December 26, 1989
As we gloat over the rise of democracy in Eastern Europe, it might be well for us to consider the extent of our own "democracy". Like, do we have any? Recently the MTC (Metropolitan Transportation Commission, made up of local politicians from around the Bay Area) did a very democratic thing: it surveyed the opinions of local residents on the issues of transportation, land use, and air pollution. And then they did a very undemocratic thing: they ignored the results, because they didn't come out the way they wanted them to.
Only 18% of the random sample of Bay Area residents said that the appropriate response to traffic congestion is to build more freeway capacity, while 34% said that we need more rail transit. However, this was not the answer the MTC wanted to hear. Although its official policy is "Transit First", in actual practice they always rubber stamp every freeway expansion project that Caltrans and local politicians are able to dream up. Their idea of a transit project is bigger parking lots at BART, or 46 feet of median in the middle of a brand new freeway "set aside for future transit". Transit users, bicyclers, pedestrians, and other non-drivers are afforded only second-class citizenship by these "democratically elected" officials, who apparently respond only to money.
Clean air, equal mobility for all citizens, and the most cost-effective use of the taxpayers' funds do not line the politicians' pockets; freeways do (via federal and state matching funds and campaign contributions from developers and big business). So what do we get? More freeways.
Where is the "democracy" that we are so proud of? In laws that are ignored by our own elected officials. Public officials, such as Caltrans Director Robert Best, are forbidden by law from campaigning for ballot measures, such as the $15.5 billion gas tax measure, SCA 1, that will be on our June ballot. But that is exactly what he has been doing, because it means billions of dollars worth of more freeways, and fat wallets for Caltrans and local politicians and developers.
To get what we want, clean air and equal mobility for everyone, vote NO on SCA 1. This will send a clear message to our "democratically elected" officials not to destroy our homes and neighborhoods, air, water, and peace of mind with more environmentally destructive death traps like the Cypress structure, but to preserve an environment that makes living here worth while. We deserve it. This is a democracy, right?
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.