Will Rogers once said “Congress met today. I was afraid they might.” But even Rogers might be at a loss for words trying to describe the damage done by the California legislature, which is poised to fail – once again – at government’s basic duty of public safety.
At issue is Assembly Bill 819 (AB 819) which will decriminalize “fare jumping” on the Bay Area’s Rapid Transit system (BART).
Now, I’m not sure if you’ve noticed any of the countless articles, videos, news stories, opinion pieces, and personal anecdotes about San Francisco’s death spiral. It is the homeless mecca, the smash-and-grab capital, the temple of brazen shoplifting, and the nation’s biggest open-air drug market. Commercial property prices are plummeting. Businesses can’t leave fast enough.
I pray the city, which is so important to the state’s prosperity, can turn itself around.
With all those problems, why would the legislature think now is a good time to turn BART into an accountability-free zone for criminals? The system itself is already a distillation of the city’s problems, having devolved into a rolling homeless shelter. The videos of drug zombies clogging BART stations are shocking. I can’t imagine a family hopping on a BART train and heading to San Francisco, knowing what might await them during and after their rides.
Incredibly, Sacramento wants to make it all worse.
AB 819 will eliminate the ability to charge chronic fare evaders with a misdemeanor. Under this bill, the worst possible punishment any fare jumper could receive would be a $400 fine. I will go out on a limb and say anyone repeatedly cheating BART out of fare will not be ponying up the $400. This will be mock justice that leads to an even sorrier system, hard as that is to believe. It will make fools of law-abiding citizens who want a clean, safe transportation system and dutifully pay their fares to support it.
Meanwhile, the legislature is contemplating raising the tolls on Bay Area bridges, all to subsidize BART, where ridership is down 60 percent from pre-pandemic levels. This is classic California legislative malfeasance, punishing the law-abiding to reward the law breaking.
If you are thinking “I never ride BART. Who cares?” know that the fabric of this state is frayed by bad laws and by laws that are treated only as suggestions. It breeds contempt for order and leads to more and worse crime.
Little crimes can’t be ignored or, in this case, sanctioned by the legislature. This is the central tenet of “broken windows” policing, which has led to spectacular decreases in crime in numerous cities.
But our legislators will be putting the rocks in criminals’ hands to break the windows. It will not end well.
Rural counties won’t be spared. This culture change will spill over into every region of the state. The carefree fare jumpers of BART will be emboldened to be the shoplifters, vandals, and trespassers of every town they visit. BART already has data that indicate most crimes committed on their system are committed by people who evade fares. Lawlessness breeds lawlessness, wherever it exists.
The legislature shouldn’t give the green light to crime. We need to get justice back on track or see BART’s chaos travel to every corner of the state. If you agree, call your legislators and let them know.
Senator Ted Gaines (Ret.) was elected to represent the Board of Equalization’s First District. He is a leading taxpayer advocate, defender of Prop. 13, and is committed to providing trustworthy and transparent representation for nearly ten million constituents in 34 counties of northern, eastern, and southern California. For more information, visit www.boe.ca.gov/Gaines.