2018 Top 40 Under 40: Richard Fuentes

Sept. 14, 2018
Richard Fuentes , Principal, Government and Community Relations Representative, San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART)
  • One word to describe yourself: Trailblazer
  • Alma mater: California State University, Los Angeles
  • Favorite book: "Nonprofit Management 101: A Complete and Practical Guide for Leaders and Professionals"
    by Darian Rodriguez Heyman, "My partner is a contributing author."
  • Favorite movie: "Evita" (musical)
  • Favorite hobby(ies): Traveling and sightseeing in modern urban designs
  • Fun fact about yourself: "I own an LGBT bar in downtown Oakland."
  • Favorite station or stop that you have ever visited or frequent (and why): World Trade Center PATH Station in New York because of its spectacular Oculus hall
  • Favorite route you have ever ridden or frequent (and why): Hong Kong Airport Express. I was surprised that I could check my luggage in downtown Hong Kong and never see it again until I arrived home in the Bay Area. 

A transit rider since a child in Los Angeles, California, Richard Fuentes has a first-hand understanding of the importance of public transportation and his experience guides his work and his career path that brought him to BART as the principal, government and community relations representative.

BART is in Alameda County, one of the most diverse counties in the United States. Fuentes has been instrumental in sharing the urgent message for rebuilding BART’s infrastructure, attending dozens of community meetings before a $3.5 billion bond measure passed to explain the need, and continuing to educate the public on how this money is being spent.

Fuentes recalled attending one public meeting for residents around the West Oakland BART Station who were concerned about noise from BART trains. He stayed long into the night, talking individually with every person who wanted answers. When he showed the group how improvements to tracks and wheels would ultimately reduce the noise problem, they appreciated the frank answers.

Fuentes has promoted equality within BART, serving on the agency’s first panel convened to discuss LGBTQ issues in the workplace. He is often called upon for public meetings where his Spanish-language skills are a tremendous asset, giving residents the comfort of speaking in their native tongue.

He’s involved in the community in other ways as well. He serves on the board of directors at Frameline, whose mission is to change the world through the power of cinema. He helps Frameline expose artists with unique voices to audiences through film festivals, youth programs and workshops.

Fuentes has served as president of the Hoover School Site Council, spearheading efforts that transformed it into the most improved elementary school in West Oakland. As an elected city of Oakland Community Development Block Grant Board member, he championed funding for community programs and helped direct $1.1 million in funding for youth to access healthcare and job-training programs.

Fuentes also co-founded the De La Fuente Scholarship Foundation, Oakland’s only Latino Scholarship Foundation, which provides 25 annual scholarships to Oakland students pursuing higher education.

Fuentes' work doesn’t stop at BART. Fuentes is co-owner of The Port, an LGBTQ-themed bar and entertainment space in Uptown Oakland. Its permanent art collection features portraits of six legendary LGBTQ social justice leaders, created by six Bay Area artists of color.

“I have been a Public Transit rider since I was a child in Los Angeles. I recall taking the local bus down Compton Blvd with my family to get to Church or along the historic Crenshaw corridor in Los Angeles as a teen to get to work. Those experiences led me to believe in the importance of on public transportation. Low-income families depend on transit for so much. Those experiences guide my work and guided my career path here.”

“I take pride in working with such a diverse community that has various perspectives and approaches to solving a problem in their community. I work in Government and Community Relations for BART in Alameda County, one of the most diverse counties in the United States, whose residents are around 34 percent white, 26 percent Asian-American, 23 percent Latino, 12 percent African-American .3 percent Native American and 5 percent identifying as other. This diversity leads to various experiences and viewpoints that I enjoy learning from and getting to know.”

“I always start out by listening. It’s not that people want to complain; they want someone to listen to their concerns and know they’re being heard. I like to hear from the community and I bring their concerns back to BART’s planners, engineers and contractors working on projects that affect neighborhoods around BART’s 48 stations.”

“I was instrumental in sharing the urgent message for rebuilding BART’s infrastructure, attending dozens of community meetings before a $3.5 billion bond measure passed to explain the need, and continuing to educate the public on how this money is being spent. Passage of Measure RR required two-thirds of the voters in the BART district saying yes to the measure. The BART district is comprised of San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa counties. We knew that Contra Costa County voters were likely to reject the bond, so the bond needed to over-perform in Alameda County to make up for Contra Costa’s vote deficit. I organized more than 100 community meetings to get the word out to Alameda County voters and they turned out in droves – with more than 71 percent of them saying yes to Measure RR. As a result, Measure RR easily exceeded the two-thirds vote requirement with nearly 70 percent of voters in the BART district approving Measure RR.”

“When BART implements a change that has an impact on a particular community — such as opening a station or making improvements to an existing station — it makes sure that the local elected officials and community members who work in that neighborhood are aware of BART’s activity. This allows BART to remain front-of-mind for elected officials and community leaders and builds relationships beyond just requesting support. It also helps inform the community that BART isn’t a bureaucracy, that we are accessible, concerned and proactive.”

“BART takes its relationships with elected officials and the community a step further by frequently bringing them on site to BART’s facilities. This gives our supporters a hands-on experience and understanding of the way that BART impacts the neighborhood.”

“I am proud to be part of the public transit community because I can see the impact of my work, because I am always learning from my colleagues and because it allows me to advocate for kids riding transit with their immigrant parents taking public transit on their way to the American Dream!”