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Debate Stirs Up Controversy Over 'Seat Hog' Arrest Policy

OAKLAND (CBS SF) -- Some BART directors might have buyers remorse for an ordinance narrowly passed in April criminalizing "seat hogs," which some directors
feared would target the homeless, delay trains and waste police resources.

As BART police Chief Kenton Rainey presented a draft enforcement policy to the board on Thursday, one director who voted for the ordinance, Gail Murray, objected to its language as too strict.

The law passed 5-4 in April. It bans people from taking up more than one seat during commute hours, defined as weekdays between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. and between 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Violators will be warned the first time they're contacted, and then will face an escalating series of fines: $100 for the next violation, $200 after that and $500 for each one after that.

Rainey said that officers enforcing the rule will need to detain individuals, take down their name, and check whether they have any outstanding warrants, even when issuing a warning to track who has been warned already. The officers would keep a careful eye whether the person needed mental health services.

After the initial warning, violators would get a citation, then a notice to appear in court and the fourth time they would be arrested, Rainey said. The penalties would take effect on Oct. 1, after a month of outreach and verbal warnings.

BART Director Nick Josefowitz, who voted against the ordinance, distributed photos at the meeting that he said he took of a man sleeping on a BART train and two women with bags on the seat. He questioned whether it was a good use of police resources to detain these people, check them for warrants, and issue a formal warning.

Murray agreed, particularly in the case of a woman with her purse on the seat next to her, saying that people should be given a chance to comply with the law before they are formally warned.

"If they comply, I don't see any reason to take some further action," Murray said. "I would like this to be more permissive, at least in the beginning."

Josefowitz and Director Rebecca Saltzman reiterated their objections.

"We have a lot of problems in our country," Josefowitz said. "We have a lot of problems in our district. This doesn't seem like one of those problems. We're just creating problems."

Saltzman said she recently took BART to San Francisco International Airport for a flight to Chicago. Despite it being 8:30 a.m., she said her train car was not crowded so she put her suitcase on the seat next to her. Then it dawned on her that she soon would be breaking the law.

But Director Joel Keller, who introduced the ordinance, said the law was necessary because each time he boards the train at the Pittsburg/Bay Point station he sees numerous people sleeping on the train.

While he acknowledged that the ordinance could cause problems with train delays, he said the other directors should give it a chance to take effect. He also said he would like to see rules requiring people to exit the train at the end of the line, like in Pittsburg.

"We at some point need to get serious about whether BART is a homeless shelter or provides transportation for people," Keller said.

The ordinance is slated to take effect in September.

TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News Service contributed to this report.

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