It's been more than a decade since a governor stepped in to avert a Bay Area Rapid Transit District strike, but the law giving the governor authority to do so was once used with some regularity, and Gov. Jerry Brown invoked it in a less-publicized, non-BART action just last year.
Finding that a BART strike would "significantly disrupt public transportation services and will endanger the public's health, safety, and welfare," Brown late Sunday appointed a board to investigate a labor dispute between BART management and employees. State law prohibits a strike or lockout while the board prepares a report to submit to Brown within seven days.
Brown's action, just hours before a potential strike, came as BART and union officials continued talks over the weekend in a labor dispute that produced one strike already, for 4 ½ days in early July.
In a letter to BART and union officials Sunday night, Brown said, "For the sake of the people of the Bay Area, I urge - in the strongest terms possible - the parties to meet quickly and as long as necessary to get this dispute resolved."
Brown did not suggest any action beyond the seven-day investigation and report deadline. However, state law allows the governor after receiving such a report to ask the state attorney general to petition a court to prevent a strike or lockout for 60 days.
According to the governor's office, cooling-off periods to help resolve BART contract disputes were sought by Govs. George Deukmejian in 1988, Pete Wilson in 1991, 1994 and 1997, and Gray Davis in 2001.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sought a cooling-off period in a dispute involving Orange County Transportation Authority workers in 2007, but he declined to intervene in a BART dispute in 2009.
Brown was governor before, in 1979, when he appointed a three-member fact-finding commission to investigate a contract dispute involving bus workers in Southern California. Last year, he used the statute to investigate a strike involving the Golden Gate Bridge Highway Authority, in which ferry service was disrupted in the Bay Area for one day.
Brown, a Democrat, did not invoke the law when BART workers went on strike in early July, though the administration was involved in mediating the dispute.
"Last time the state mediators were able to get the parties back to the table after a brief strike," Brown spokesman Evan Westrup said. "They were able to achieve that without using this tool ... We have to be particularly thoughtful about when and how it's used, and if it needs to be used."
Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez told reporters in Sacramento on Monday that a strike would be "devastating to the Bay Area economy," and he praised Brown for stepping in.
"I think the governor is on to something very good," he said. "I think the governor is actually doing a phenomenal job of ... holding them off for the last month to try to get them to the table."
The three-member investigatory panel Brown appointed Sunday will be chaired by Jacob Appelsmith, who has been a senior adviser to Brown and director of the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control since 2011. Appelsmith was recently hired as chief campus counsel at University of California, Davis, a position he will assume in September.
The other members of the panel are Micki Callahan, director of human resources for the city and county of San Francisco, and Robert Balgenorth, former president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California.
Pay for each board member is a $100 per diem
The Bee's Melody Gutierrez contributed to this report.
Editor's note: This post was updated at 10:15 a.m. Tuesday to correct a misspelling of Balgenorth's name.
PHOTO: Gov. Jerry Brown signs the state budget during a ceremony at the Capitol, Thursday, June 27, 2013, in Sacramento. The Sacramento Bee/Lezlie Sterling