Tri-Valley mayors return from summit in DC with optimism

Extending BART to ACE, helping homeless veterans among key topics in meetings with federal officials

The Tri-Valley's five mayors recently traveled to the nation's capital to advocate for regional priorities with federal officials and receive insights from their peers from across the country as part of the annual U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Each man spoke positively about the experience this year and the prospect of advancing key Tri-Valley goals, including their top-priority project: connecting BART to ACE Train in Livermore.

"The Department of Transportation (DOT) is very interested in the BART to ACE connection," Pleasanton Mayor Jerry Thorne said last week after returning from the summit.

"I am optimistic about the BART to ACE project and what it will accomplish to relieve traffic on our freeways. However, we will need to wait and see what form the Administration's infrastructure bill takes," Thorne added.

Thorne joined mayors Newell Arnerich of Danville, Bill Clarkson of San Ramon, David Haubert of Dublin and John Marchand of Livermore for this year's conference Jan. 23-26 in Washington, D.C.

"The people that we meet with, whether staff members or members of Congress, are always impressed to see that five mayors are working together for the good of their region, not just their individual cities," Marchand said.

The mayors met with federal officials from the departments of Transportation, Justice, Veterans Affairs, and Housing and Urban Development, as well as spoke with Sen. Dianne Feinstein and the offices of Sen. Kamala Harris and U.S. Reps. Jeff Denham, Mark DeSaulnier and Eric Swalwell.

They also attended meetings within the larger conference, including hearing remarks from President Donald Trump.

The trip and meetings were organized by Townsend Public Affairs, the lobbying firm hired by the five cities to advocate on the Tri-Valley's behalf. Townsend is in its first year consulting for the Tri-Valley, with the five cities evenly splitting the $120,000 annual contract, according to Becky Hopkins, Pleasanton's assistant to the city manager.

The quintet's No. 1 talking point in D.C. was BART to ACE, a regional transportation project local officials believe is vital to alleviating traffic congestion along interstates 580 and 680.

And the mayors returned home expressing optimism on that front.

"Based on our efforts with the DOT, we are now well-positioned with support from (federal legislators) to receive federal assistance in the upcoming infrastructure bill to supplement the $550 million already committed in Measure BB," Arnerich said.

"This project scope will greatly relieve congestion on 580 and 680," he said.

Marchand added, "Sen. Feinstein was particularly impressed that the proposal included the reactivation of the original alignment of the Trans-Continental Railroad, which actually came through Livermore."

Thorne said the Trump administration is looking toward creating a list of key transit projects to streamline, and the Tri-Valley mayors hope BART to ACE can make the cut.

"Projects that are on the 'list' will bypass a lot of the federal red tape," Thorne said.

"In his discussion with a group of mayors that included the five Tri-Valley mayors, the President indicated that he would like to see 'listed' projects approved within one year," Thorne continued. "Since the BART to ACE project has substantial local, county and state funding already committed, the indication was that our BART to ACE project would be a good candidate for the 'list.'"

Projects like BART to ACE, and continued Highway 84 improvements, are important for enhancing quality of life throughout the Tri-Valley, according to Clarkson.

"Even though none of the projects are in San Ramon, and aren't even in our county, we have made a commitment to help the region," he said. "It does affect San Ramon from a regional perspective. And down the road if San Ramon has a project, it's nice to know that our fellow areas are going to come to bat for us."

The mayors said they also focused on finding support for struggling military veterans in the area.

"We all share a strong desire to help our homeless veterans, particularly with mental health support and transitional housing," Arnerich said.

Thorne said he was encouraged to hear about the Veterans Affairs' "Reveille" program to help veterans in need, and the possibility of the program being applicable to the biennial East Bay Stand Down veteran support effort at the Pleasanton fairgrounds.

"If we were to include this in Stand Down, the VA would have housing vouchers and VA hospital personnel on site to assist homeless veterans," Thorne said. "Again, I would caution that nothing has been committed at this point, but I am hopeful that we can work with the VA to improve the homeless veteran situation."

Additionally, the trip provided key opportunities to interact with -- and learn from -- mayors elected throughout the country, according to Haubert.

"The conference allowed us to hear from other cities on ways they handle anything from sustainability to child obesity and healthy living to homelessness, etc.," he said.

In the end, the coordinated advocacy at the annual conference, which proved fruitful for Tri-Valley mayors in years past, appeared to be well on display again in 2018, according to Arnerich.

"Our past successes were often based on timing, and I believe we were again in the right places and the rights times on this trip," he said.

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