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SBLC Escapes

Teddie Lavallee, the accountant who dared to take on the powerful South Bay Labor Council, has tentatively decided to drop her wrongful termination case against the labor group. Lavallee recently accepted a job in Iraq with a private contractor and had no desire, she says, to travel back and forth for hearings and a potential trial. Observers were waiting to see if Lavallee's attorney might reveal secrets of the Labor Council, like what happened to millions of dollars raised for nonprofit purposes ("The Six Million Dollar Woman," March 24). Lavallee says she was disappointed in her attorney, Stanley Hilton, who she says was unprepared to ask questions of labor leaders during depositions. "He said he liked to do things from memory," says Lavallee. "I was so embarrassed." In an email to Lavallee, Hilton said there were several weaknesses to the case. Lavallee and another accountant suing the SBLC, Elizabeth Herrick, didn't work at the same time, which prevented them from co-joining their case in federal court. There were also no smoking gun documents, which made judges think that Hilton was on a fishing expedition to find wrongdoing. Lavallee says in the end she felt that the overwhelming influence of the SBLC, with its strong ties to the valley's Democratic Party, was too much to take on. "You can't fight the world," she says. "I spent so much money. It's time to put some back in my bank account."

Light Rail Smoke Screen

Looks like those highly touted numbers declaring a 30 percent increase in ridership on light rail the past year come with an asterisk. A recently released audit of the Valley Transit Authority shows that passengers per mile on light rail as well as the bus lines have decreased substantially for the past six years. In the case of light rail, passengers have dipped from 3.32 per mile in 1998 to 2.84 last year. Costs, meanwhile, have doubled over the past three years, from around $4 per passenger to more than $8 per passenger. The reason? Declining sales tax revenue, which the VTA depends on, as well as declining employee productivity, according to the audit. Additionally, the 2002 fare increase was blamed for declining ridership more than service cuts. The VTA can hardly argue that it's cash-strapped. The 35-year-old transit agency spent nearly $51 million in fiscal year 2003, compared with $26 million in 1998. The 30 percent figure looks mostly like clever transit tricks. With the opening of the east San Jose extension in June, the total size of the light rail system has increased by 6.4 miles, or 17 percent. The remaining 13 percent increase in ridership is not out of line with ridership increases on BART, Caltrain and other public transit services in the Bay Area as the economy recovers. Furthermore, VTA altered the routing of a number of bus lines to force people to transfer to light rail, where previously they could complete their whole Milpitas-San Jose trip with a single bus. VTA has yet to release detailed ridership figures to substantiate the increased ridership (the 30 percent figure has been repeated in VTA meetings and in the Merc). Some public transit riders suspect that the numbers will show that the huge investment in light rail has produced very little benefit, and that most of the increased ridership consists of rerouted bus riders rather than new transit riders.

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From the December 22-28, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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