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Vallejo out to protect ferry service

By Sarah Rohrs
Contra Costa Times

As the state prepares to enact a bill that wrests local ferry control from Vallejo, former Mayor Tony Intintoli is awaiting word on his possible appointment to a powerful new water transit board.

Meanwhile, the city has assembled a team of consultants to protect the Vallejo Baylink Ferry service.

The bill, SB976, goes into effect Jan. 1. It calls for the consolidation of the Vallejo and Alameda ferry services under the umbrella of a new transportation agency.

The state will own the boats, and the new five-member Water Emergency Transportation Authority will have the power to plan and respond to emergencies, terrorist attacks and other disasters, such as earthquakes. The board replaces the 11-member Water Transportation Authority, of which Intintoli was a member.

Intintoli, who served his last day Thursday, said he wants to help ensure the ferry remains a strong component of Vallejo's waterfront and commuter services.

"I was very active in the expansion of the ferry service," said Intintoli, who has a vessel named after him. "I think it is one of the major accomplishments we've done in the last 20 years. I want to be part of the continuation of it and continued success and expansion."

If Intintoli secures a board appointment, he said he will be in a prime spot to advocate for the ferry system while a transition plan is created. Vallejo has numerous issues to address as the bill moves forward, including adequate compensation for ferry boats and infrastructure, plus protections for a new parking garage and maintenance facility, he said.

Assemblywoman Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, and state Sen. Patricia Wiggins, D-Santa Rosa, have sent state officials letters urging that Intintoli be appointed.

Members of the new water transit board will be appointed by Jan. 10. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will appoint three members, and one member each will be appointed by the Senate Rules Committee and Assembly speaker.

Last week, city officials and city lobbyists began a whirlwind of meetings with state officials in Sacramento on the ferry issue.

Vallejo City Manager Joe Tanner said a big issue is educating Sacramento about the Vallejo ferry system, which is 10 times larger than the Alameda system and involves a larger fare box recovery.

"Sacramento needs to understand our issues before we can even start a process of negotiations," Tanner said.

Earlier this month, the Vallejo City Council agreed to hire three state lobbyists and consultants for $14,000 per month, not to exceed $100,000. They are part of a city team seeking "cleanup legislation" on adequate compensation, continued ferry service and assurances the ferries will remain strong parts of the downtown and waterfront developments.

The firms are Joe A. Gonsalves & Son, Barnes Mosher Whitehurst Lauter & Partners and California Strategies LLC.

A major task of the new board will be developing an emergency water transportation plan by July 1, 2009, which will detail how the state will administer and oversee the existing ferry systems.

"There's quite a bit of work coming up," said Robert Oakes, transportation consultant for state Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch.

Oakes said the board may also look at ways to provide other Bay Area cities with commuter ferry service and how to tap into new sources of funding designed to improve state infrastructure.

"The purpose will be on building what works," Oakes said. "The idea is to expand service. Nothing in here is contemplated to reduce service. It's just the opposite."

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