News

Environmentalists deciding to sit out trans-bond fight

Environmental groups, lured by the prospect of more than $4 billion for
public-transit projects, are backing away from opposing the massive
transportation bond on the November ballot. The environmentalists also are
daunted by the nearly $7 million in campaign funds amassed by the bond’s
supporters.

Over the weekend, the 75-delegate board of the Sierra Club of California
decided against opposing the $19.95 billion bond package, which includes the
money for public transit and $14 billion for road construction, plus other
projects.

Bill Allayaud, the group’s legislative director, said Northern California
members pushed to fight the bond, while many Southern California members
wanted to stay neutral.

“There wasn’t even a breath of talk about supporting the bond,” Allayaud
said.

Allayaud added that there had been “some talk” that the Sierra Club stance
might influence other groups, though he said he did not know of any other
groups that were specifically waiting on a Sierra Club decision. Several
groups currently have votes pending on the measure, but only the California
Bicycle Coalition has come out against it.

Another of the largest and most influential groups, the Natural Resources
Defense Council, also will sit out the transportation-bond fight. According
to spokesman Craig Noble, the group’s energy is going to go toward
supporting Proposition 84 (water bond) and 87 (oil tax) and opposing
Proposition 90, which would allow property owners to sue the state
government for money lost due to environmental laws.

Dan Jacobson, legislative advocate for Environment California, said that
environmental advocates have had one of their best legislative sessions in
years, highlighted by the passage of the AB 32 global-warming legislation
and the SB 1 Million Solar Roofs bill, both of which his organization was
heavily involved in. In the meantime, he said, they have not had the time to
do the proper research on the transportation board and it’s likely effects.

Across the board, these groups said they disliked the $14 billion in road
money the bond would provide–but were supportive of the $4 billion earmarked
for public transit. Allayaud said that instead of fighting the bond itself,
his group would fight on a project-by-project basis to try to make sure as
much money as possible goes to transit and congestion relief rather than new
road construction. He also praised Senate Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, for
protecting the environmental-review process for bond projects.

The transportation bond enjoys a 50 percent to 38 percent lead among likely
voters, according to the most recent Public Policy Institute of California
poll. Support is even higher in the environmental strongholds of the San
Francisco Bay Area.

“I think we’re pretty pleased with the environmental coalition we’ve been
able to put together,” said Paul Hefner, a spokesman for the Rebuild
California Plan umbrella group. Seven environmental groups have endorsed the
bonds, he said, led by the League of Conservation voters.

Among other environmental groups, the Planning and Conservation League (PCL)
will decide whether they will come out against the bond at their meeting on
September 21. The Bay Area Transportation and Land Use Coalition (TALC)
could not reach a decision at its September 6 board meeting, and will
reconvene late this month.

“There’s certainly a chance we’ll oppose it,” said executive director Stuart
Cohen. But he added that they won’t be fund raising or starting a committee.
The opposition, if it happens, would be through the “free media,” such as
putting out press releases and talking to news outlets.

Gary Patton, executive director of the PCL, echoed these thoughts: “We won’t
have any money, I’ll tell you that.”

This “no money” would be arrayed against $2.4 million gathered by
Californians to Improve Traffic: Yes on Proposition 1A and 1B. The
California Alliance for Jobs’ Rebuild California Committee provided $1.3
million of this money out of the nearly $2.2 million total it has amassed.
The Let’s Rebuild California committee has $2.8 million.

This includes $1 million transferred last Wednesday from the original
umbrella committee, Rebuilding California–Yes on 1A, 1B, 1C, 1D, and 1E,
established by Perata when he first began championing the infrastructure
bond last year. That group has pulled in nearly $1.6 million total. Major
contributions have come from the building industry and unions who stand to
benefit from construction. Even the garbage and sanitation industry has
chipped in over $26,000, with $16,650 coming from the California Refuse
Removal PAC.

“Just getting rid of the waste from $20 billion in construction projects is
significant,” noted Cohen.


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