May 16, 1992
Dr. Gerald Meral
Planning and Conservation League
926 J Street, Room 612
Sacramento, California 95814
Dear Dr. Meral:
Your offer to Quentin Kopp this afternoon to put the Bay Link rails on a new structure attached to the Bay Bridge made me uneasy. Since I just got a letter from Gary Patton asking me to renew my membership in PCL, and since this relates to my feelings about PCL, I would like to try to explain it to you.
I feel that PCL, most transit advocates, most bicyclists, and most environmentalists (in fact, most "underdogs") compromise too much. The Bay Link study has not been done. It has not even been approved. And yet you are already ready to compromise! Most of us, I believe, would like to take two existing lanes for rail. Or four. Bicyclists, undoubtedly, would like to take another lane or two and put a high-class (what comes above "Class I"?) bikeway on the bridge. And yet rather than asking for what we want, we bend over backwards to convince our "opponents" that we don't really want much, and are willing to give up most of what we want, if we can just get a few crumbs. And we beat up on anyone who dares to ask for something that is not "politically practical" -- in other words, whatever displeases those currently in power.
I feel very strongly that this strategy (which in some is so sacred as to feel just like a religion!) is wrong. We are almost begging to remain second class citizens. I can't for the life of me see what is wrong with asking for what we really want! We certainly won't get it if we don't ask for it! In fact, in other settings, good bargaining strategy always begins with asking for much more than you expect to get. They play hardball; why don't we play hardball? Surely, we must have something they want!? As a matter of fact, we have a lot that we can use as bargaining chips. For example, our wallets: if we all agreed to boycott a key industry, we could get it to do just about whatever we want.
Some of my less aggressive environmentalist friends are always saying that we must self-censor what we say, so that we will be "taken seriously" and be able to "sit at the bargaining table", and not be "marginalized". This is nonsense! I go to the same hearings that they go to, and sit at the same "bargaining tables" that they sit at, and see that neither one of us is listened to! The only difference is that they get "stroked" more than I do and are allowed to hang around (tongue hanging out, waiting for table scraps) more. Which they pay for dearly by lowering their demands.
Steve Weir, Chair of the MTC (Metropolitan Transportation Commission), told David Pilpel that "that Vandeman" would be "so much more effective" if he were nicer. (Of course, all of my "nicer" friends are ignored just as much as I am.) He created a new "air quality" committee, to which he invited Pilpel, Ken Ryan, and John Holtzclaw (I was not invited), bought them lunch, and convinced them that they would have some power to modify their multi-million dollar highway projects before they get to the Work Program Committee! However, he and the MTC still voted 10 to 2 to approve the widening of I-80.
A good rule of thumb is that if nobody gets offended or laughs at you, you are doing something wrong. I.e., you are not pushing out the envelope of the possible. ("In New York if you don't get threatened occasionally you go see a therapist and ask him why you have no charisma." Gridlock, Ben Elton, p.244) I think that nice guys like you, Michael Remy, and Gail Lucas do a disservice by pulling your punches. "Radicals" give others the courage to come out of the closet and say what they thought but were afraid to say. They push out the envelope of what is possible and practical. Many times, someone quiet has come up to me after a speech and thanked me for saying something that I thought (because I heard no one else saying it) was pretty radical.
Today's radical idea is tomorrow's common sense. When I first approached the Berkeley City Council about opposing the expansion of I-80, the idea was literally unthinkable for them. They told me that it had never occurred to them that they could refuse to sign a freeway agreement. I thought I was being very radical to propose recently that we create continuous wildlife corridors from border to border, north-south and east-west, with no human access (all human facilities such as roads tunnelling underneath). But just the other night I was watching a National Geographic program on TV about Hawaii, and they mentioned that there are islands which are off-limits to human access, in order to protect the wildlife!
In 1984 the Sierra Club Bay Chapter supported Alameda County Measure B, which was a lot of money for expanding freeways, and a bit for transit, presumably in order to get that money for transit. (And A/C Transit has been going downhill ever since.) At that time, it was considered necessary to sell your soul, just to get a smidgen of money for transit. Turning down any money for transit was at that time considered "radical". Now we see that the highway construction just draws patrons away from transit, and more than cancels whatever transit improvement there is.
Recently the Conservation Committee actually considered petitioning EBMUD (our water agency) to open up the upper Mokelumne River to rafting! I thought I was being very radical in suggesting that we not push for human domination or even human presence in every square inch of the globe, but rather the reverse, reserving more and more area for exclusive use by wildlife. And then I found that our Chapter Chair, Ruth Gravanis, agrees with me.
I would like to suggest, therefore, that a belief that a bill will fail miserably is not a good reason not to introduce it. It is extremely important to stretch people's ideas of what is possible and desirable as far as we can. Not only is that closer to reality, but it is more enjoyable! Low-balling is no fun!
Since a rail line, or even a bike lane, carries the equivalent of several freeway lanes, there is absolutely no reason why we shouldn't demand that existing lanes be converted to these uses. It isn't the least bit irrational or unreasonable. In fact, to stave off global warming, according to scientists, we need to reduce fossil fuel consumption by 50%. I don't think this is an exaggeration. I don't care who laughs. There are plenty of uncorrupted people who aren't afraid of the truth. We don't have to worry overly much about what those who are profiting from the status quo say, since they will inevitably become fewer and fewer, as more and more people who aren't afraid of it learn the truth.
If it turns out that Plan A fails, there is plenty of time to compromise later. But by then, everyone will know what we really want, and will have heard it so often that it will no longer sound radical or unreasonable!
There are at least four groups of people who can't protect themselves, and whom, therefore, we must and should protect: wildlife, native peoples, children, and the poor. Whenever we compromise, they lose. Whenever we compromise, the environment always loses. We feel warm and gooey and crow about our wonderful "victories", but they meanwhile end up extinct! Dave Foreman (Confessions of an Eco-Warrior) was right. Most environmentalists are selling their souls and the planet's chances of survival in exchange for a few warm fuzzies.
They (our opponents) don't pull their punches; why should we??? I am seriously considering not renewing my PCL membership. You don't represent me, and I doubt that, could they talk, any wildlife would say that you adequately represent them. Not because you don't work hard and mean well, but because you simply won't tell the unvarnished truth, which we all desperately need to hear.
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.
cc: Gary Patton et al