SFBG Wrap, April 16-23

BART fine for workers' deaths, supervisors outfox landlords, police tapes illuminate Nieto shooting, and the sorry state of public housing

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BART FINED FOR WORKERS' DEATHS

The California Occupational Safety and Health Administration has fined Bay Area Rapid Transit for three "willful/serious" safety violations in connection with the death of two transit workers last October, saying BART is at fault due to a lack of safety measures.

"Safety standards are designed to save lives," acting Cal/OSHA chief Juliann Sum said in a statement, "and they were not followed."

The transit workers were killed in the final days of the BART strike. The accident claimed the lives of Christopher Sheppard, a BART manager and member of the AFSCME union, and Larry Daniels, a contractor, who had been inspecting a "dip in the rail" before they were hit by an oncoming train.

The workers were required to go through what's called a Simple Approval process to get permission to work on the track, but the OSHA citation seized on that process as a dangerous underlying factor in the fatal accident.

"Employer's control method, namely the 'Simple Approval' procedure, does not safeguard personnel working on tracks during railcar movement," the citation reads. "The employer allowed workers to conduct work on the railway tracks where trains were traveling. The employees had no warning that a train moving at more than 65 miles-per-hour was ... approaching the location where they were working."

BART General Manager Grace Crunican quickly issued a statement. "Passenger and employee safety is our top priority at BART," Crunican said. "BART has fundamentally upgraded its safety procedures with the implementation of an enhanced wayside safety program and a proposed budget investment of over $5 million." She added that Cal/OSHA considered the safety violations to be "abated" in light of these changes, "meaning that none ... pose continuing safety hazards."

Simple Approval has since been terminated, BART spokesperson Alicia Trost told the Guardian. "BART permanently eliminated Simple Approval immediately following the tragic deaths," she said. "We are also implementing the extra layers of protection for track workers."

Notably, the two workers were killed during BART management's attempt to train managers to operate trains during the strike, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, which continues to investigate the incident. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)

SORRY STATE OF PUBLIC HOUSING

Sup. London Breed has proposed setting aside city funding to renovate vacant and dilapidated public housing units, in an effort to quickly make housing available for homeless families in the face of a dire shortage.

At the April 15 Board of Supervisor's meeting, Breed cited an anticipated budget surplus and called for the Controller and City Attorney to begin drafting a supplemental budgetary appropriation of $2.6 million, for renovating 172 San Francisco Housing Authority units sitting vacant.

"There are over 40 public housing developments in San Francisco, and given the decades of mismanagement and financial neglect that public housing has endured, many units are currently not available for San Franciscans to live in," Breed said. "As we grapple with an unprecedented affordability crisis and an acute shortage of housing, particularly affordable housing, these fallow public housing units represent one of our best and cheapest opportunities to make housing available now." Breed, who represents District 5, previously lived in San Francisco public housing.

The Housing Authority receives its funding through the federal government, but spokesperson Rose Marie Dennis said those federal dollars don't stretch far enough for the agency to perform routine restoration of vacant units. "We have to work with the resources that we have," she said.