MTA Response Not Enough

by KC Meadows, May 5, 2010

We were disappointed with the sarcastic and downright snotty letter to the editor in answer to concerned taxpayers from Jim Mastin, chairman of the Mendocino Transit Authority and the MTA’s general manager Bruce Richard about the proposed $22 million new administration building and bus facilities for MTA. Mastin wrote, “Too bad great, forward-looking projects face opposition from those who don't take the time to learn the answers.”

It seems to us that these taxpayers did take the time and didn't like what they found out. We also read the 30-page plus MTA study on how necessary the new facilities are and where to get the money for them. The MTA board a couple of years ago decided to make carbon neutrality a new major focus of its mission — laudable. Also, as we see, a good way to secure funding for a new administrative building.

The letter from Mr. Mastin tells us that this new center would mean an “adequate” office building with “an ADA accessible public meeting room” which he notes is not currently available. Interestingly, this new meeting room — and all of the new administration offices — are on the second floor of the new administration building. So, of course, now an elevator is required.

Adequate office space?

The study shows office-space growing from 1,087 square feet to 6,342 square feet, while projected administration staffing will go from 8 to 11. The “adequate” space includes not only a large board room and “training” space, but another, smaller, conference room. It has 11 offices, including a large corner office for the executive director, plus a separate office for the marketing manager, another for the financial and personnel manager, space for four administrative assistants, a receptionist, a separate office for a coordinator, another for an administrator and even a “future office” for somebody. It also has a kitchenette (although there is a full kitchen with dishwasher downstairs) an audiovisual room and a place for “chair/table.” Presumably storage. Then there are a bathroom each for men and women, plus a “library/filing” room, a copying room, a marketing storage room and another room for training materials. Adequate indeed. Now let's look downstairs at the transportation operations floor (transit ops now uses 1,117 square feet and this floor will expand that to 5,555 square feet.). A full kitchen, a break room, a “quiet room,” a fitness room, full showering facilities with lockers, a “small” conference room, a copying room, a janitor's room, a uniform room, seven offices (including one for a “future supervisor”) and a vestibule.

“Adequate”? Far more, we think, and expensive.

The study estimates the cost of this administration/operations center will be $414.16 per square foot. We checked around on-line for estimates of the cost of office space construction and found that as of 2010, a two-story office building in New York City costs about $230 per square foot. So on to another point in Mr. Mastin's letter. Responding to the taxpayer who pointed out that the money MTA spends on this is our tax money regardless of whether it comes from the federal government, Mr. Mastin wrote, “Yes, you and I do pay for federal grants with our tax money. Apparently [the complaining taxpayer] would rather pay for those grants and let Los Angeles spend the money, stimulating the Southern California economy instead of ours.”

Nowhere in this MTA plan, or in the mission statement or goals outlined very explicitly in it, do we see any mention of a commitment to using local labor, local materials, local anything (although they do mention in their goals to encourage other government entities to bring high-paying jobs to the county). The study itself was produced by: Transit Resource Center in Florida; Maintenance Design Group in Colorado; RNL Design, also in Colorado; TLCD Architecture in Santa Rosa; Winkler and Kelly in Sacramento and an organization called Amari and Associates which doesn't apparently have a website but which we are willing to bet is not in Mendocino County. So while we will hear from MTA that “We have to take the lowest bid wherever it comes from” and “there's no one local who can do this work,” please, Mr. Mastin, stop implying that this project is going to mean a $22 million injection into our local economy. Much of it probably won't even end up in California.

We think planning for an all electric bus system is fine. We think planning for the future is fine. We think wanting to reduce one's carbon footprint is fine. What we don't think is fine is to proceed with these things during an economic recession as if money grows on trees.

Nowhere in this study does MTA address what it will do with all the money it claims it will save producing three times the energy it actually needs with its new solar powered administration center. Will that money go back to the Ukiah Senior Center where MTA will reduce senior van transportation by $24,000 this year? Will it go back into routes that it is reducing now? Telling the taxpayers that you are planning to spend $22 million for a top-of-the-line bus system years from now while cutting bus lines and hiking prices today makes it hard to believe all this will be necessary.

— KC Meadows. (Courtesy, the Ukiah Daily Journal)

PS. Jim Mastin is a candidate for Fifth District Supervisor.

One Response to MTA Response Not Enough

  1. Jim Mastin Reply

    May 5, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    Dear Editor,

    In response to your Opinion piece in the Sunday Ukiah Daily Journal regarding the Mendocino Transit Authority’s Solarization & Modernization Project, I’d like to apologize if our previous letter sounded “sarcastic” or “snotty”. For us it came from a place of frustration.
    The misperception seems to be that this is a done deal. It isn’t. So far only the concept phase has been completed. The 33-page summary of the project can be found on our website (http://www.4mta.org/Alternative_Fuel_Infrastructure2.html). The initial contract also provided for negotiating and awarding a design contract. The MTA Board authorized approval of that contract a couple of meetings ago, but it will not be signed until funding is secured. We currently have approximately $600,000 of federal funding specific to this project and are awaiting word on an additional $10million in the soon-to-be reauthorized Federal Transportation bill. We have also applied for other transportation capital grants. When sufficient funding becomes available our intent is to move forward on building the fleet-maintenance portion of the project. No reserve or operating dollars will be used for this project.
    This facility currently services our 45-vehicle fleet in addition to the Bookmobile, VA vans, Head Start buses, and vehicles from many senior centers. The current facility is woefully inadequate, and as we shift from diesel to more environmentally friendly electric vehicles it becomes even more so. The solar field proposed in the project is expected to provide MTA with all of its electrical need, thus reducing our fuel bill and freeing up precious operating funds. Our operating funds, like those of every other public transit operator in California, have been shrinking over the last few years as the State continues to raid constitutionally “guaranteed” revenues in an attempt to balance its general fund. The Local Taxpayer, Public Safety and Transportation Protection Act will be on the November ballot and will prevent further raids of local revenue. I urge voter support for this measure.
    Two Mendocino County firms bid on the concept and design phases of this project. Federal regulations require that the design firms be rated based on the qualifications of the team doing the work. The Santa Rosa-based TLCD team had a higher rating than the two local firms and the decision was made to proceed with them to maximize the opportunity to successfully fund this project. Until the design phase is complete and bids are received there is no way to tell who will be in the contracting pool. We anticipate that there will be local general contractors as well as subs who will bid on this project and, to the extent allowed by Federal regulations, we will make every attempt possible to include a local preference clause.
    If we secure funding for the administration/operations building, modifications to the concept can then be made during the design phase. The meeting room could shift to the ground floor and the elevator may disappear, but ADA requirements could then negate our intent to minimize the building’s footprint. Reconsideration of those and other issues are important and will be dealt with if that portion of the project progresses. The $414 per square foot cost of this building is obviously high. This is because the building is not just for offices, but also includes a dispatch and communications center, the tech and telephone hub and much of the solarization project.
    These are all preliminary estimates. The actual cost of this project will not be known until after bids are received. Current construction estimates are $15,634,000. An additional $6,200,00 is anticipated for the design work, construction contingency, permit fees, testing and inspection costs and the temporary relocation of some services during construction. The overall cost is a little higher than building on an undeveloped site due to the need for demolition and accommodation of maintaining operations during construction.
    The economic recession has affected MTA just as it has private enterprise, other arms of government, the general public and our riders. Funding for this project is specific to its construction and could not be redirected to operations, senior centers or off-setting higher fares. Our fares currently account for 15% of our operating revenue, which meets the fare-box recovery standard set by the state. Should that percentage drop significantly we would be subject to penalties and could lose even more revenue.
    MTA began in 1976 and today provides approximately 1600 safe, clean and accessible rides per day around the county. Many of our riders are transit-dependent, meaning they can’t afford, or choose not to own, a private vehicle. They use MTA to get to work, shopping, doctor and dentist appointments, school and more. After thirty-four years of continuous service, the Mendocino Transit Authority has no debt or unfunded liability, and annually balances its budget using only reasonable fares and funding specifically allocated for public transit. Whether we’re talking about the bus cleaner, union drivers or the general manager I’m proud of the professional team at MTA and our efforts to make our infrastructure as green and ready for the future as possible. Thank you for this opportunity.

    Jim Mastin
    Chair, Mendocino Transit Authority

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