Incumbent, Upstart and Flash Gordon Vie for BART Seat

In this November’s election, 24-year District 8 BART Director James Fang faces two challengers for his seat—newcomer Nicholas Josefowitz, a clean energy entrepreneur, and Flash Gordon, an insurance salesman.

To date, this has been one of the most intriguing battles headed to the ballot box. Not simply because of the typical theatrics of San Francisco politics, but because the entire BART system and the Balboa Park BART Station in particular need new ideas and bold action.

While Gordon received the Libertarian Party of San Francisco’s endorsement, he has not been advertising nor does he have a campaign website. Josefowitz, a democrat backed by tech money, is the serious contender.

Fang, the city’s lone Republican elected official, and his supporters have prevented Josefowitz from attaining the Democratic County Central Committee’s endorsement. The District 11 Democratic Club gave no endorsement for the seat. However, District 11 Supervisor John Avalos and BART Director Tom Radulovich have endorsed Josefowitz.

“I understand he wants to make his mark on the political world,” Fang said of Josefowitz. “And he thinks BART is the best stepping stone for his political career, but the voters of San Francisco don’t think a transportation [board] should be a political stepping stone.”

Josefowitz had equal criticism for the chairman of the BART Board’s Engineering and Operations Committee. “He’s the longest serving BART Director ever,” Josefowitz said. “Frankly, he’s left the system in a real mess. … Director Fang has just chosen to spend billions on building extensions further and further out into the East Bay to places like Antioch, rather than investing in San Francisco and providing BART and Muni riders with a clean and dignified commute.”

The extension plans particularly rankle Josefowitz, and he called Fang’s moves there politically motivated above anything that might benefit riders. Despite their antagonistic words, there is no debate planned.

24-Year Term

If re-elected, Fang seems determined to get his “BART to the Beach” idea passed, and then perhaps a second tube under San Francisco Bay.

“Under my watch, we’ve done BART to the airport, we got the earthquake bond and we’re expanding to Warm Springs that is the gateway to San Jose,” Fang said. “We have operational surpluses of $300 million, and I’m proud of that.”

Fang’s plan for that money besides the above mentioned items?

“We need $3 billion in new cars,” he said. “Right now we are at capacity. We projected we would be at 500,000 riders by 2020. When I started we were at 220,000 riders per day, and now we’re at 400,000. But the cars are 45 years old.”

The bad news is the new cars will have fewer seats, but the good news is the trains will be more comfortable overall, Fang said. Additionally, the next generation of BART trains may have three doors instead of two.

Fang is pushing for BART to submit a federal grant proposal that will bring in $3 million for a study on building a second transbay tube. Josefowitz said he would focus on instituting term limits, to avoid long tenure’s like Fang’s. “He seems to want to be a BART Director for life,” Josefowitz said.

Additionally, Josefowitz said he would push for public financing that would reward candidates for raising small amounts of money from people in their districts.

Balboa Park Station

Balboa Park Station is the busiest BART station in the system outside of downtown San Francisco. It’s also the most bleak. Development plans around the station, including rehabilitating the Geneva Car Barn and Powerhouse into a youth arts and neighborhood center, are moving forward.

Across the street from the Car Barn is an empty lot that appears to be used as private parking for MTA employees. This parcel is slated to be built on by the Mayor’s Office of Housing.

It’s wise to know as much about one’s district as possible when running for re-election, but Fang admits he is out of the loop when it comes to Balboa Park Station. That’s a shame, and as a 24-year veteran of the board, he ought to know better.

When quizzed on Balboa Park Station’s Upper Yard housing development plans, and the work being done to rehabilitate the Geneva Car Barn and Powerhouse opposite the station, Fang had little to say. He deflected the question and instead spoke about plans for developing the parking lot at the Glen Park Station.

“You’re right, I don’t know that much about Balboa Park,” said Fang. “I’ll do better.”

Furthermore, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors passed the Balboa Park Station Area Plan in 2009, and the complex plan needs more BART board support. Fang said BART has its own development plans at its stations, and that he’s more familiar with plans at Glen Park Station.

Josefowitz noted Balboa Park Station can be a confusing and even dangerous place for people to enter and exit, and he said he would push to make it a station the neighborhood could be proud.

Disclosure: Alexander Mullaney, publisher of The Light, sits on the Geneva Carbarn and Powerhouse Board of Directors with Tom Radulovich.

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