Voters Are the Light in Troubled BART Tunnels

By Joel P. Engardio

A transportation system that serves the public well doesn’t greet riders with the stench of urine or ask them to climb broken escalators short-circuited by human feces. It doesn’t rely on 40-year-old technology that prevents trains from running faster. And it doesn’t paralyze an entire region by going on strike.

BART riders on overcrowded trains are faced with many indignities as they try to get to work on time and home for dinner.

Yet beleaguered customers can have a say in how BART is run – by electing the BART board. Unfortunately, many voters don’t know it exists.

Beyond complaining about BART, San Francisco voters could start holding the BART board accountable by considering two compelling candidates this fall.

First there’s Republican James Fang, a native San Franciscan from the powerful Fang family that made its wealth in publishing and helped determine the political fortune and misfortune of several San Francisco mayors.

Fang has held his BART board seat for 24 years. He says extending BART to the airport was his biggest accomplishment and his next plan is a tunnel across The City to the ocean.

He continues to have Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi’s support despite having to pay $22,000 in fines for laundering campaign money in the 1990s.

“I’m just a kid out of Chinatown,” Fang, 52, said. “I made mistakes as a young man and fessed up. I’ve been elected consecutively ever since because I know how to work hard and get things done.”

Then there’s Democrat Nicholas Josefowitz, 31, who was raised in Europe and Harvard educated. His family made its wealth in publishing and art collecting.

Josefowitz -- who calls himself a clean energy entrepreneur -- has been in San Francisco three years and has close ties to the tech industry, which has helped him raise more money than candidates typically spend running for the low-profile BART board.

Now Josefowitz wants to modernize BART operations and develop station parking lots into housing. He won’t support a San Francisco extension along Geary Boulevard unless it includes a loop down 19th Avenue that connects to Daly City.

The Democrat was rejected by his own local party. While San Francisco’s Democratic County Central Committee can’t officially endorse Republicans, it found a way to give Fang a boost by keeping Josefowitz off its slate card.

“I want to clean up the stations and clean up James Fang’s dirty politics,” Josefowitz said. “Riders are fed up with what cronyism has done to BART. But the political machine has an incentive to keep Fang in power because the BART board gives out billions of dollars in contracts.”

Fang accuses Josefowitz of mudslinging and said he is “happy” to return it, likely at their first debate Sept. 15 at the SHARP election forum (7 p.m. at 1736 9th Avenue).

“The idea I have some overlord power to shovel contracts is ludicrous. No one has ever called me on a contract,” Fang said. “He wants to say James Fang is a crook. What about his high tech friends? Don’t you think they want something? This race is really about established San Francisco values versus a new wave of tech folks who think they can improve things. If this city was so lousy, why did they come here in the first place?”

Josefowitz said BART is being left behind while tech – from Uber and Tesla to Google’s driverless cars – has turned the Bay Area into a center of transportation innovation.

“There’s a real disconnect I want to fix,” Josefowitz said. “But James Fang is only interested in distracting people from his record.”

Josefowitz said it feels like “Bizarro World” when essays on controversial topics he wrote in college a decade ago suddenly surface – along with rumors about how his family obtained its wealth.

Fang dismissed what he called Josefowitz’s “House of Cards conspiracies.”

“That show started in England, you know. Maybe that’s how Josefowitz does things where he comes from,” Fang said. “But not in San Francisco. We do good government, baby.”

Also published in San Francisco Examiner September 14, 2014