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BART board declines to endorse homeless conservatorship bill

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The BART Board of Directors voted this week not to endorse a bill that would implement a pilot conservatorship program for chronically homeless people with mental illnesses. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F Examiner)

Elected officials on the BART Board of Directors took a pass on endorsing a controversial state conservatorship bill, which is aimed at treating mentally ill, chronically homeless people.

At a Thursday BART Board of Directors regular meeting, agency officials acknowledged its struggles with people who don’t have homes and seek shelter by sleeping in BART stations.

Ultimately, the board voted to not endorse the measure.

“There are a lot of groups I highly respect who are opposing it,” said BART board director Rebecca Saltzman, at the meeting. Saltzman represents Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

Senate Bill 1045, authored by state Sen. Scott Wiener, would create a five-year pilot program in Los Angeles and San Francisco counties to establish a new category of conservatorships for people deemed incapable of caring for their own health and well-being due to serious mental illness or substance use disorders.

Business groups such as the Bay Area Council, Hotel Council of San Francisco, Golden Gate Restaurant Association and San Francisco Chamber of Commerce are in support of the bill, along with the California Hospital Association and California Psychiatric Association. Groups in opposition include the American Civil Liberties Union, California Association of Mental Health Patients’ Rights Advocates, Public Conservators, Coalition on Homelessness San Francisco and Mental Health America Los Angeles.

The bill is now pending action in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, with a deadline of August 17 to pass it to the Assembly floor.

Saltzman noted she was “concerned” about the long list of opponents. She and Director Lateefah Simon abstained from the vote. BART Board of Directors President Robert Raburn, who represents Alameda County, voted against endorsing the bill. Directors Nick Josefowitz, John McPartland, Thomas Blalock and Debora Allen voted to endorse the bill.

Directors Joel Keller and Bevan Dufty were absent from the vote. Dufty represents San Francisco and requested the vote to endorse the bill.

The proposal to endorse the bill failed to net a majority vote. Jim Lazarus, senior vice president of public policy at the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, noted it was an odd vote considering BART has become a place “just like the streets where people seek shelter,” including people that are “clearly mentally ill, conservatorship laws are relevant to the mission of BART.”

He added, “the riding public should be concerned that BART directors did not weigh-in in a timely fashion.”

Notably, BART police would not be able to directly recommend individuals for conservatorship evaluations, a power the bill assigns to county sheriffs, director of county mental health departments or public social services, among others.

Despite this legal barrier, BART Police Chief Carlos Rojas told the board the agency would be comfortable in calling sheriffs and other entities to recommend homeless people in BART stations to conservatorship evaluations.

Josefowitz requested the board be allowed to take another vote to endorse the bill at its next meeting, when the two absent directors would likely return. However, he was told the state legislative session would be over before the BART board’s next meeting — too late to tell the state how BART feels its ever-growing homeless population should be treated.

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