I hope you caught today’s earlier post about the AC Transit Board vacancy. The AC Transit Board of Directors will meet next Wednesday, February 25th, at 10 AM, to interview potential new Board Members to fill the At-large seat left vacant by Rebecca Kaplan’s move to the Oakland City Council. They’ve already narrowed the field from 17 candidates to four. I covered the applicants who didn’t move forward earlier today, now I’ll go over the finalists. The Board must make a decision by March 6th.
- Applicant: Joel Young (PDF)
- Background: father was a bus driver, was transit dependent for a time, corporate attorney, Alameda County Democratic Lawyers Club Board Member
- Goals: improve working conditions for employees, expand Universal Pass program for area colleges, create a transit academy to attract and train new employees
- Recommendations from: Loni Hancock, State Senator, Ninth District; Joan Buchanan, Assemblymember, 15th District; Desley Brooks, Oakland City Council
- Endorsements from: Oh, like everybody. I’m not going to list them all because it would take up too much space, click on his application if you want the whole list. But some highlights: Sandre Swanson, Assemblyman, District 16; Alberto Torrico, Assembly Majority Floor Leader; Keith Carson, Alameda County Supervisor; Scott Haggerty, Alameda County Supervisor; Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland City Councilmember; Larry Reid, Oakland City Councilmember; Elihu Harris, former Oakland Mayor…it goes on and on and on.
- Quote: “With budget constraints and ever increasing ridership, the AC Transit Board will have to reevaluate all aspects of current operations and take smart and swift action to maximize available limited resources.”
- Impressions Mr. Young was one of the three candidates I was able to interview, and I liked him a lot. His emphasis on improving working conditions for AC Transit drivers and preparing for workforce replacement in the face of retirements was welcome, but my primary concern after speaking to him was that he did not seem to grasp the importance of service reliability issues, or at least the issue did not appear to rank nearly as high on his list of priorities as it does on mine. My concerns were amplified after reading his application letter, in which he makes almost no mention of reliability and references “possibly eliminating weekend service.” I understand how dire AC Transit’s budget situation is, and I know that the agency will likely have to reduce some service as well as raise fares, but an option that drastic and devastating for the agency’s riders should not even be on the table. It suggests a startling lack of connection with the needs of the transit dependent in this community. Not the right choice for this seat.
- Background: daily AC Transit rider, Assistant US Attorney, environmental lawyer, member of various Committee such as National Academy of Sciences Board on Radioactive Waste Management
- Goals: improve air quality, use experience to serve district
- Recommendations from: Jared Huffman, Assemblymember, 6th District; Ann Notthoff, California Advocacy Director and Johanna H. Wald, Senior Attorney, NRDC; Dr. Bob Epstein, Environmental Entrepreneurs
- Quote: “AC Transit, like other public transportation districts, is on the front lines of efforts to improve air quality and fight global warming by giving the public an attractive and efficient alternative to driving in automobiles. I would like to be a part of those efforts and would like to bring to AC Transit my experience in environmental policy and law and my contacts with people in environmental organizations and government.”
- Impressions: I had the same problem summarizing Mr. Caputo’s application as I had with a number of the others in the last post – it was very difficult to decide what to put under goals. Mr. Caputo, for example, references that his experience as a rider would be helpful while on the board. This sort of implies, to me, at least, that he wants to improve service. But he never says that service should be improved, or that that’s why he should be on the Board. Like many of the other applications, this one gave me a picture of an individual who cares about their community and the environment, and supports AC Transit, but left me blank as to what role they would serve as a Board member. Maybe he was better in person, I don’t know, but the application didn’t excite me at all.
- Background: Retired 25-year General Manager of Public Transit for the City of Vallejo;
- Goals: wants to return to being part of strategic decision making that affects public transit; finding her way around barriers that block progress
- Recommendations from: Nancy Skinner, Assemblymember, 14th District; Janet Abelson, Mayor Pro Tem, City of El Cerrito; Kerry Curtola, former Vallejo City Councilmember and Mayor; Celinda Dahlgren, Director of Administration, County Connection; Anthony J. Initoli, former Mayor of Vallejo; Bill Dodd, Chairman, MTC and Napa County Supervisor; Charlene Haught Johnson, Chair, Water Emergency Transportation Authority; Charles Anderson, Westcat; Linda Maio, Berkeley City Council; Gloria Exline, former Mayor of Vallejo; Claudia Harrison, and a whole bunch more
- Quote: “Basically, it could be said that I built Vallejo’s Transit Program from the ground up. What was a limited, 10-bus local service when I was hired in 1980, is not a complex 65-bus system connecting the Vallejo’s community, workers, students, and transit-dependent residents to every city in Solano County.”
- Impressions: Well, she has experience up the wazoo and loads of glowing letters from transit-specific recommenders. What’s not to like?
- Background: transit dependent until late twenties, former Director of Policy at Google, member of the Obama Transition Team, member of Alameda County Democratic Central Committee Executive Committee
- Goals: reliable and affordable bus service, air quality improvement, expanding the hydrogen fuel cell program, increase funding
- Recommendations from: Loni Hancock, State Senator, 9th District; Dan Geiger, Executive Director, US Green Building Council, Northern California Chapter; John Russo, Oakland City Attorney; Marge Atkinson, Albany Mayor; Laurie Capitelli, Berkeley City Councilmember
- Endorsements from: Alberto Torrico, Assembly Majority Leader; Mary Hayashi, Assemblymember, 18th District; Alice Lai-Bitker, President, Alameda County Board of Supervisors; Bob Franklin, BART Director; Pat Kernighan, Oakland City Councilmember; Lena Tam, Alameda City Councilmember; Marie Gilmore, Alameda City Councilmember; Nicky Gonzalez Yuen, Peralta College Board
- Quote: “I want to bring my enthusiasm for bus transit, combined with my executive, fundaising, governmental experience and contacts on all levels to ensure that today, in our difficult economy, the AC Transit system will be so reliable, fast, and convenient that those who have the option to drive, will choose AC Transit instead.”
- Impressions: Um…she rocks.
Our group of East Bay transit advocates decided to endorse Echols, and I couldn’t be more pleased with out decision. Reading the applications, there were four that really stood out for me, and among those, I felt Echols offered the strongest combination of relevant decision-making and public policy experience and attention to the needs of riders.
I particularly appreciated Echols’s emphasis on using technology to enhance service – in her questionnaire she discussed making better use of traffic data to optimize routes and schedules for more reliable service, as well as using Automated Passenger Counts to improve understanding of actual passenger use patterns. Of all the candidates we received responses from, she placed the strongest emphasis on addressing the needs of bus riders. She understands the barriers to attracting choice riders – reliability and information, and her experience at Google has shown her how the application of technology can enhance the customer experience.
I was unable to attend Echols’s interview with our group, but after speaking with two of our members who did, I felt even more confident that she was the best choice. They both left with a strong sense that she would be able to competently deal with the nuts and bolts, day to day decision making required of the Board, while not losing sight of the agency’s long-term needs. They appreciated her commitment to setting long term goals that would challenge the agency to find innovative approaches to improving service, rather than simply being content to maintain the status quo in troubled times.
She did an amazing job as Co-chair of the Oakland United Democratic Campaign last fall, and her long term involvement with the Democratic Party has given her strong relationships with other local elected officials, which should be an asset in improving the agency’s sometimes uncoordinated interaction with other local governments. Like Rebecca Kaplan, I see Elizabeth Echols as someone who will be able to work productively with her fellow Directors to keep the agency functioning in these trying financial times. Her commitment to public transit as a gateway to opportunity will ensure that the practical needs of the riders will remain at the forefront of the discussion.
Whoever gets this appointment will join the Board at probably one of the most unpleasant moments in recent history. Declining sales tax revenues that keep the agency running should have been offset by the new parcel tax approved by voters in November. But the gutting of public transit funding by the State essentially erases this victory, and we all know that painful choices will have to be made. In a field of many excellent applicants, I feel confident that Elizabeth Echols is the best positioned among them to make the best possible decisions in an impossible situation.
Read more endorsements of Echols at:
- Living in the O: Why I’m endorsing Elizabeth Echols for AC Transit Board
- Stop, Drop, and Roll: Now is the Time…for Echols
- Friends of BRT blog: Transit Advocates Endorse Elizabeth Echols for AC Transit Board Vacancy
- Future Oakland: Transit advocates endorse Elizabeth Echols for AC Transit Board