Radioactive Art!


What markers might be sufficiently ominous or impressive to prevent people from drilling into a nuclear waste dump or otherwise releasing its radioactive burden 10,000 years from now?

Specialists estimate that English will have retained as few as 12 percent of its current basic words, and still less of its complex vocabulary. These specialists recommend a menacing earthworks design, with the land above the repository to be surrounded by immense, lightning-shaped mounds of earth.

Visitors walking through the earthworks would lose sight of the horizon and experience a loss of connection to any sense of place. In an open central area, there would be a large walk-on world map showing the location of all radioactive waste repositories.

The basic warning: Do not dig or drill here before 12000 A.D. in seven languages would be flanked by human faces, one denoting horror and the other denoting sickness and nausea.

The experts agreed that exposed site markers must be large enough to withstand centuries of wind and water erosion. They must also resist the tendency of human beings to vandalize or remove pieces of structures. They recommended using materials of little value and in shapes that make them poorly suited for reuse. What do you recommend?

Submit your artwork, or proposals and ensure your art has a half-life of 10,000 years. Still art, video, music, text, installations, whatever you think is appropriate. Enough entries will cause us to have an art show!

Radioactive Art
3124 Shattuck Ave.
Berkeley, CA 94705

Shopping Cart People Organize

On the night of August 29 at approximately 3 a.m. in a deserted shopping market parking lot over fifty odd (yes, well, quite odd by most standards though who’s to say) homeless and home owner shopping cart drivers met to discuss mutual problems and to ORGANIZE! Notes of the meeting follow . . . .

1) The group decided to have no laws, no rules, each issue would be handled as it came along.

2) Mike Mechanic offered to help anyone with wiggley wheels.

3) The group talked anxiously about the coming end of the world and decided that they were tuned into the urgency of such an event because people with many possessions are too busy hanging onto the pleasures and decadence of this world to notice that the birds are singing new songs. The group decided that when the Big BOOM or Big Bang or big whatever comes the earth planet will be strewn with such chaos leaving those who collect recyclables in high demand. It will then be their responsibility to gather metal, including aluminum and others, plastic, paper, glass, etc. from elsewhere all over the frigging place because bits and pieces will be all that’s left of proud lands. The items will be categorized and built into their proper sections and will rise like mountains; tremendous piles like sacrificial alters rising up to the sky; leftovers from thousands of civilizations. Colossal masses of STUFF to be judged by the Gods and Goddesses. After the piles are made the shopping cart people will dust off their hands, bow their heads solemnly and then raise their heads to the sky and laugh and laugh and laugh uproariously.

4) While waiting for this finale of the earth the shopping cart group will hold a fundraiser selling empty shopping carts devoid of anything but a few microcosmic organisms to people in the islands of the South Pacific who have never seen shopping carts. The money made will sponsor a parade during which all present will decorate their shopping carts like circus floats in a parade and roll doobies as big as your arm. Contestants will box with their carts and the winner will be declared when the loser’s cart is turned upside down.

5) The group will meet whenever and carry on like there’s no tomorrow.

–signed Nate the note guy with help from Louie and Martin the Muskrat

Sister Subverter

It was like going to another world entirely, says Tatiana of Oakland’s Girl Army about Sister Subverter. The week-long gathering occurred in Northwestern Arkansas on the wooded Amazon Acres, one of several womyn owned homesteads located in that area. Sister Subverter was conceived of by Anarchist and Activist womyn who wanted a gathering that reflected their politics. This was the second Subverter.

Starting on Monday, August 18th, the gathering began with more than 200 in attendance. Daily workshops on a huge variety of topics including racism, direct action, and supporting single moms, as well as daily self-defense trainings, were well attended. Evenings exploded with fire-play, music, drumming, and spin-the-bottle. The week long corn cob building workshop yielded a permanent composting toilet.

Says another ‘subvertee’, Sister Subverter was a space for playing, exploring, exchanging experiences and skills and it is the beginning for me in a lot of ways; an inspiration for networking and living in a supportive way instead of competition.

A west coast regional spin off of S.S. called Bad-Ass and Free is now being planned for February 1998. For more information write to:

Bad-Ass and Free
c/o Black Cat Cafe
4110 Roosevelt
Seattle, WA 98105

Free the Ts'Peten Defenders

On July 30, after the longest trial in Canadian history, Canadian Government Judge Josephson sentenced 12 indigenous sovereignty activists to prison for defending their sacred land. Although the jury acquitted the activists of the most serious attempted murder charges, they were convicted of lesser charges. The judge handed down stiff sentences including an 8 year prison term for a 66 year old Shaswap elder known as Wolverine, who led the defense of the site. Three others were convicted but spared imprisonment.

The sentences are the culmination of a systematic military/political attack on the British Columbian native activists. In 1989, Shuswap faith keeper Percy Rosette asked a cattle rancher, Lyle James, if he could hold a sundance festival on a small part of a vast cattle ranch near 100 Mile House, BC. James agreed and the sundance was held every year thereafter at a native burial ground and holy place called Ts’Peten (or Gustafsen Lake).

Although a large American cattle company claims it owns Ts’Peten, the ranch is on unceded, unsurrendered Shuswap traditional territory. Under international law, the absence of a treaty or sale of the land voids the cattle company’s land claim against the Shuswap.

As people gathered for the sundance on June 3, 1995, James and 20 cowboys arrived and served a homemade eviction paper, demanding that the natives leave the area. Rosette and the others refused to leave and called for support. Several who answered the call brought rifles. The sundance was concluded but some activists stayed on the land to press their demands for ownership. Police, meanwhile, surrounded the site and a 31 day standoff began. 18 adult defenders were trapped by 400 police and army troops armed with Armored Personnel Carriers, machine guns and high tech surveillance equipment.

On September 11, a native truck was blown up by a land mine and rammed by an APC. Miraculously, the two occupants were able to survive the blast, run through the forest, swim across the lake, and eventually surrender while dodging 20,000 bullets. Police repeatedly attacked the defenders and the Canadian press portrayed the defenders as terrorists. Through the whole crisis, the defenders fired 106 bullets while the police shot 77,000, according to police records revealed during the trial. On September 17, 1995, the defenders surrendered.

The trial lasted from July 1996 to May 1997. The judge refused to permit the defenders to introduce evidence showing that the government and the Courts have no jurisdiction over Ts’Peten because it is unceded native land. The trial also revealed numerous instances of police misconduct, many caught on police video tape. The evidence released during the trial indicated that police and government officials participated in a conspiracy to kill the occupants of the Ts’Peten Sundance Camp while smearing them in the press.

Activists are now calling for public pressure to Free the Ts’Peten Defenders. 140 Department of Indian Affairs Band Council Chiefs have signed a petition demanding an inquiry into the attempted murder against the Indian People at Ts’Peten.

Meanwhile, government officials, stung by the information released during the trial, are arguing over whether they will conduct a federal or a BC based investigation of the siege. But activists don’t believe that either government body can conduct a fair investigation, since they would in essence have to investigate themselves. Activists are calling for an independent, impartial, international third party to investigate the siege and the trial.

Letters demanding a real investigation can be sent to:

Prime Minister Jean Chretien

House of Commons

Ottawa, Ont. K1A 0A6


For more information, contact:

Settlers in Support of Indigenous Sovereignty

PO Box 8673

Victoria, BC, V8X 3S2



1. What American cattle company claims it owns the land.

2. First name of the judge

Where Women Have No Doctor

by A. August Burns, Ronnie Lovich, Jane Maxwell and Katharine Shapiro

Hesperian Foundation

Where Women Have No Doctor, is a health guide for women that has as its audience both lay health care workers and women who need information on their own health care when they can’t easily access modern medicine.

It is written in a lower literacy, easy-to-follow format with multiple illustrations inclusive of many races, body sizes and disabilities. The book often begins chapters with a story or case study, then follows with discussion on the case study and practical approaches to women’s health in this given topic. One such story is Mira’s Story, a 2-page piece about a woman who dies from cervical cancer. The chapter challenges readers to question what caused Mira’s death. Did Mira die because she didn’t know she should get a regular pap smear to detect cervical cancer before it was too late? Or did Mira die because when she first began to feel pain, her husband forbid her to seek medical care, in other words because Mira lacked power because she was a woman? Did Mira die because when she finally did seek medical care, the health worker wasn’t knowledgeable about women’s health problems and sent Mira away with an ineffective cream? Or did Mira die because her husband had genital warts but didn’t know to get treated or how to prevent passing the virus they cause to his sexual partners? Where Women Have No Doctor explores each of these causes in a nonjudgmental manner, respecting women’s cultures and beliefs while at times showing how some of these cultural norms can be psychologically or physically damaging to women.

Other stories in Where Women Have No Doctor talk about women who have made positive changes in their communities. In Zimbabwe, for example, the Musasa Project was created to help women who are victims of violence. Another story, written in the first person, talks about the narrator’s friend who died during child birth and how women in her community worked together to make child birth in their village safer for all. Two other stories talk about a woman and a couple who couldn’t conceive children and how they dealt with this.

Where Women Have No Doctor gives information to women on topics such as: how to decide whether an abortion (legal or not) will be safe, pregnancy and childbirth, sexual assault, infertility, mental health from a community point of view, female circumcision, how to make sure your water supply is not contaminated, and a section on women with disabilities. It has much to offer women in places where there are doctors as well. For example, it has suggestions on how to talk with your partner about safer sex, information on various birth control options, a chapter on sexual harassment, easy to understand material on STDs, and what to expect during a pelvic exam.

This book also has a great deal of pertinent information for health workers. It includes everything from how to give an injection, to various medications and their recommended doses, to how to tell if a fetus is positioned correctly for birth. It also gives clear indications or signs for when a health worker should transport a patient to more highly skilled medical care.

It seems the only notable exception to this books inclusiveness is its omission of talking about lesbianism and homosexuals in general. The topic is touched upon briefly when discussing gender roles in society and how, often, lesbians fall outside of these acceptable roles in many cultures. Discussions on lesbian health and lifestyle are, however, noticeably missing.

But aside from this omission, Where Women Have No Doctor is a wonderful book which can be both read cover to cover or simply kept as a reference tool. Information contained in this book is useful for lay health workers, women in other parts of the world, or women right here in the Bay Area looking for information on their own health or the global health of women and how it can be improved.

Where Women Have No Doctor is published by the Hesperian Foundation, 1919 Addison St., Suite 304, Berkeley, CA 94704, (510) 845-4507. ISBN 0-942364-25-2. 583 pages. $20.00.

35 for 40 proposal

Every year the rich get richer and the people who do the work stagnate, or get paid less. The wealth of the richest 1 percent of Americans has increased almost 50 percent since 1989, while the median family wealth has remained unchanged for the last 15 years. The stock market has doubled over the last 30 months and corporate profits are exploding. Meanwhile, wage levels are declining, benefits are being cut, working conditions are deteriorating and good jobs are moving to low wage countries. Even when wages aren’t cut, but just stay the same, workers lose the amount of inflation every year. These invisible losses have been going on for 20 years.

The Committee for a Shorter Work Week in Berkeley is hoping to do something about this attack on the working class. Building on the immensely successful state initiative petition drive to increase the minimum wage which was passed in the last California election, they hope to pass an initiative in Berkeley to cut the work week to 35 hours a week with no decrease in pay. The Berkeley initiative would be a demonstration project for an idea that, if it was implemented nationally, would materially improve the lives of workers.

A shorter work week not only gives workers extra personal time in these hectic times, but it creates a labor shortage which increases the negotiating power of workers. With technological improvements constantly reducing the amount of labor needed to create social wealth, it is only natural that the average work week should be reduced to keep pace. Throughout the industrial revolution, the labor movement struggled to reduce the length of the work week. By the 1930s, the 40 hour week had become the standard. Workers have been stuck at the 40 hour week since then.

It takes a minimum of 4,363 valid Berkeley signatures, out of about 100,000 registered Berkeley voters, to get an initiative on the ballot. The committee has come up with draft language for the initiative, which they are hoping to revise, improve and then submit to the city. After the initiative is published by the city, there are 180 days to circulate the petition. The Committee is aiming to have the initiative on either the June or November, 1998 election ballot. They hope to use innovative, community based tactics, and avoid paid signature gatherers, in getting the initiative on the ballot.

If you want to get involved, contact the Committee at PO Box 451, Oakland, CA 94604. Or call (510)595-3229 for more information. Meetings are going to be every other Saturday starting October 11 at 10a.m. at the Berkeley Public Library Claremont Brach at Ashby and Benvenue in Berkeley.

Justice for Bear Lincoln

“The first white people, at least of historical record, to enter Round Valley, on the first day they were there, killed approximately 40 indigenous people…. In a way, that set the tone. I believe in my heart that what we’re dealing with here and in Bear’s case has it’s roots firmly in the past. We need to confront the community as a whole and confront how our white community deals with the Round Valley community and the other Native American communities. We can’t heal the past unless we address the present” –Phil DeJong, Bear Lincoln’s attorney

This recent case of injustice toward a Native American man and community demands our attention. On August 16th, 1995, Bear Lincoln turned himself over to the police with a ceremony and stating “Leonard Peters and I were ambushed. I’m here to prove my innocence”.

On April 14, 1995, three homicides occurred in the rural Mendocino County area of Covelo and the adjacent Round Valley Indian Reservation. On that afternoon, an Indian man, Gene Britton was fatally shot by Arylis Peters, another Indian resident of Round Valley. Mendocino County sheriff’s deputies responded. At approximately 9:30pm deputies Davis and Miller took up a position with their vehicles on a fire road near the Lincoln family residence. Leonard Acorn Peters, the brother of Arylis Peters, was shot dead by the two deputies. In the exchange of gunfire which ensued, deputy Davis was shot and killed.

In a statement made within hours of the shooting, deputy Miller stated that he saw only one person (Acorn) approach the deputies’ position. Miller said Acorn aimed and fired a rifle at the deputies and that he was killed by return fire. Shortly after Miller made this statement, investigators at the scene determined that Acorn’s rifle had never been fired. In a transparent attempt to cover his own tracks. Miller issued a second statement three days later in which he stated that he saw two individuals approach the deputies’ position. This second statement gave the prosecution a way to assert that Bear Lincoln had initiated the gunfire and to cover up their ambush of an innocent Indian man. Whereupon law enforcement began a reign of terror targeting Indian reservations and rancherias throughout Mendocino County looking for Bear Lincoln.

What you can do: Jury selection began on April 15, 1997. It is important to demonstrate that the entire community is aware of Bears’s case and concerned to see that he receives a fair trial. Your attendance in court shows this support and concern. To get on the mailing list to be notified of activities and court dates and also to donate to Bear’s defense, write to: Bear Lincoln Defense Committee, Pier 5, The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA 94111. For more info call Round Valley Indians for Justice (707) 983-8098. To help feed Bear’s five Appaloosa horses send contributions to Lucille Lincoln Box 795 Covelo, CA 95428


Fewer hours of work the bioregional way

Dear Slingshot: An answer to the seemingly never-ending struggle for social justice, as well covered in Slingshot, is to start the rebellion for a new society right at home. But instead of opting for living free of polluting consumer products such as cars, TVs, and refrigerators, etc., activists persist in compromising unnecessarily, thus rationalizing the destruction of my planet. (I use the singular first person possessive to make the point that we must not make “choices” that violate others’ right to live.)

If people adopted a philosophy and way of living that put nature first, and acted and reacted accordingly, political actions would be more relevant to our and all species’ common survival. Instead, anthropocentric tendencies prevail while we get caught up in no end of social causes. Keeping up with all the struggles is laudable but ineffective when one gets no closer to bringing about a visionary alternative to the poIluting consumer society. The Police State is evil and must be dismantled, but what if it gave way to a peaceful consuming society still destroying the Earth? With overpopulation a reality in the U.S., we have no reasonable hope to continue using even green technological products on a massive scale, as the Earth’s destruction would still march on. Racism and sexism are reprehensible and mustn’t be tolerated, but the human is not a life form any more valuable than another. When that mistake is made, the web of life becomes unraveled, and there’ll be no world to be racist or sexist (or fair) in.

Ken Ellis’ column in the Early Spring issue nudges people in a dangerous direction. He unwittingly advocates social justice as an end in itself, but on a dead planet. I can’t use it. And his notion of the economy is rooted in past misconceptions of the supposed need for material abundance. More free time for workers sounds great, but in Ellis’ economy the same idiotic production and consumption of “goods” would continue and keep destroying nature. The idea that this society is capable of providing for the necessities of life (for all or for the few) is a notion relying on unsustainable processes misusing the natural world and relying on diminishing resources such as petroleum. Ellis believes in work, productivity, and everyone having plenty of stuff many assume we modern industrial consumers need. Even if his faulty model was sustainable, there is another view of economics that takes us out of national and international manipulation and vulnerability. Bioregional-based subsistence, that revives traditional indigenous knowledge, will also feature fewer work hours. We will have to dispense with the bogus promise of using highly entropic inanimate energy for the so-called “necessities of life”.

Jan Lundberg,
Fossil Fuels Policy Action Institute

Free Radio Letter

Dear Slingshot: I’ve got the Spring 1997 issue here and I thought I would give you an update for your FREE RADIO USA list. The STEAL THIS RADIO (Lower East Side, NY) frequency is 88.7 FM. There is at least one microtransmitting station in Philadelphia, PA (in West Philly), it is RADIO MUTINY at 91.3 FM (WPPR). There will soon be a station in Brooklyn (Williamsburg neighborhood) but I don’t know yet what frequency. I’ll try to keep you posted.

Thanks for putting together this incredible list. VIVA LA RADIO PIRATES!

–Roachiebug, c/o Paper Tiger TV

Midwife busted in San Diego

Midwife Abby Odam was sentenced April 17th to 4 years in prison without possibility of parole, convicted of 6 felonies related to her practice of traditional homebirth midwifery in San Diego County: 5 counts of practicing medicine without a license and one count of willful child endangerment. While waiting to be sentenced, she was re-arrested on felony conspiracy charges, with bail initially set at $1 million. She has yet to be arraigned on the conspiracy charges.

Abby Odam has been an established midwife for many years in San Diego County, attending to hundreds of births. The District Attorney decided to stop her from practicing as part of his agenda to eliminate home births from the entire county. Because the statute of limitations had run out on misdemeanor charges of practicing midwifery without a license, the DA charged her with felony charges of practicing medicine without a license. “Expert” obstetrician and pediatrician testimony “established” childbirth as inherently dangerous. Therefore, as a non-medical birth attendant, she was prosecuted for “willful child endangerment.”

Some of Abby’s past clients, including those who organized in her defense, were threatened by the DA and police with CPS cases, loss of custody of their kids, and charges of child endangerment for choosing homebirth, if they didn’t turn the State’s evidence. A midwife from the Bay Area who testified in Abby’s behalf was followed back home on the airplane by an undercover agent who later phoned her to make sure she knew the state was watching.

Women have called on community midwives to attend them through their pregnancies and births as long as women have given birth. When male doctors invented the field of obstetrics, expanding the sickness model of medicine to include birth, they organized to exclude midwives from what they saw as a lucrative marketing niche. Patriarchal society had a broader interest in pathologizing birth and taking it out of the hands of women. The power of a woman giving birth autonomously is huge. This transformative potential for women living in a culture based on distrust, alienation and subjugation of our own bodies is radicalizing. Autonomous birth not only empowers the birthing mother, but demands a level of deep respect and awe of everyone in the room witnessing the birth. Very subversive.

Midwives in some parts of the country have continued to practice, especially in poor, rural areas where doctors don’t make enough money to serve birthing women. Even these midwives were slowly squeezed out of practice through legal pressure and changes in the mid 1900’s. In the 1970’s, a resurgence of homebirth grew, especially in California, out of women’s refusal to subject themselves and their babies to “state of the art” obstetric practices. Women had their babies at home, assisted only by friends and partners. Some of these women taught themselves from midwives around the world, from granny midwives from 40’s and earlier, friendly family practice and OB docs and others, and from isolated communities throughout the US where home births have always been the norm.

In the state of California, a license law has been on the books, however the administrative structure allowing midwives to obtain the license was dismantled in the 1940’s. Since then, midwives have all practiced illegally, until this year, when new licenses became available. Previous to this, our standards of practice have not been written, rather they vary from midwife to midwife, and are based on local community desires. We do not establish safety through external regulation, but rather through personal responsibility, peer feedback and clear communication with our clients.

California’s new license law follows New York’s, the most rigid in the US. Although the field of midwifery is separate from obstetrics, licensed midwifery is subsumed under the medical hierarchy. Licensed midwives must practice under obstetrician-approved protocols.

Some midwives choose not to be licensed, hoping to retain more autonomy in their practices, and to protect the autonomy of pregnant women who are willing to take the fullest responsibility for their birth practices — both it’s risks and triumphs. Some midwives choose to become licensed, hoping it will bring them respect and a more open relationship with medical professionals, with whom we must frequently interact. Licensing brings the possibility of insurance payments and Medi-Cal for prenatal and birth care, and it allows midwives to life without fear of arrest.

If Abby Odam loses her appeal, the case will set precedent. not only will it further repress midwives, but it will limit women’s reproductive choice. As argued in a 1977 midwifery court case, if a woman chose not to exercise her right to terminate a pregnancy within 24 weeks \(the “age of viability” established by Roe v. Wade\), the state has a “vested interest in the well-being of the fetus.” The argument of the prosecution in this case gives the state the ability to supersede the rights of the pregnant woman in deciding how, where, when and with whom she will choose to give birth. Since 1977 over 50 midwives have been prosecuted in California alone.

It should be noted that this case was brought to court immediately after a moratorium \(while they applied for licenses\) on arresting midwives ended. This case is also very similar in argument to a recent case brought by New York against an independent midwife there. As California’s license is modeled on New York’s, perhaps California state and medical establishment is modeling their repression of midwives and reproductive rights workers on New York’s as well. Abby Odam’s case can not be looked at as an isolated incident.

Unfortunately, the midwifery community, like many other marginalized communities, has a spotty record of supporting it’s own. Peers and midwives have distanced themselves from midwives on trial, and even go so far as to discourage other comrades from supporting the midwife either. The introduction of licensing of midwives could produce a split in the community, as more establishment-oriented licensed midwives are abandoning their autonomous, independent midwife comrades because of fear of association and arrest.

Abby Odam is a political prisoner, and who will be next? We independent midwives and we autonomous mothers and families have yet to enjoy full support and inclusion in the reproductive rights movement\(s\). Let us hope this changes soon. Giving birth can be a profoundly revolutionary act, and it matters how each one of us is born.

For more info contact:
Abby Odam Defense Alliance
P.O. Box 127643
San Diego, CA 92112

BART and the Future of Mass Transit

Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) has been working overtime lately to construct your transit future. BART to Castro Valley and Pleasanton – $500 million. BART to the airport – $1 billion and counting. The direct and indirect costs of our car-congested commute severely eclipse these amounts, and therefore such a price is a bargain, and well-worth the governmental subsidies if the end result is less environmental destruction and more equitable and comprehensive transit overall.

However, a more careful analysis of what our mass transit dollars are buying us reveals that BART is little more than a suburban sprawl support machine. In fact, the future of our Bay Area public commute over the next decade panders to the needs of well-heeled voters and big business, at the expense of the people that need inexpensive and effective transit the most.

Safe, Reliable and Customer Oriented?

The expressed mission of BART is to be “safe, reliable and customer oriented.” With over 25 years of operation, over 100 miles of track, and a present operating budget quickly approaching $250 million, one would expect this mission easily met. In many senses it is: according to the BART 1996 Short Range Transit Plan, there were 73.7 million passenger trips during fiscal 1996, or approximately 248,000 passengers served each weekday.

BART focuses a great deal of time and energy on transbay commuters because that’s one of the rolls it was designed to play – a quick and cheap people mover to and from San Francisco, in addition to the preexisting infrastructure of bus systems like AC Transit and Muni. This goal is clearly met: during the 6-9 AM rush, a train passes through S.F. every 2.5 minutes (compared to one every 15 minutes on the Richmond to Fremont line) and most are filled to capacity.

The Bay Area freeway commute is already notorious, and it doesn’t take much imagination to see how much public transit alleviates congestion. It also serves to increase air quality and decrease commute times, both laudable.

The Science of Suburban Subsidy

The need for “safe, reliable and customer oriented” transportation, however, does not end when the commute does. Unfortunately, BART’s long-range plans seem inextricably tied to serving weekday commuters – especially those in relatively affluent San Francisco and Contra Costa Counties – and little else.

True, Contra Costa is in a present population and job boom: its 2.0% population growth rate is almost twice that of Alameda County, and its 2.5% annual employment increase is more than double that of San Francisco County. However, does that mean that billions of dollars need to be spent over the next 10 years so that those new residents and workers can have a smooth, subsidized commute scores of miles from their homes, while everyone else pays more?

Suburban subsidy is exactly what BART has in mind for the new millennium – the Castro Valley and Dublin/Pleasanton expansion which opened this May cost an estimated $517 million to construct (funded by localities, Measure B sales tax and bridge toll revenue), yet will increase ridership by only 10% (22,000 new daily riders are expected). And with a 25.5 cent rail cost per passenger mile, that means that every new rider will cost BART $3.57 cents to shuttle to Bay Fair, only two stations away.

A fairly typical 40 mile commute from eastern Contra Costa to San Francisco, has a real cost of close to $10 each way, not even counting the short term price of system extensions. BART’s ticket pricing does reflect distance traveled, but the cost for trips over 14 miles is less per mile than for shorter distances. Therefore, those who live in the suburbs are getting a far better deal than those in the urban centers. In effect, urban riders and subsidizing suburbanites. This is entirely unacceptable, yet BART has no present plans to make things more equitable – its eyes are focused on the lucrative commute dollar, which suburbia is all too eager to cough up.

Only 56% of costs are made back by revenue (mostly ticket sales), so to make BART viable as a real alternative to the car – a wasteful, overly-individualistic way of travel that already is lavished with support, from new pavement to artificially low prices at the pump – some subsidization is essential. But is the money that BART is receiving from our sales and property taxes, not to mention bridge tolls – which in 1996 totaled almost $140 million, $15 million more than net passenger revenue – being utilized effectively?

Yes and no. For example, labor makes up almost 70% of operating expenses. Massive layoffs would definitely save money, but service would be severely impacted, and the employees can’t be blamed for short-sighted planning. Instead, executive level salaries and bloated infrastructure should be severely cut. For example, almost $6 million will be spent over the next couple of years to replace the simple yet effective displays that announce trains, with high-tech yet commercially saturated TV screens. This will do absolutely nothing to increase service, yet will no doubt fill BART’s coffers with more advertising dollars.

Instead of questioning such expense, BART promotes it. In fact, over $54 million will be spent over the next 10 years just to keep the stations in “Mint” condition, suitable for photo-ops. Aesthetics are nice, but they don’t make up for the fact that the trains don’t run when many need them, and when they do, they’re headed towards the suburbs.

Since bridge tolls and gas prices are artificially low (according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Bay Bridge toll was 65 cents in each direction in 1936 – $7.80 in today’s dollars compared to the $1 actually collected now), BART is forced to keep its fares as affordable as possible, lest people give up on the system altogether and hit the roads. Historically, BART has increased ticket prices at a moderate level, but from 1995 to 1997 fares rose dramatically enough (at least 10% a year) that many who travel longer distances are starting to feel the bite.

BART does try to assist those who need to drive to its stations by providing free parking spaces. 3600 will open with the two new stations and that’s 3600 less cars clogging the freeways, which is a start. Yet, of the 40,000 spaces system wide, the majority are in the suburbs – 13,000 on the Oakland to Pittsburg line alone. Once again urbanites are shafted.

Much more promising are those who don’t drive at all; BART stations are transportational hubs – 98% of AC Transit lines intersect with BART, for example. Buses are an essential part of Bay Area transit – they use the roads that already saturate most communities more effectively than cars, and therefore can potentially reach the majority of potential riders, especially those in urban areas where light rail or BART extensions would be prohibited by cost or existing infrastructure.

Unfortunately, bus lines – especially comprehensive ones – are notoriously expensive to run in comparison to the fares that can be collected. BART Express is a case in point; only 20% of costs are made back by fares, and service is far from extensive. This inefficiency pressures bus agencies to cut costs, which usually means higher fares and less non-commute hour service – the recent gutting of AC Transit routes is a sad case in point. And since buses are an essential part of our public transportation web, especially its urban center, the whole system suffers.

The Siren Song of Over-Extension

Even with our system’s inefficiencies, people still manage to get to BART. And so what if it costs a lot to transport people to work publicly – at least the environment isn’t paying the price. Such an argument is overly simplistic. Increased population growth often equals more suburban sprawl – homogenous, car-centric architecture, the consolidation of commerce into cookie-cutter shopping centers and super stores, and near universal pavement. In the relatively wide open spaces of Contra
Costa and southern Alameda counties (home to the new Warm Springs BART extension past Fremont, now on hold but tentatively scheduled to open after 1999 for $500 million and counting) hundreds of square miles of undeveloped land will soon fall to the back hoe, subdevelopment and strip mall.

This is not because of BART, but BART is counting on such growth to justify its future existence. More residents equals more potential riders – 30 million more yearly trips are expected by 2006, and that’s with only about 1% population growth. These new commuters will come directly from future extensions, part of BART’s 10 year plan: Pittsburg/Baypoint towards Antioch, at a couple hundred million dollars per station; the SF airport connection at well over $1 billion, plus another few hundred million to Milbrae, not even to mention miles of track connecting Walnut Creek to the new Dublin/Pleasanton station, and the Livermore extension thereof.

More residents also equals more business, sales and property tax, which in turn funds BART and justifies its further expansion. The frequency of new stations clearly follows the people, and money, flowing into the area – there are also extensions planned past Richmond towards San Pablo, Pinole and Crockett, but funding doesn’t exist as of yet, and seems low priority in BART’s own planning statistics.

Which isn’t all that surprising, for while urbanites also require “safe, reliable and customer oriented” transit, BART doesn’t seem that committed to providing it. Almost $1 billion will be spent on system wide renovation over the next decade, but most of that is essential for the functioning of BART – earthquake and transbay tube retrofitting, escalator and elevator repair, and the like – and not particularly focused on the needs of less affluent, East Bay riders (mostly on the Richmond to Fremont line, geographically).

$90 million is being spent on a new train control system, which will do little more than bring BART up to technological speed, but there are no plans to increase train frequency during non-commute hours, something that would make a real difference for those who want to use BART at night. Right now, the stations close soon after midnight, leaving little choice but sporadic (and ever reduced) bus service or the car.

This is not to belittle the transportational achievement that BART embodies. By 2006 approximately 100 million riders will get to where they’re going each year without clogging up the freeways, and the rail cost per passenger mile is only expected to go up one cent in the next decade. That achievement should be not only applauded, but magnified by future improvements to the overall system.

Traveling Nowhere Faster Than Ever

However, there is an underlying problem that not even the best mass transit system in the world can solve – almost 7 million people will be living in the greater Bay Area by the year 2000, and most of them work at a great commute distance from their communities. This is not only a function of our car-centric urban and suburban planning, but the fact that housing costs are high in the urban employment centers, and people can better afford the image of the American dream in the suburbs away from city problems of pollution and crime. Commuting becomes a way of life from the picket fence to the corporate headquarters.

We can either keep heading in the same direction, increasing the suburban sprawl, building freeways and BART tracks while and at the same time reducing local bus service, or we can collectively reconsider what we now take for granted – the alienation of our labor from our community. Public or private, by car or train, mass transit is expensive because in the end it’s not an efficient way of organizing the workings of our society.

A True Transit Plan

A true transit plan would have both short and long term elements. Over the next decade, it would focus less on service extensions, paid for by us all, which serve only a small yet affluent part of the population, and instead strengthen existing service, More BART trains and bus service 24 hours a day, paid for by better money management, higher bridge tolls and funneling of car-oriented transit dollars towards public transit.

In the longer term it would get people off of the roads, period, and back on their own streets. It would have provisions for development on a human scale, from promoting cohousing communities to depaving clogged city streets and replacing them with pedestrian plazas, bike lanes, with light rail arterial connections and zero-emission busses where appropriate.

It would strive to reduce the inhuman speed of transport that we presently take for granted, by actively rezoning our cities, making sure that each community has all the necessary resources, from offices to grocery stores, instead of requiring mass exodus daily to retail magnets – the ever present malls and super stores. It would promote the local production of essential goods (community gardens verses acres of monoculture) while still allowing for large scale material trade between areas.

It would discourage the Sunday drive by bringing nature back into the city, and would reduce aimless yet expensive wandering by making individual travel an unsubsidized privilege – with the true cost of motive energy reflected at the pump or the socket. It would transform transit from an individual chore where the quickest person wins, back into a communal, social activity.

This is far from an easy task, requiring short-term sacrifice and collective struggle, both at grass roots and governmental levels. Sadly, most large scale planning at present is short sighted, and overly concerned with transportational and societal band aids (more freeway lanes, more BART track) instead of massive yet essential surgery. Without direct action, and soon, most of our energy will be put into traveling towards a congested future, instead of maintaining a comfortable present.

In the past 100 years the Bay Area has moved from horse drawn trolley cars, through the tremendously efficient and visionary Key Line system, towards a grand future of “safe, reliable and customer oriented” transit that gets everyone where they want to go, as long as it meets the needs of our employers, and doesn’t step on the toes of big oil or auto. As we all pay for BART’s shiny yet hollow future, it would be wise to question if this is progress.

(Note: All figures in this article are from BART 1996 Short Range Transit Plan and Capital Improvement Program reports, save for a few facts from the official BART and AC Transit web sites)