Lateefah Simon pressured to vacate BART board after shifting exterior her district

Lateefah Simon vacated her seat on the BART Board of Directors Wednesday after the agency determined she no longer resides in the district she represents — despite assurances she says she received from BART officials that her move kept her within district boundaries.

Simon presided over the BART Board of Directors during the height of the pandemic and represented BART’s District 7 that includes BART’s Richmond stations, Berkeley’s Ashby station and a portion of North Oakland’s MacArthur station. Simon told The Chronicle in a phone interview Thursday morning that she consulted with senior BART officials before moving last year from her Richmond home to an apartment complex adjacent to the MacArthur BART station.

A BART spokesperson said Thursday that the agency couldn’t confirm whether an agency official had given Simon that reassurance nor could the agency find any written evidence supporting Simon’s claim.

At the time, Simon was receiving death threats and other harassing messages — some of them laced with racist and misogynistic slurs — including an incident in which she found urine on her doorstep in North Richmond.

Simon planned to join Thursday’s Board of Directors meeting remotely before receiving news from BART officials within the last week that her home was “a stone’s throw” outside her district line. Her departure was briefly acknowledged at the beginning of Thursday’s meeting.

“I’m devastated,” Simon said in a phone call from Selma, Ala., where she is commemorating the 57th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday civil rights march.

In a later statement, Simon said, “Before moving, I informed top BART officials and sought their input, and was assured that the building is within District 7. I would not have moved my family otherwise.”

Before moving, Simon said she had numerous conversations with senior BART officials who helped her execute a conflict of interest memo, since her home is part of a transit-oriented development on the agency’s land.

Legally blind, Simon said she opted to move into an apartment complex across the street from MacArthur station because, “as a visually impaired person, to be able to walk across the street and access transit — it’s the best thing in the world.”

Simon shared representation of MacArthur station with board Director Robert Raburn, according to a map of BART’s district boundaries. Simon’s district included the station, itself, while Raburn’s district covers the portion east of northbound State Route 24 that includes the station’s entrance plaza, parking garage and apartments built on BART property.

Alicia Trost, BART’s chief communications officer, said that the agency last week asked Simon to give her address after “it came to our attention that there was a residency discrepancy.” The address Simon gave, which is across the street from the State Route 24 boundary, made it clear she no longer resided in the district she represented, Trost said.

Trost said the agency can’t confirm whether a conversation between BART officials and Simon about the move took place because the BART employee believed to have been involved is on leave.

The threats that prompted Simon’s move appeared to be linked to work she had done on police reform. She has been outspoken calling for a new investigation into the 2009 deadly shooting of Oscar Grant at Fruitvale Station by a transit officer. Simon also successfully pushed for BART’s ambassador program, in which the agency deploys uniformed civilian officers to help with security and handle some duties traditionally assigned to sworn police.

Simon’s election in 2016 was viewed by some as a changing of the guard that steered the agency’s Board of Directors toward social issues and a more progressive bent. Her colleagues elected her board president in December 2019. Months later, the start of a pandemic spiraled the agency into a fight for survival after ridership plummeted by 94% in spring 2020.

Several board directors were stunned by the news of Simon’s departure. They credited her for helping steer BART during its most tumultuous period and lobbying for the financial assistance from the federal government that has largely sustained BART since the pandemic.

“It’s been through my leadership that hundreds of millions of dollars came to the district during COVID,” Simon said.

As a single mom who rides BART daily, several board directors said she brought the perspective of transit-dependent riders seldom represented on the BART board.

BART board President Rebecca Saltzman, who urged Simon to run in 2016, said “we are a better agency because of Lateefah’s contribution.”

“She was president during probably the hardest year in BART’s history when the pandemic hit. The way she brought our board and staff together, and management and labor unions, to weather the crisis and bring in a huge amount of federal funding, it was really incredible,” Saltzman said.

Board Director Janice Li described Simon’s departure as “a huge loss for the BART board,” noting that she is now the only person of color on the government body. During the pandemic, low-income people of color who don’t own cars have accounted for a growing share of BART’s ridership, according to a 2020 customer satisfaction survey.

“Lateefah always spoke up for low-income folks, people with disabilities, Black riders,” Li said. “To lose that voice is significant.”

District 7 voters will decide Simon’s permanent replacement in a forthcoming election. The Board of Directors has 60 days to appoint a replacement to fill the vacated seat in the interim.

Bevan Dufty, a BART board director representing a San Francisco district, said Thursday that Simon “sought the advice of a district official and was assured that her move kept her within District 7, which she so ably represents. This advice was wrong, and here we are today.” He hoped Simon would consider moving back within the district and apply to be appointed to the seat she vacated this week.

“People who have known and worked with Lateefah began to view BART differently because of her presence on this body,” Dufty said.

Rachel Swan and Ricardo Cano are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. Email:, Twitter: @rachelswan, @ByRicardoCano

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