Watchdog keepin' BART honestBy Emily Fancher
Alice Barnes has a one-track mind, and BART trains run through it.
Ten years ago, when BART announced plans to destroy a San Bruno neighborhood to build a station, Barnes changed from average citizen to outraged crusader. She and others created San Bruno B.A.R.T. (Belle Air Residents for Truth) to fight BART's plans, and won.
Since then, the community activist and two-time City Council candidate has scrutinized every aspect of the BART extension to SFO. She's used public meetings, the Internet and the media to shine a bright light on what she sees as BART's mistakes. Day in, day out, Barnes is a watchdog who never seems to tire of questioning everything from the most minute engineering detail to the biggest designs.
"She's a monitor of the project, a crusader." said Ed Simon, a former San Bruno mayor. "She was never anti-BART but they took it that way."
And despite her own physical and emotional challenges, she keeps on campaigning. Since the late 1990s, she has documented construction of the new tracks through her web site, www.sanbrunobart.com.
She and her 16-year-old son have posted more than 1,000 news stories and 12,000 photos on the Web site, the majority about BART, which gets over 20,000 hits a week. Some of the regular visitors are BART employees, San Bruno city staff, and even state officials, said Barnes.
"We've told the story about the construction of the extension," said Barnes.
Barnes said she has worked incessantly to expose bureaucratic and political ineptitude. Along the way she has exposed her personal quirks and trials. Born in Maine the last of 16 children, Barnes came to the Bay Area in 1970 and moved to San Bruno in 1984. A transsexual, formerly "Andrew X," she is a parent to three adult children. Though she's also struggled with her health lately, undergoing quadruple bypass surgery in April her sense of humor is quick and witty.
"The schematics of my arteries look like a BART map." she said.
Her former career as editor and reporter taught her investigative skills that she's used to break stories about BART's plans. Her work as a contracting officer for the Navy until her retirement in 1996 taught her how to analyze engineering plans.
These skills were put to good use in 1994 when San Bruno presented its draft Environmental Impact Report for the BART extension. Barnes went over the document line by line, giving the city 176 pages in comments.
"I was very good at math," said Barnes. "I could look at a list of figures and tell what was wrong."
She said one-third of the changes in the final EIR were hers.
"That's nothing to sneeze at," she said.
Simon, the former San Bruno mayor, said Barnes excelled at reading the thick, detailed reports that analyzed and summarized information.
"Few people other than Alice read those reports," he said.
She's hounded BART on everything under the sun, from safety at construction sites to problems with escape routes to water leakage in the tunnels.
But Barnes said she's defended BART as much as she's criticized it.
Simon agreed that Barnes doesn't have it out for the agency.
Barnes said her relationship with BART has been mostly cordial, though lately it's cooled.
"The questions we were asking were too hot," said Barnes.
Molly MacArthur. BART's spokesperson for the extension, said the agency treated Barnes no differently than any member of the public, though she certainly heard from Barnes more than anyone else.
"We have an open door community relations policy and like to talk to anyone with an interest in this project," said MacArthur.
She said that Barnes never pointed out mistakes by BART because BART engineers did an excellent job and built it properly and to specifications."
Barnes said she knew as early as last summer that BART would not meet its November opening date.
She said she looks forward to riding BART when it opens and she's already bought her ticket for the first day of service.
But what, you may ask, will she do now that the BART extension is complete?
"There will always be a project for us," she said. "Now we're taking on Caltrain."
Copyright ©2003 San Mateo County Times. Published 06/14/2003.