Local Elections: Bond Measure Would Fund BART Retrofits

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Proponents of a tri-county measure that aims to seismically retrofit the BART system say riders' lives will be endangered without the measure's approval. Opponents, however, say residents should not be taxed for the transit agency's improvements.

Voters in Alameda, Contra Costa, and San Francisco counties will determine next month whether to approve Measure BB, a $1.05 billion bond, which proposes a property tax on land in the three counties to pay off the seismic retrofits.

Specific repairs within Berkeley would include station retrofitting at the Ashby, North Berkeley and Downtown Berkeley stations, as well as tunnel reinforcements in the Berkeley Hills, says Tom Horton, BART group manager for the Seismic Retrofit Program.

Most of the system's tunnels do not need retrofitting, he adds.

The measure is necessary to preserve lives and property in the event of an earthquake, say measure supporters like Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean.

"You can't put a dollar amount on human life," Dean says. "Hundreds of people would be killed in the event of a collapse of the (BART) system."

If no seismic retrofitting is done to the BART system, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake on the Hayward Fault would cause nearly $5 billion in damage, Horton says.

That estimate includes an earthquake's direct damage as well as subsequent lost ridership and the costs of alternate transportation, he says.

In the event of a larger earthquake, the soil surrounding BART's Transbay Tube could undergo "liquefaction," attaining quicksand-like properties, he adds.

Measure BB opponents say BART should have used money from its general fund to support the project, not taxes.

But in April, BART officially announced its budget deficit, following increases to its workers' salaries last September.

"(It's) just bad timing," says James Arata, board member for the Alliance of Contra Costa Taxpayers, of the measure's placement on the ballot only months after the deficit announcement.

Arata adds BART should increase its ticket charges to pay for the retrofitting costs rather than use property owners' tax money.

"They could pay it back with small surcharges per ticket," Arata says. "These are relatively small surcharges that apply to the rider rather than attacking every taxpayer in three counties."

Arata says the cost increase "works out to 11 cents (per ticket) in 2004 (and incrementally raises) to 59 cents in 2014," although Roy Nakadegawa, a member of the BART Board of Directors could not confirm those figures.

The Berkeley City Council passed a resolution endorsing the measure. Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who abstained from the vote, was the only council member not to vote in favor of it.

"There are too many taxes all at the same time," Worthington says. "The City Council and BART made the same mistake, putting too many measures on (the ballot) at the same time. Do you really think taxpayers are going to vote for 10 taxes at the same time?"

Repairs to the Transbay Tube could take more than a year, Nakadegawa says.


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