With BART officials claiming that much of the transit system's infrastructure has reached the end of its lifespan, a $3.5 billion bond on this November's ballot, if passed by voters, would provide the agency with much needed funds to update the aging and recently very troubled system. And with so much on the line, reports that BART officials may have misrepresented the true cost of the bond to the public could threaten the passage of the presently popular measure. BART officials, however, are not taking the claim laying down, and in an exchange with SFist detailed just how wrong their critics are.
The heart of the original critique, made last week in The East Bay Times, was that the cost of the bond would actually be roughly twice as much as BART officials estimated. According to the paper, the person calculating the annual cost to homeowners didn't take into account the fact that home values change over time — a crucial factor to consider when we're talking about 30-year bond measures.
Not so fast, says BART spokesperson Taylor Huckaby.
"The [East Bay Times] headline — that our bond measure will cost double what we are saying — is flatly incorrect, a conclusion drawn from a selective interpretation of our analysis," writes Huckaby in response to our query. "In order to assist BART’s Board of Directors in making an informed executive decision, a variety of scenarios were created with different variables relevant to particular presentations. The East Bay Times piece incorrectly appropriated data from these scenarios, resulting in an inaccurate characterization of the bond’s effects."
And as to the accusation that BART officials didn't factor in fluctuations to homes' values over time? Huckaby writes that this simply isn't true, and accuses the story's author of not understanding how bonds work.
"The [Times] repeated point that BART made a mathematical error in not compounding the increase in [assessed value] is also flatly incorrect, based on a misunderstanding of how the cost of bonds increase or decrease over time," wrote Huckaby. "The more the District’s assessed value increases (as housing supply, ownership changes, improvements increase), the lower the rate property owners would pay as the cost is spread over a larger base of assessed values. Furthermore, our models and estimates are built on the assumption of a 4% yearly increase in assessed value."
What's more, Huckaby suggests that all this was more than simply a straightforward misreading of the data.
"The [author of the piece] was given this point of clarification multiple times as he repeatedly misrepresented the meaning of a '30-year bond' to mean the total span of time property owners would be paying — a false claim BART has never made," noted Huckaby. "We were disappointed to see the author’s misunderstanding make the final printing, despite our best efforts."
So there you have it. BART officials never misled the public, and The East Bay Times story is wrong. According to BART, anyway.