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Anger boils over on BART security plan

East Bay director demands change of venue for next meeting

BART Strike Hampers Bay Area Monday Morning Commute Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

BART’s Board of Directors declined to approve some of the largest and most sweeping new security policies presented to them on Thursday. Passenger sentiment at the hearing was so decisively against most of the new suggestions that one director demanded the next meeting be held in another city.

After hours of debate, Joel Keller, who represents part of Contra Costa County, told fellow board members that he wants to meet “in a suburban city” next time, adding, “we have heard the concerns of the urban core, they are legitimate concerns, but I want to hear from people in the suburban areas.”

Keller added, “If we don’t take more concrete steps to provide immediate safety, [riders] are going to think we’re incompetent and we’re morons.” He vowed to “find some city council chambers in Contra Costa County” for the next BART Board meeting and predicted that colleagues would hear an entirely different set of complaints there.

BART General Manager Grace Crunican suggested the new security plan in response to a series of homicides on BART, including the murder of 18-year-old Oakland woman Nia Wilson, who was stabbed to death at MacArthur Station in July in an attack that also injured her older sister.

“It’s clear that we must do even more,” wrote Crunican.

The directors voted Thursday to approve some new security measures, like replacing outdated surveillance cameras throughout the system.

But on the largest and most expensive suggestions, including a computer surveillance system that would track riders in real time, the board declined to make a decision on a 7-2 vote, with Keller and Oakland Director Robert Raburn in the minority.

The majority of people who showed up for public comment said the new security measures worry them almost as much as BART crime itself—if not more.

Brian Hofer of the Oakland Privacy Advisory Commission noted that the package as it exists now doesn’t tell the public enough about how BART will protect rider privacy.

“Is ICE gonna get access to your data? You can’t answer that. Don’t green light $30 million taxpayer money based on two paragraphs of text,” said Hofer.

And rider Daryl Owens reminded board members, “Oscar Grant wasn’t that long ago,” alleging that attempts at improving security can result in collateral damage.

BART Improves Security Measures After London Bombings
A bomb-sniffing dog on BART in 2005.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

There were a handful of voices in favor of the security package, including BART station agent Charlotta Wallace, who said, “My ideas are totally different from the public” and added, “I’m looking for security and I don’t see what else it could be.”

While most of the directors said they feel moved to create better additional BART security, they were also uncertain about committing to Crunican’s pitch.

Bevan Dufty, BART board of directors member for most of SF, said that the agency should gather ideas from the public rather than presenting a plan sans consultation.

He asked, “Why don’t we ask what we should do rather than always trying to bake the cake and present it?”

Latifah Simon, whose district stretches from San Francisco to El Cerrito, said, “I receive emails from young women who say at night BART is a no man’s land,” but also that “there’s a false choice between safety and human rights: We can do both.”

The majority of the board decided to put off the vote until they obtain more input from the community and from BART staff—and presumably until Keller tells them where they’re meeting next.