Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, regional governmental organizations gained increasing prominence and power. In the Bay Area, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (1955), Association of Bay Area Governments (1961), Bay Area Rapid Transit District (1962), the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (1965), and the Metropolitan Transportation Council (1970) all came to serve as an important middle layer between municipalities and the larger community.

1965-1970: BART Deed Maps for West Oakland Station

Between the time when the BART bond was passed in 1962, and when construction of the system was complete, BART had to acquire the right-of-way for the property that was needed. That meant buying up property and easement rights to run the trains and build the stations.

BART hired John Daniels, who was perhaps the state’s leading “right-of-way man,” as they were known. He’d run the same department for the California Department of Highways in northern California—and implemented very similar techniques for BART. These men saw themselves as offering “fair market value” for people’s homes, but many residents—especially in segregated black neighborhoods—argued that they were not being given the real replacement value of their homes, a view which later scholars have tended to agree with.

In Oakland, there were projects that displaced a lot more people like the ACORN projects or even the Post Office distribution center, but BART both bulldozed homes and created an overhead railway, which helped destroy the bustling commercial center along 7th Street.

These maps show who lived where the current BART station is, and when they sold to BART. I obtained them through a public records request.

In the end, everyone had to sell, and most people just took what they could get. Others fought the price that BART offered them. Worse, most residents in West Oakland were renters, and sometimes did not even know that the home had been sold out from under them until BART real estate officials came to collect the rent, which the did, pending demolition.

Similar stories played out across the system. And even if later studies determined that BART’s use of real estate had been fairly judicious for a project of the times, it still left many deeply embittered.

1969: BART & the Ghettos

This is an odd little report commissioned by Bill Stokes, the head of Bay Area Rapid Transit during the period that BART, contrary to some critiques, was not “designed to serve only the white-collar, middle-class suburban commuter.” In fact, it says, “BART, while performing many other important metropolitan functions, can be a fulcrum for major social change… that it does, in fact, serve blue-collar and poverty areas… that it provides unparalleled access to colleges and centers of learning of all kinds.”

The deeper issue, of course, was that many jobs moved to the suburbs along with white residents. Factories set up out there, as well as office work. “U.S. Department of Commerce census figures point out that the San Francisco-Oakland metropolitan area experienced a mere 4.8% increase in central city employment between 1951 and 1965… Employment in the ‘suburban ring’ rose 95.2%.”

That the jobs went with the white residents (who were leaning heavily on government subsidized loans unavailable in inner cities) made life easy for suburbanites. But it intensified the employment woes of non-white residents in cities. BART, then, in this document, makes the case that it ran through many high-poverty areas, which made it an avenue of opportunity for residents.

The EOC was the administrative body of War on Poverty programs. The point is that BART passed through or close to most of the target areas. (Some might say: of course they did, the flatlands are the only residential neighborhoods that BART could have been built through.)

The catch with a system like BART is that if you build the transportation networks that go out to those suburban jobs, you also have built the transportation networks that make it easier for more people to move out to the suburbs. Suburbanites get an easy rail link without too much of an impact on their neighborhoods. Urban dwellers saw major disruptions from the system’s construction, the impacts of which are still felt today.