Publisher’s Note: This is in response to an Op-Ed published on August 28. There have been challenges with our email account email@example.com and although sent on Sept. 4 this Op-Ed was not seen until recently. For both the Contra Costa Herald and Antioch Herald, please for now, use editor@antiochherald to submit letters to the editor or opinion pieces. Thank you and apologies for any inconvenience.
Joshua Anijar says the Bay Area “deserves leadership that doesn’t divide us” (Op-ed, Aug. 28).
But as executive director of Contra Costa County’s AFL-CIO Labor Council, Anijar’s stock in trade is division. In the present case, that involves a cynical campaign to replace BART-Board incumbent Director Debora Allen in BART’s District One (South County and much of Central County).
Allen has been a voice of fiscal and regulatory sanity on the nine-member BART Board. So she’s appreciated by sensible BART passengers and attentive citizens at large whose taxes subsidize BART operations and capital projects — but not by Anijar and some other special-interest activists.
Allen’s rationality is particularly needed during the time of COVID-19 restrictions and outright shutdowns. As she wrote in July, BART has lost 88 percent of its ridership during the pandemic, with a resultant $35 million drop per month in farebox revenue.
But over Allen’s objections, the BART Board majority’s new budget foolishly increases operating expenses by 6 percent anyway, including a $32.5 million labor-cost increase.
Anijar’s breezy reference to “400,000 trips per day” represents merely an historical artifact; present reality is only 48,000 trips per day. Allen speaks for the grownup position: “BART’s failure to cut operating expenses will continue to worsen its grave financial condition and cause irreparable harm to the long-term sustainability of the system.”
Last year, following the fatal stabbing of a BART passenger, Allen wrote about BART’s obligation to insure safety on the system’s trains and in its stations. She noted insufficient police presence, rampant fare evasion, and aggressive panhandling as contributing factors in a widespread perception of unsafe conditions.
The 2018-19 Alameda County Civil Grand Jury documented similar concerns: “Violent crime on BART, including robberies and aggravated assaults, increased by 115% over the last five years…. Rider satisfaction with BART fell from a high of 84% in 2012 to a low of 56% in 2018…. [S]ince at least 2012, cleanliness has been a top concern for riders who responded to the survey.”
The Grand Jury report continued: “Respondents… cite ‘personal security in BART system’ as the second largest service rating decline…, just after fare evasion. Lack of visible police presence on trains and in stations has long been a concern of riders…. News reports of the three homicides in July 2018 and video in October 2018 of a man swinging two chain saws while riding BART reinforced worries among Bay Area residents about their safety on BART.”
So, Anijar’s assertion that Debora Allen’s Bart Board record “shows her to be unresponsive to public wishes and hostile to public input” is false. And her real-world track record is exemplary, not “shameful.”
Anijar’s primary interest, meanwhile, is presumably the next round of increases in BART-employee salaries, current benefits, and pensions. As is, nearly 1,000 BART employees receive total annual compensation already exceeding $200,000 (2019 figures, available at TransparentCalifornia.com).
Anijar has been busy on another front as well. He’s a principal coordinator and ballot-argument signer for Measure X, a regressive half-percent sales-tax increase for all of Contra Costa County, lasting 20 years, at a time of pandemic-driven financial distress for much of the County’s population.
The measure, appearing on this November ballot, advertises specific purposes — but it’s framed officially as a general tax instead, “solely for general governmental purposes and not for specific purposes.”
Representatives of County employee organizations demanded such a tax measure 15 months ago. And as a general tax, its proceeds could be used to “free up” current general-fund expenditures to pay for compensation increases, while backfilling the general fund with new Measure X dollars.
Arata is a co-founder of the Alliance of Contra Costa Taxpayers, and a signatory to ballot arguments opposing Measure X.