Breaking ground - Page 2

The Transbay Terminal project moves forward — without funding for its rail component

At its peak at the end of World War II, 26 million passengers used the station annually, but those numbers dropped off precipitously as private automobile use increased.

The neighborhood around the terminal at First and Mission streets deteriorated and became a redevelopment district full of dormant public land, which the state turned over to facilitate development activity that includes the terminal rebuild (with a rooftop park), a neighborhood of 2,600 new homes (35 percent of which are required to be affordable), and a series of towering office buildings (including the tallest one on the West Coast).

Land sales expected to total $429 million are the single biggest funding source for phase one of the Transbay Terminal project, with the rest coming from state and federal funds, participating transit agencies such as AC Transit, a loan that will be repaid by increased property taxes, and increases in the sales tax and bridge tolls that were dedicated to the project by past ballot measures.

The prospects of bringing trains into the terminal seemed to rely on the high-speed rail project, which Kopp instigated as a legislator in the mid-'90s. Since then, the project has been studied and certified, with its documents explicitly spelling out how trains will travel from Transbay Terminal to Los Angeles Union Station in about two hours and 38 minutes.

After years of delays in bringing the $9.9 billion high-speed rail bond measure to the ballot, Proposition 1A was narrowly approved by voters Nov. 4. The TJPA immediately asked CHSRA for priority funding and was rebuffed by Kopp, who on Nov. 13 wrote, "Please do not attempt to secure California High Speed Rail Project funds to defray the enormous cost of the 1.4 mile 'downtown rail extension.' Such effort will not be welcomed by me."

In comments to both the Guardian and the San Francisco Chronicle, Kopp raised questions about wasteful spending at TJPA, the leadership of Ayerdi-Kaplan (who has met with Kopp and CHSRA director Mehdi Morshed just once), and the TJPA's use of Singer and Associates, whose multiyear contract of up to $900,000 calls for paying the TJPA's main contact, Adam Alberti, $350 per hour. "We don't have a PR person deflecting media inquiries," Kopp said of his agency.

Ayerdi-Kaplan, who had little transit or executive experience before being appointed to the post at the urging of then–mayor Willie Brown, met with the Guardian editorial board last week and glossed over her past inaccessibility and conflicts with Kopp, saying the project is on track, she's engaged with it, and she's confident of its success.

"We have raised over $2 billion for the project and have a fully funded phase one. We're still working on identifying the funding for the rail," Ayerdi-Kaplan said. TJPA has developed a list of possible funding sources, the biggest item being $600 million from the CHSRA.

She admitted that she hasn't personally tried to contact Kopp about the funding request or worked to develop a good relationship with him or his agency, both of which Kopp has criticized. "At some point, we are going to sit down and talk," Ayerdi-Kaplan said.

She said there's strong public support for the project. "We take a very positive approach," she told us. "You have to believe in what you're working on, you have to believe it's going to happen — as anything in life: you have believe your relationships are going to work, that your business is going to work, that your project is going to happen — or you have no business doing it," she said. Ayerdi-Kaplan said the project is fully certified and just waiting for funding, which should make it attractive to increased infrastructure spending proposed by President-elect Barack Obama.