’m sure you think it’s a great idea. But it’s a bad idea FOR OAKLAND and for the entire inner east bay.

    The Airport Connector will not help Oakland economically. It will take you and your Walnut Creek money and send it flying over East Oakland. It will only benefit well-to-do business commuters like you, who spend little if any money in Oakland.

    Meanwhile, it will suck millions of dollars out of vital public transit in the inner east bay, making BART fare hikes and service cuts more likely, and reducing maintenance.

    For you, out in Walnut Creek, the connector will help 1-2 days a month. For working-class transit riders in Oakland, the money lost to the connector will cause daily reductions in our quality of life.

    I don’t care if somebody in Walnut Creek is too afraid of the inner city to stand and wait for a shuttle after dark. I would much rather impact your commuter travel than mess up the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who aren’t as lucky as you.

    Fortunately, tonight the voting will be by Oaklanders, for Oaklanders. This is a chance for the Oakland City Council to stand up to the suburban bureaucrats who are trying to waste money and hurt our city without having the courtesy to ask us what we want. Oakland first!

  9. len raphael

    Max, hate to say, but there are parallels to the whole parking thang with the oac issue, except the magnitude of the dollars. similar disconnects between how people framed the issues.

    it’s not “the progressives” vs “the knuckle dragging neanderthals”

    it wb very costly to our port of oakland if many of the airport users who flocked to oakland a couple of years ago, switched to sf or sj etc. we should have addressed their fears straight on.


  10. Chris Kidd

    I’m not sure what’s worse: Dellums doing nothing, or Dellums trying to do something.

    len, that certainly is one way to put it. But would the retention of a small number of WC’ers continuing to use Oakland Airport be worth the expense? What is the overall cost/benefit, for Oakland, for Oaklanders, or for the region as a whole? I’m pretty sure that even if we did it all out long-hand, it still wouldn’t be worth the astronomical costs in any of those breakdowns.

  11. Ken

    Oakland First Indeed.

    “Mayor” Dellums has in few ways acted as mayor.

    How does he benefit personally (politically, socially, economically) from last-minute advocating of the money-wasting OAC?

    This is also similar to the BRU suit against LA Metro over ten years ago.

    With the $500MM wasted on a rinky-dink airport connector, we could build SF MUNI style streetcar lines throughout East Oakland, connecting neighborhoods and job centers.

    Lots of good industrial land waiting to be put to use re-making things or growing food.

  12. Ralph

    Do you need speakers or time tonight? I have time on 15 and 16 but I am not inclined to walk to council to beat my head against a lost cause.

  13. David

    What I find absolutely hilarious is that the dimwitted citizenry of this area thought it was a good idea to vote in massive hikes in the bridge tolls to fund this BS.

    In reality it all gets sunk into $100,000+++ button-pushers, gold-brickers and their pensions/benefits.

    In my less cynical moments I realize that it’s just a conspiracy by the non-taxpaying lower class and the non-taxpaying upper class to stick it to the ever shrinking, productive middle class in order to suck the life out of people like me who just want to make a living, buy a house and raise a couple decent kids.

    And you keep on voting for this sado-monetarism. Do everyone a favor and STARVE the Leviathan state. Don’t ever vote for another tax or fee increase until pensions are scaled back, wages for gov’t workers come down to normal levels and there are real, actual, AUDITS of what is done with OUR money. Again, if you don’t think there is massive waste, fraud and graft going on here and with other boondoggles, what planet do you come from? How naive are you?

  14. len raphael

    Villain here is the federal stimulous program. without that program intentionally throwing money away, this project would have been cancelled. The stimulous is a no doc no income no asset verification grant.

  15. Barry K.

    len raphael- The other “villains” are those that don’t want oversight or accountability on how funds are spent.

    David- Why do you think there’s an effort on the local level to gut the Auditor’s office; again. (The City’s Whistle Blower Program report just got moved to the Finance and Management Committee; chaired by Quan.)

    Quan’s going to NY City to the Harlem Children Zone event in Nov. This group just got $10M from Obama’s admin. The CEO of HCZ has a salary of $495,000.

  16. navigator

    San Francisco International, MUNI and the BART extension to San Jose, thank Oakland for killing this project. How shortsighted is it to keep Oakland International at a competitive disadvantage to SFO. Small thinking will always keep Oakland an economic backwater. While San Jose and San Francisco fight for billions for a high speed rail system and BART extensions to go along with their impressive local light rail systems, Oakland throws 550 million intended to modernize the Airport, back to these same municipalities.

    How do we justify giving back 17.4 million to MUNI while AC Transit gets 6 million back? What does Oakland gain from killing this project? Do we instead get a light rail system from the waterfront, to downtown, up Broadway, through Piedmont Ave. and down College? Of course not. We get nothing from killing this project. We help San Francisco and San Jose further marginalize Oakland as a viable economic hub.

    We should have accepted that 550 million and demanded that BART create a state of the art, world class, SEAMLESS, and esthetically pleasing connector to Oakland International Airport.

  17. navigator

    This summer I visited Portugal . I wanted to fly out of Oakland International. Guess what? There were very few flights and SFO had cheaper flights and was more convenient with its own BART station. The East Bay has over 2.5 million residents in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties who are FORCED to go across the Bay for their air travel options. Why? Is this good for the environment?

    What’s going to happen to the hotels and restaurants on Hegenberger as Oakland International continues to lose market share to SFO and its BART connection? Don’t we realize that Oakland International is an economic engine for the city of Oakland? Why do we have to pit people from Walnut Creek against Oakland? It’s a regional airport and we want as many people from all over the Bay Area to use it. It’s good for Oakland’s hospitality industry, transportation industry, business community, etc.

    Is the idea to create a convenient connector to Oakland International or a local bus route? When I travel I’m not interested in patronizing businesses along the route. When I travel my main concern is to get to the airport on time and not miss my flight. You build the connector with one stop near the hotel area of Hegenberger. The connector would serve as incentive for travelers to stay at these hotels and patronize these restaurants with the added benefit of an easy and direct connection to the Airport and to destinations all over Oakland and the Bay Area.

  18. Patrick

    After last night’s (this morning’s?) vote, I have changed my mind. I am jumping on Michaan’s bandwagon – the City Council should be recalled (well, 5 of them at least). These profligate spenders deserve to be shown the door. What a bunch of fucking shortsighted morons.

    I will never vote for a parcel tax or any other tax/fee increase in our City/County/State ever again. EVER! I don’t care what it is for. The only solution is to starve the beast.

  19. len raphael

    Listening to the cc members was like watching a bad quiz show.

    Nav, in all this, i missed the reason why the oac was designed to force people to walk up and down and across with their luggage. if you’re going build a boondoogle, at least build it right. -len

  20. SF2OAK

    Well what’s an OAK resident to do? CC voted correctly to correct their mistake regarding parking fiasco yet voted for a $500,000,000 boondoggle OAC. I am conflicted because Nadel voted no to the greater boondoggle.

    These measly 3 points are keeping the council voting for the OAC:
    rules ensuring local workers will be hired for the construction; one intermediate stop on Hegenberger Road; and a full evaluation of fare rates to ensure affordability for Oakland residents.

    1st they probably have no teeth and 2 it is a crap transit proposal and they are willing to sign on even when the OAK CC has no say in the matter.

    I get it it’s all about union labor but how can you trust OAK CC when they’ll blow $500mm?

    uggh so disappointed

  21. navigator

    There is really no reason why it cant be done right. There is way more energy being directed to kill this project than there is in making sure that Oakland International gets a state of the art seamless airport connector in order to compete with SFO.

    This money which will be saved by stopping this project does not come back to Oakland. I’m not interested in propping up San Francisco’s MUNI to the tune of 17.4 million, along with BART extensions elsewhere in the Bay Area, as Oakland International is suffocated by SFO.

    Let’s see, we’re giving up 500 million for a possible state-of -the-art airport connector in Oakland so that AC Transit can receive 6 million out of this? Not spending 500 million in Oakland may be good for other transit agencies in the region, but it does nothing for Oakland. Also, I’m not too worried about a region which constantly denigrates Oakland and uses the city as a thoroughfare to get somewhere else.

    It’s time to fight for Oakland to get its share of transportation improvement funds. If you want to fight against something, fight against the HSR boondoggle up the Peninsula and into a San Francisco culdesac Oakland didn’t even get a station. We are talking billions there, not millions. Let’s have the 2.5 residents of the East Bay go over the Bay Bridge to SF to catch HSR. And now Oaklanders want to make sure that Oakland International dies a slow death? This is absolutely ludicrous!

    I can see killing that project if the money stayed in Oakland for a massive light rail system. But, killing this project to hand money over to MUNI and other transportation projects in other municipalities is plain nuts and doesn’t do a thing for Oakland.

  22. V Smoothe Post author

    Oh, just give it up Navigator. All the things you keep saying about the money are not true, and either you know they aren’t true and are repeating them anyway or you have not read anything that has been written about this project over the last nine months. We are NOT getting a state of the art connector, the plans are completed, the bids are in, there is no changing this project now to make it one. We are getting yet another blight inducing arial structure that will tear apart our city, just like the ones we got from BART along 7th Street and San Leandro Boulevard and a janky ass glorified bus to run along it.

  23. Dave C.

    I lost more and more respect for Pat Kernighan (my rep) with every sentence she spoke last night. I can sort of understand why she decided to support the OAC, but she would have been better off just saying that she couldn’t in good conscience oppose a large “shovel-ready” project that will create some jobs in Oakland, and leaving it at that. (How many jobs? Who really knows—even BART’s GM stated last night that she can’t understand BART’s own document because it is “poorly written.” That should really give us a lot of confidence in BART’s estimates!) I would still disagree with Kernighan, but I would understand that she was doing what she thought she had to do. Instead, she went on and on about what a tough decision it was, and dug herself deeper into a hole as she tried to rationalize her support for the OAC.

    It was just bizarre that right after a month-long discussion about how hard it is to close a $900,000 hole in the city budget, Kernighan was dismissive of the multiple millions of dollars that AC transit would get if the OAC were stopped. And it’s nauseating to hear her say things like, “I think about myself going to the airport, and, y’know, 6 dollars isn’t really that much.” Or, “People say this is a bad project, but really it’s just an expensive project” (No, actually, it’s a bad project; when a project is both extremely expensive and fails to produce significant improvements in service and introduces an obtrusive eyesore to the median strip of a business district without actually serving that business district, then it is indeed a bad project.)

    At the risk of coming off as sexist and offending people, I really thought that some of the council members last night sounded like abused spouses trying to explain why they weren’t leaving their abusers: “If we oppose them on this, then they might be mad at us. They might lose respect for us and not trust us. Maybe if we get them to make a super-extra-special promise to stop abusing us in the future, then they will treat us better next time around, even though they’re completely unapologetic about abusing us in the past.” Did it occur to them that the reason BART and the MTC treat Oakland with such disrespect is because Oakland acts like it needs to be grateful for whatever scraps are tossed in its direction?

    The BART GM’s response was priceless when she was asked for a timetable on the intermediate stop request in Dellums’ letter: She said something along the lines of, “I can’t give you a timeline for when we might contemplate musing about a consideration of whether or not we can possibly, at some future point, think about maybe entering into tentative discussions regarding a theoretical….” The words were obfuscatory, but the point was still as clear as day: I’ll make vaguely reassuring noises in order to get through this meeting, but you won’t be getting any specific promises from BART now or ever.

  24. Max Allstadt

    While we’re talking about things that aren’t true…

    Port of Oakland Executive Director Omar Benjamin got up in council last night and directly told Council President Brunner that the Port’s $44 million contribution to the OAC was money that just “Goes away” if the OAC isn’t built.

    That was blatantly deceptive. The Port raises that money with a one-time fee levy on the airlines that it can do almost any time it wants and the money can be used for many pro-Oakland, pro-Port purposes including all manner of airport upgrades.

    For future reference, Councilmembers, when Omar Benjamin looks you in the eye and tells you a “fact” about millions of dollars… LOOK IT UP.

  25. navigator

    V, Where’s the money saved from this going to go? Your charts above state that MUNI will get 17.4 million. Your charts above mention an extension for BART to Antioch. You charts above mention that the MTC will decide where to spend much of this money. Please don’t accuse me of not reading your charts.

    If anyone can tell me specifically which Oakland transportation and transit projects will benefit from this, please go ahead. I’d also like the dollar amount. An express AC Transit bus to San Francisco doesn’t count.

  26. Max Allstadt

    Transit projects that connect Oakland to the rest of the area count.

    And the seismic money, which is a lot… do you know where that would have gone? It would have gone to saving your butt from getting squashed by a BART train falling from 70 feet above you, or to saving your butt from getting drowned in the Transbay Tube. We are overdue for an 8.0+ and BART has decided not to make safety a priority.

  27. V Smoothe

    One project? Okay. BRT. BRT is on the ropes (well, at this point, basically canceled for all practical purposes) because of the Airport Connector. A 17 mile, state of the art, fast, reliable transit system connecting the major housing and employment centers of the inner East Bay, over, so we can destroy Hegenberger with a second-rate elevated bus that even BART says will not increase passenger traffic at the Oakland Airport.

  28. navigator

    So I was right. Oakland gives up money for the benefit of the region. Let’s ask San Francisco and San Jose to do the same with HSR. V, I don’t believe what BART says.

    I do believe that Oakland International wont be able to compete with SFO without an airport connector. We should be more worried about Oakland’s economy than leaving 17.4 million for MUNI.

  29. Max Allstadt


    You just responded to multiple factual rebuttals of your outrageous claims with a statement that is both a non-sequitor and a rehash of the claims that just got refuted.

    Consider applying for a management job at BART. You’d fit right in.

  30. navigator


    The seismic money is only 50 million of the entire total.

    Here is what is stated in the “If not used for OAC” part of the chart above.

    1) “MTC decides how it will be spent”

    2) “RM2 funds could go to any other RM2 capital project.”

    3) “1B funds could go to a variety of other Bay Area projects”

    Killing this project is great for the region not for Oakland.

  31. navigator

    The “I don’t believe what BART says” was a joke. Why quote BART on this, when obviously we don’t believe other BART statements that don’t fit the anti-connector argument.

  32. Max Allstadt


    I’m not going through the whole argument all over again, point by point with you on behalf of the scores of pro-transit advocates that have already made their case. Rebuttals to your argument have already been written. Look them up on TransForm’s site.

    The pro-OAC crowd got caught dissembling repeatedly. Government workers got caught faking “citizen” comments on blogs, on the clock, which is illegal. And the Director of the Port of Oakland… again… LIED to the Council President in no uncertain terms last night.

    This was big money steamrolling over genuinely concerned, genuinely informed advocacy.

    If you want to continue assembling spurious logic to support government waste, again… get a job at BART, or perhaps the Alliance for Jobs. They’ll enjoy listening to you. I’m done.