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Senate Transportation Committee Recap: Transit Consolidation Bill Pulled

Also, a bill from Senator Blakespear to reduce delays for building safer bike lanes along the California coast returns

4:43 PM PST on January 9, 2024

Note: GJEL Accident Attorneys regularly sponsors coverage on Streetsblog San Francisco and Streetsblog California. Unless noted in the story, GJEL Accident Attorneys is not consulted for the content or editorial direction of the sponsored content.

First things first: a bill from Senator Aisha Wahab (D-Hayward) bill to combine all 27 Bay Area transit agencies was withdrawn by the author before its first hearing, which would have been this afternoon.

While few would deny that the agencies could do a better job coordinating and communicating, S.B. 397 seemed like a longshot, given its icy reception from the transit agencies. Even advocates working on improving collaboration among the agencies have been cautious in their response. But consolidation is a priority for the bill's author, who issued the following statement:

"This is the first effort ever to consolidate the 27 agencies in the nine Bay Area counties. I’m excited that there is a groundswell of support to consolidate. There is no dodging this conversation any further, and I’m working collaboratively with stakeholders and prioritizing residents."

Faster Bike Lanes on the Coast

Two other bills got a hearing at today's Senate Transportation Committee, both bills holdovers from last year's session. One, from Senator Catherine Blakespear (D-Encinitas), seeks to make it easier for cities to avoid endless red tape when they build bike lanes in areas controlled by the Coastal Commission.

The Coastal Commission is on board with S.B. 689, said Blakespear, calling it a "good governance" bill that eliminates repetitive and costly traffic studies for bike lanes that have already been studied and approved.

In areas where the Coastal Commission has a say in what and how roads get built, cities - specifically the city of San Diego, one of the sponsors of the bill - have had to go through an onerous process to amend local coastal zoning before they could add bike lanes, even if it was only a matter of restriping. This, said Moira Topp, representing the city, has led to long and costly delays of between eighteen months to two years.

Vice Chair Roger Niello (R-Rancho Cordova) objected that passing this bill would allow any city that wanted to put in a bike lane to do so without a traffic study. Blakespear had to clarified several times that no, traffic studies are required - the bill would just eliminate duplicate studies, and put the power to improve safety with the local jurisdiction.

Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa) expressed frustration. "I don't see why you have to even ask the Coastal Commission in the first place," he said.

Senator Brian Dahle (R-Redding) asked what would happen when one city restripes for bike lanes and the next city over doesn't. "That's exactly the point of why we're here," responded Topp. Cities are trying to improve safety for bike riders, but "as soon as you hit the coastal zone, everything slows."

"We are here to help make sure the process is easier, faster, and makes a cohesive network," she said.

BART Inspector General

Meanwhile S.B. 827 from Senator Steven Glazer (D-Orinda), to strengthen the office of BART's Inspector General, got a second chance after failing its first committee vote last year. The office of BART Inspector General was created by Regional Measure 3, which authorized a large budget for the office from toll revenues. But the first IG had trouble getting work started, and they never got a charter to clarify their work scope because the one they proposed was opposed by BART labor unions and never adopted by the BART board.

This bill was supposed to clarify the roles and responsibilities of the IG, but it failed to pass its first committee hearing last April. An even earlier version of the bill was vetoed by Governor Newsom over the unresolved issues. Today, Glazer proposed some amendments that he said should allay concerns from labor organizations about having their collective bargaining agreements undermined.

For its part, a representative from the Amalgamated Transit Union told the Senator, "Thanks for balancing the need to keep the pressure on us, but also take into account how [this bill] impacts workers on the ground. We're about ninety percent there on charter reform; we hope that happens before the first quarter. If so, that would give us a path forward without a bill."

The bill passed 15-0, and is scheduled for a second hearing in the Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

For more details, read the bill's analysis [PDF].

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