BART staff members seem to have royally effed up a situation involving board member Lateefah Simon, relating to her residency status in the district she represents. And now, following a public outcry, BART's Board of Directors is issuing an apology and saying that Simon has not actually been removed from her seat.
Two weeks ago, BART officials announced — apparently in error — that Simon's seat on the BART board was officially vacant, owing to the fact that Simon no longer resided in the district she represents, and therefore legally could not hold the seat. Simon responded saying she was "deeply disappointed," and she contends that she had cleared her move — to a building in a transit-oriented development next to MacArthur Station, at the edge of her district — with BART officials previously and been told that she was within her district's boundaries.
"I would not have moved my family to this residence otherwise," Simon said.
Simon's district, District 7, includes Richmond, parts of El Cerrito, Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco, as well as Emeryville. And only part of MacArthur Station lies in her district, as district boundaries often straddle station properties.
Making matters worse, Simon said she had moved her family away from her former home in Richmond due to her address having been made public, and death threats — and some doorstep urine — that she received at the home. She said these threats were related to her support for police reform.
But it seems that BART staff could not legally make the decision to declare Simon's seat vacated — only the board can do that, and the board did not take the formal steps to declare the vacancy. Now, as BART announced Wednesday, Simon will remain on the board pending advice from election law experts, and Board President Rebecca Saltzman and BART General Manager Bob Powers issued a joint apology.
"This has been a very difficult situation, especially for Director Simon who moved her family for safety reasons and to live steps away from the transit system she relies on for transportation and that she proudly represents," Saltzman and Powers said in the statement. "We want to express our deepest apologies to Lateefah and all stakeholders for how this has played out. BART will continue to work with outside legal counsel through any next steps and we are committed to transparency throughout the process."
Some sort of human error apparently occurred between the time that Simon was reportedly given assurances about her new address counting as being in District 7, and when BART determined earlier this month that, no, it wasn't in the district. And how they plan to resolve this remains unknown.
"The BART Board of Directors and BART staff are working to address the unfortunate chain of events surrounding BART District 7 and the impact to Lateefah Simon, who has been a champion for BART and our riders," Saltzman and Powers said. "In response, we’ve sought advice from outside legal counsel with expertise in election law to ensure we follow the proper steps moving forward."
Simon's ability to remain on the board does not seem entirely assured, but for now, she will remain a BART director.
Simon was first elected to the board in 2016, and she was reelected in 2020, serving that year as board president. She would ordinarily get to retain her seat for another two years before running again.
After she was stripped of her seat two weeks ago, there was a fair bit of outcry about the action, not only because of Simon's work on behalf of BART riders, but also because she is the sole Black director on the nine-seat board. San Francisco Mayor London Breed was among those who chastised BART staff over the situation, saying, "Lateefah has been a tireless leader for those who have no alternatives to transportation than our BART system or public transit. She has delivered on equity, fairness and reforms that put people first. What happened here is very concerning and needs to be looked at more closely."
Born legally blind, Simon says she has long depended on BART for most of her transportation needs. At the age of 26, she became the youngest woman ever to receive a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant, when she was serving as executive director of the Center for Young Women’s Development (CYWD) in San Francisco. The organization's mission was to help girls and young women out of poverty and/or lives of crime or sex work by mentoring them, giving them job training, and providing emotional support.
Since 2016, Simon has served as president of the Akonadi Foundation, whose mission is to eliminate structural racism through support of social movements, and end the criminalization of Black youth and youth of color in Oakland.