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With staffing win, politicos campaign to personally clean 16th Street BART comes to an end

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Teh Kean-Hin of Malaysia wipes down a bench at 16th Street Mission station on Tuesday. (Daniel E. Porter/Special to S.F. Examiner)

On the eve of a City Hall hearing to take BART to task for the filthy condition of 16th Street Mission station, two politicos are celebrating a win.

The 16th Street Mission Station — and stations system-wide — are about to get a whole lot cleaner, which is prompting accolades from BART Director Bevan Dufty and Supervisor Hillary Ronen. For nearly six months, the two have personally cleaned the entrance to the Mission District transit station.

Now, Dufty and Ronen are ready to hang up their brooms as BART has agreed to go on a hiring spree to staff stations with more janitors. Those positions will likely be filled by the end of March, according to BART spokesperson Jim Allison.

“It is fair to say that director Dufty’s focus on the issue has played a role in our new cleaning strategies,” Allison said.

The new hires will bring BART system-wide cleaning staff levels up to “full,” according to BART reports, filling 21 vacancies that previously were addressed by assigning overtime to cleaning staff.

The new janitors will be allocated according to station ridership. Among those receiving the biggest upgrades are San Francisco’s Embarcadero, Montgomery, Powell and Civic Center, which are classified by BART as “very high” use stations. Those stations will net three dedicated cleaners during the day, buttressed by some cleaners working swing shifts, and six dedicated cleaners during the nighttime “graveyard” shift.

The 16th Street Mission Station is grouped with 24th Street Mission and three Oakland stations — 12th Street, 19th Street and MacArthur — in the “high” category, which will net two dedicated cleaners as well as swing-shift cleaners.

BART Director Bevan Dufty, left, and Supervisor Hillary Ronen pick up trash off the sidewalk outside the BART station at 16th Street. (Courtesy Hillary Ronen)

Dufty began cleaning the 16th Street station in October last year to draw attention to the condition of the station. Ronen joined in and, with rubber gloves, brooms and trash cans, she and Dufty cleaned the area just outside the station themselves for months.

“Waiting for the mayor and city departments to solve these problems has not been working for my district,” Ronen said. “I’ve had to get out there myself.”

The pair has seen it all: Used needles, chicken bones, heaps of wet clothing, a dead pigeon, even diarrhea smeared across a tree.

“When you clean it, you realize why people are rushing through so much,” Ronen said.

Ronen, who has scheduled a committee hearing on the condition of 16th Street Mission Station today, told the San Francisco Examiner she will stop cleaning by the end of March when staffing is finally upped.

The 16th Street Mission Station previously had one dedicated janitor, Ronen said.

Dufty thanked Tamar Allen, head of maintenance and engineering at BART, and Paul Oversier, assistant general manager of operations, for pushing to fund the cleaning efforts.

“It’s going to be life-changing at 16th Street. It had only eight out of 14 cleaning shifts covered. Now, it’s going to be 14 out of 14 [shifts filled], double-staffed,” Dufty said. “It’s no question 16th Street will be a different station going forward.”

Dufty said he will continue his advocacy with a new target: Civic Center Station.

Most exciting to Ronen was the promise of a four-hour-long nightly power wash of 16th Street Mission Station, which previously only had an hour-long power wash.

That power washing has actually already, started, Ronen said.

“The first day, they did it for four hours. The smell of urine was worse than ever,” she said. “I asked Bevan, ‘What the hell? I thought finally it wouldn’t reek so badly.’

“So much urine has seeped into the ground, power washing for four hours unearthed it. The stench was overpowering. It’s intense.”

Ronen said, much like the effort to push BART to finally commit to a full cleaning of its stations, fully removing the stench of urine from 16th Street Station will not happen overnight.

Over time, she said, “It will get better.”

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