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A controversial Salt Lake City School Board member has filed a federal complaint alleging that the Utah Transit Authority is discriminating against minorities and disabled people living on Salt Lake City's west side a charge UTA denies.
Michael Clara, who also has an ongoing legal battle with UTA on his claim that it illegally fired him as a transportation planner, asserts that UTA has been busy adding bus shelters in affluent areas while ignoring poorer ones.
He complained to the U.S. Department of Transportation that UTA and Salt Lake City are "neglecting their service areas that have a high concentration of minorities."
Clara said he filed the federal complaint after UTA, the Wasatch Front Regional Council and the Utah Department of Transportation all failed to respond to complaints and questions he filed with them within legally required time frames.
He said he has since received letters belatedly from UDOT and Wasatch Front Regional Council but not UTA saying they now are looking at his concerns.
Complaints with the agencies began when UTA failed to respond to a letter from the Glendale Middle School Community Council, which sought information about an upgrade it wanted at a bus shelter near that school, Clara said.
His various complaints allege that UTA failed legal requirements to study the equity impacts of where it places amenities, and to ensure that "Title VI" minority neighborhoods receive their fair share.
"UTA appears to instead make expansion of service and service improvements in a manner that discriminates against passengers of color and those with disabilities," he wrote in one complaint.
He also complained that Wasatch Front Regional Council "does not require any level of detail from UTA as to their Title VI Plan" as it oversees UTA planning and federal funds.
In response to Tribune questions, UTA spokesman Remi Barron issued a written statement saying the agency is fair to Title VI areas.
"In the past two years, UTA has improved 200 bus stops throughout our service area, with more than 150 of those located in designated 'Title VI' areas, which are neighborhoods with poor and minority populations."
He added, "In Salt Lake City alone, more than 50 out of 62 improved stops are in Title VI neighborhoods. All of our bus stops are done with full compliance of the law."
Clara said in an interview, "I'd like to see a map of what they consider a Title VI area. I use public transit, and there are no improvements happening over here" in his west-side area.
However, he said the original bus stop that sought improvement at Glendale Middle School was upgraded recently amid his complaints.
He also said a document from the Wasatch Front Regional Council seems to suggest that UTA considers most places in Salt Lake County to be a Title VI area, and he questions the legality of that.
That document said, "Because the majority of the [UTA transit] funds were spent in Salt Lake County and most of the region's minority population is located within Salt Lake County, the distribution of the federal and state funds is not considered to have disproportionate impact on minorities."
Meanwhile, a letter Clara received last week from UDOT said the Federal Transit Administration was investigating Clara's complaints, while UDOT would monitor its progress.
Clara worked for 20 years for UTA as a transit planner, but he was fired last year. He is contesting that decision, saying he was fired for warning the agency that it was violating federal safety rules and bosses allegedly overrode those alerts in an attempt to help create positive publicity before the Proposition 1 vote to raise transit taxes.
Clara is also known for sparring with colleagues on the school board, including suing them for possible violations of open-meetings law. He even dressed as the "Frito Bandito" to protest board moves he said hurt minorities, including assigning a police officer to watch him in meetings.