Big shoes to fill at AC Transit

I don’t write about AC Transit nearly as much as I should. It’s hard enough to cover the City thoroughly, let alone all the other government bodies out there. But next week, the AC Transit Board of Directors will be making a really important decision. Pay attention!

While I’m very happy to have Rebecca Kaplan on the City Council now, her election in November meant she had to vacate her seat on the AC Transit Board. Kaplan was one of the best members of the AC Transit Board, and as a regular bus rider herself, provided a strong voice for the needs of the people served by the agency. She spearheaded a number of major initiatives, and just generally brought a lot of energy to the Board. Losing her is a real loss to the agency, and she set a very high bar for her replacement.

When an AC Transit Director’s seat is vacated, the Board appoints someone to replace them. The power of incumbency combined with an almost total lack of media attention on the agency makes unseating a sitting Board member a nearly impossible feat, it’s not a stretch at all to assume that whoever gets appointed, we’re probably going to be stuck with until they get elected to some better office.

Concerned that we get the best possible applicant into Kaplan’s seat, I joined a number of other transit advocates from a variety of organizations (Alameda Transit Advocates, Friends of BRT, Bicycle Friendly Berkeley, Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, the East Bay Bicycle Coalition, TransForm, etc.) to conduct an endorsement process. We identified several candidates applying for the seat and invited them fill out a questionnaire, then interviewed six of them. While there were multiple members of the group at each interview, nobody met with every candidate. After the interviews, we discussed our impressions and decided to endorse one of the applicants.

We didn’t talk to everybody. A whopping 17 people applied for the seat. And just so you know who’d like to represent you on the AC Transit Board, I’ve prepared little summaries for all the applicants below, along with a link to their application. Enjoy!

  • Applicant: Susan Wilson (PDF)
    • Background: retired Postal Service, involved with Lake Merritt Business Association, serves on F.M. Smith Park Council
    • Goals: reducing the number of cars on our roads, revitalize business district commerce with public transportation
    • Recommendations from: Roberta Reingold; Jack Wong, Lucky’s Store Manager; Stephen Ma, President, Lake Merritt Business Association
    • Quote: “On Monday, January 5, 2009 as I was browsing through the Oakland Tribune, I came across what I considered the ideal part-time job for me – At-Large Board of Director – AC Transit. After reading a little further, I became more excited when I realized my ideal part-time job was located in my county.”
    • Impressions: Her letter looked like it was copied almost word for word from a not-very-good cover letter book. She doesn’t really appear to have any particular interest in or experience in transit.
  • Applicant: Gerald Cauthen (PDF)
    • Background: Transportation engineer and project manager, worked on design and creation of a variety of intermodal transit stations, Transbay Terminal area plan, a variety of bus servicing and maintenance facilities
    • Goals: Increase ridership and farebox revenue; represent entire service area fairly
    • Recommendations from: Maria Ayerdi Kaplan, Executive Director, Transbay Joint Powers Authority; Ken Katz, Splash Pad Neighborhood Forum Chair and Grand Lake neighborhood activist, Oral Moore, former supervisor, San Francisco Utilities Engineering Bureau; Thomas G. Matoff, former MUNI Director of Planning
    • Quote: “While I would credit AC with running a very civilized operation in the face of a uniquely difficult set of topographic and demographic conditions, I believe that there are elements of the operation that could be beneficially adjusted to further improve service and cost-effectiveness.”
    • Impressions The man is impressive. He has a ton of practical and technical experience in urban transit systems.
  • Applicant: Ronald Tuzon (PDF)
    • Background: Complicated finance stuff, “finance & operations management, risk management”
    • Goals: long term strategic financial planning to generate maximum revenue
    • Recommendations from: Elizabeth Nichols, National Society of Hispanic MBAs; Diane Shew, Barclays Global Investors; Karen J. Kraut, Barclay Global Investors
    • Quote: “The coming months and years will financially stress this long term strategy and the riders and communities that will benefit from it. Strong judgement, leadership, and innovation will allow the issues to be addressed and create further success for the organization.”
    • Impressions: Clearly has ample experience with finance and operations issues, which is helpful, but his application contains almost no mention of the experience of riding the bus or thoughts about issues with service. An AC Transit Director needs to understand both the financial and the service related aspects of the agency’s operations, and he only has half.
  • Applicant: Bruce De Benedictis (PDF)
    • Background: Served on and Chaired AC Transit Rider Advisory Committee, currently part of Grand Lake Traffic Calming Committee, served on Measure B Expenditure Plan Development Committee, mathematician by education and piano tuner by trade, rides the bus to work tuning pianos.
    • Goals: doesn’t say specifically: will offer his experience and knowledge
    • Recommendations from: Anne Woodell; Harlan Kessel, former Director, East Bay Regional Park District; Thomas W. Cain, Program director, The Congress of Neutrals.
    • Quote: “In recent years, however, I have been financing my family more through my investments. Investing, along with my service on the Expenditure Plan Development Committee for Measure B, have taught me a lot about finance. Recent events, of course, have taught us all how little anyone knows about finance.”
    • Impressions: Okay, first, his resume is really weird. I mean, I guess he was trying to do some kind of interesting rethinking of the format, but when the first thing on the page is your wife’s name and the fact that you don’t have kids, it doesn’t really scream “Wow, this guy should be running the bus” to me. And I was a National Merit Scholar too, but I haven’t felt the need to advertise that since the day I mailed in my college application. I had the chance to interview Mr. De Benedictis, and he was really interesting, and well informed about the agency. He clearly cares a great deal about the community, he has solid knowledge of the agency from his many years of service, he rides the bus, so he is sympathetic to the needs of the ridership. He had suggestions for several route alterations that could improve service. But I did not get the sense either from our conversation or his application that he has a clear vision for the agency, or specific long-term goals. The Board needs leadership, not just a voice for a slightly more effective status quo.
  • Applicant: Bob Feinbaum (PDF)
    • Background: environmental policy consultant, Sierra Club member; served on multiple community transit committees, author
    • Goals: excellent service, reducing region’s carbon footprint, understanding customer concerns, more alternative fuel buses, fewer stops on busy routes
    • Recommendations from: Dr. Arthur Lipow, Chair, Alameda Public Affairs Forum; Dr. David Makofsky, Professor, Central University of Nationalities, Beijing and former MUNI statistician; Howard Beckman, attorney.
    • Quote: “I’ve run a consulting business, made payroll, prepared grant proposals. I’ve analyzed trip information, worked on providing service to transit dependent populations, and contributed to transit finance and land use projects. Should, despite our best efforts, service cuts become necessary, I can apply the lessons learned from these involvements to making the best decisions that the Board can make under the circumstances.”
    • Impressions: His letter was kind of vague and overall the application did not leave me with the feeling that he would contribute particularly much to the Board. I am much more concerned with service levels than alternative energy, which he seemed to view as the bgger priority.
  • Applicant: U. Joyce Harry (PDF)
    • Background: 25 year passenger of AC Transit, transit dependent, independent consultant – develops policy and procedures for community based organizations
    • Goals: improve service for passengers with disabilities
    • Recommendations from: Loretta McBridge, Music Director of KIPP SF Bay Academy; Rahsaan Ellison, Carole M. Ford
    • Quote: “I am interested in the vacancy and would enjoy the challenge of participating on the board whose assignment requires that policy and procedures are constructively designed as well as appropriately implemented.”
    • Impressions: Her letter was kind of robotic.
  • Applicant: Roy Nakadegawa (PDF)
    • Background: performed road surveys for California Division of Highways in the 1940s, transportation engineer, six term AC Transit Director, three term BART director, member of several TRB report oversight committees
    • Goals: not stated
    • Recommendations from: Sherman Lewis, Professor Emeritus, CSU East Bay, former BART Director; Thomas A. Rubin; John Holtzelaw, regional planner
    • Quote: “I will only serve the two years when the At Large seat will be up for election. Doing this, it will provide an open race without the incumbent having an advantage and where the public can vote for whom they consider the most qualified candidate.”
    • Impressions: I probably would not be terribly moved by his application if that was all I had seen, but Mr. Nakadegawa was one of the applicants I had an opportunity to interview, and I just adored him. He’s just a complete transit geek, with a wealth of technical expertise, full of ideas, and just an unending stream of statistics. He was fascinating to talk to and shared my priorities for service improvements, increased reliability, and equity. His questionnaire was by far the most detailed of those we received. I also like the idea of someone who won’t run for re-election.
  • Applicant: Al Miller (PDF)
    • Background: retired bus driver, AC Transit and Key System, active in various community organizations such as Street Academy High School, Oakland Community Organizations, Citizens Police Academy Alumni Association, Family Resource House of Unity
    • Goals: not clear
    • Recommendations from: Ron Snyder, Executive Director, Oakland Community Organizations; Patricia Williams-Myrick, Executive Director, Oakland Emiliano Zapata Street Academy; Paula M. White, Volunteer Coordinator, Oakland Police Department
    • Quote: “I know that with my extensive years of professional experiences with Key System and AC Transit I bring team leadership, a sense of hard work and dedication, and a sense of fair play to the position of At Large Direct position. Also, because Of 30 years safe driving with AC Transit and working with community organizations I know this will be addition experience at your disposal.”
    • Impressions: None.
  • Applicant: Clarence Johnson (PDF)
    • Background: Pastor, Mills Grove Christian Church, regular bus rider for 10 years, Consultant to Alameda County Central Labor Council and EBASE on Wood Street development coalition, SEIU and AFSCME Organizer
    • Goals: safety first and quality service
    • Recommendations from: Bishop Bob Jackson, President, Pastors of Oakland; Claude E. Welon, President, Saint Luke Society; Willie Johnson, Senior Pastor, Elmhurst Seventh-day Adventist Church
    • Quote: “I learned the importance of safety, service, and comfort while riding AC Transit buses. Additionally, I discovered helpful tips related to updated schedules with accurate information, on-time arrivals & departures, driver courtesy, fare paying, transfer protocol, how to request “courtesy rides,” lighting at bus shelters & stops, giving up seats to seniors & disabled persons, helping mothers with infants & babies in strollers, how to get a driver to stop for pick-up on dark rainy nights, angry management & conflict resolution, how to stand on crowded buses and how to engaged in polite conversation with drivers and other riders.”
    • Impressions: It was impossible not to notice that all three of his letters of recommendation were the same letter, and a really short, non-specific, non-persuasive one at that.
  • Applicant: Joyce Roy (PDF)
    • Background: Architect, League of Women Voters Bay Area Board Director of Transportation, Transbay Taskforce member, ACTIA Citizen’s Watchdog Committee member, member of Sierra Club Northern Alameda County Group Executive Committee, founding member of ULTRA, anti-Van Hool activist
    • Goals: keep manufacturing jobs in the US, bring technical knowledge to the Board, represent bus riders and operators
    • Recommendations from: Janet S. Arnold, retired Social Security Claims Representative; Sharon and Larry Yale; Barbara T. Newcombe; Jane Eiseley; Kate Tanaka, Alameda County Green Party, a bunch of others
    • Quote: “I hesitated about applying for this position because few board members are willing to consider change. But I changed my mind after a Transbay Taskforce meeting at which I told some members that I was not applying and who then asked, ‘Who, then, is going to represent us?’”
    • Impressions: Obviously, Joyce Roy isn’t going to be my choice for AC Transit Board. She appears to think that every single problem the agency faces can be solved by getting rid of the Van Hools, which is totally wrong. Half her recommendation letters are about how awful the Van Hools are. I don’t get the Van Hool thing at all – personally, I prefer them to the old buses as do all my bus riding friends. But even acknowledging that other people feel differently – I remain perplexed that anyone could hate a bus that much.
  • Applicant: Lisle Bommer (PDF)
    • Background: 20 year public transit rider, volunteer with Disability Rights California, organizes local beach clean-ups, non-profit fundraiser
    • Goals: cut costs, keep services, increase ridership
    • Recommendations from: Kim Swain, Managing Attorney, Disability Rights California; Katrina Killian, BestNOW! Program Coordinator; Yvonne McGough
    • Quote: “I believe in public transportation, the benefits of one vehicle on the road instead of a hundred, the ability for people without another means to get somewhere, for students to finish school by utilizing the local transportation system, and helping people with disabilities and seniors stay independent.”
    • Impressions: She seems nice and dedicated to her community, but I didn’t get sense of what she could add to the Board.
  • Applicant: Raymond Anderson (PDF)
    • Background: Member of Albany Traffic and Safety Commission, former Boardmember of Franklin Media Credit Union, Albany Chamber of Commerce, and Solano Avenue Association, Albany Lion’s Club President, business owner,
    • Goals: public input, development of consensus
    • Recommendations from: Mike McQuiston, Albany Police Chief; Ruth Ganong, former AC Transit Director and Albany City Councilmember; Jewel Okawachi, former Albany City Councilmember
    • Quote: “I am acutely aware of many of the crucial issues facing public transportation in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, both in terms of traffic corridors, bus stops and routes, and the financial challenges facing local and regional governments during these trying times.”
    • Impressions: I’m tired, and nothing on this one jumped out at me at all except that he addressed his letter incorrectly.
  • Applicant: Steven Oiwa (PDF)
    • Background: Electronics technician, fluent in Japanese, active in San Mateo Neighborhood Watch, Community Improvement, and Home Owners Associations, judo instructor
    • Goals: change for the better, new ideas
    • Recommendations from: Michael K. Rodriguez, Sergeant, SFPD; Pastor Sunao Shimada, San Lorenzo Japanese Church; Bertha Sanchez, President,Home Association of North Central San Mateo, and former San Mateo Planning Commissioner
    • Quote: “Fresh idea to improved AC Transit for the future. Easy to used and friendly AC Transit system.”
    • Impressions: Um…no.

I know what you’re thinking – that’s only 13! Well, after meeting the applicants last Wednesday and reviewing the applications, the Board all voted for their top four choices (PDF), and the four applicants who got the most votes moved on. I’m saving them for part 2. The only applicants on this list to get votes were Bruce De Benedictis (Wallace, Harper), Bob Feinbaum (Ortiz, Davis), and Al D. Miller (Wallace).

6 thoughts on “Big shoes to fill at AC Transit

  1. Becks

    V – sometimes I think you’re superhuman. Really, can you tell us how you find the time to research posts like this? I’m convinced that you’ve mastered time travel or somehow have found a way not to sleep, but to still function well.

    Thanks for providing all of this background. It’s fascinating.

  2. V Smoothe Post author

    Some posts take more work, some take less. This was a particularly time consuming one to write. But it was fun, too. Reading all the applications was actually really interesting. Last night’s super short Council meeting made things easier.

  3. V Smoothe Post author

    The sentence reads as intended. De Benedictis, Feinbaum, and Miller were the only applicants featured in this post to receive any votes during the first round of voting.