Looking beyond BRT's big rhetorical theater


Stigma is the right word. Stigma – a public mark of disgrace or dishonor.


It’s time to stop stigmatizing Fresno’s bus system. It’s time to stop stigmatizing the people who use Fresno’s bus system.

I don’t understand why Brand and Brandau voted against BRT on Jan. 28.

Brand said it couldn’t hurt to delay construction for another six or so months while the city pursued what might (or might not) be a better bid. To me, asking for another round of bids is just another way to kill BRT by perpetual bureaucratic delay. That’s what Doug Vagim tried to do with Mayor Swearengin’s $429 million plan to upgrade our water system. Vagim’s tactics drove Brand absolutely nuts. And the BRT project is completely different than the sewer farm’s solar panel project (which the council recently sent back to a new round of bids). The sewer farm project is essentially brand new to City Hall. On the other hand, city officials have been debating and refining the BRT project for nearly a decade. The Teichert bid is, in all probability, the best deal the city is going to get.

Brandau said only a small fraction of Fresno’s 515,000 people use FAX. For that reason, this small slice of the city doesn’t have the same claim on scarce transportation money as the 97% majority. I get it – that’s the way democracy works. And I understand that’s how the stigmatizing process works. For starters, most of the BRT money is “categorical” – targeted toward specific uses. The BRT money can’t be used for potholes, and everyone on the council has known it for years. I’m also guessing that tens of thousands of people in the course of a year use FAX at least once. (I’ve been using FAX a couple of times a day on weekdays for about a month.) Then you have to add all the people who don’t use FAX, but are keen on seeing their FAX-using family members and friends have access to a strong, reliable, resilient bus system. Then you have to add all the schools and businesses and government institutions with a vested interest in having a strong bus system available to their constituents. All of a sudden, that 3% that Brandau dismisses so casually gets quite big. Finally, Brandau said he has lots of ideas for making FAX great without BRT. He didn’t list them on Jan. 28 except to make a vague reference to reforming the “grid.” Well, Brandau’s got the perfect opportunity to become the City Council’s resident mass transit expert. I’m sure City Manager Rudd (a former FAX boss) and Transportation Director Marshall would teach an enthusiastic council member all they know about mass transit. Of course, becoming an expert in something as complex as public transportation would take a lot of work and a lot of time. No council member could do all that and still have time for a second full-time job in the private sector.

Based on my Stockton experiences, BRT in Fresno will greatly enhance mobility for customers. Mobility is monumentally important to all of us. It’s important to social order. It’s important to fundamental fairness.

One other thing: City Hall does all it can to fix potholes. No Fresno driver is “suffering like hell” because one-time restricted money from the feds and the state is being spent on a BRT system with a proven track record in other cities.

Everyone in the council chamber on Jan. 28 knew the administration had the votes to win the BRT vote. So, why did Brand and Brandau go out of their way to make anti-BRT speeches? I’ve got to think it had something to do with politics. Even in late January, Brand knew he would be in a tough primary fight in his quest to be Fresno’s next mayor. And Brandau in late January didn’t have an opponent in his quest to win a second term as District 2’s representative, but knew that could change in a heartbeat if he took an unpopular stance on a high-profile issue. Both, I think, were playing to their base, Brand to make sure he makes it to the November runoff, Brandau to keep a potential opponent from thinking he’s vulnerable.

Rudd said the BRT ground-breaking ceremony should come by May 1. He said he’s not trying to oversell BRT. He said it’s not going to change the transportation habits of most people in north Fresno. He said BRT will be a boon to many Fresnans of modest means.

Council Member Soria and the capital projects oversight committee were slated to review the BRT project on Monday (March 21). The meeting has been postponed to a date to be determined.

These meetings are open to the public. Perhaps Lydia Lily Leal Sumaya will be there.

“Thanks for the update Steve,” she wrote on Brandau’s Facebook page in response to his BRT video. “I’m not against transit either if the demand warrants it(;) will this be another Obama subsidy for the under privileged?”

  1. Take some time to read the UN Agenda 21 recommendations with regard to ‘sustainability’ and ‘smart growth’ and then think about what you are seeing unfold here in Fresno. Agenda 21 mandates are being funneled on down to every city in the United States by our politicians in Sacramento and Washington D.C. Become informed about the strings attached to funding of HUD/ transportation projects and then report back in your blog. People are suspect of politicians who are intent on spending these large sums of money because of the kind of ‘ misappropriation’ that, as an example, has occurred in the Cal Trans agency. The ‘smart growth’ goal is to stack people up in high density living arrangements; get them out of their cars and onto a bus in order to save the environment. Some say this is yet another way to discourage ownership of private property by making it cost prohibitive to own a home or even a car. Maybe Councilman Brandau is actually representing some of the taxpayers and citizens which would be a rarity these days.

  2. Being a longtime Fresno resident and having been involved in the new technology transit industry for 20 years, it is particularly infuriating to read about Fresno’s fight over its proposed BRT, which incidentally is changing its name to “the express bus” due to its slow speed and non-rapid classification. The story merely represents more rhetoric regarding an outdated issue with a frozen claim that the issue is new.

    For 10 years Fresno has had a $36million fund to address a rational approach to modern transportation issues that appropriately concern urban growth. What has Fresno done with the $36million fund? Nothing. The PTB (powers that be – politicians and staff) are absolutely unwilling to even talk about a modern solution to transportation issues. That is: to refuse and entertain a conversation. Why? Perhaps it is nothing more than the psychology of being afraid to approach something different or new. This dereliction of response to responsibly is devastating and harmful to the community. No one wins with Fresno’s intensely hostile attitude of selective ignorance. There are many examples of this purposely hostile attitude against viable transportation solutions.

    Talk about infuriating, one of the current mayoral candidates declared at a 2007 New Technology Transit Reserve Fund meeting when he personally said to me: “I don’t know anything about New Technology Transit and I don’t want to know anything about New Technology Transit.” This type of attitude is reprehensible.

    Last week, COG released its RFP for a portion of the Measure C New Technology Transit Reserve Fund Grant. The New Tech Fund is geared towards PRT (personal rapid transit) system technology. As yet, no local municipalities are participating to advance any PRT system technology. Fresno was approached for a project but, claimed no interest to consider modern transportation solutions.

  3. Thanks George. As always, an interesting read. “Smart growth” and “Sustainability” as an Agenda 21 movement is in the minds of conspiracy advocates. Sustainability simply deals with being able to sustain development in the future. Sprawl is not sustainable. If you want evidence of this, look no further than LA.

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