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Will Bay Area get 'freeway on stilts' and higher toll?  

December 13, 2004 Reposted from the San Francisco Chronicle
  By Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross

State Senate President Don Perata is calling for a cease-fire on the controversial redesign of the Bay Bridge's new eastern span, saying a prolonged fight will just cause more delays.

His advice: Live with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's "freeway on stilts" plan, but make the state pay for it.

"As far as the overall design goes, my feeling is not to fight it. That war is over. It will only mean more delays," said Perata, D-Oakland.

 "Having said that, we are not about to lay down and play dead on how the bridge gets paid for," Perata said in response to the administration's plans for a buck toll hike on Bay Area bridges to pay for the stripped-down span.

"They just think of toll booths as cash registers," Perata said.

Instead of boosting tolls to $4, Perata wants the state to issue a bond that would pay for seismic work for roadways all over California.

 "They don't need the extra money for the bridge until 2008, so we have time to put the issue before voters, either this year or next," Perata said.

Marin County Supervisor Steve Kinsey, who chairs the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, agreed with Perata's assessment.

 "By throwing down the 'economy bridge,' the governor has made it much easier for the senator to insist on a greater share of state money," Kinsey said.

But Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, isn't ready to throw in the towel yet on a fancier bridge.

"This is one of the most beautiful areas in the world and our public structures should reflect that," Hancock said. Besides, she said, "the Bay Area was already paying an extra dollar for a 'signature bridge' -- so it's still a question of us buying a Cadillac, then turning around and being given a Chevy.

 "Plus, I'm not sure this redesign isn't going to cost us a lot more time in redesign and re-permitting -- and we have 300,000 cars going over that bridge every day," Hancock said.

Maybe -- but the governor has been known to play hardball.

And so far he's shown no sign of backing off on his position on either the stripped-down design or his call for Bay Areas drivers to pick up the tab for building the new span.

As one source close to the governor said, "At some point, Mr. Perata is going to have to explain why he's holding out while the bridge remains unsafe."

Perata countered that there is plenty of time to try to pass a bond, since the work will continue regardless.

And by the way, he added, when it comes to dragging things out, "I hope they can get this redesign done and the permits approved in 24 months like they say -- but I'm not overly optimistic.

 "I mean, look at the record," Perata said. "Everything Caltrans has estimated so far has been off. They were the ones who botched it up in the first place."

Helping hand: Former state Senate President John Burton has exited Sacramento, but he's hardly leaving the stage -- as evidenced by his annual birthday bash fund-raiser coming up Thursday night at San Francisco's Marriott Hotel.

Just like last year, Washington funnyman Mark Russell will be performing and comic Tommy Smothers will be there for the introductions.

And just as in years past, Burton is counting on contributors to pony up big time:

A "silver" supporter can buy a table of 10 for $10,000.

A "gold" supporter can bag two tables for $15,000.

A "platinum" backer can have three tables for $25,000. And an "aces high" backer -- for more than $25,000 -- can have "as many tables as you would like."

This time, however, the money won't be going to politics, but to the John Burton Foundation for Children Without Homes.

"I didn't pick the name," said Burton, who is an unpaid adviser to the nonprofit group.

The goal is to have $2 million in the bank by the end of the month and to raise millions more in future years. The money would be handed out to an assortment of nonprofits that already serve the state's estimated 100,000 homeless children, and be used to provide the kids with basics such as food, clothing and school supplies.

Burton is also planning to shift a chunk of the $1 million he has left over in his Senate campaign coffers to the charity.

So far, donors don't appear to be tossing the dough like they did when they were seeking political favors. In fact, Burton himself has been pitching calls, something he's rarely done in the past.

 "It's a serious effort," Burton said. "It ain't going to change the world, but if we can change the lives of who knows how many f -- kids, then what the s -- ... we'll be doing some good."

What can we say -- some things never change.

By the way, anyone wishing to contribute can send checks to the San Francisco Foundation for the John Burton Foundation for Children Without Homes (I.D. #010679337), 465 California St., Suite 400, San Francisco, CA 94104.

R.I.P.: Police Officer Susan Lavin has come across a lot of things in San Francisco's homeless camps, but what she found awhile back out at Cesar Chavez Street and Cargo Way was definitely a candidate for an urban legend.

 "There was this pile of stolen computers and other stuff that got left behind when we ordered 15 or so tents cleared out," Lavin said. "And right in the middle, we find this box.

 "We opened it and couldn't figure out what it was. Then we noticed that the return address was a funeral home up in Washington."

The officers took the box back to the station and called the box's owner, whose name was on the cover.

The contents consisted of the owner's mother -- or at least her cremated remains.

Turns out the guy had his car stolen a while back, and momma had been in the trunk when the thieves struck -- so she went along for the ride.

Months later, she turned up -- safe, sound and undisturbed in the homeless camp.

 "Never a dull moment," Lavin said.

Not in San Francisco.

 Chronicle columnists Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross appear Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays. They can also be heard on KGO Radio on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Phil Matier can be seen regularly on KRON 4 News, and also on Sunday night at 9:30 on his own show, "4 the Record." Got a tip? Call them at (415) 777-8815 or drop them an e-mail at [email protected].


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