During his campaign last year for District 8 BART Director, Nick Josefowitz told potential voters that he would take on some of the transit agency’s biggest concerns—congestion and cleanliness—and he handily won. Now at the beginning of his first term, The Light interviewed him about his plans for Balboa Park BART Station, the fifth busiest station in the system and more.
How would you like your time in office to be remembered?
I’d like people to remember me as someone who was effective and got stuff done. I don’t come to this wanting to take big principled stands. I come to this wanting to improve people’s commutes and increase the capacity of the system and increase reliability and leave a system that is really functioning for the next generation. We’ve inherited a system that is on the down slope. That’s a real shame. We should be leaving systems which are functioning and on the up slope.
What sort of system-wide improvements do you want to make?
My campaign had a focus on cleanliness and rider experience. I want to start working on escalators, elevators, cleaning it up. We were just at Balboa Park Station. It’s covered in pigeon poop. The escalator has a plastic covering on the bottom of it. It’s hanging down with a bunch of orange cones, warding people off from standing underneath it.
There’s a bunch of stuff like that. Some of it is really low hanging fruit, some of it is system-wide, and some of it just requires more care and attention for the stations of San Francisco. That’s stuff that I’ve already got going on.
Then there’s the capacity issues. The trains are jammed. There’s just more and more people who want to ride BART, and that’s great, but the system is reaching capacity. BART has started doing some stuff that’s really important. They’re replacing all the train cars and adding 75 new ones. My job is going to be to make sure that actually happens.
Then BART needs to replace its train control system, which was built in the 60’s. Then we can run trains more reliably, which means there will be fewer delays, and we’ll be able to run trains more often. One of the reasons there is so much crowding on station platforms is that when you don’t run enough trains people just wait on the platform. It’s something we can get done in the next few years if we start working on it now.
Have you developed any plans with Director Tom Radulovich about San Francisco’s needs?
Yes, we’ve done a lot of talking. We’re in the process of getting on the same page about what we want to drive forward. Rider experience and capacity are things Tom has been working on as well.
Another thing we are doing is a bit creative. If you go to other subway systems around the world, they’ve made use of this place where so many people go through every day. With BART, 400,000 people go through our stations everyday. Instead of being concrete and trash, if it can be a place that’s lively and vibrant reflects the creativity of San Francisco and the Bay Area, it’s going to help put a smile on people’s faces.
What’s your take on the Upper Yard affordable housing project?
I support putting housing there. There’s been a lot of planning that’s gone on before I got here, so I’m going to fit into that process and do what I can to move it forward. We don’t need more plans in San Francisco, we need housing. There’s lots of different stakeholders, and we’ve got to make sure what we are doing is responsive to all of those stakeholders including community groups.
Balboa Park is such a hub for transit on the south and west side of the city, and we really need to build a significant project there.
What do you think you’ll do for the neighborhood?
I’ve already reached out to Dan Weaver and the Ocean Avenue Association to start exploring whether BART can join in with the OAA, the business improvement district because we badly need some help. OAA has done a great job on Ocean Avenue, and we hope we can work with them to help bring some of that love and some of that care to some of the plazas.
Then a really exciting thing that’s more long term that I’m pushing for and hoping it will happen, is there will be an opportunity to do a real station redesign. We don’t know how extensive that’s going to be able to be yet, but that’s something I’m going to be working on and is going to be a real focus of mine and I’m going to be making sure I’m engaging with the community on that to see what they want out of a new Balboa Park station.
What was the idea behind hiring a legislative aide?
I just want to do the best job I possibly can, and that involves, what’s the expression, putting your life, your fortune and your sacred honor or whatever it is on the line to do it. I just felt like I wanted to be in a position to do the best job that I can, and the more resources I could bring to do that, the better job I thought I could do. BART has big problems and it’s not something we’re going to fix.
It seems like this is a pilot. Maybe every director should have an aide. The system needs to grow and there’s huge problems, and maybe what you’re doing will show a need that should be built.
I haven’t really thought about it, but maybe if the other directors thought they needed one, I’d be supportive of that. Paid for by BART.There’s a real tension between— we want every last public dollar to go towards projects and operations that are benefiting the public. We don’t want to build bureaucracies we don’t need to build, but if you short change the planning and strategic part of an organization, you often feel it in the long run.
District supervisors have three aides. BART directors perhaps could have part time aides.
At the moment we have a district secretary, who staffs us and has an office, so we’re not totally naked. We generally have a pretty positive relationship with BART management and BART staff, so they also are kind of really supportive of us when we want to get things done. All I know is I’m going to work my ass off, and I want to bring all the resources I can bear on the problems I want to fix and that San Franciscans want me to fix, and that’s what I’m going to do.
I’m curious about your green energy work. What do you do exactly?
I started a company that developed and built solar power plants. One of the things hopefully I can bring to BART is understanding how energy works. BART is one of the largest energy consumers in the Bay Area. Power is its third largest operations cost. There’s a tremendous opportunity to not only clean up its power supply but also put one in place that’s more reliable and cheaper.
I’m in the process of helping BART set a 100% renewable energy goal. Part of that is doing a better job of using the space we have all over the system to install solar.
The roof of Balboa Park Station, for instance.
Absolutely. But the real opportunities are on the maintenance yards, which are enormous, large parking lots out in the suburbs, some of the park and ride lots, land BART owns for potential future stations. But you don’t have to devote land to it. You can build it above a parking lot or maintenance yard or station.
Do you have a position on Clean Power SF?
I’m supportive of it, but we have to make sure we’re doing it right. Putting in place a program that doesn’t work, doesn’t work. This stuff is complicated. San Francisco power supply is powering 900,000 people, thousands of businesses, retail, commercial, industrial MUNI, it’s just a really complicated thing, and if we don’t recognize that complexity and put together a real plan that’s going to work, it’s going to be a shame.
How do you roll out the renewables plan?
Step one is to set the goal, and get the whole organization to think about it. It’s the kind of thing everyone needs to be focus on to achieve. Then, once you set the goal, it’s about looking at the strategy for how we can get there.
We need to think about how we can meet a lot of that demand with solar, but we also need to think about how we can use storage, so that when we build solar, and it’s producing in the middle of the day when BART isn’t using a ton of electricity, we can store it for the evening commute or the next day.
We also really need to focus on efficiency. Often times, the cheapest power is the power you don’t use. If you go into any BART station, chances are you’re going to see light fixtures from the 1970’s. We should be using LEDs, modernizing our HVAC systems, all these things that are going to reduce power consumption so that the 100% renewable goal is easier to get to.
Hopefully in the next few months we’ll be able to get to a place where we can set the goal.
E-mail Alexander Mullaney at email@example.com.