Time for a Change at BART

Those who have seen my bike know that I prefer it unadorned and minimalist—no brand name, no logos, no stickers, no extraneous parts, and no colors except black and white. So it was not without hesitation that I temporarily scraperized it and turned it into a rolling billboard for Robert Raburn’s campaign for the BART Board of Directors:

Raburn for BART Board

I don’t have the craftsmanship of the scraper bike artists, but since I lack a yard or street-facing windows, I had to do what I could. In a mostly depressing election season, Raburn’s run for the BART Board in District 4 (encompassing Alameda and about half of Oakland) is one of the few bright spots. He is well-qualified for the position, with an academic background in transportation and urban planning, and a long history of public action on urban transportation issues. He also offers a stark choice between competing visions for what BART should be. Carole Ward Allen (the incumbent) and most of her fellow directors prioritize grandiose but imprudent projects like the Oakland Airport Connector and expensive expansions to far-flung suburbs, where ridership consistently fails to meet BART’s projections. Raburn, in contrast, wants to refocus BART’s priorities on core services, putting more resources into increasing reliability, decreasing headways, decreasing blight in and around stations, and improving passenger connections between BART and other modes of transportation, whether they be bus or bike or pedestrian.

Raburn has his work cut out for him. Not only is Carole Ward Allen a 12-year incumbent who is deeply embedded in the East Bay political machine, but Raburn is pushing back against 40 years of BART history. The sad fact is that BART has always acted more like a commuter rail system than an urban subway system, so Raburn’s focus on strengthening core services in the bay area’s most densely populated areas is surprisingly revolutionary.

It may be an uphill climb, but Raburn does have some things going for him. As the longtime director of the East Bay Bicycle Coalition, Raburn has very active support from the cycling community (see the photo above for an example—and I picked up that yard sign at a supportive bike shop in Alameda). He will also benefit from the highly motivated, highly organized opposition to the misguided Oakland Airport Connector—there are a lot of people like me who never paid any attention to the BART board before, but who are now more eager to vote for a BART director than anyone else on the ballot.

The airport connector, which will likely provide worse service than the current AirBART bus, but at twice the cost to passengers (and a cost of almost $500 million to BART) is not only a strong argument against Carole Ward Allen, who championed the project, but it also offers a more general lesson on why these down-ballot elections are important. Advocacy groups such asĀ TransForm (not to mention a veritable army of local bloggers) fought heroically to get BART and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) to reconsider their plan to endanger BART’s financial future by taking out loans to fund a wasteful and unnecessary tram, but ultimately the MTC deferred to the BART board and approved the project. The airport connector is a prime example of why it’s more efficient—and effective—to elect the right people to these positions in the first place, instead of having to fight long, difficult battles over every lousy project.

The airport connector appears to be a fait accompli (although BART’s “groundbreaking ceremony” last week before the contracts have been finalized was a premature piece of campaign season theater), but there will be plenty of other decisions for the BART board to make down the tracks. If you live in BART District 4 and care more about increased and improved service than another expensive extension to some doomed outpost of the cheap-oil empire, then I urge you to vote for Raburn. (And if you live in BART District 8, then I urge a vote for Bert Hill for similar reasons—with the added bonus that you would be helping to defeat the unctuous James Fang, an especially unappealing character and San Francisco’s only elected Republican.)

8 Responses to “Time for a Change at BART”

  1. ng says:

    WOW! Great idea!
    (and I hope that with this help he wins)

  2. Chris Kidd says:

    I’m certainly pulling for Robert. He was the only candidate in any Oakland race to get a campaign contribution from me.

  3. unique distance says:

    Nice post. I particularly liked: “another expensive extension to some doomed outpost of the cheap-oil empire.”

  4. wordnerd says:

    So who’s the mayor of Oakland?
    How did Raburn do?
    Did you really xhange your mind about something in the booth?

  5. dc says:

    Wordnerd: Nerdy answer: Ron Dellums is the Mayor of Oakland. Real answer: It looks like Don Perata will probably end up being the next Mayor, although he only won 35% of the vote in the first round of counting, so we need to wait until Friday to know for sure that he will pick up enough 2nd- and 3rd-choice votes to put him over the 50% level required to win. (Our “Instant Runoff Voting” system turns out not to be instantaneous after all.) I put him down for my 2nd choice, so I’m perfectly content with his (expected) victory, and I’m open to the possibility that he may be just what Oakland needs at this moment in time. For instance, he’s the candidate of choice in the police department, so he may have more credibility than the other candidates if he tells them that they really have to start paying into their pensions, in exchange for him fighting to protect their jobs. Also, he’s well-connected in Sacramento as the former president of the state senate, and he’s a political ally of Jerry Brown, who just happens to be an Oakland resident and who just happens to have been elected Governor—surely those things can’t hurt Oakland when it comes to getting help (financial or otherwise) from the state.

    Raburn won! By more than 11 points! It was hard to predict since it was a 3-person race and no public polling had been done, but I guess it’s not a big surprise in a small election like that—fewer than 50,000 people voted in that race, so a candidate like Raburn with a core group of very determined supporters can have a good shot at ousting an incumbent.

    And yes, I changed my mind while in the booth on a couple small races/ballot measures that I had been going back and forth on. In one case, I voted for a parcel tax to fund police and anti-violence programs, even though I was tempted to vote “no” in order to send a message to the city council that they have to stop mismanaging the city’s finances and them coming hat-in-hand to the voters for yet another bailout (observing the Oakland City Council at work is enough to turn anyone into a tea party sympathizer). In the other case, I voted against an incumbent even though I was almost certain that the incumbent would win—and if I had thought it was a closer race, then I may have ended up voting for the incumbent. It was basically a protest vote.

  6. ng says:

    Congratulations (to you and to the whole population) for Raburn’s victory!!
    California sounds pretty sensible in its election choices to us on the other side of the country. I hope it looks that way there.

  7. ng says:

    What does that marginalia comment about errors in a blog post refer to?

  8. dc says:

    I didn’t want to be mean-spirited about it in that tweet by naming names, but a certain sloppily-edited local news site published a post titled “election results.” The post said that a parcel tax measure to support Oakland schools had passed, when in fact at this point it is failing to meet the 2/3 threshold required for passage of tax measures in California; and the post said state proposition 24 had passed, when in fact it failed by 17 points; and it said state proposition 26 had failed, when in fact it passed; and it said Democratic candidate Kamala Harris lost the Attorney General’s race, when in fact the vote was too close to call last night, and she is currently leading the count by several thousand votes; and it said that a local Oakland measure would increase the tax on medical cannabis to $100 per $1000 of gross receipts, when in fact it will increase the tax on medical cannabis to $50 per $1000 of gross receipts. Early in the afternoon, I left a comment on the post politely pointing out all these errors, and they still stand uncorrected 8 hours later. Why even bother posting election results if you’re going to get half of them wrong?

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