Published Tuesday, April 5, 2011, by the San Jose Mercury News
Few signs of life on Caltrain board
Perhaps, in the quest for government perfection, we should be looking to Caltrain. For the past three years, every board vote has been unanimous, Mercury News reporter Mike Rosenberg wrote last week. And every item the board passed came from the staff, not a single idea from a board member. The popular commuter system must be one perfect operation.
Caltrain is on the brink of disaster. For lack of reliable operating revenue, it may have to slash the number of trains it runs and close as many as half its stations, wreaking havoc on commutes and abandoning riders who have heeded the civic call to use transit.
In response to Rosenberg's report, Caltrain directors suggested that people focus instead on how to pass a tax measure to save the commuter line. Well, one of the things people look at when they're considering new taxes is how carefully public agencies are overseen by their governing boards.
Two core problems seem to be at work here.
One is that conversations are taking place out of public view to resolve questions that otherwise might arise at public meetings. This is not the way government is supposed to work under California's Brown Act.
The more complex issue is the nature of the board, with elected officials from San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties appointed to serve on it. The board members are not held accountable for this regional work: Nobody will vote for or against Santa Clara County Supervisor Ken Yeager, for example, because of what he's doing or not doing at Caltrain. So there isn't much incentive to do great work.
We wish everything were fine at Caltrain because the rail line is indisputably essential to Silicon Valley and the region. Fortunately, the Valley Transportation Authority and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission have ideas for salvaging the service, and business leaders, including the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, are stepping up.
We appreciate that at least one public board is free of partisan bickering. But is it too much to ask for some signs of life?
[BATN: See also:
Caltrain ridership rises for eighth time in past 9 months
Caltrain woes linked to nearing SamTrans suicide by BART
Caltrain board rubber-stamps everything, despite historic crisis