ELECTION 2014: Candidates run for local BART, AC Transit seats

ELECTION 2014: Candidates run for local BART, AC Transit seats

Dave Boitano
BART candidates

Robert Raburn and Lena Tam are candidates in the race to represent BART's Fourth District. Contributed photos.

Thousands of Alamedans rely on regional transit systems to commute each day.

And though the campaigns for seats on Bay Area Rapid Transit and AC Transit boards of directors are low key, the decisions they make have a direct bearing on whether many Island residents get to work on time.

Incumbent BART director Robert Raburn is facing two challengers – Alameda City Councilwoman Lena Tam, who also serves as the East Bay Municipal Utility District water resources planning manager; and Larry Lionel Young Jr., a teacher and Realtor from Oakland.

The seat represents BART’s Fourth District, which includes the Coliseum/Oakland Fruitvale, Lake Merritt, 12th Street Oakland City Center, 19th Street Oakland and MacArthur stations.

Meanwhile, Elsa Ortiz is running unopposed to keep her Ward 3 directorship on the AC Transit board. Ortiz, an attorney and policy consultant to state Senate President Darrell Steinberg who has served on the board since 2006, represents Alameda and portions of Oakland and San Leandro.

Both boards make policy decisions, hire and fire the general manager and other top executives and vote on employee contracts.

Labor strife plagued both systems in 2013, with BART workers staging two strikes of three days each and AC Transit drivers threatening to strike until a contract agreement was reached one hour before a planned midnight walkout.

BART’s contract talks stretched over six months and divided public opinion between riders who thought the workers were overpaid and those who sympathized with employees who had not had a significant raise in four years.

The BART contract settlement gave union members a 15 percent raise through workers will have to pay into their pension fund, instead of getting retirement coverage for free.

Better communication between the unions and management is the key to averting future strikes, all three BART candidates said.

Raburn said both sides must determine what the issues are and “put everything on the table so it is available to all, including the public.”

Young wanted to make certain that workers and management are “on the same page” during negotiations because management is working with people of diverse backgrounds.

“BART needs to be needs to be more productive and respected,” he said.

Tam stressed her experience dealing with union negotiations as a City Council member.

During the strike, BART board members were unable to meet with bargaining units directly and learned about the strike through the general manager.

Tam said she experienced the same problem during bargaining with city employees a few years ago when a former city manager insisted that councilmembers deal only with her.

“It’s difficult to have accurate and fair information when only one side is talking,” she said.

Tam said she would help establish a dialogue with the unions to gain back their trust.

“They may not like hearing everything that I say but at least they will know that I will be honest with them,” she said.

At the height of the strike, some media reports suggested that the state Legislature could approve a no-strike rule for BART unions or that the elected board be dissolved. Members of the board that governs the Bay Area's ferries are appointed to their seats.

All three BART candidates agreed that the district board should remain elected. Other special districts that serve more than one county like the East Bay Municipal Utility District and East Bay Regional Park District have elected boards, Tam said.

The BART system covers four of the Bay Area’s nine counties.

Turning over control of the system to one manager wouldn’t benefit the district because board members contribute their experience to policymaking, like Raburn’s knowledge of transit systems, he said.

“I don’t want to give up all that I know to one person who play God,” he said. “How would we find that person and who would it be?”

Raburn, a transportation planner by trade, is finishing his first four-year term on the BART board. He was chairman of the Measure B Citizens Watchdog Committee – which monitors use of transportation funds – and was involved with the East Bay Bike Coalition, which lobbied for bike lanes on the Bay Bridge. He said he favors high-density housing and bike transportation to lower carbon emissions.

Tam is being termed out of her Alameda City Council seat after serving two four-year terms. Prior to joining the council, she served on the Alameda Health Care District Board as a member and past president.

She stressed her experience in government and is running for the BART board because much of new development in the East Bay will be coming through the area covered by District 4.

Young said he is qualified for the board based on his college degrees and experience gained in teaching and real estate. He ran unsuccessfully for Oakland mayor and Oakland City Council, in 2010 and 2012.

Ortiz, whose name will not appear on the ballot, said her goals as an AC Transit board member are to boost Transbay service and maintain affordable fares for students, seniors and disabled people.

She said her priorities as a board member include maintaining sustainable funding, connecting AC Transit and BART into a seamless system with a coordinated scheduling and ticketing system and integrating transit and land use decisions.

“We have to make sure that AC Transit is at the table when local governments plan new developments,” she said. “Density, with transit near or around jobs, will encourage smart growth policies.”

Ortiz said she has been working with Alameda city officials to find ways to boost AC Transit service here to help lighten traffic that new development is expected to create. Options under consideration include increased Transbay service and a circulator bus on the Island, and Ortiz said AC Transit is working with local developers to introduce bus passes to increase transit use and with the city to set up infrastructure for rapid bus service from heavily populated Alameda neighborhoods to BART stations in downtown Oakland and that city’s Fruitvale district.

Additional information about the BART candidates is available on their campaign websites:

Robert Raburn

Lena Tam

Michele Ellson contributed to this report.