Longtime transit and disability advocate and 23-year long El Cerrito City Councilperson Janet Abelson passed away at the age of 76 on January 26, 2023.
Ableson is most notably recognized for her many contributions to public safety, youth services, street maintenance, and the development of local community facilities. She has advocated for the reform of transit throughout the city of El Cerrito and worked on projects to improve public transportation, making it more accessible to the elderly as well as folks with disabilities. To do this, she improved BART’s safety, having suggested a tactile pathways project, increased signage, and Braille translations at bus transit centers. She also provided West Contra Costa’s students from disadvantaged backgrounds with access to free bus passes.
In response to her passing, San Francisco BART tweeted, “Janet Abelson was a long time BART partner. She cared deeply about transit and we cared deeply about her. Our Board of Directors and staff worked closely with her over the years and she was a tireless advocate for a safe and accessible BART system.”
In 1999, Janet Abelson was elected into El Cerrito City Council. She held this position until her retirement on December 20th, 2022. In 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014, and 2017, she served as the mayor of El Cerrito, setting a record of five years.
Abelson has also long been an active community member. She was in the League of Women Voters. She was the past president of Soroptimist International of El Cerrito. At El Cerrito High School, Portola Middle School, and Harding Elementary School, Abelson was a member of the Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs). She worked with El Cerrito Chamber of Commerce, East Bay Division, California Walks, the El Cerrito High School Archiving Committee, and the Bayside Council of Parent Teacher Associations. Janet Ableson was the chair of West Contra Costa Transportation Authority Committee, Contra Costa Transportation Authority, and the League of California Cities.
She has been recognized through numerous awards and titles, having received the 14th Assembly District “Woman of the Year” by Assemblywoman Loni Hancock in 2006. She was also called the Soroptimist International of the Americas “Women of Distinction” by Soroptimist International of El Cerrito in 2002. In 1998, she received the California Transportation Foundation Citizen of the Year Award. In 1997, Metropolitan Transportation Commission Doris W. Kahn Accessible Transportation Award. Abelson was awarded the 1991 Portola Middle School Parent of the Year + S.A.C. Chairperson. In 1986, she got the Harding Elementary School PTA Honorary Service Award. In 1985, Abelson received the University of California at Berkeley Special Performance Award.
(Cover Photo Credit: Mia Ramirez Victorino)