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More Concerns Over Civil Rights in Bay Area Transportation

Wednesday, August 18, 2010 - 11:06 AM

(San Francisco, CA - Casey Miner, KALW News)  It was nearly a year ago that local transportation advocates filed a complaint against BART, alleging that the agency had not complied with federal civil rights legislation when making plans for the Oakland Airport Connector. The Federal Transit Administration agreed, and BART lost $70 million in stimulus funding as a result.

Now, it’s not just BART that’s under scrutiny. BART gets its federal funding via the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the regional body that doles out state and federal funds for transportation projects, and they’re on the feds’ radar as well. Last February, the FTA asked MTC to prove that it had procedures in place to make sure everyone who got money was complying with federal law.

You can read the back and forth on the Public Advocates website (the local group that filed the original complaint), but the gist of it is this:

in its response letter to the FTA earlier this year, MTC claimed that it actually wasn’t responsible for ensuring that the organizations it funds comply with Title VI. They argued that those organizations already agree to follow civil rights law, and that additional oversight would be redundant.

In a letter sent back to MTC late last week, the FTA made clear that they see things differently. Office of Civil Rights director Cheryl Hershey pointed out that every year MTC signs on to the FTA Master Agreement, it agrees to do the following:

Nondiscrimination —Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. The Recipient agrees to comply, and assures the compliance of each subrecipients, lessee, third party contractor, or other participant at any tier of the Project, with all provisions prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended…

In the letter, Hershey goes on to cite several other documents to which MTC is a signatory, all of which seem to suggest that the agency is indeed responsible for making sure that their funding recipients follow the law.

This has big implications: the FTA says it’s concerned that without proper oversight, other local transport agencies —not just BART—might be violating Title VI as well.

The FTA has requested a number of documents from MTC, including their process for investigating complaints, a breakdown of how they investigated the BART complaint, and evidence that the agencies under MTC’s umbrella are holding up their end of things. MTC has 30 days to provide the information. Other than acknowledging that they received and are reviewing the letter, MTC declined to comment.

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