Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Schwarzenegger OKs bill helping Vallejo's ferries

Schwarzenegger OKs bill helping Vallejo's ferries
Legislation allows city to negotiate terms of transfer
By JESSICA A. YORK/Times-Herald staff writer
Article Launched: 09/30/2008

A state Senate bill helping to protect Vallejo's ferry system has received the governor's approval, amidst a flurry of action on post-budget legislation.

The measure is a secondary or cleanup bill to last year's legislation pushed by state Sen. Don Perata, D-Oakland, that formed the San Francisco Bay Area Water Emergency Transportation Authority.

Senate Bill 1093 allows existing Bay Area ferry services - namely Vallejo's and Alameda's - to negotiate the terms of their transfers and ultimately reject any takeover offer by the agency.

The nearly 10-month passage of the cleanup legislation, authored by state Sen. Patricia Wiggins, D-Santa Rosa, has not slowed Vallejo transportation officials from moving forward in planning the state's takeover of Vallejo's Baylink Ferry, Public Works Director Gary Leach said Monday.

"We've been moving ahead, assuming it would be signed anyway," Leach said. "It is a relief that it's finally gotten all the way through."

The due date for a plan detailing the potential ferry transfer to state control was extended from January to July 2009.

Vallejo's transportation budget faced a projected budget deficit in the last fiscal year, and again in the coming year, without outside help to combat rising fuel costs.

The Vallejo City Council approved ferry and express bus route fare hikes and periodic fuel surcharges to help the department make it through June. Last week, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission approved $1.9 million in funding assistance, along with $150,000 from the Solano Transportation Authority and another proposed $150,000 from Solano County. The money will allow for a smoother ferry transfer to state control in the wake of plummeting ridership losses in recent months.

Wiggins' aide Sean MacNeil said Vallejo could choose to continue running the ferry and contract its services out to the state agency. He added that with high fuel costs, that option seemed less likely.

Former Vallejo Mayor Tony Intintoli, who serves as WETA board vice chairman, said Monday that the bill's passage was a positive move.

"It's very good news that the governor signed the legislation," Intintoli said. "It does give Vallejo a voice in the transition process and so it's welcome news."

New WETA/Ferry transfer legislation:
• Ferry transition plan due July 1
• Required ferry control transition plan
• Transition plan to align with city development plans
• Public and city input for transfer plan
• Ferry rate changes need public hearing
• WETA must continue ferry for five years