Some East Bay politicians gathered in Walnut Creek on Wednesday to chart a course necessary for BART leaders to earn their backing ahead of a potential November ballot measure to fund the transit system.
Headed by the Tri-Valley's State Senator, Steve Glazer (D-Orinda), the local leaders spoke outside the Walnut Creek BART station of their concerns about the transit agency's commitment to fiscal responsibility.
BART's board of directors last week indicated the agency plans to pursue a ballot measure for a bond of up to $4.5 billion for track and station improvements after a recent poll of likely Bay Area voters found it could reach the two-thirds approval necessary to pass.
"We have had decades of short-sighted financial decisions from management that have left the system at (a deficit of) billions of dollars," Glazer said.
"In the past few years ... it has gotten worse," Glazer added, citing a 2013 BART worker strike during labor negotiations and the later contract that gave the transit workers a raise.
Including the mayors of Walnut Creek, Pleasanton and Dublin, more than 30 leaders signed on in support of a letter sent to BART officials that outlined demands.
Among them, Glazer said BART leadership needs to renegotiate and approve a labor contract immediately that reduces costs while also agreeing to end management compensation increases.
Short of that, Glazer said voters should refuse in November to approve the proposed bond for infrastructure improvements.
"Why should we reward bad behavior with billions of dollars in new taxes and expect a different result?" Glazer said.
When asked whether he thought it was realistic to ask unions to negotiate for a contract again ahead of the current one expiring in 2017, Glazer expressed confidence that it was.
Glazer clarified he was not asking for a reversal of salary choices already made, but said those choices are something the public needs to be aware of before agreeing to an infusion of funding.
"It's just not fair for them to ask us to spend billions to trust them again," he said. "(Their) finances are as dirty as a BART train. We need them to clean up their act."
But BART officials said what has been demonstrated historically by the transit system's leadership is fiscal prudence.
"Since the 1970s, we have diverted revenue for operating funds toward capital needs," BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said. "Still, the need to reinvest in our 40-year-old infrastructure is great."
That's why BART officials are seeking funds that would be dedicated to restoring the decaying transit system.
"And (these funds) have rules for what it can be spent on," Trost said. "It can't be used for salaries or benefits. It can't even be for new trains. ... It's for core infrastructure improvement needs."
Another demand made of BART leaders is that they eliminate a ban placed on training certain worker replacements in the case of a strike.
Trost said it would not be possible to enact that change since it was brought about as part of the labor contract in effect until June 2017.
Glazer, who has previously sought a legislative ban on transit worker strikes, emphasized the importance of completing salary negotiations in advance of contracts expiring to reduce the risk of work stoppages.
Pleasanton City Councilman Jerry Pentin said it was this aspect that was particularly important for East Bay cities.
"Down in Pleasanton, we have an end-of-line BART station and we get all the traffic from San Joaquin County," he said. "It's one of the worst commutes in the Bay Area now."
Unions representing BART employees were not immediately available to comment on the remarks by the politicians Wednesday.
Trost expressed a hope that the politicians who spoke today can find a way to collaborate with BART.
"Now, more than ever, we want to be working together with our elected officials," she said. "We should be looking to improve mobility within the Bay Area ... and reinvest in our transit infrastructure."