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BART Reverses Course, Says Lateefah Simon Remains on Board of Directors

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Lateefah Simon stands next to sign for BARTs 12th Street/Oakland statoin.
Lateefah Simon in Oakland during her 2016 campaign for the BART board of directors, on Oct. 5, 2016.  (Dan Brekke/KQED)

BART has reversed course on its abrupt decision earlier this month to remove Director Lateefah Simon from her seat on the agency's elected board.

BART announced Wednesday that, after conferring with outside legal counsel, its staff lacked authority to remove Simon from the board after determining she had moved to an Oakland address just steps outside her district.

The transit agency now says that only its elected board of directors or a court can declare a seat vacant and that Simon continues to represent BART's District 7, which currently includes western Contra Costa County and slivers of Alameda County and San Francisco.

In an interview, Simon emphasized that she only made the move from her former home in Richmond to an apartment building adjacent to Oakland's MacArthur BART station after agency staff assured her she remained inside the district.

"When I moved here, I want to be clear, I talked to BART staff," Simon said. "We have documentation. Now we know I live 300 feet from the line — a block."

Simon said she and her 10-year-old daughter moved to Oakland after receiving death threats connected to her work on police accountability. She was first elected to BART's board of directors in 2016 and served as the board’s president in 2020.

"I was told I needed to be in a secure space," she said.

She credited the change in BART's position to support from other members of the board of directors and what she called the "extremely aggressive" efforts of her legal team.

Immediately after BART's March 10 announcement that Simon had been removed from the board, fellow directors Janice Li and Bevan Dufty appealed to agency management to seek outside legal advice.

"I was unlawfully pushed out of the seat by a staff person," Simon said. "I'm a sworn and duly elected official. … They disconnected my phone and my email, and they took down my picture and sent a press release out and eulogized me at a BART meeting with no due process."

Still to be determined is how the board of directors will resolve the issue. Earlier this month, the directors approved a new electoral map for its nine districts. Reapportionment occurs once a decade following the U.S. census.

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Simon's current residence is inside the redrawn District 7. Under state law, though, newly reapportioned legislative districts generally don't take effect until the election following adoption of new maps.

There are other complications to using the new map, too, including the fact that other board members could find themselves living outside their redrawn districts.

Asked whether she might be required to move again to stay on the board, Simon said, "I don't know. My lawyers have assured me that they're going to continue to be in conversation with the outside legal team that BART had to hire."

Simon is the BART board's only Black member. Legally blind, she is the rare board member who relies on BART service and uses it daily.

"I don't think I was pushed out because I was Black," Simon said. "But I know because I'm Black, because I'm a disabled woman, because I'm a mama and I use that system every day, it's all the more reason I need to fight to keep my seat."

In the agency's statement, BART General Manager Robert Powers and board President Rebecca Saltzman apologized to Simon "for the way this has played out."

"This has been a very difficult situation, especially for Director Simon who moved her family for safety reasons and to live steps away from the transit system she relies on for transportation and that she proudly represents," the statement said.

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