Published October 19th, 2016
Plenty for Lamorindans to Consider in the BART District 3 Race
By Nick Marnell
It is hard to imagine a race that features a more disparate mix of candidates than the contest for the Bay Area Rapid Transit system board seat for District 3, which includes nearly all of Lamorinda. The incumbent faces challenges from a former public official, a web programmer and a health care consultant, each with a unique perspective on how to improve the system.

Candidate summaries are listed alphabetically.

Ken Chew

Ken Chew sees his role as BART director as the enforcer of fiscal accountability. It disturbs him that Lamorinda contributes an enormous amount of money to BART through property taxes, sales taxes, fares and parking fees and he thinks its residents deserve much better.

"Your incumbent BART director has not voted to protect your interests during her term," he said, referring to director Rebecca Saltzman.

Chew promises better on-time performance on the Pittsburg-Bay Point line, improved parking and seating availability at the Orinda and Lafayette stations and, working with private companies, shuttles and ride-shares to and from the stations.

The former Moraga mayor is the only candidate who opposes Measure RR, the $3.5 billion bond measure dedicated to improving the BART infrastructure. "$3.5 billion and over two decades of tax liability should come with a responsible investment plan and be guided by a governing body that practices consistent fiscal discipline. But I don't see it," Chew said.

He will develop a well-defined and accountable infrastructure plan of his own and present it to taxpayers, and it will include peer reviews and project controls.

Relying on his experience on the Moraga Town Council and as a transportation engineer, Chew promises to work with labor unions and all levels of government to prevent service disruptions and to demand that BART leadership work within its budget to keep stations and facilities in good operating condition. "I will streamline the organization and make every new hiring and benefit change transparent to taxpayers," Chew said.

Worth Freeman

Worth Freeman insists on more transparency from BART, and using the San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority as his model he will push for publication of post-event summaries for incidents like the service disruption on the Pittsburg-Bay Point line in March. The Fresno State graduate says that when a delay occurs, system agents should tell passengers what is happening and explain to them their options. "I personally hate that Twitter is the first resource to go to when there is a delay on BART," Freeman said.

Freeman will work with local transportation agencies, such as County Connection and AC Transit, to coordinate timed transfers and express buses so that BART riders can get to their destinations more reliably. He also promises to create initiatives to upgrade BART stations, reaching out to local artists to help redesign the stations so they match the character of the communities they represent.

Although Freeman is in favor of Measure RR, he said he wished it had gone even further to address the $10 billion the system needs to complete its reconstruction. He promises to begin negotiations early with labor unions and to get deeply involved in the process.

"The 2013 strikes did not occur because of greedy BART unions but they occurred because the board was negligent in following the negotiations and missed key details," Freeman said. "As a web programmer I'm very hands-on with projects and I couldn't fathom just being a third party to such an important negotiation."

Varun Paul

Varun Paul intends to be the voice of the ridership. He promises to take no compensation as a director, and he also plans to fight for and implement a system fare freeze. "I question any board member or candidate that has accepted compensation or will, during these difficult financial times at BART," Paul said.

To improve system performance, the UC Berkeley graduate plans to gather, analyze and publish financial and operational data and report the results live and online, achieving efficiencies and transparency similar to the way operations are managed in the private sector. A health care consultant, Paul intends to create a BART medical unit to better handle medical emergencies, again reducing delays and improving performance. And Paul favors more police visibility throughout the system, suggesting that BART police move from the police station to the BART stations.

Paul reserved his harshest criticism for BART management. "I will push for the removal of the current general manger whose gross compensation and terrible tactics in negotiation and management led to breakdowns and a strike," he said. Paul said he will begin the next set of labor negotiations his first day on the job, creating a diverse team of labor leaders, BART workers, community groups, business leaders and passengers to negotiate and earn the trust of all citizens.

"BART lacks a bridge between labor and management, including a transparent and public negotiating process," Paul said. "I will work to fix that and Lamorinda citizens can help achieve that by voting for me."

Rebecca Saltzman

The incumbent stressed her accomplishments. She listed her top priority as keeping the system running reliably and sustainably, emphasizing her support for doubling the percentage of the capital budget spent on system reinvestment. Saltzman said she helped secure district funding for the BART-Orinda Downtown Access Ramp and Lighting Project, as well as for improved signage at the Orinda station. "In my second term I plan to work on further upgrades to the Orinda station, including the restoration of the station murals."

She strongly supports Measure RR, insisting that BART cannot use the bond funds for anything but acquisition or improvement of real property. "Of interest to Lamorinda voters, Measure RR will also help ensure rider safety in the Berkeley Hills Tunnel, which connects to Orinda, by funding the repair of tracks in the tunnel that have been misaligned by creeping earthquake faults," Saltzman said.

Saltzman serves on the district Strategic Finance Committee. She pointed out that the committee gained board approval to increase the district reserve fund from 5 percent to 15 percent of annual operating expenses, approximating one month of BART expenses. She also chairs a BART committee charged with improving future labor negotiations; the group commissioned a report that listed 63 recommendations on how not to repeat what happened in 2013.

"Still, there is much work to be done, and we plan to continue the work of the committee, along with union leadership and BART management, in the coming years," Saltzman said.

BART directors earn $1,525 per month and enjoy free transportation on the system. One hundred dollars is deducted from their pay for every meeting they miss.

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