BART Director Lateefah Simon speaks during a 2021 event in Oakland. Credit: Amir Aziz

Lateefah Simon can stay on the BART Board of Directors for now after an outside law firm determined the transit agency’s staff improperly sought to remove her from a seat representing parts of Berkeley and Oakland earlier this month. But the question of whether Simon will stay on the board for the rest of her term is far from settled.

BART Board President Rebecca Saltzman and General Manager Bob Powers announced the reversal Wednesday, saying the system’s staff did not have the legal authority to remove Simon from her position as a director after they learned she moved to an apartment just outside her district. A law firm hired by BART told the system that Simon could only be removed through a vote of the full board of directors, or a court order.

A nonprofit leader and one of the most prominent figures in the push to overhaul law enforcement in California, Simon is the nine-member BART board’s only Black director and has advocated for changes to the transit system’s police force.

Simon wrote in a statement following the announcement that she is “grateful” to continue representing her district, which includes portions of western Alameda and Contra Costa counties, as well as several neighborhoods in San Francisco.

“Thanks to the community’s advocacy and organizing, my unlawful removal from the BART Board of Directors has been reversed,” she wrote. “Thank you to my fellow directors for following my legal team’s demands, seeking independent counsel and correcting this error so the voters of District 7 are not disenfranchised.”

Simon will be able to return to the BART board, which meets Thursday, while Oakland law firm Olson Remcho conducts its review of the residency dispute and gives the board direction on how to proceed, Saltzman said. It’s not yet clear how long that review could take or what its outcome might be, but Saltzman said it could be finished in time for the board to take the matter up at an April meeting.

“What the next steps are and when they happen is going to depend on what outside counsel tells us,” Saltzman said. “We are going to have them do the full work that they need to do.”

The dispute centers on Simon’s move last year from a home in North Richmond to an apartment in a new complex built atop a former parking lot at the MacArthur BART station. Simon said she moved out of fear for her safety and that of her daughter after receiving threats at her prior home that related to her work on police reform.

Simon made BART staff aware of her new home at the time, discussing the move with top system officials to ensure she complied with conflict of interest rules since her apartment sits on land owned by the transit system. She said BART staff told her the complex was within her district; in fact, it’s about a block outside the district, which uses Highway 24 as its eastern border.

BART officials say they realized Simon’s home was outside her district boundary earlier this month, and on March 10 announced she would have to give up her seat. Simon’s removal led to complaints from community organizations and fellow BART directors who hailed her work on the board, as well as a call from directors Bevan Dufty and Janice Li for BART to enlist outside counsel to review the matter.

Saltzman and Powers apologized for the handling of the residency dispute in their statement Wednesday, writing, “We want to express our deepest apologies to Lateefah and all stakeholders for how this has played out.”

BART’s board of directors approved a new set of district boundaries earlier this month that include Simon’s home in a redrawn District 7, though that change has not yet taken effect. Alicia Trost, a spokeswoman for the transit system, said the new boundaries will be “phased in based on the next election for each specific seat,” which in the case of District 7 is in 2024.

Li and others cheered Simon’s reinstatement. But while the directors have been aligned on many of the most contentious issues before the BART board as members of its progressive majority, Li forcefully denied that Simon was being reinstated for political reasons.

“We have to do what is legal,” Li said.

Nico Savidge

Nico Savidge joined Berkeleyside in 2021 as a senior reporter covering city hall. Born and raised in Berkeley, he got his start in journalism at Youth Radio as a high-schooler in the mid-2000s. Since then, he has covered transportation, law enforcement, education and college sports for the San Jose Mercury News, EdSource, the Wisconsin State Journal, The Janesville Gazette and The Daily Cardinal. A graduate of Berkeley High School and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he now lives in Oakland with his wife and dog.