Council Threatens to Kill eBART if Station Lacks Facilities


City officials may nix eBART if the Hillcrest Station doesn't include an agent, escalator and restrooms.

By Dave Roberts

The plan to construct an eBART line to Antioch in five years could become derailed if the station planned at Hillcrest Avenue and Highway 4 does not include a station agent, restrooms and an escalator. That threat was made by Councilman Brian Kalinowski at the December 14 council meeting, backed strongly by former Mayor Don Freitas, and not questioned by other council members.

BART Board Member (and former Antioch Mayor) Joel Keller told the council that there is not enough money in the $462 million project budget to provide the same amenities at Hillcrest as other BART stations, which have station agents, escalators and restrooms (although the restrooms in underground stations have been closed for national security).

But Kalinowski argued that the cost of a full station won’t be known until it’s designed and placed out to construction bidding. “It has to be the full option, and we see what the bids reveal and move from there,” he said. “If it can’t be included in the bid document, I direct city staff to bring back to the City Council a resolution to request the BART Board to not approve the bid to go out.

“At the end of the day if the project and facility doesn’t meet the needs of the city of Antioch, then it’s the wrong project for Antioch and it should not be a project built in Antioch. I get that there’s $462 million (in authorized funding) and we lose all that money and if MTC (Metropolitan Transportation Commission) hears this they will never give us money for anything again. I get all that political risk.

“But the message that has to be delivered to BART is: You underestimated the (Hillcrest) platform facility. I’m not willing to punt on this item as we move forward. That bid document must contain those provisions. It’s one time to get it right. If we don’t get it right, we’ll never revisit it, and we’ll always wish that we did it. My request is that this council have the action item to ask the BART board not to send the project to bid.”

Keller responded, “Fair enough. You’ll make eight (other BART) directors very happy.”

Freitas, who represented Antioch (and East County) on transportation issues from 1998-2008, made a rare appearance at a council meeting to blast the barebones station plan presented by Keller.

“I cannot believe at this stage we are talking about a station agent, an escalator and a bathroom,” said Freitas. “It just boggles my mind. The concept of eBART is that we would always, always, always build the extension to classic BART standards – and in the interim we would have the eBART standard. So to see a design that doesn’t have some of the basic components of a station is absolutely unbelievable and, frankly, unacceptable. This council should say ‘no.’

“I’m just appalled that this is the type of discussion that we are having. These elements are basic to a station. We’ve all been to a city park after an event when the bathrooms are closed and they smell like urine. This station should not smell like urine.

“And there is a safety issue. You want to see a station agent that you can run to if there is an emergency. Having something 10 miles away (at the Pittsburg/Bay Point BART Station) on congested Highway 4 is not going to make it. This council should say ‘hell no’ to this project unless these elements are in the overall bid. I can’t understand why you can’t have alternative bidding. Design it, put it in the bid and then make a decision.”

Keller said he and BART staff would do their best, but he declined to commit to sending a full station project out to bid without knowing the potential cost and whether it would put the entire project over-budget.

“BART is not paying for the station,” Keller said. “CCTA (Contra Costa Transportation Association) and MTC are paying for the station. Both of our partners have said there is no more money. I understand how passionate you all feel. If your decision is that nothing is better than compromise, that ultimately will be your decision. 600 people won’t go to work (constructing eBART), 10,000 people won’t have the opportunity to use (eBART) transit in East Contra Costa County. If you say, ‘Don’t build it,’ you won’t get any of those funds.

“We have adopted a resolution that BART will be responsible for the operating subsidy once it’s built. We are on the hook. We will try to do our best to be responsive to what you said. I fight for the city. I sat in one of those (Antioch City Council) chairs for 12½ years, lived in the city for 30 years. I’m not about to turn my back on the people of Antioch. We live in a fiscally restrained environment. If we had all the money in the world I would be very happy to stand before you and say we will fix these problems.”

BART Police Operations Commander Dan Hartwig, who’s been with BART for 28 years, told the council that there probably should not be restrooms at the Hillcrest Station if there is no station agent on duty to monitor them.

“I’m the bathroom expert,” he said. “We’re the only transit agency in the United States that provides bathrooms at every station. It works well in most spots. In some spots it doesn’t work well at all. Our bathrooms are designed like the bathroom in your home – you can lock the door behind you. If you talk about a station that’s not going to be staffed and it provides that room for privacy, it’s going to turn into a magnet that none of us are going to want to deal with at that station – much like (restrooms in) city parks and Amtrak stations.”

Keller reminded the council that BART’s tight fiscal situation is similar to Antioch’s. BART needs to find an additional $3-4 billion to purchase about 1,000 cars to replace older ones, despite a budget so tight it has had to lay off car cleaners.

“We will do the best we can on behalf of the riders, the commuters,” he said. “We represent the same people. I don’t like standing up here and hearing what I’ve heard this evening. It’s not fun for me. But I have to be realistic about what’s affordable. We are all in the same boat. Pointing fingers is an easy way to resolve issues, but I’m not sure it gets us anywhere. I’m one vote on a (nine-member BART) board. We have their support (for eBART), but there is a limit to how much people are able to support.”

Keller agreed to come back to the council in early 2011 with the updated Hillcrest Station plan. An eBART station is also planned at Railroad Avenue in Pittsburg, but it is being solely funded by that city.

In other action earlier in the meeting, council members balked at the million-dollar cost to upgrade the police communication system to a regional digital network, but they deadlocked on whether to pull out of the agreement. The issue will come back at a future meeting.

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2 Comments to “Council Threatens to Kill eBART if Station Lacks Facilities”

  1. Juan Tinnirello says:

    About 50 years ago and perhaps more, because I’m not sure, I voted to be taxed for BART to be part of the transportation system for the Bay Area. San Jose did NOT. Now San Jose will have Bart to go there but we, that have been paying all these years, are getting a second class EBART that only goes to Hillcrest and does not even have access to handicap people without at least an escalator. WE ARE NOT SECOND CLASS CITIZENS. In my opinion this is NOT acceptable at all. If there is no money for 1000 new cars the whole board should be fired. What did they do 50 years ago…did they think the cars will last forever? Very poor management. I was in corporate America for 30 years and we always budgeted for replacement equipment and charged accordingly and showing a profit every year!

    I’m very disappointed and we have not seen the end of this big fiasco. Meanwhile we still pay taxes and the results are very disappointing.

    • Publisher says:

      Mr. Tinnirello,
      Thank you for reading the Herald and for your comment.
      Just a few points to help you better understand why we’re getting eBART instead of real BART.
      The taxes you paid that were approved, 50 years ago, was an property tax assessment for bonds for the original system to Richmond, Fremont, Concord and Daly City. Those were paid off in 1999.
      There has never been a new property tax as a revenue stream to pay for any extensions beyond that.
      Instead, what property owners are currently paying on the tax bill is for earthquake retrofit of the existing system, as approved by voters in, I believe 2005.
      The funding for the eBART system is from bridge tolls, the county’s Measure J half-cent sales tax measure, some state money and some money from BART. The half-cent sales tax we pay for BART is for operations, as well as some for AC Transit to bring riders to BART. None of that is for construction of extensions.
      There’s no federal money included, because they determined that we would not have enough ridership, even once all the homes are built in East County, to justify spending any federal funds for the extension to Antioch. So, they couldn’t afford to pay the $150 million per mile for full BART. eBART is costing $56 million per mile.
      The extension to San Jose is being paid for with money from Santa Clara County, state money and some federal funds, because they can prove ridership. But, even that system will end six miles from downtown San Jose, at the Berryessa Station.
      Feel free to contact our BART Director, who represents Antioch and East County, Joel Keller with your concerns.
      Allen Payton, Publisher.

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