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Transit advocates endorse Elizabeth Echols for AC Transit Board

Today, the attention of the blogoaksphere has turned to the open seat on the AC Transit Board. The largest bus-only transit agency in the United States will appoint a member to replace Oakland City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, and transit activists as well as other concerned leaders are weighing in. I am proud to report that East Bay transit advocates have conducted an endorsement process, and chosen Elizabeth Echols (PDF) as the best candidate to replace Ms. Kaplan.

Last year I asked a respected community leader to apply for this seat. After seriously considering it, he declined due to other commitments to important causes. Since I did not know any of the candidates personally or from their work as transit advocates, I felt it was important for transit activists to have a role in the process of choosing our new transit director. In January I invited several leaders of different transit advocacy groups to meet and discuss the open AC Transit seat. We decided that, instead of putting forth one of our own as a candidate, we would offer our joint endorsement.

We put together a detailed questionnaire and sent it to the candidates that we had heard about (including three of the four finalists). The questionnaire was created with input from leaders of every East Bay transit advocacy group: Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, Friends of BRT, the No on KK Committee, Alameda Transit Advocates, the City of Oakland Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, Bicycle-Friendly Berkeley, Livable Berkeley, the East Bay Bicycle Coalition, and TransForm. (I am on the Oakland BPAC and was on the No on KK campaign committee.)

We scheduled interviews with the respondents and talked to them about their qualifications, their vision and priorities for the agency, and followed-up on some of their answers to our questions. I attended all but one interview, and found them incredibly informative. The candidates explained different facets of the challenges facing AC Transit: one explained exactly how the Metropolitan Transportation Commission‘s totally ass-backwards financing priorities screw AC Transit (apparently they think bus stops are just as useful to the regional transportation infrastructure as new desks for administrators), another had a very in-depth understanding of the position of the drivers and mechanics (they are concerned about working conditions, and understand the agency’s financial pressures), and another related his experiences as a rider advocate and how the agency works with community groups (rather well, in his opinion, as long they know about a project).

Walking to our endorsement meeting in transit-proximate Old Oakland, I didn’t know who would be our consensus choice. There are many strong candidates. But one offered the combination of experience, new ideas, and appropriate priorities that appealed to everyone at the table: Alameda County Democratic Central Committeemember Elizabeth Echols. A former Google executive who served on the technology cluster of the Obama-Biden Transition Team, she has a fresh perspective on the agency, new ideas about improving service using technology and data, but also a solid grasp of the importance of service reliability to attracting and maintaining an expanded ridership base. Her energy and political connections will allow her to help the agency get approval for the best Bus Rapid Transit system in the next few months, and help her work with regional, state and federal officials to improve the agency’s long-term financial health. I am pleased to be one of many local transit advocates to endorse her candidacy, and I am confident she is able to help guide AC Transit through its troubling financial times without sacrificing the needs of both “choice riders” and the transit-dependent.

It is no secret that there are many qualified individuals applying for this seat. When the Board voted on its four finalists, a former Boardmember who had applied was not among them – that’s a clear signal that the agency is extremely pleased with the quality of those who want to join the Board. With the overwhelming electoral victories racked up by AC Transit last November (78% voted no on Berkeley’s anti-BRT measure KK, and 72% of the district’s voters backed a parcel tax to make up for last year’s state budget cuts), and the caliber of those vying to lead it through a recession, it is clear that AC Transit is on the right track. All transit advocates are pleased by these developments, and the phrase “embarrassment of riches” to describe the selection of a new Boardmember has been used by more than one observer. This is a far cry from six years ago, when Rebecca Kaplan was the only well-qualified applicant for this open seat. Though transit advocates will be satisfied with any of the four finalists to represent us on the East Bay’s largest and most important transportation agency, Elizabeth Echols is the best choice, and we hope that Board will agree.

For a list of all five blogs that today endorsed Ms. Echols, see A Better Oakland’s Elizabeth Echols for AC Transit

Posted in actransit, alameda, berkeley, blogoaksphere, breakingnews, brt, california, endorsements, kaplan, measurekk, oakland, transportation.

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4 Responses

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  1. Chris Kidd says

    DTO, What’s the story behind Joel getting the nod over Echols? What was it that tipped the tie vote in his direction?

  2. Chris Kidd says

    Less twitter and more blog posts. I miss your voice, DTO.

  3. dto510 says

    Well, Joel Young was always the frontrunner – he’d been working on getting the office since last summer, and had the lion’s share of endorsements. Some think that his labor endorsements were particularly persuasive to the board. Before Chris Peeples switched his vote from Echols to Young to break the deadlock, he called Joel Young “the future of progressive politics.” In the end, it seems like the three supporters of Mr. Young were more determined than the three for Ms. Echols. While I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Mr. Young being on the board (I enjoyed interviewing him for the post and he was certainly considered for our endorsement), it does appear the decision was made more for political reasons than for the health of the agency.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Why I’m endorsing Elizabeth Echols for AC Transit Board « Living in the O linked to this post on February 18, 2009

    [...] Roll, John Knox White’s Alameda based blog, the Friends of BRT blog, A Better Oakland, and Future Oakland. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Friday Links and ThoughtsEndorsements: Oakland, [...]