BART board approves surveillance ordinance, Lake Merritt development

OAKLAND (BCN) BART's Board of Directors approved a new ordinance governing oversight of surveillance technology as well as a new transit-oriented residential and commercial real estate development near the Lake Merritt Station during a busy meeting this morning in Oakland.

The new surveillance rules, which were proposed as a policy, but passed through a unanimous vote as an ordinance, will require annual reports on the use of each specific surveillance technology the district uses. 

Any time a new technology is acquired, or when BART is applying for funding to acquire such technology, that will have to be disclosed at a properly noticed public meeting. 

When new surveillance technologies are introduced, the ordinance dictates that they will be implemented at a single station for a trial period of 60 days. The original wording called for a 90-day trial period, but that was changed through an amendment to the motion before the board. 

Data collected during those trial periods will be immediately disposed of unless it is relevant to evaluating the performance of the technology in question, although there are exceptions to this rule.

The ordinance also includes provisions for the use of technologies, which have not gone through the approval process outlined above, under exigent circumstances, with several limitations.

If BART police are using an unapproved surveillance technology due to exigent circumstances they can only use it to respond to those exigent circumstances and they must stop using it within 7 days or when the exigent circumstances end, whichever is sooner. 

Data collected through unapproved surveillance technologies due to exigent circumstances can only be kept if it is related to those circumstances, and that data cannot be turned over to third parties unless 
it's required by law enforcement - a situation that could arise in the wake of a terrorist attack or other act of violent extremism. 

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California issued a statement following today's vote, saying the new surveillance ordinance will promote public safety while protecting the privacy of BART riders. 

That sentiment was echoed by Brian Hofer, with Oakland Privacy.

"We applaud the BART Board and staff for recognizing the concerns caused by mass surveillance," Hofer said. "By implementing rules to govern the use of invasive equipment, BART can ensure adequate protection of our civil liberties, while still ensuring public safety."

The plans for a new development at the Lake Merritt BART station include four new buildings with 519 housing units, more than 200 of which will be affordable housing, and 517,000 square feet of commercial space for offices, shops and nonprofits. 

To bring this project to fruition, BART has entered into an exclusive negotiating agreement (ENA) with the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC) and Strada Investment Group. 

It's too soon to say when the project will be completed or how much it will cost, but BART staff said the agency will spend the next two years refining the project and seeking community engagement. 

The motion to authorize the ENA passed unanimously, with the exception of Director Lateefah Simon, who was not in the room at the time of the vote. 

Prior to voting, however, some of the directors expressed dissatisfaction with one aspect of the plan that calls for the demolition of roughly 200 parking spaces that will not be replaced.

"I'm disappointed that we're eliminating 200 parking spaces," Director Debora Allen said.

"People who have been parking there for eons will no longer have a place to park," added Director Thomas Blalock, who suggested that a public information campaign might be in order to advise affected drivers to find alternative parking arrangements.