Two Bay Area railway workers charged for building secret apartments inside train stations

Duo faces felony charges for misusing public funds

Two Bay Area railway workers charged for building secret apartments inside train stations
Burlingame station at 290 California Drive in Burlingame (Illustration by The Real Deal with Getty, Wikipedia/Koshy Koshy)

Two Bay Area railway workers gave new meaning to “transit oriented development” when they allegedly built two illegal apartments inside train stations.

San Mateo prosecutors allege that two former Caltrain officials built two secret office-to-apartment conversions in two Peninsula stations south of San Francisco, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

Former Caltrain Deputy Director Joseph Navarro and contractor Seth Andrew Worden face felony charges for misusing public funds to build the mini apartments in the historic Burlingame and Millbrae stations. Neither facility is being used by the public.

Worden, a 61-year-old resident of Oceanside in San Diego County, was arraigned March 27 and released on his own recognizance, court records show. He pleaded not guilty, according to media reports.

Navarro, 66, formerly of the Bay Area and now of Newtown, Pennsylvania, is scheduled to be arraigned April 29.

Transit workers found Worden’s Millbrae apartment in 2020, but didn’t discover Navarro’s secret hideaway inside the Burlingame station until an anonymous tip in 2022. Both were fired.

Their alleged crimes have received some admiration in a region where developers can easily spend north of $900,000 to build one unit of affordable housing.

Some on social media said that living in a historic train station like Burlingame, which was built in 1894 and designated a historic landmark in California, had its own appeal.

“If this isn’t a case for building more housing next to transit then I don’t know what is,” wrote one user on social media site X, formerly known as Twitter.

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Many were impressed that Worden and Navarro, who spent a respective $8,000 on the Millbrae unit and $42,000 on the Burlingame unit, managed to convert offices into housing on the cheap.

“Hire that man to build housing,” wrote Mark Dinan, an East Palo Alto-based recruiter. “$42k for an apartment!”

For a mere $42,000, Navarro allegedly installed a kitchenette, shower, plumbing and security cameras, prosecutors said. 

The duo are accused of trying to fly below the radar by making sure none of the invoices exceeded $3,000, which would have triggered further authorization from Caltrain and TransAmerica Services, the firm that employed Worden.

Housing is notoriously expensive to build in California. Besides high construction costs, impact fees and the permitting process can cost thousands of dollars, fees that Worden and Navarro would not have paid, according to the Mercury News.

The crime also highlighted the plight of super-commuters in the Bay Area.

District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe told the San Francisco Standard that the apartments were a “convenience” for the two former railway workers. “They figured the Bay Area [commute] really is lousy,” he said.

— Dana Bartholomew

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