The For-Profit Bridge:Golden Gate Bridge $5.00 Toll Hike opposed by Marin residents.

Tiny - Posted on 27 May 2012

Dee, Tiny, Ace Tafoya, Joseph Bolden, Ashley Atoms/PNN

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

It was a day like any other –I curved my body into a half circle and twisted sideways between the wobbly steering wheel and the broken drivers seat. I breathed a short-lived sigh of relief, I was in……The car that is , better known to some as …the hooptie, the clunker… the tank- it didn’t matter what you called it – it was ours, we had wheels and being that some family members are disabled – and we had far distances to travel - cars were a necessity– but back to today – today we needed to travel to Marin County – San Rafael to be exact – to do an outreach workshop with The Canal Community Center –The Canal was peopled with mostly migrante trabadores residing in a minute yet beautiful raza barrio known as The Canal district of San Rafael – one of the few very low-income communities in the whole County of Marin- we should know we were one of the poor folk who used to reside there-

After a successful day of outreach and training we "slid" back into the car and headed South on 101 towards San Francisco. The Sun, sky and hills collaborated to form the impenetrable beauty of Marin County. The shocking unrealness of the sky and water became even more clear as we started up the incline leaving Marin City, mostly because if you exceed 45 miles an hour our entire car and its contents begin to violently shake ….

And then… we were there – facing the red steel, black and blue asphalt framed by a bright green expanse of bay.. The Golden Gate Bridge – we sailed across feeling light and momentarily happy until we got close to the toll – oh my god, fear set in- We didn’t have enough for the Bridge toll. Dee and I looked nervously at each other – emptying the contents of our backpacks and bags in tandem. "Well, " Dee proclaimed, "tell them that you don’t have the toll – they will probably just issue a ticket like the Bay Bridge does.."

"Excuse me – we don’t have the toll- " I said to the lady in the toll booth, she looked at me and an odd look of confusion and anger filled her face.

"What do you mean you don’t have the toll?"

"Just what I said, I don’t have the toll.."

"Well I am very sorry but that is not acceptable, everyone has to pay or you don’t get across" and then she looked at me like now I would produce the $3.00 I really must have

"So what do you want me to do?"

" I already told you miss- you need to pay the toll"

We continued to go back and forth like this for a few more minutes until Dee lost patience in the idiocy of the interchange. "Look, we said we don’t have the toll, what do we do now?"

"Well I don’t know, I will have to call my supervisor and you will have to drive over there and talk to a police officer"

A police officer??!! – would this whole thing end up being one of our worst ‘Driving While Poor’ nightmares yet. I scanned my mind for warrants and/or unpaid citations. Was our registration current? I just paid for my insurance. I think its ok ….

"you gals will need to wait here for awhile while we sort this out", this time some police or sheriff like character was loudly yelling into the car. We became truly scared and angry . Were we to be arrested for three dollars ? What would we or could we do and how could we prove to this man that what we had done nothing wrong other than be poor and drive over the Golden Gate Bridge?

"What the Golden Gate Bridge Highway & Transportation Board are doing is trying to force the poor people and working poor out of Marin County," stated John Ortega, the Acting Director of Canal Human and Economic Development Association.

Last month Dee Gray assigned a team of PNN reporters to cover the proposed toll hike of the Golden Gate Bridge, as well as a proposed toll for pedestrians and bicycle riders. The tolls are being rationalized in the mainstream media and by the Bridge board of directors as the way to pay for increased costs of Bridge upkeep and to underwrite public transportation. Due to the fact that we had had first-hand experience with the racist, classist policies of the Golden Gate Bridge we had a feeling the whole story wasn’t being told

We began our media organizing with multiple calls to several agencies that we have worked with in the low-income Canal district and Marin City areas of Marin County to get there feelings on the impact that a bridge toll would have on low-income commuters. The response was clear, in a telephone interview with PNN media intern Ace Tafoya, John Ortega was adamant, "Marin County is one of the most affluent counties in the country. They want to drive out the poor people,". In Marin County, 6.9% of the population are below the poverty level, communities of color make up 16% and persons over 65 years old are 13.5% of the total populace.

Byron Allen, a former resident of Marin City warns, "They (poor people) can’t afford the hike. It’s gonna be an economic impact to them because of their economic disadvantage." Many families of Marin County often share living quarters just to survive month to month. "These people who live in these areas don’t make enough money to handle that increase. This just isn’t right," Bryon Allen says shaking his head in disbelief.

Our next step was to report and "support" at one of the first public information meetings held by The Golden Gate Bridge highway and transportation district which unlike the Bay Bridge and Richmond Bridges is not a public entity supported by sales tax and managed by Caltrans, but rather in the trend of other public spaces and places has become a business with a good ole fashioned profit margin and board of directors.

Armed with a few thought provoking hand-made signs saying things like; Stop Economic Apartheid and Stop making decisions based on rich white folkThe PNN crew of Ace Tafoya, Joseph Bolden, Ashley Adams, Tiny and myself arrived at the San Rafael Community Center on a bright afternoon in June.

The room was large and airy with high redwood beam ceilings and a wall of sliding glass doors. At each corner was an easel with pie charts, graphs and vague statements about "The Cost of Bridge Upkeep" etc. Standing awkwardly in front of each flow chart were a few older men wearing ill-fitting sports jackets.

Dee motioned to start with one of the men in the left-hand corner, " Excuse me, can we ask you a few questions?"

" Sure" he stated pleasantly

" What is your name, what is your position?"

" I am Stanley smith, I am on the Board of Directors for the Bridge"

"So can you just tell us, in the planning of this increase have you thought at all about the impact on poor people?

He smiled again, "We thought of the impact on everyone, Sure of course we have, its how we’re paying to keep the bridge up. We have to keep the bridge there and obviously we haven’t raised any tolls in eleven years, its like when your bread, milk goes up, unfortunately that happens and we just have to raise a toll: because of the security, seismic retrofit, the maintenance of the bridge itself."

"What about the state taking over the bridge; what do you think of that idea?", Dee asked.

Mr. Smith chuckled and shook his head lightly at his own inside joke, "I would recommend anybody who wants the state to take over the bridge - go commute on the Bay Bridge for one week and then come back to Golden Gate Bridge and see if they still want the state to take it over. The Bay Bridge is not a well run bridge. Look every morning on your television the commute is backed up to Portland Oregon maybe. That’s being facetious but ever since we put the Fast Track in we’ve haven’t had a jam-up, look how the Bay Bridge Fast Track went - its just terrible. But we have exceptionally talented people running the bridge so that would be-I say the difference."

"So your saying part of this increase is to cover those exceptional people salaries?"

"Of course part of it is to cover salaries-yes, but the majority of it is gonna go for the maintenance of the bridge"

Mr. Smith went on to relate that he also believed that all those bicycle riders with their $300 hats and $600 bikes could easily afford a toll and that he wishes he could institute a sliding scale toll for poor folks but he wasn’t sure how to do it. We thanked Mr. Smith and moved on to join another very heated conversation.

"All those people, the whole board of directors and no one ever pays to go across the bridge. For the rest of their lives every board director gets a free pass." Dressed in work-pants and loose t-shirt, with the remnants of wood chips still clinging to his boots stood one Bob Dahlgren, public citizen, a new breed of activist which the PNN crew encountered at the Bridge hearings- "contractor as activist" He continued in a clear loud voice, " If that’s not a conflict of interest, I don’t know what is…"

Dee interjected "Board of directors of what?"

Bob answered, " The Golden Gate Bridge District"

"That’s not true", The man that Bob was directing his comments to was wearing one of those odd polyester/nylon jackets, giving him the slight impression of a ship captain , he forced a stiff smile towards Bob and continued, " board Members have free passes to cross the Golden Gate Bridge while they are members of the board of directors, not for the rest of their life."

Dee looked towards Bob again, "Why do you have a problem with that?"

"I don’t believe there’s a set policy, we’ve asked Jane Tarrentino, The Secretary of the Bridge District for the written policy about when the bridge (vote) passes or revoked, who they were given out to and we got no response. The fact is it took us approximately two months to get a Freedom Of Information Act results, there were over 1500 names listed of people that get to go across the bridge for free for the rest of their life."

While Bob was talking – The red jacketed man, who we later discovered was the Bridge Manager, backed himself out of our half-circle. We went on to ask Bob what he thought the impact of these bridge tolls would be on the low-income residents of Marin County

"That I believe is the biggest problem. The so-called Fast Track,program is the only thing they say is available for low-income commuters but of course you have to have a credit card and $35 dollars in your bank account, and when that drops to $30 dollars you are out of the system, plus Fast Track is a privately run company – and we have been unable to get any information on them- " He shook his head in disbelief, " I find it a shame this whole thing… You know-it’s a beautiful bridge, it has a lot to offer but if Cal Trans can run business and keep things under budget – I don’t understand why the Golden Gate Bridge District can’t"

Dee told Bob how she had asked Mr. Smith about the lower fare idea for low-income folks

Bob replied emphatically "There will never be a lower fare, it would only happen if they were backed up against the wall. This thing ( the Golden Gate Bridge) is a revenue maker and strictly revenue.

After speaking to Bob we were all collectively upset and discouraged. We sought out the Bridge manager, who seemed to be standing as far away from us as he could without actually leaving the room. He did not deny or confirm that there would be any special program put in place for low-income commuters, nor that the buses would be affected, rather he continued to state that, " The Board is always happy to listen to feedback from the community on any problems with the Bridge or the public transportation system, and.." he said this next comment while pointing us all in the direction of one of the feedback tables in the room, " if you have want to express your opinion, I would suggest you fill out a comment form, bureaucracies like us pay a lot of attention to paperwork"

After a few more strange minutes in that room, The PNN crew gathered up our Stop Economic Apartheid signs and sidled out. We drove out of the community center parking lot leaving the purple-brown mountains of San Rafael behind us, heading towards San Francisco and……The Golden Gate Bridge..!

"Hey Joe, Ace, Ashley… you have a dollar I can borrow?"

To find out about the upcoming finance committee and or meeting of the board of directors call the Golden Gate Bridge Highway & Transportation Board at (415) 455-2000

...are doing is trying to force the poor people and working poor out of Marin County," stated John Ortega, the Acting Director of Canal Human and Economic Development Association."

If that were true, why would they raise the toll going OUT of Marin County? Wouldn't they reverse the toll booths, and make you pay to go IN?


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