Letters to the Editor

Week of Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Terminal Cases

A boondoggle only Fresno could love:Matt Smith's "Tower Inferno" [June 16] ably revealed half of what's fishy about the Transbay Terminal redevelopment controversy: developer Jack Myers' apparent claim-jumping scheme. This would shake down the public for some $35 to $100 million to condemn Myers' hypothetical condo tower, which lies in the path of some hypothetical high-speed train tracks.

But that's a small fleecing compared to the Transbay Terminal project itself, a $3.9 billion boondoggle to build what some call "the most expensive bus station in America." This plan would needlessly destroy the current terminal, a historic art deco structure that needs seismic reinforcement but is otherwise perfectly functional. And it would needlessly privatize public land to subsidize its huge budget, which nonetheless is largely unfunded.

The June 15 Chronicle quoted one architect who estimated that the project's capital costs alone are $1 billion too high. Another architect estimated the cost per user at 27 times those of New York's 1998 rehabilitation of Grand Central Station. "Something is totally out of whack," he concluded.

This project is a runaway train. A better deal for the public would be to shore up the current Transbay Terminal and extend Caltrain into it, but to kill all the grander schemes proposed for the site: no monster condo tower, no unnecessary new six-story terminal, and no "high-speed" rail connection.

The latter is the mother of all boondoggles. While it might offer executives a no-fly alternative for short business trips to L.A., its real effect would be to export coastal jobs to Fresno and Modesto. Central Valley realtors would get rich, while Californians on the coast would end up paying higher state sales taxes to ship our jobs away. Better to just press Congress to stop unraveling Amtrak.

Michael Katz
Berkeley

Mayor Newsom, compromiser of greatness:Regarding Matt Smith's piece on the Transbay Terminal controversy, there is a simple explanation why Mayor Newsom seeks a compromise in the dispute with the Myers residential tower. There are no funds readily available to back condemnation of the property.

The $2 billion-plus Transbay Terminal project is to be financed from locally generated funds -- sales and property taxes, bridge tolls, and sales of public property. Although the commitment to generate these funds is in place, it will take as long as 30 years for all of these funds to be collected. Currently, there is only a few million on hand to be spent on planning and engineering.

To undertake a serious condemnation of the Myers property, the city would have to find and earmark from $35 to $70 million or more for a court to proceed. To do that, the capital and maintenance funds of virtually all the city's transportation agencies would have to be decimated. Thus, the need to find a compromise which doesn't require a large infusion of city funds.

James W. Haas
Member, TransBay Area Citizens Advisory Committee
Bernal Heights

History in the Round

Get Bill Safire on the line:In the interests of soothing the troubled sensibilities of the unfortunate reader who was offended by your use of the term "balls" [Letters, June 16] -- "With balls like that, who needs street cred?" -- I offer the following derivation of the term:

Back in the day, pawnshops were identifiable by three brass balls hanging over the door, much the same as, say, barbershops all used to have those revolving candy-cane things. Pawnbrokers were (and still are) notorious for their nerve and chutzpah when making offers for their customers' goods. Hence, a saying came into use for when any random non-pawnbroker individual behaved in a particularly pawnbrokerlike manner during negotiations; to that person, someone might say, "You've got brass balls," meaning of course, you're behaving like a pawnbroker.

The saying was eventually shortened to "You've got balls," leading to its inevitable association with a man's testicles, and also came to refer to any sort of generalized nerviness or "chutzpah."

Dave Bolick
Oakland

A Reasonable Letter

But please send future correspondence to PBS:Thanks for the nice interview with my sister, Kathy Eder ["The Dog Bites Interview," June 23]. I am very proud of her and her nonviolent protest projects, including the No, George, No! book. To me, a graduate of Bellarmine ('76), what Kathy does is exactly in the spirit of the school's namesake, who wrote, at huge cost, against the divine right of kings, at a time when national leaders had even more power than they do today. Amazing how little things have changed.

One of my favorite memories from TV was a debate between William F. Buckley and Germaine Greer, where two diametrically opposed people debated each other, and actually listened to each other's comments. What would happen if a TV network did that?

Larry Eder
Cambridge, Wis.

 
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