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Public Transportation


When I moved back to the city of San Diego, I wanted to be able to ride the city bus system. The system was never that great with only one bus line from OB to downtown. There was no bus that could get me to work on time, making the bicycle the only practical option. That meant I had to ride when the weather was bad or I was not feeling very good. After Proposition 13 (the Jarvis-Gann property tax cut) became law, times got worse for transit riders. Buses stopped running when the sun went down. Thankfully, OB had enough entertainment options after dark that were in walking distance, including the Strand movie theater on Newport Avenue. One time, we drove to a first run film in Fashion Valley, and I cursed as I tried to find a last minute parking spot in the crowded lot. It was time to leave San Diego.

Prop. 13 hurt the Bay Area transit systems as well, but they were still a lot better than San Diego Transit. Moving to Berkeley in 1980, I found work at another contact lens factory in Point Richmond. Again I rode my bike to get the work. It was nice to be able to take a bus if I was feeling sick or the weather was lousy.

Through this evolution, I found myself becoming more politically involved against our auto-centric transportation system. I realized how car culture brought on urban sprawl and environmental destruction. In the early 1970s I was attending Palomar College in San Marcos and moved close to school so that I didn't have to drive so far. Soon, I was becoming fond of the town and was concerned about all the housing developments that threatened its small town character and its open spaces. I ran for a seat on the city council and am credited with being the first candidate to bring up the environment as a local issue. I lost the election, but made friends with many of the old time residents who shared my concerns for the future of the city. After the election, I continued to be involved in local politics, including city planning. The city manager Bill Bradley would later go on later to serve in the state assembly. When I read he was the author of a particularly vicious anti-bicycle bill, I sent him a letter. He indeed remembered me, he replied, adding he disagreed with my politics then and still disagreed with me. A few years after that letter, he died of colon cancer.

In 1979, I left my factory job to work for Bill Press on a campaign called Tax Big Oil. Press was Governor Jerry Brown's director of the Office of Planning and Research. During the second oil crisis, Brown and Press came up with a state oil profits tax to fund public transit and alternative fuels research. After failing to get it passed by the state legislature, Press quit the Brown administration and set up an initiative campaign to get the tax on the ballot. I had just quit the contact lens factory as a failed union organizer when I discovered Press' call for signature gatherers. I joined up at the beginning of the campaign. We got the proposition on the ballot, but we failed at the polls. Still, I am proud of the campaign. After being out of contact with Bill for many years, I was able to see him again during his 2004 book door. He said he believes Tax Big Oil was the last real grassroots campaign in California. I agree.

Ironically, while I was working for Tax Big Oil, I was driving my pickup truck even more than before. The campaign decided to use ironing boards instead of card tables to hold the petitions. The idea came from Jerry Brown's campaign to register voters. The iron boards allowed people to stand up straight to sign the petitions, instead of hunching over the short-legged tables. Our crews hauled the boards and other equipment in our cars to shopping centers to get our signatures and donations. I drove all over San Diego County, and, by the end of the campaign, in LA, Orange, and Riverside, too. As I drove, the radio played. My favorite song was the Talking Heads' Life During Wartime. I loved to sing along. I felt like an Eco Warrior.

One battle we fought was access to the voters at shopping centers. The property owners kept trying to kick us out even though we had the law on our side. The state Supreme Court had recently decided what was called the Pruneyard Decision, declaring a shopping center a public place for petitioning the government. We carried a photocopy of the decision with us to show to the police that would be sent to kick off the property. There were a number of times when the police still kicked us out, just because they didn't like us. We worked out a deal with some centers that we would not ask for money, but we frequently asked anyway. We raised a lot in our coffee cans, most giving the one dollar we requested. A few even dropped twenties into the can. I have fond memories of Price Club. Owner Sol Price was completely on our side and made sure store employees treated us right. They would offer us water to drink on hot days. Price Club has since merged with Costco.

Most recently, I have been able to find paid employment for my transit advocacy. In the fall of 2007 and spring of 2008, I was a canvasser for TravelChoice, walking door-to-door in Berkeley neighbors, offering information on public transportation, bicycles, and walking. We also offered goodies: maps, water bottles, pedometers, and canvas shopping bags. Then we delivered them by bicycle. It was exhausting work, but very satisfying.

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