BART Brass Hangs Tough

Agency board refuses to give in to union, negotiates new deal with workers, and avoids transit strike. Plus, downtown Berkeley is becoming a music mecca.

A threatened transit strike earlier this week by BART train
operators and station agents nearly brought the Bay Area to its knees.
The strike would have caused hellish traffic jams and cost the region’s
businesses billions in lost productivity. And it would have forced the
Bay Area to a virtual standstill if it lasted through Labor Day when
the Bay Bridge is to be closed for repairs. But following a
weekend-round of intense negotiations, the BART union called off its
planned labor action after it reached a tentative new deal with
management.

BART brass deserves credit for hanging tough and refusing to
capitulate to the union’s demands. The tentative deal saves the
cash-strapped agency about $38 million and allows BART management to
meet its goal of slashing $100 million from employee compensation for
all of the agency’s workers, the Oakland Tribune reported. The
deal also is for four years — not two years, as the union wanted.
However, the union’s rank-and-file members must still approve the pact,
which is anything but a sure thing because they overwhelmingly turned
down a similar deal last week.

In fact, it looked for a time as though the train operators and
station agents were prepared to hold the Bay Area hostage until
management met their demands. It also appeared as if the union was
angling for a sixty-day cooling off period and a repeat of 2001, when
then mayors Willie Brown of San Francisco and Jerry Brown of Oakland
helped the train operators and station agents obtain a 22 percent raise
over four years. But Governor Arnnold Schwarzenegger refused to grant
the sixty-day extension, forcing the union to either carry out its
strike threat or head back to the bargaining table. With Bay Area
residents appearing to have no sympathy for the well-paid union workers
during a severe economic downturn, the train operators and station
agents chose to avoid the picket line.

UC Theater to Become Concert Hall

So is downtown Berkeley suddenly becoming a music mecca? Not only is
the new Freight & Salvage scheduled to open later this month, but
the old UC Theater on University Avenue is on track to become a new
large concert venue. The movie theater, which became famous for hosting
midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show before
closing several years ago, is to be operated by the owners of San
Francisco’s Slim’s nightclub and the Great American Music Hall. Last
week, the Berkeley Zoning Adjustment board gave a unanimous green light
to the latest version of the proposal, which would turn the UC into a
1,440-seat nightclub and concert hall, featuring three levels of
seating.

Oakland Helping Berkeley On Bayer

But as one new business knocks on Berkeley’s door, another is
thinking about packing its bags. The city’s largest private employer,
Bayer pharmaceutical company, is looking to control costs because it
says it needs to revamp its facility and retrain workers to produce a
new hemophilia drug. But Berkeley is trying desperately to keep the
German drug maker from leaving town with an assist from the City of
Oakland, which is proposing to help Bayer obtain millions in dollars of
tax breaks. Under a proposal endorsed by Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums and
the Oakland City Council, Oakland would expand its West Oakland
enterprise zone to include a section of Berkeley that includes Bayer’s
facility, which employs 1,700 people, according to the Berkeley
Daily Planet
and the Oakland Tribune. If approved by state
officials, the proposal could net Bayer up to $19 million over the next
decade.

Foreclosures and Bankruptcies Jump

In yet more evidence that the nation’s economy may not recover as
quickly as hoped, the Associated Press reported that foreclosure
filings jumped 32 percent nationwide last month compared to July 2008.
One reason is that lenders have been unwilling to modify loans for
homeowners who are in trouble, despite the Obama administration’s
efforts to convince them otherwise. Earlier this month, the Treasury
Department reported that banks had extended only 400,000 offers to 2.7
million eligible borrowers who were more than two months behind on
their payments. The AP also reported that fortunes for the commercial
real estate industry looked equally as grim, as the number of property
defaults climbed at a record pace.

At the same time, consumer bankruptcies nationwide jumped sharply
last month — up 34 percent over July 2008, according to Bloomberg
News. The American Bankruptcy Institute estimated that nationwide as
many as 1.4 million consumers could go belly up this year. Economists
said the bankruptcies could further jeopardize the health of banks as
consumers seek protection from having to repay their loans.

Three-Dot Roundup

In more BART news, the agency’s embattled police chief, Gary Gee,
announced that he is retiring at the end of the year, following the
BART Board of Directors’ decision to limit his authority. Gee came
under intense criticism for how he handled the investigation and
aftermath of Oscar Grant’s death last New Year’s. … A five-year-old
Fremont boy allegedly went missing in Oakland’s Rockridge District, but
authorities are questioning the version of events provided by the kid’s
foster father. … The state Legislature is considering a plan that
could bring back the infamous Peripheral Canal, a statewide water
project that generated a firestorm three decades ago before it was
abandoned. … State Democratic leader Darrell Steinberg followed
through on his threat to sue Schwarzenegger over the governor’s
decision to make nearly $500 million in last-minute budget cuts. …
Some backers of a California gay-marriage initiative said they will
wait for the 2012 election while others plan to forge ahead with a 2010
proposition campaign.

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