Steven T. Jones has a good article on the fight over the Transbay Terminal in today's San Francisco Bay Guardian, giving some important background details on how an all-too-familiar kind of San Francisco political spat is affecting the debate over who will fund the downtown rail extension into the Transbay Terminal.
First and foremost, the dispute is a financial dispute. As Jones writes of Quentin Kopp's basic attitude:
Kopp is more interested in stretching this $10 billion bond far enough to complete his project. So he’s bristling at efforts by the TJPA to ensure that it’s first in line for the money.
My initial take on this last week was that Kopp was trying to make it clear that the Prop 1A funds are no free for all, and Jones's article supports that interpretation. Kopp explained his reasoning in a letter he wrote to the Transbay Joint Powers Authority on November 13:
Your staff continually seek to insinuate the Transbay Joint Powers Authority in activity which pertains strictly to the consummation of the California High Speed Rail Project. Your October 17, 2008 staff report declares that the total cost ‘of [your project’s] rail component is $2.996 billion.’ It then represents that $2,349,000,000 must be obtained for your project. Please do not attempt to secure California High Speed Rail Project funds to defray the enormous costs of the 1.4 mile ‘downtown rail extension.’ Such effort will not be welcomed by me. Moreover, as far as I am concerned, and I will so state publicly, the California High Speed Rail Project can, as necessary, utilize the terminal at Fourth Street and Townsend Street in San Francisco effectively and efficiently, and at a cost less than the aforementioned cost of your moving it.
As most of us agreed when this subject came up last week, while Kopp is technically correct that HSR could utilize the 4th and King terminal, the Transbay Terminal is a vastly superior solution. Jones quotes several unnamed "sources in the transportation world" who reach the same conclusion. And as I pointed out, the CHSRA board unanimously endorsed the Transbay Terminal as the preferred San Francisco HSR terminus, Kopp included. The Transbay Terminal's consultants fully understand the importance of the downtown extension:
Adam Alberti from Singer and Associates, tells the Guardian that Kopp has his numbers wrong and that TJPA will only be seeking $700-$800 million in Prop. 1A funds for the extension (the rest would come from other sources), which is about the same amount as he said it would cost to renovate the Caltrain station to handle the millions of new passengers the trains would draw.
“The facility is being designed to be the northern terminus for high-speed rail,” Alberti told us. “Their business plan is predicated on it coming into Transbay Terminal.”
Translation: the TJPA feels confident that despite Kopp's bluster, the CHSRA cannot and will not abandon the downtown extension. Eyeball to eyeball, they're convinced Kopp will blink first.
Of course there's more to this dispute than just finances. Kopp is upset with the director of the TJPA, Maria Ayerdi-Kaplan and Singer and Associates:
The letter also mocked the expertise of “your executive director, staff or publicity agents,” something Kopp went even further with a few days later when the Chronicle’s Matier and Ross brought the private spat out into the public (although they didn’t reference the earlier letter, which even Singer and Associates didn’t know about until today).
"I am not going to pay $2.5 billion to move a track 1.4 miles," Kopp said in that article, going on to say Ayerdi-Kaplan "is annoying ... and she and her flacks need to stay out of our hair."
Jones thinks Kopp has a point:
Ayerdi-Kaplan has been inaccessible in recent years and has stumbled into unnecessary fights with the Mayor’s Office, members of the Board of Supervisors, and neighbors of the project. It’s also disconcerting that a public agency feels a need to hide behind one of the most expensive and controversial PR firms in the city. So there’s probably a bit more going on here than what Alberti labeled “a personality clash with Maria Ayerdi.”
Still, the downtown extension really is a key part of the HSR project's success. We want the best transportation system possible and while HSR could survive losing the Transbay Terminal, it is immeasurably strengthened by having it.
As I concluded the last time we discussed this, the missing link is leadership. Neither Kopp nor Ayerdi-Kaplan seem to be providing it, instead engaging in a turf war that doesn't do anyone any good. Both of them need to realize that they need each other to be successful. And it's likely going to take outside pressure to make that realization stick.
There are any number of people who could provide that leadership. A certain San Francisco mayor with gubernatorial ambitions in 2010, for example. Or Senator Dianne Feinstein, herself a possible candidate for governor, someone who has the heft and relationships to help resolve this situation. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, yet another San Franciscan, would also be well positioned to help resolve this - especially if federal money can grease the wheels of a deal between the CHSRA and the TJPA.
We "alternative transportation geeks," as Jones calls us, have a lot at stake here. The Transbay Terminal downtown extension project is too important to all of us to fall victim to such rivalries. Kopp needs to tone down the rhetoric, Ayerdi-Kaplan needs to construct better working relationships with Transbay partner agencies, and leading California politicians need to provide some leadership and not allow these folks to tear the project apart through internecine warfare. And we HSR supporters need to let everyone know that the project, and not the personalities, are what matter most.