Nonprofit leader Lateefah Simon had to give up her seat representing parts of Berkeley and Oakland on the BART board of directors this week after transit system officials learned she moved just outside her district.
In a statement Thursday, Simon wrote that she was “deeply disappointed” to leave the board, saying she had previously been assured by “top BART officials” that her new home was within the district she has represented since 2016.
In its statement, the transit system said staff determined Simon’s address is outside the district’s boundaries. As for the reassurances Simon said she received, BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost wrote in an email, “We have no evidence such communication took place.”
The oddly shaped District 7, which Simon represented until this week, covers much of West and South Berkeley and West and North Oakland, along with Emeryville, western Contra Costa County and several neighborhoods along the eastern edge of San Francisco. BART board members will appoint an interim director to fill the seat within the next 60 days; Trost said agency staff are researching whether the interim director will serve out the rest of Simon’s term, which runs through 2024, or face an election sooner.
A longtime racial justice advocate, Simon was until recently the president of the Akonadi Foundation, an Oakland nonprofit. In January, her LinkedIn page states that she became the president of the Meadow Fund, an organization led by Patty Quillin, the philanthropist, political mega-donor and wife of Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. Simon remains a member of the Akonadi Foundation’s board of directors. (Disclosure: The Akonadi Foundation previously provided funding to The Oaklandside, the sister outlet of Berkeleyside.)
Simon was one of the most prominent voices on the BART board in pushing for changes to overhaul the transit agency’s police department, including a program in which unarmed civilian “ambassadors,” rather than traditional police officers, patrol trains to provide security. During the protest movement sparked by the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom tapped her to lead a state task force on policing.
“I am proud to have fought for transit justice and of the difference we have been able to make for all BART riders during my tenure,” Simon wrote in a message to supporters Thursday. “I am confident that the board will appoint someone who can represent District 7 well. I will work with them and BART staff to ensure as smooth a transition as possible, keeping District 7 residents as the priority.”
In her statement, Simon wrote that she moved “because I feared for my and my daughter’s safety after receiving multiple threats due to my work on police reform.”
Reached by text message Thursday, Simon said she was not available for an interview. She told the San Francisco Chronicle that she moved last year from a home in Richmond to an apartment in the new housing complex next to the MacArthur BART station.
“Before moving, I informed top BART officials and sought their input, and was assured that the building is within District 7,” Simon wrote in her statement. “I would not have moved my family to this residence otherwise.”
A document shared by Simon showed BART’s general counsel, general manager and other officials were made aware of her move to the complex last May. The complex sits on BART property, atop a former station parking lot, and Simon was told she should recuse herself from any discussion of the property to comply with conflict of interest rules.
But online maps of BART’s board districts show Simon’s new home is, by a matter of steps, outside of the district. Highway 24 represents District 7’s eastern border, and the new apartment complex is just east of the freeway, in District 4, which is represented by Director Robert Raburn.
Separately, the BART board voted Thursday to approve a set of new district boundaries that would include Simon’s home in a redesigned District 7, capping the once-a-decade redistricting process that has been underway for months.
Several fellow BART directors praised Simon’s work Thursday.
“BART is a much better agency because of Lateefah’s contributions,” Director Rebecca Saltzman, Berkeley’s other representative on the BART board, wrote on Twitter. “Soon the BART Board will begin the appointment process to appoint someone to fill the District 7 vacancy. I will strive to honor her legacy by appointing someone who is committed to transit justice and transit riders.”