When the subject of extending service to Livermore popped up on a recent BART board meeting agenda, it was like an old friend had dropped in. This proposal has been kicked around among BART officials since at least 2002.
It's no surprise the project has taken so much time, because nothing happens quickly at BART. Perhaps you remember the last labor negotiation. We don't even know the details of the Livermore plan yet. Will rail service extend along Interstate 580 to Isabel Road? Will it extend farther east to Greenville Road? Will Livermore's transit connection involve some combination of bus service and diesel trains?
Because environmental impact reports are yet to be finalized, and because funding will be a part of any decision, not even fortune tellers know for sure. What was strange about the last discussion, however, is the option of a downtown station was still on the table. Residents have made it vividly, unmistakably, abundantly clear that they do not want a downtown station.
Mayor John Marchand, acting City Manager Troy Brown, former Alameda County Supervisor Valerie Raymond and former BART Director Robert Allen took turns emphasizing this to directors, just in case they missed the 8,000-signature petition that residents presented in 2011.
"The Livermore community has debated the issue and resoundingly said 'no' to BART in downtown," Marchand said. "Conversations about BART in downtown have resulted in mostly visceral responses full of angst and concern over many issues, including the displacement of residents, changing the character of our downtown, parking and traffic, to name a few."
Perhaps fearing the message still hadn't sunk in, the mayor went on to explain that the City Council amended its general plan to support a BART station at Isabel Road and not downtown. Only a vote of the people could reverse that action.
Raymond then jumped in. She not only agreed with the mayor, she said she'd helped organize the petition drive. Allen, who helped collect signatures, said Livermore residents "are in a great degree of uniformity now." The sentiment against a downtown station was as unmistakable as a club to the head. But if BART directors were dazed, they didn't let on.
Director John McPartland said he understood residents' preference -- he's even inclined to agree -- but downtown is an option that still must be studied. Director Zakhary Mallett said much the same and pointedly added that "looking at what's regionally optimal takes precedence in my decision-making to locally parochial interests."
Director Tom Radulovich gave even less ground. Visceral residents were not his concern. "I want to be informed," he said. "The reason we study alternatives is so people don't make decisions off the top of their heads."
So there, Livermore!
That left it to board President Joel Keller, who served three terms as Antioch mayor, to remind the board of a reality that should have dawned on them.
"I came from local government," he said, "and let me tell you, we're not going to do anything in Livermore unless Livermore residents get behind it. It's a mistake for the board to suggest that at some point we're going to dictate to a local community. People resent decisions being made outside their community."
It was a hopeful sign that residents' wishes may prevail. Of course, we won't know for some time. Nothing happens quickly at BART.
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org.