When they zoom up a single-file escalator to the alleyway connecting Broadway and Telegraph Avenue in Uptown Oakland, commuters later this year can expect to see a bedazzling new blue-green sculpture outside the 19th Street BART station.

In the meantime, nearby merchants are grumbling about how long it's taking to complete the $600,000 illuminated art project.

The BART station's 17th Street gateway has been closed since the fall to build Seattle artist Dan Corson's "Shifting Topographies," a three-dimensional work inspired by the Oakland hills and the San Francisco Bay. The original target date to reopen was in February, but the new completion date might not be until October -- a year after it started.

New restaurants, bars, shops and housing have increased ridership by 53 percent at the 19th Street BART station, making it the transit system's "rock star," according to a blog by Robert Raburn, who represents much of Oakland on the BART board. The sculpture is supposed to be a beacon to daytime office workers and nighttime revelers heading to the nearby Fox Theater and other venues. For now, though, foot traffic at the gateway has ground to a halt.

The closure "affects business here tremendously," said Nikki, who declined to give her last name but runs the Fat Cat Café on Telegraph, one of several businesses that say they are suffering from the 10-month drop in pedestrian traffic.


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"Honestly, I want to see the light at the other end of the tunnel," she added. "I'm sure it'll be good for the city."

The city approved the project on the BART-owned property in 2010, paying for it through a 1989 city ordinance that requires that earmarked 1.5 percent of capital improvement money go toward public art, according to Kristen Zaremba, who manages the city's public art projects.

"This was really a visionary project for us. We wanted to take it up a notch," Zaremba said.

The first delays came when Gov. Jerry Brown dismantled redevelopment agencies around the state in 2011. Zaremba said more recent delays have involved waterproofing and other construction complications associated with a parallel project to add new pedestrian lighting, paving and railings.

Corson, the artist, said design work was completed long ago, but contractors are still putting everything together and awaiting two big custom-made chunks of navy-blue glass that a crane will have to install. Later, lights will be added.

"It's going to be really cool," Corson said, and an improvement over an alley that "was pretty nasty and stinky and rank before."

In a few months, he said, the sparkling sculpture will "get people more excited about coming here and exploring the Uptown district after dark."

Council to decide garbage contract

Garbage bills might not jump as much as feared next year so long as the Oakland City Council on Wednesday doesn't give a cut of the business to a politically connected company, according to a city report.

For the second time in three months, top city staffers are recommending that council members contract with Waste Management of Alameda County to handle both garbage and recycling for the next 10 years. The company recently reduced its price. Instead of demanding a nearly 50 percent rate increase, it's asking for a 35 percent hike -- equivalent to $126 per year for the average homeowner.

As bad as that sounds, homeowners would pay an additional $184 per year -- nearly double what they will be asked to pay for a new public safety tax -- if council members choose to give a cut of the recycling business to California Waste Solutions.

The homegrown Oakland firm currently handles some curbside recycling for the city. It has a track record of bringing supporters en masse to critical council meetings as it did two months ago when the council voted to give it another chance to bid against Waste Management and a decade ago when the council agreed to forgo competitive bidding for the company's contract with Oakland.

California Waste Solutions also bid for the entire Oakland garbage and recycling contract. Their bid came in lower than Waste Management's, but city staffers are recommending that the council reject it because they don't think the company has the resources to do the job when the contract begins next summer.

Union City leader apologizes for breaking campaign law

Gurnam "Gary" Singh, a Union City leader fined recently for breaking campaign contribution laws four years ago, has apologized.

Singh, a planning commissioner since 2006, also said he will not run for City Council in November.

"When I ran in 2010, I was inexperienced and was not aware at the time what we did was incorrect," Singh said in a statement emailed to this newspaper. "Putting family over politics, we have paid the fine and are ready to move on (and) learn from our mistakes, and I promise that it will not happen again."

Singh and Jo Ann Lew, also a Union City planning commissioner, laundered campaign contributions during Singh's failed 2010 City Council bid, the Fair Political Practices Commission announced three weeks ago.

Singh and Lew, treasurer of the Gary Singh for City Council 2010 committee, waived their rights to a hearing and agreed to pay $15,000, the state agency said.

"I want to apologize to my family, friends and supporters for the embarrassment this has caused," Singh wrote. "I will continue to be involved in the city and do what I can do to help this city move forward."