MTC’s environmental justice guidelines delayed

Officials with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, already facing one lawsuit alleging discrimination, have split on proposed guidelines committing the agency to taking action on social and environmental justice issues.

While two of four environmental justice guidelines proposed by a committee were adopted by the commission last month, another two were shelved until June after Metropolitan Transportation Commission General Counsel Francis Chin advised they could expose the agency to further litigation. The shelved proposals would have made it MTC policy to take action to address inequities and required other agencies to do the same before receiving funding. The adopted principles called only for public consultation and data collection.

A lawsuit filed last April and backed by nonprofit legal group Public Advocates alleges that MTC has illegally handed out higher subsidies to transit agencies with higher white ridership, primarily BART and Caltrain, at the expense of bus agencies such as AC Transit.
The environmental guidelines, more than a year in the making, are an attempt to address this type of concern. They have proven so controversial, however, that MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger broke with Chin to endorse all four proposed guidelines, the first time that such a break has occurred in at least 12 years, said Jon Rubin, chairman of the commission and Mayor Gavin Newsom’s representative.

Chin submitted what critics called a watered-down version of the guidelines to the commission atthe same time as those developed by the Minority Citizen’s Advisory Committee.

Rather than adopt guidelines that could force MTC to reallocate funds, the commission asked staff to report back in four months on whether any inequities currently exist before deciding on how to proceed, MTC spokesman Randy Rentschler said.

“We want to find a way so that environmental justice is a major factor in transportation funding and decision making, but doesn’t expose the commission to litigation that might cost money and time that would be better used for transit and transportation projects,” Rubin said.

Rentschler, however, said MTC has limited discretion on where it funnels the estimated $300 million in state transportation funds it oversees annually for nine Bay Area counties. The U.S. Dept. of Transportation, which investigated almost identical accusations against the MTC in 2000, found the agency compliant with federal law.

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