Elizabeth Echols for AC Transit

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.
  • Applicant: Drew Caputo (PDF)
    • 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.
  • Applicant: Pam Belchamber (PDF)
    • 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?
  • Applicant: Elizabeth Echols (PDF)
    • 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:

35 thoughts on “Elizabeth Echols for AC Transit

  1. bikerider

    Wow. Perhaps Echols is more impressive in person, but her resume reeks of political patronage. There is nothing in her background indicating she should be a director of a major bus system, nor has any kind of depth and experience in public transit issues.

    Her ideas for how to improve AC Transit service are laughably naive. Hydrogen fuel-cell buses? Oh my. Another Red Flag are any “high-tech” proposals for automatic traffic monitoring and passenger counting. Those are multi-multi-multi-million dollar capital expenditures that don’t tell Operations nor passengers anything that they don’t already know (“gee, the 51 is stuck at Ashby and College”).

    What is needed is a candiate who thinks along the lines of someone like Chris Peeples. Somebody who understands that reducing dwell time, implementing POP, putting in BRT lanes is the way to improve the overall efficiency of the system. Does Echols even know what those buzzwords mean?

  2. len raphael

    reading her resume just gave the impression that she did her homework lining up some endorsements.

    for me the bigger question is whether someone who is used to working in a hightech company with employees motivated to the xtreme by big bonuses and stock options, has a clue of how to oversee an organization of union muni employees.

  3. Tony

    Odd that there was no mention of NextBus in Echols’ emphasis on technology. I’m sure a big issue of getting drivers out of their cars is the guesswork in knowing when a bus will come.

    But I defer to V’s group endorsement. Echols does seem to have wicked political connections.

  4. Becks

    I understand the concerns that bikerider and len raised, but after reading Elizabeth’s answers to the questionnaire that East Bay transit advocates put out and doing an hour long interview with her as part of our endorsement process, I do not have any of the same concerns.

    It’s true – Elizabeth has not spent her entire life working on transit issues. But she is incredibly dedicated to AC Transit and has done her homework on the technical issues.

    Bikerider – not to worry, Elizabeth knows all the buzz words you mentioned and in fact explained the importance of all of them to us during our interview. One of the things that impressed me most about her was her emphasis on increasing reliability. She understands that BRT with dedicated lanes (and POP) where possible, and the increase in usage of non-BRT rapid buses (like the 1R and 72R) are sorely needed. Besides funding issues, I think reliability is the single most important issue for AC Transit. Most “choice riders”, who have the option of using a car, are not going to ride the bus if it’s not reliable. Elizabeth gets this.

    I also think that her experience in politics and business will be extremely helpful to the Board. AC Transit has some pretty serious public relations and image problems, and we need someone who is not afraid to do community outreach and is able to win over public officials, business people, and community members. I strongly believe that Elizabeth can and will do this.

  5. Robert

    I really don’t think that Echols’ political connections are going to help ACTransit in the short term, there simply isn’t any money in the pot. And a bigger share of nothing is still nothing. In the longer term they could be helpful. I would think that the most important think right now is to get through the current crisis, and in my mind that would be better done by someone with actual transit management experience.

    bikerider, I do have to disagree with your slam of traffic monitoring and passenger counting. My experience in managing operations groups tells me very clearly that what people think they know is at best only true in generalities, and at worst is completly wrong. And general concepts do nothing to provide the data you need to make changes to operations that would improve service and reliability. Having real time data would allow for novel ways of thinking about how to improve service. Without that information you are left with the old, and quite frankly failed, paradigm of how to run a transit system.

    Which I think means that in the long run Echols would be a good choice, but won’t help with the current situation.

  6. Kevin Cook

    Echols is not going to be on the AC Transit board for the long term. She’s using the position in the same way Kaplan did–as a jumping off point for other positions. bikerider is right that there is absoutely nothing in her resume that indicates the slightest interest in or qualification to run AC Transit. Being transit dependent 25 years ago doesn’t exactly mean much for this position. She may have “enthusiasm for bus transit” but I’m betting that enthusiasm looks a lot like the Onion poll which stated 75% of respondents favor other people riding public transit.

    A glance at Echols resume suggests that she cashed in enough during her time at Google to not have to worry about money anymore. She’s used this freedom and the Google cachet to pursue her interest in politics. For whatever reason, she didn’t want to move back to Washington and work for Barry, so she moves back here and decides to pursue elected office. The vacant AC Transit post is the perfect opportunity to position oneself for a run at a local office. Voila–Echols’ deep committment to transit policy when her resume suggests that her greatest public policy contribution has been helping the Clinton adminstration do its part to create the Internet bubble.

    I don’t think this resume suggests political patronage; I think it indicates someone who has climbed to the top of the elite nexus of government/law/and corporate power. Echols is an impressive figure and, frankly, I think this status explains some of the fawning over her by the transit advocates who spend most of their time arguing with some marginally competent hack from some local agency. Echols has spent her whole career in high stakes meetings and interviews with people who expect expertise and competence. In other words, I bet the moment she decided to seek this position, she began studying the issues and talking to people. Transit policy isn’t exactly rocket science. Echols was probably able to learn all the buzz words and key issues in one or two nights of study. n I’ll bet she knew exactly what the transit advocates wanted to hear when she walked into the meeting and had her message tailored to the audience. This is what the pros do. If Echols was running to be appointed to the Oakland Zoo she would have shown up to the interview with exactly the same level of expertise and enthusiasm talking about how technology can help enhance the zoo experience.

    I don’t mean to imply that Echols shouldn’t get the appointment or that she’s not eminently qualified. However, I think it’s naive to suggest that she’s looking to serve out of some deeply held commitment to bus transit. Good luck to her though.

  7. dto510

    Kevin, the AC Transit Board is an elected position. It is appropriate for the politically-minded to want to join it. And honestly, would you rather have someone starting their political career on the board of the largest transportation agency in the East Bay, or someone ending their political career? There is more to our endorsement of Ms. Echols than her competence and enthusiasm. There are real ideological divides on transit issues (for example, fare increases vs. service cuts in tough times), and when it comes to setting priorities and making difficult decisions, Ms. Echols agrees with us on these key issues.

    It is simply wrong to say that Ms. Echols took a sudden interest in transit because this position was available, and somehow figured out what dedicated transit advocates think and was able to parrot it back to us. She has been active with Genesis, a group fighting for transit funding equity, for several years, and was more familiar with the issues facing AC Transit than almost any candidate. Ms. Echols answered our complex and detailed questionnaire better than any other candidate, and in her interview was able to follow it up with specific suggestions and a grasp of transit activists’ top priorities. Our diverse group (representing bicyclists, pedestrians, transportation professionals, education activists, and ordinary riders) reached a consensus to endorse Ms. Echols, and I challenge any transit advocate to read her competitors’ applications and find that they bring more understanding of the status quo’s challenges, more ideas for the future, and a more pro-rider perspective. We did not endorse her because she rode the bus a lot twenty years ago, nor did we endorse her because we thought she might have the President’s top-secret email address.

    Also, I’d like to say that it is my fault that we are not able to publish the questionnaires; I neglected to inform the candidates that we intended to publish them when they were sent out, and I later found out that endorsement questionnaires are assumed to be confidential unless candidates are explicitly told they would be public. If we could share them I think everyone would see that Ms. Echols is the best choice.

  8. Max Allstadt

    A low level office like this one is exactly where you want to see someone with bigger ambitions. They’ll bust their ass serving this constituency so that when the time comes to run for higher office, they have a solid reputation to run on.

  9. dto510

    Exactly. Look at Rebecca Kaplan! Did any of the commenters saying they don’t want someone ambitious on the ACT Board not vote for her?

  10. Kevin Cook

    DTO, I’m never quite sure what you mean by the distinction between appropriate and inappropriate. The word is usually associated with social proprieties. I suppose that it can also refer to political behavior that violates no law but brushes up against the edges of accepted ethics. In any case, I said nothing in my post to suggest that it was either unethical or rude of Echols to seek appointment to this office.

    Max, I’m glad that you have such faith in the invisible hand of electoral democracy in which the office holder’s pursuit of personal interest also serves the common good. It is true that we see it all around us.

    As someone singularly lacking in ambition, I don’t quite understand people like Echols, but I do applaud their drive. No doubt she will work extremely hard during her tenure on the board. One doesn’t build that type of resume without doing so.

    Speaking of resume DTO, if her work with this Genesis outfit is such a key indicator of her transit policy experience then why was I unable to find it mentioned on her application? Maybe I missed it. A half-hearted google search turned up no mention of it either. What exactly on her application makes her more qualified to be on the ACT Board than let’s say Pam Belchamber? I certainly can’t find anything.

    It is unfortunate that the questionnaires can’t be published because all we are left with are the statements of those of you who interviewed her. Now, I don’t have any reason not to trust your all’s good intentions, but I don’t trust that you all weren’t a bit goggle-eyed in the presence of a consummate big business and political pro. You state that “it is simply wrong to say that Ms. Echols took a sudden interest in transit because this position was available, and somehow figured out what dedicated transit advocates think and was able to parrot it back to us.” Simply stating this doesn’t make it so–Genesis notwithstanding. People like Echols don’t just parrot back positions; they are far too sophisticated for that. Frankly, sitting down for an interview with a bunch of local transit activists probably didn’t present to much a challenge for an operator like Echols. She’s gotten where she is, in part, precisely on the basis of her ability to shine in settings like this. After high-level meetings in the Commerce Department, talking to you guys is like hitting batting pratice pitching.

    DTO, as you are aware, my only concern with AC Transit is not to get hit by a bus while riding my bike, so I don’t much care who gets appointed. I merely wanted to point out that the various blogs endorsing Echols haven’t given much in the way of specific policy positions she holds which indicate why she’s the best choice (so does she support fare increases or service cuts?) Her commitment to reliability doesn’t exactly make her a transit expert. Without any of these details and in light of the fawning tenor of these endorsments, I’m left with the sense that Echols could just have easily chosen another politically convenient open board position, done her homework, and impressed some other group of local activists.

  11. V Smoothe Post author

    I find this conversation interesting. A few notes in response to some of the issues people have raised, in no particular order.

    • I wonder if everyone is clear on what this position is. It is a seat on the AC Transit Board of Directors, not an appointment of a General Manager for the agency. The skills and experience most relevant to the role whoever gets the appointment will play are policy and decision-making, not technical.

    • While I personally believe Echols does care a great deal about public transit, her motivation plays no part in my support for her. Saying that an elected official “cares deeply” about their work is generally nothing more than an attempt to excuse ineptitude. I have no doubt, for example, that Nancy Nadel does care deeply about helping her poor black West Oakland neighbors, but that doesn’t make her any less awful of a Councilmember, or mean that her decisions on the Council actually benefit those people she cares so much about. Motivation is irrelevant to me – competence and results are the metrics by which public officials should be judged.

    • As Becks and dto510 noted, our decision was not made simply by looking at the applications linked here. The applicants we identified filled out detailed questionnaires and each sat with 2-4 members of our group for hourlong interviews. I felt that this process provided us with a pretty thorough understanding of each candidate’s priorities, grasp of AC Transit’s issues, vision for future direction of the agency, new ideas, and ability to contribute productively to the Board. People are of course free to disagree with our choice of candidate, but the suggestion that we, as a group of active transit advocates, would endorse someone who doesn’t know the meaning of POP is, I’m sorry, laughably naive.

    • There is no equivalent position to the AC Transit Directors in Oakland Zoo management.

    • I certainly hope that Elizabeth Echols, or anyone else, frankly, seeking a political office would make a point of being familiar with the relevant issues to the office they hoped to hold.

    • Kevin, I wish I could respond more thoroughly to the concerns you raise, but I’m afraid I don’t really understand them. What is it about Echols, exactly, that you think would render members of our group so star-struck? Perhaps this is just an example of the different ways people look at things when they’re actively involved with political advocacy versus observing from outside. When one is routinely speaking with government officials, elected or not, meeting yet another one isn’t a particularly exciting or noteworthy experience. Having such interactions regularly is also an excellent way to develop a finely honed bullshit detector.

      While I agree that transit policy isn’t rocket science, there’s quite a bit more to it than I think you’re seeing. I’m confident that the depth of understanding demonstrated by the applicants we debated endorsing makes them all well equipped to serve on the AC Transit Board. But if you think otherwise, I invite you to show me I’m wrong. You’re a bright guy – a good bit smarter than most, if not all, of our local elected officials. Take a night or two of study to brush up on key issues and buzzwords relevant to the local bus service, and I’ll be happy to sit down with you and discuss my concerns about the agency.

  12. Kevin Cook


    I don’t really have any concerns with the idea of Echols being on the Board. I understand the difference between serving on board and working as a general manager. It may be entirely true that the most effective AC Transit board member is the one with extensive boardroom experience as opposed to any real experience in setting transit policy. In this case, Echols is the most qualified candidate. What she doesn’t bring to the table is any track record of results in successfully setting transit policy. I don’t believe that I suggested in any of my comments that you all wouldn’t or shouldn’t endorse a candidate who wasn’t familiar with the relevant terminology and issues.

    My comments were made more by way of the critique of the persuasiveness of yours and other bloggers’ effusive endorsements of Echols. I realize that the secret questionnaires and subsequent interviews are what tipped the scales in her favor, but what I can’t understand is what got Echols the nod instead of Belchamber who clearly has far more transit experience than Echols. No one provided any sense of substantive policy differences between the two of them.

    I’m not suggesting that Echols bullshitted all of you, but the level of almost giddy enthusiasm displayed for someone who’s interest in the AC Transit board appears to be primarily in its ability to lay the groundwork for a run at the next office does suggest that you all were star-struck. Her resume indicates she’s far better equipped to fill out these types of questionnaires and perform in these interviews than anyone else on this list of candidates (some of whose applications were laughable). Whether or not these skills make her the best candidate is an open question.

    Compared to the rogue gallery of hacks and miscreants who make up the local political scene, Elizabeth Echols is like the second coming of the god of competence. Take a look at three candidates for whom I recall you recently showing real enthusiasm–Pat K. Sean S, and Rebecca K. I’d wager that if they and Echols all decided to apply for some local policy board position–let’s say the Zoo did have an elected board, just for fun–Echols is going to run rings around the other three in this type of vetting process simply because she has the skills and experience developed in much bigger arenas than Alameda County to wow the local advocates, regardless of how jaded they consider themselves. Again, whether this will make her a better AC Transit board director or fictional Zoo board person is an open question and not one that any of these endorsements answers for me.

    In any case, I’m sure she’ll do fine if appointed. What I really care about is the horse race though. What is she going to run for in 2010?

    Finally, thanks for the compliment. However, to paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, I’m too old to lie to myself and call it honor. All the smarts in the world don’t end up meaning much if you’re lazy, which is why you know that I’m not going to read up on transit policy. I’m sure, though, that Echols can help implement POP via the chip that her former employer is planning to have implanted in all of us sooner or later.

  13. dto510

    If appointed to the AC Transit Board, in 2010 Elizabeth Echols will run for reelection, not for another office. That’s one reason it’s important to have some political experience and connections on this elected board. But, again, it was the combination of understanding the challenges facing the agency, having a vision and new ideas for transit service, and grasping the priorities of regular riders, that led us to endorse her. We interviewed three of the four finalists (and liked them all), but Ms. Echols is our top choice.

  14. V Smoothe Post author

    Honestly Kevin, it seems like you’re an awful lot more awestruck by Echols’s resume than any of us could even imagine being. Frankly, I struggle to understand how you even arrived at this bizarre picture you seem to have. If you had been active in any campaigns this fall, and been inside the UDC office phoning for Obama or Kaplan or any of the propositions or whatever, you’d have had plenty of opportunities to see Echols in action and would know that while she’s extremely competent, intelligent, and hardworking, she’s also just a regular person.

    While her experience is impressive and prepares her suitably for the AC Transit Director position, I certainly don’t see her as miles ahead of any of the other local politicians you mention in terms of suitability for some unnamed office. I know I’d prefer to have Rebecca Kaplan in the AC Transit seat than any of the applicants, which is not to say that I don’t think they will perform well in the position or that I’m not happy to see Kaplan on the City Council instead of the AC Transit Board.

    I can’t speak for the other bloggers who wrote endorsements of Echols, but personally, I didn’t go into specific criticisms of Belchamber partly because I’d have no problem with the appointment going to her and partly because of space issues – I posted over 5000 words about the applicants for the seat. There were many additional things I would have liked to say about a number of the applicants, but there’s also a limit on how much one can reasonably expect people to read.

    Rereading the endorsement I wrote above, I think it pretty accurately reflects the reasons that I prefer Echols. I wouldn’t call it giddy – it’s positive, sure. But endorsements usually are. I said that I liked her emphasis on service quality, ideas about better application of technology to enhance service, equity, and balance of long-term goals with day to day operating concerns. I thought the self-evident implication of these statements was that I did not feel other applicants were as strong in these areas. Not sure why it wasn’t obvious to you.

    I thought that Belchamber, for example (since you keep asking about her), was too focused immediate operation issues and did not offer the same clear vision for the future direction of the agency. She overemphasized barriers to improvement without offering as much in the way of potential solutions, and placed too much hope in relying on outside assistance from the State and Federal government which I do not believe will materialize. Additionally, I felt that some of her suggestions for addressing operations issues such as service reliability were more tailored to the needs of bus service in less dense areas than the inner East Bay, where we have different obstacles than a place like Vallejo. Overall, her answers reflected the perspective of a manager, rather than a policy-maker, and I don’t think that’s what the Board needs most right now. All that said, Belchamber would be my second choice, although since she isn’t Echols’s primary competition for the seat, that doesn’t particularly matter.

    I expect that whether or not she gets the AC Transit seat, Echols will run for another local office at some point in the future, but if appointed, her 2010 campaign will be, like dto510 said, for re-election.

  15. bikerider

    After wading through all the explanations, I am still finding it inexplicable why — on the basis of a single one-hour interview — an accomplished 25-year transit veteran might be seen as less qualified than a political hack with zilch transit background and really dumb ideas about hydrogen buses.

    It just doesn’t compute. And quite frankly, invites speculation about true motives.

    Now, personally, I don’t care if some random group of bloggers endorse Nancy Jewell Cross. And just so we are clear, I have no association with any of the candidates for the open seat. What does concern me is that a small group of bloggers strongly imply they are representing the interests of various transit/bike activists through an endorsement process that is anything but transparent. I think anyone reading this endorsement would have to be concerned by the following:

    1. We don’t know the real names of anyone involved in this endorsement

    2. The questionnaire responses will not be publicized (this is highly unusual, and allows candidates freedom to tailor response to the audience if they know it can never be published)

    3. Bike/transit activist groups generally avoid endorsements because it risks “blowback” in case their preferred candidate doesn’t win (not to mention blowback from the IRS). They will, however, do questionnaires, but only to educate candidates about important issues, and to inform the public.

  16. len raphael

    methinks KC touched on a several truths, plus it was a good read, but what the heck people vote for candidates for much worse reasons than the ones given for Echols.

    the part of V’s response where she directly compared Echols to Belchamber was much more useful than the endorsements.

    Though i supported RK for council, I never understood why others said she was such a great AC Transit member. Maybe if someone did an impartial post mortem on RK’s performance at AC, I’d understand better how to evaluate the candidates.

  17. Becks

    bikerider – Are you accusing us of making up this endorsement process? Because that’s what it sounds like.

    We were very clear that individuals from various bike, ped, and transit groups were making endorsements – not the groups themselves. So there are no IRS issues here.

    Individuals from the following groups were involved in this process: Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, Friends of BRT, the No on KK Committee, Alameda Transit Advocates, the City of Oakland Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, Bicycle-Friendly Berkeley, Livable Berkeley, the East Bay Bicycle Coalition, and TransForm.

    Also, it is not so unusual for groups to keep questionnaires private. The reason you might think this is unusual is because you don’t hear about the private questionnaires, but it happens probably as often as questionnaires are made public.

  18. das88

    @Becks, I am not sure I would characterize any of those groups as “ped groups.” Some of them are certainly bike groups that pay a little lip-service to ped issues in order to try to garner support for some of their causes such as traffic calming initiatives, parking restrictions, etc. Walk Oakland Bike Oakland is having a meeting tonight to address ped issues, so maybe they will earn the “W” in their name.

    Speaking more broadly now, I think this endorsement process worked out ok. I’m glad it was undertaken, it helps inform me and other people. However, I do not think it is fair to imply that is represents some broad section of people affected by transit issues. Maybe it would have been nice to involve senior groups, disabled advocates, low-income housing groups, etc.

  19. V Smoothe Post author

    bikerider –

    With respect to the transparency issues you raise – I’m guessing, based on your comments, that you aren’t particularly familiar with political endorsement processes in general. Contrary to what you assert, it is actually abnormal for organizations making endorsements to publish their questionnaires. Most bike/ped advocacy groups don’t make endorsements themselves not due due fear of retaliation from other candidates as you suggest, but because they aren’t allowed by law. Most members of our group belong to organizations that cannot endorse, which is why we came together to create an outlet for this sort of advocacy on a personal level. I was the only person involved in the process who does not belong to one of the organizations we’ve already listed.

    Please share this “speculation about true motives” with the class. I’m honestly quite curious what kinds of fantasies are going through your head about our endorsement.

    I can’t speak for the other bloggers, but neither of the posts I wrote were intended to influence the Board’s decision – we sent a letter to the Board for that. Rather, I aim to increase public awareness of and interest in the appointment for the open seat. The discussion here suggests that I’ve accomplished that in at least some small measure, and for that, I’m happy. If anyone’s interested in learning more about the finalists, I suggest they attend the Board’s interviews tomorrow morning at 10 AM.

    I would have thought that after nearly three years of blogging, and after the absurd amount of time that went into this process, I would have established enough credibility that my readers would trust my judgment, but if not, c’est la vie. If my readers don’t find my endorsement persuasive, well, it doesn’t really matter, since this isn’t an election and I’m not trying to get anyone’s vote.

    What I find most curious is that you and Kevin seem to presume that transit management experience automatically makes someone the best person to serve on the AC Transit Board of Directors. I don’t understand where that assumption comes from at all. Both of you are acting like it’s obvious, but it isn’t obvious at all to me, so perhaps one of you could help me out and explain your reasoning there. How do you see that experience translating to decision-making on the Board?

    das88 –

    If senior groups, disabled advocates, and low-income housing groups were interested in the AC Transit Board seat, there wasn’t anything precluding them from conducting their own endorsement process. But we were looking to identify the best candidate from a transit advocacy perspective, not an “everyone” perspective.

  20. das88

    @V, I could well be wrong on this, but my perspective as someone not overly involved with transit issues is that so-called transit-advocates focus mostly on making transit a better alternative to driving. The groups I provided as examples often have members who rely on transit because they have no other means of travel.

    While I support transit advocacy that aims to reduce car use, I do not think those initiative necessarily coincide with the interests of people without access to cars. Sure, the examples groups could have organized to make an endorsement, but that is the problem — often these populations are disenfranchised from the process.

  21. das88

    “I can’t speak for the entire group, but neither Becks, dto510, or I have a car.”

    V. That is entirely my point. The three’s of you choose not to have a car. You are not prevented from driving by age, infirmity, disability, or economic circumstances.

    Issues for people who can’t buy a car, Zipcar, rent a car, borrow a car, etc. and have no alternative than ped & transit for mobility likely have different transit concerns than so-called transit advocates.

  22. V Smoothe Post author

    You’re making a lot of assumptions, das88. I couldn’t afford a car even if I wanted one, and none of the options you mention are available to dto510 or I, since neither of us has a driver’s license. Overall, I think your characterization of our perspective and advocacy is inaccurate, and I’m not sure how you arrived at it.

    I certainly wouldn’t presume to speak for the disabled or for seniors as a group – but why would I? Those groups have advocates of their own.

  23. Max Allstadt

    I drive and I’m all for smart transit reforms, and I agree with much of what’s advocated for by V, Becks and DTO, among others.

    Also it’s rather presumptuous to declare that all three of them could just go out and buy a car at will. Or for that matter, that simply because some of them might be able to buy a car, that this somehow changes the perspective they get from taking transit every day.

    In the recent rainy spell we’ve had, I believe V, Becks, and maybe even DTO have been stranded by crappy bus service. I doubt that while they were waiting in the rain that any of them though “oh well, the bus is late, I’ll just go buy a car…. nah forget it, I need to keep my transit cred”.

  24. das88

    V. I am not really making assumptions as much as typifying. You pointed out three individuals and I am abstracting to a persona. You certainly are not prevented from driving in the same way that a 85 year-old senior with mobility issues or a person with MD in a wheelchair is.

    I guess my point is that even though I support many bike issues, I would prefer bike/ped groups to be called bike groups if they only pay lip-service to ped issues. I would also prefer transit advocacy groups to be called something like smart growth groups if they are more concerned with things like BRT over fares-level.

    @Max, I just saw your comment. I never said these people could just buy a car. I am just saying their perspective is different from someone infirmed or in a wheelchair, etc. I too support BRT, Smart Growth, etc. I just do not think they are the sum total of transit issues. On those rainy days, I got pretty wet walking to and from work even though I own a car.

  25. V Smoothe Post author

    For me at least, my number one priority is service reliability, not BRT. I don’t think BRT is the most important issue to anyone who participated in this process. Again, not sure where that assumption came from on your part.

  26. das88

    My perspective, which I have admitted several times might be flawed, comes from reading blog posts, comments, quotes in news stories, etc.

    You keep mis-characterizing my statements. I never said you had BRT as your number one issue. All I said was that so-called transit advocates seem more concerned with BRT than fare increases, and this may not be the same priority as many transit riders. I wasn’t even talking specifically talking about you there, but my sense (which my be flawed) of the general tone of the transit advocacy community.

    I think lots of people support:
    low fares
    reliable service
    additional routes
    comfortable seats
    late night service
    better wheelchair lifts
    etc. etc. etc.

    It’s how this priorities get ranked that differs.

  27. V Smoothe Post author

    Yeah, das88, I definitely think based on these comments you have an odd idea of what our group’s concerns and priorities are. I also don’t really understand what you’re trying to get at here. That we don’t represent seniors? We never suggested that we did.

    But for individuals who are forced rely on transit to get around because of “age, infirmity, disability, or economic circumstances,” which, like I said, is a group that includes myself, I think Echols is the best choice among the finalists and that was one of the main reasons we decided to endorse her. She placed by far the greatest emphasis on equity of any of the finalists.

  28. Becks

    das88 – I encourage you to do some research into the groups that were represented in this process. TransForm, for example, is very dedicated to keeping fares low. They organized dozens of speakers to come to the May 2008 hearing on raising fares, and this advocacy led the ACT Board to put Measure VV on the ballot instead of increasing fares. Right now, TransForm is organizing transit supporters to speak out at the MTC meeting tomorrow, again, in the hopes of avoiding fare increases.

  29. das88

    “I also don’t really understand what you’re trying to get at here.”

    I think past my first comment I have been just trying to clarify mis-characterizations of what I said. I had a very minor point which for some reason people seem to have responded to very aggressively. After all, in my first comment, I said I thought the endorsement process was pretty good and glad it occurred.

  30. OP

    Hey Max,

    I remembered your outrage a few years back about EBYD not releasing their endorsement questionnaires… have you changed your mind?

  31. Max Allstadt


    I think everybody should release their questionnaires. I believe DTO already explained that unless they’re explicitly said to be non-confidential beforehand, organizations need candidate’s permission, so his group of transit advocates are kinda stuck.

    In the future I would go so far as to say they should release their questionnaires online. I don’t see the utility in keeping them private.

  32. Alex G

    The AC Transit Board voted today for Rebecca Kaplan’s replacement. The first vote was tied. There were 3 votes for Joel Young, and 3 votes for Elizabeth Echols. Chris Peeples changed his vote creating a 4-2 majority for Joel Young.