One of the most distressing issues that we have uncovered as a GESC board is the very cozy relationship between San Carlos City Council, City Staff and Samtrans/Caltrain. You might say, so what, what does that really matter? These are just agencies and individuals that are in the know and have a solid working relationship.
We have always felt that this was a problem especially as it related to any projects involving the city and Samtrans/Caltrain. Take the berm for example. Our mayor seems to think that the berm is a shining example of great architectural design and has been a great benefit to the city. San Carlos Councilman (now mayor) Omar Ahmad gave a presentation in Palo Alto on how raised berms have benefited San Carlos. Of course Mr. Ahmad and the city council have completely ignored the tremendous downsides of the berm project to the GESC community.
I bring this up because we have been pointing out for years how poorly designed and thought through the San Carlos Transit Village proposal is. But how do you expect to be heard when you have politicians with conflicts of interest, or at the very least the appearance of a conflict of interest given that Mr. Ahmad sits as the Mayor of San Carlos and is on the Caltrain board.
Speaking of the Caltrain board – the San Jose Mercury News has a shocking indictment of the Caltrain board, stating that:
a group of local politicians in charge of Caltrain unanimously approves every item that comes before it, seldom debating or asking questions even as the rail line faces a historic financial crisis that soon could lead those same leaders to shutter half its stations.
The board members and staff executives appear to have a congenial relationship, sometimes joking during meetings and rarely, if ever, grilling one another publicly. What’s more, Caltrain CEO Mike Scanlon donated $900 to Jerry Hill’s 2008 campaign for state Assembly while he was on the board, a few years after Scanlon had contributed $1,500 to former board member Mike Nevin — who hired Scanlon — for Nevin’s failed run for state Senate.
For an astonishing three years, the Caltrain board has nodded along in unity to approve 200 straight items, including key decisions to cut service, raise fares, increase salaries and change policy, according to a Mercury News review of meeting records. Board members typically were silent before most of the votes, which all were based on recommendations from SamTrans executives who manage the rail line’s day-to-day operations. Their final vote count since the last disagreement: 1,591 yes, 0 no.
“There’s something wrong when you have total agreement for three years, only to wind up in a financial disaster,” Heller, executive director of Los Angeles-based Consumer Watchdog, said after being informed of the votes. “It indicates that no one’s really paying attention.”
The board cut service in October 2008 and increased fares in July 2009 — each time without asking a question or making a single comment directly before voting, even though thousands of riders had written with concerns.
The entire article can be found here on the Mercury News website. Please read it. I also think it is worth checking out this article on the Caltrain/Samtrans CEO Mike Scanlon, nice work if you can get it eh?
To be fair, Mr Ahmad has stated that he would recuse himself from any votes regarding the Samtrans planned Transit Village as a member of the Caltrain board and only vote as Mayor based on the merits to the city. But we have a hard time with this stance. We feel Mr. Ahmad is in the perfect position to work with both Samtrans and the city to broker a new plan that works for the GESC community and San Carlos as a whole and are waiting to see some evidence to that fact.