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Sonoma County bus provider under fire

  • (PD file photo)

Activists for Palestinian rights are pressing Sonoma County officials to investigate whether the firm that runs Sonoma County Transit buses engages in human rights violations in Israel.

The North Coast Coalition for Palestine says Veolia Transportation, of Chicago, is under scrutiny because it operates buses between Israel and Israeli settlements in the contested West Bank.

Coalition members plan to make their case tonight to the county Human Rights Commission at a meeting expected to draw several hundred people, including Veolia executives.

Coalition spokeswoman Lois Pearlman said the aim is to convince commissioners to ask county supervisors to order an investigation into the company's practices and, subsequently, to recommend against renewing the $7.3 million annual contract with Veolia, which is up in 2014.

“If they come to the same conclusion we've come to, then they would recommend that the county not renew its contract,” Pearlman said. “We're not asking them to do it on faith.”

The West Bank settlements are considered illegal by the United Nations, under a 1979 Security Council resolution that the United States abstained from voting on and that Israel rejects.

“The buses (operated by Veolia) only run on segregated roads available only to Israelis and tourists,” Pearlman said. The coalition contends that the buses also operate in violation of International Criminal Court rulings.

A Veolia spokeswoman said the Israeli bus routes at issue are two out of 126, and that, in any event, they are not run by the U.S. company in charge of the county buses. Paris-based Veolia Transdev, which owns 50 percent of Veolia Transportation, runs the Israeli buses, said North American spokeswoman Judith Pardonnet.

“We don't have an influence on the decisions they make; they don't have an influence on the decisions we make,” she said, adding, “Aren't there other human rights matters to look into rather than two out of 130 bus lines?”

Discussion at the commission will likely include debate over whether the commission should involve itself in international affairs.

Commission Chairwoman Judy Rice on Monday said, “It is my opinion, and it may or may nor be shared by other commissioners, that this is not within our jurisdiction.”

Pearlman said, “Although it is not actually occurring in Sonoma County, our taxpayer dollars are going to fund this company.”

The commission meets at 5:30 p.m. in the hearing room at the county Permit and Resource Management Department, 2550 Ventura Ave., Santa Rosa.

You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or jeremy.hay@pressdemocrat.com.

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