Debora Allen knows she is not popular among her fellow BART directors. But she said if she is elected to a second four-year term, that her drive to improve riders’ experiences and make sound (and painful) decisions about a $2.4 billion budget — choices with which her board colleagues often disagree — will continue.
“Board members have different passions, and mine is, ‘How is BART spending its money, and how can it be spent better,'” said Allen, a Clayton resident who is seeking a second four-year term on the BART board representing the transit agency’s District 1.
The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated transit ridership around the country; BART’s ridership at its lowest point was down almost 90 percent over pre-COVID levels. Allen said she favors more drastic financial measures, including layoffs and substantial operational changes if necessary, than do her colleagues.
“I said when I ran in 2016 that I wanted to challenge the status quo,” said Allen, who believes the BART board hasn’t taken a realistic approach to trimming its budget, and that reworked union agreements are needed as part of the solution.
District 1 includes the Concord, Lafayette, Pleasant Hill/Contra Costa Centre and Walnut Creek stations. Geographically, the district includes Martinez, Walnut Creek, the San Ramon Valley and parts of Concord and Pleasant Hill.
Challenging Allen for the seat are Jamie Salcido, a health system marketing director from Walnut Creek, and Emmy Akin, a preschool director and linguist from Walnut Creek.
Allen, who has a background in accounting and as a construction company CFO, has been at odds with most of her board colleagues over budgetary and police protection issues. Allen said her constituents have told her they want increased police protection in stations and parking lots, and on trains. She also favors replacing the fare gateways with a more secure system.
Against the grain
“What (riders) continually tell me is that they don’t feel safe on BART, and that they want that changed,” said Allen, a conservative on a BART board that is largely progressive.
Allen has steadfastly opposed any defunding of BART police similar to what has been proposed with many law enforcement agencies across the country (and enacted by a few).
Salcido, who was appointed this year to the city of Walnut Creek’s Transportation Commission, said she would lean on her experience as a frequent BART rider and with issues related to past employment working in urban planning.
Six BART directors — Lateefah Simon, Bevan Dufty, Mark Foley, Janice Li, Robert Raburn and Rebecca Saltzman — have endorsed Salcido over their colleague Allen. When asked why, Salcido said Allen has been a divisive presence on the board.
Salcido said she sees what she calls Allen’s “anti-labor, pro-police” views as too simplistic.
“I see the issues as much more nuanced,” Salcido said. “We need law enforcement, but (police) aren’t the answer to all of our problems, and we do need to hold everyone accountable, police officers and labor unions included.”
“I want to work collaboratively with the other board members and (BART) staff to find common ground and implement solutions to our biggest problems,” said Salcido.
Those issues, she said, are mitigating the rider safety and financial issues wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, making BART safer by measures including using more unarmed community officers and partnerships with homeless outreach teams and mental health professionals; improving train reliability, including implementing a new communication-based train control system; and working with cities to improve pedestrian, carpool and bike connections to BART.
Allen said she remains steadfastly in support of BART riders, and not necessarily the fare cheats and others who she says sap BART’s strength. She said the board majority, and the unions that back them, want Salcido to win, and to fall in line with their pro-union stances as several major contracts come up this coming June.
Akin did not respond to a request for comment. In a brief statement on the Contra Costa County Elections page, Akin said, “I have used BART since childhood, and I can see room for improvement! I want to see BART as a safe environment for everyone, where tragedies such as those of Oscar Grant and Nia Wilson never happen again. As your representative, I respectfully invite you all to reach out to me with your thoughts on how you believe BART can improve.”