Pork politics risky for BART riders

The last two major terrorist bomb attacks on the Western World targeted the subway systems of London and Madrid. So it’s maddening that our Bay Area Rapid Transit railway will only be given about $300,000 of the $28.3 million in Homeland Security funds. That’s what the federal government deigns to allocate for the Bay Area this year.

It’s only common sense to observe that if terrorists want to achieve the greatest possible impact from a Bay Area bombing, the obvious best targets would be BART, the Golden Gate or Bay bridges, downtown San Francisco high-rises or possibly a stadium ballgame crowd. They are not likely to blow up Redwood City or Hayward.

And again, considering what happened in London and Madrid, it’s clear the easiest and most vulnerable Bay Area target would be BART. A suicide bomber could simply board a train and set off his explosives-filled backpack.

It becomes just plain crazy that BART received only about $111,000 from the $131 million allocated for Bay Area Homeland Security since 2003. That’s less than 1 percent of the total budget. Surely the bombing risk (or earthquake risk) to a crowded rush-hour BART train traversing the TransBay Tunnel is considerably more than 1 percent of the entire Bay Area risk factor.

Admittedly, the entire Homeland Security grant process has largely degenerated into yet another federal pork fest. The mayors of New York and Washington, D.C., alreadydenounced this year’s 40 percent budget cut to their previously attacked cities. Meanwhile, the Homeland Security Department’s National Asset Database claimed Indiana had twice as many potential terrorist targets as California. The database included such highly strategic sites as an Alabama petting zoo and a Tennessee flea market.

This year,, the Homeland Security Department consolidated its grants regionally, rather than giving money direct to cities and counties. In theory, it could have been a good idea to require local governments to get together on making a unified decision about how to divide their funding. A local understanding of priorities would presumably be best informed.

In the Bay Area, an “approval authority” was quickly established, with San Francisco getting two votes, and one vote apiece going to San Jose, Oakland, Santa Clara and Alameda counties, and the state Office of Emergency Services. BART, the No. 1 terrorist target in the Bay Area, was noticeably not selected as a voting member.

It’s a harsh fact of political life that when money is being apportioned around a table, anybody not right there in a voting seat is likely to get scraps and leftovers. This is unacceptable for security funding of the regional subway that carries some 330,000 commuters each weekday.

BART should get a vote on next year’s round of funding, so it can make its own best case face-to-face for a more appropriate share of the pie.

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