Why didn’t we get BART through San Mateo County in the 1960’s when it was cheaper.

People blame the politicans for this “mistake”, but hindsight is 20/20. You need to put the decision in perspective.

The truth is the fact the San Mateo Co Board of Supervisors decided not to put BART on the Ballot–a decision that probably saved BART’s life!!! In fact the Board of supervisors never even voted on it as there wasn’t even support for someone to move and second the motion for a vote of the supervisors for the politically low risk move of putting it on the ballot and having the voters decide!

This is the perspective this decision needs to be seen in:

  1. Voters in the early 1960’s were still in love with their cars, The environment movement was just beginning with Sierra Club under the leadership of David Bower. There was no national requirement for environmental impact statements – you could build anything if you could get your local cities zoning board to OK it.
  2. There was no support for BART in the County-grassroots or otherwise. The civic leaders were also against it–including JR Clinton owner of the San Mateo Times. Also opposing BART was David Bohannon the developer of the City of Hillsdale, Tom Casey of the San Mateo Co Development Associations. They, and the San Mateo Times, made vocal arguments that BART was not needed.
  3. The County had a non-subsidized Southern Pacific Railroad for those who wanted to use transit to SF, (and of note, siting on the Board of supervisors was T Louis Chess, VP of Commuter Services for SP – this was the days before conflict of interest laws). Their was still an illusion rail passenger service might be profitable and Amtrak was still 10 years away.
  4. For the formation of the BART District and its property tax, the state legislation required a 60% YES vote of ALL counties together.

Because San Mateo Co, had significant citizen opposition to BART, even if BART was on the ballot, it would have done poorly, and put the BART for the rest of the region at risk.

With just 3 counties voting, BART was approved by a small margin, winning largely because at the time pro-transit SF has a much greater percentage of the population compared to East Bay at the time. Also San Franciscans voted overwhelming more in favor of BART vs East Bay’s bare majority approval votes. The East Bay has lost its Key rail system a few years before to buses, and clearly wanted to fill the gap.

However, BART was never cheap–and ran into cost overrun from the start. The BART district had to go back to the voters for extra money due to 100% cost overruns during its initial construction.

Courtesy of Alan Hirsch