BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
Taxpayers and a political advocacy organization paid for Los Altos Mayor Jeannie Bruins and other officials to go to Barcelona and Amsterdam this summer.
The Barcelona trip was funded by VTA, though the agency has not yet disclosed the cost.
VTA sent Bruins, Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, as well as other San Jose and VTA officials to the Spanish city July 5-8 to see its subway system. VTA plans to build an extension of BART from the Berryessa Flea Market to downtown San Jose that will be mostly underground.
After the Barcelona trip, Bruins, Chavez, Liccardo and other officials then went to Amsterdam and surrounding areas from July 9 to 14. This trip was organized by SPUR, a San Francisco-based political advocacy organization.
The Amsterdam trip was funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, according to Teresa Alvarado, San Jose director of SPUR. This trip was to look at how European train stations accommodate for different types of rail services, buses and bicycles, Bruins said.
Since SPUR is a nonprofit, it doesn’t have to report publicly how much money from the Knight Foundation that it spent on the trip.
Bruins said she traveled in her capacity as the VTA board president, and not as a Los Altos council member. However, she was able to get onto the VTA board because she was elected to the Los Altos council.
The purpose of the Barcelona trip was intended to let representatives of VTA and BART, who came on their agencies’ dime, see how a subway line there operates. The line is in a single tunnel that is large enough to fit tracks for separate directions, instead of having two tunnels next to one another, like what BART has, Bruins said.
Bruins said that actually seeing the Barcelona subway station will help inform VTA and its board when it has to make decisions about how to dig a tunnel under San Jose for a BART extension.
“We could look at it not from a textbook or trust-me point of view, but experience the nitty gritty (of the systems) and see their operation systems,” Bruins said.
As for the SPUR-funded trip, Bruins, Liccardo, Chavez and other officials from both VTA and SPUR used Amsterdam as a home base and went to four train stations in France and the Netherlands.
Studying train stations
The main focus for studying train stations was for when VTA improves Diridon Station in San Jose, Bruins said. With BART and high speed rail coming to the station in coming years, looking at these European stations were a way to see how to renovate stations with new types of rail systems, Bruins said.
Bruins also said that the SPUR trip was useful for her as a Los Altos councilwoman, even though she went in her capacity as chair of the VTA board. Bruins said it was interesting to see how employees in the Netherlands would ride a bicycle from home to the train station, leave it there, then ride a bicycle from the train station to work.
Expense reports not available
Because the tax-funded VTA paid for her Barcelona trip, the Post has been asking that agency since July 25 for travel receipts. First, the Post asked VTA representatives verbally for the information.
VTA did not provide the information. Then the newspaper filed a formal request under the California Public Records Act.
Under state law, a government agency has 10 days to respond to such a request or state a reason why a response will be denied or delayed.
On Aug. 30, the Post received an email from VTA Paralegal Jessica Rodriguez who said that VTA did not have all of the records needed to fulfill the Post’s request, but that VTA was reviewing the documents that have been turned in by officials who have turned in their receipts and “estimates we will be able to begin producing reasonably responsive records on or before Sept. 29.”
According to VTA spokeswoman Stacey Hendler Ross, officials who attended the Barcelona trip have two months to turn in their receipts.