A Call For Calm Reason When Discussing This Alleged MTA Charter Amendment, PLEASE!

Wow, that was fast!
Within moments of an announcement of a potential charter amendment to change the way the broken, dysfunctional SFMTA is run, the Mayor’s crack team of taxpayer-funded PR people were in full attack mode. Apparently even discussing any idea to change the MTA is sacrilege, Satanic, even. Because it’s so well run and cost-efficient and gets you where you wanna go on time, right?
I’m going to take some time to read this thing myself later today. I’ll keep an open mind, although it’s difficult to assess this since nothing is set in stone. In other words, people need to tone down the alarmist reactions and remember the following:
-There is no evidence, that this thing will go to the voters at all,
-There is no evidence if it does go to the voters that said gang of Supervisors will raise the (tons of) cash and hire the talent to run “real” campaign to pass it.
-We have no idea if it will be modified, or if, as my friend Joe at SF Weekly suggested, just a bargaining chip in a bigger political poker game.
So for now, while I applaud anyone for at least trying to tackle the Muni mess, we are a long way from anything real that can be objectively assessed. That’s why it was so disappointing to see so-called “rider advocacy groups” like Rescue Muni on the immediate attack, doing the Mayor’s bidding early this morning on Twitter with alarmist rhetoric over this thing when really, we have no idea what this thing is going to look like.
Wouldn’t a better response to this mushy proposal have been a detailed critique + actual suggestions to improve it so we get a better Muni? Isn’t that what rider advocacy groups do best? Or is currying favor with Room 200, and the political establishment more important?
It’s the San Francisco Way to play “choose up sides” and fight to the death if something wasn’t made by The Faction One Belongs To, because playing politics is more important than actual results. For the Mayor’s press flack to run around screaming about this thing is laughable as Mayor Newsom is simply unable to tell anything but lies about Muni, and has done a lot to destroy it.
Don’t think for a moment that this doesn’t apply to the “progressives” who came up with this – they literally copied the Fix Muni Now amendment and pasted it into theirs, but of course didn’t bother to include Sup. Eslbernd in the discussions because of political differences. Cheap shot, boys. A better Muni isn’t a “progressive” issue or a “moderate” issue or whatever – a better Muni is what we owners of Muni deserve, and we don’t give a damn about political sides.
So, to review: some Supervisors (!) have made a suggestion that may get totally rewritten, and may not even get to the ballot, and if it does, may not even have the cash (at least $500,000-$750,000) and talent to get it passed. There’s plenty to like and hate. There’s plenty of time for everyone to modify this before it might go to the ballot. It might be all nothing more than a bargaining chip to achieve some other goal so all this emotion may be for naught anyway.
All we really know is that the moment you discuss trying to fix a broke Muni, you start to find out how San Francisco’s dysfunctional politics prevent practical solutions – and you start to see who represents which factions that keep it that way.
Maybe the real solution is for the alleged elected officials and their apparatchiks to stop worrying about which “team” gets more political points, and instead worry about how best to achieve something for the common good of Muni’s owners. Wouldn’t that be a nice change?

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13 Responses to A Call For Calm Reason When Discussing This Alleged MTA Charter Amendment, PLEASE!

  1. Andrew Sullivan says:

    Rescue Muni is critical of this because it’s been tried before, and unsuccessfully. The Supervisors have a long track record of taking power over various city boards and commissions with little to no positive results, and we believe that this would be no exception. Prior to 2000 the Supervisors reviewed every line item in the budget, and service was far worse then (based on service standards) than it is now.
    We have a long-standing policy to oppose measures like this, all the way back to 2005 Prop D which was defeated by the voters.
    By the way, we’re not now and have NEVER been taxpayer funded. We’re all volunteer. You should join:

  2. Andrew Sullivan says:

    Also, we did not “coordinate” any of this with anyone. We just think it’s bad policy.

  3. Greg Dewar says:

    the Mayor’s spokesperson is paid via taxes yes?
    no intent to imply RM was taxpayer funded, but I think you knew that. Perhaps in re-editing this several times, some confusion may have been created.
    these are all valid points. I think the problem is that you tend to come off very defensive when you launch into these things, instead of pointing out the pitfalls of a supervisor-only managed MTA and offer up suggestions to this thing (which I am not convinced will be on the ballot in the end anyway).
    But now that we’ve had a mayor-managed MTA that’s been EQUALLY as bad, it’s time to realize that neither one has worked, and it’s time for a compromise or a better solution.
    While researching the “Muni Death Spiral” (as I’ve said before) this is a problem with no clear solution. King County, for example is both the County and the County Transit Authority (which is why its formal title is Metropolitan King County Council) and it’s run fairly well (although King County is about 1/3 of the entire state of Washington’s population, so obviously that’s a lot bigger than our small city). But no one is giving the BART board any medals for genius (see: James Fang)

  4. Andrew Sullivan says:

    Fair enough – we just have a lot of experience with dumb ideas coming out of city hall and have been burned badly in the past. So you will forgive us when another dumb idea comes along and we are forceful in our opposition.
    Why the Supervisors shouldn’t control Muni, in sum:
    1. They’re a legislative body, elected to write laws and set budgets. They are not an executive body. That is why we have a Mayor to begin with, and why SF voters passed a “strong mayor” charter reform, which the Supervisors have been trying mightily to undo ever since that happened.
    2. They have a long record of forcing Muni to make bad decisions for service in order to satisfy narrow constituencies. Examples are too many to count, but just a few include stopping Geary stop consolidation, forcing Muni to waste money testing CNG buses, stopping the POP enforcement, stopping TEP style route changes, directing sales tax money to a state highway (Doyle Drive) instead of mass transit, and now trying to stop service cuts without coming up with the money to make up the difference. This is the “meddling” that we were trying to prevent in Prop E. (I was a co-author.)
    3. They have a specific record of offering short term money for a long term giveaway. Supervisor Peskin played us all like violins with 2007 Prop A, promising that the future MTA would be better able to negotiate for work rule changes with the new wage minimum, with the result that NO work rule changes have been made but wages continue to escalate. Why is this any different?
    I am all in favor of legitimate reform, and I think that the Elsbernd amendment is a step in the right direction, but ultimately all of this discussion about the structure of the MTA is a distraction from the reality that its costs are rising faster than any current or proposed revenue source.
    I believe that giving the Supervisors more control, when they have mainly failed to use what control they have for any good at all, would only make this problem worse. Hence my (and our) opposition.

  5. Greg Dewar says:

    Your distaste for the current Board is always clear – then again you DID run against Ross Mirkarimi in 2004, as an endorsed candidate of Newsom, right?
    Here’s the thing – Mayor Newsom has made a mess of Muni – that can’t be denied. But with him having such overriding control, there’s no way to stop a really bad mayor from ruining Muni. Any of the arguments you make against the Supervisors can be made against a bad mayor – like the one we’ve had. And I realize you owe him something politically, but can you honestly say that what we have now is working in the best interest of Muni’s owners? If you can, well then there’s not much more to say.
    Finally, don’t you think it’s weird I’m allowed to vote for President, members of Congress, even Senators, Judges, and vote on my neighbor’s basic civil rights, but I , as an owner of Muni (along with the 800,000 other owners of Muni) are deemed “too stupid” to have any meaningful input or checks and balances on the powers of a Mayor who has issued a fatwa to kill off Muni? One would think with all the well paid people at City Hall and at the MTA these things would get solved. Instead we steal money from Muni to pad Newsom’s staff – and things get worse.
    Hint: Newsom will be gone soon no matter what happens, so basing any reform on just what a bad mayor he is is foolish, as is basing policy on the fact that this new group of Supervisors really isn’t focused on city problems. Politicians come and go, but we need a structure that can survive both.

  6. Andrew Sullivan says:

    Yes, I did run for D5 supervisor, and with Newsom’s endorsement, but that was six years ago! This has nothing to do with Newsom – I/we have differed with him on many MTA related items, not least of which have been the recent meter hours discussion (as you know we endorsed extension of meters to evenings and Sundays), the work orders (which we spoke out loudly to have cut), and the decision to not reappoint Leah Shahum to the MTA board.
    But I differ with your opinion about checks and balances. Several exist NOW. The Supervisors can reject the budget – and are considering a resolution to do just that. (They should!) The Supervisors can reject MTA nominees – which they have done exactly once. The Supervisors name CAC members. And the Supervisors act as the SFCTA which approves sales tax expenditures.
    I just think that the current structure, for all its faults, is more likely to make decisions in the best interests of transit riders (per the charter) than one dominated by 11 Chicago style ward bosses. (Example is Sup. Alioto-Pier’s blocking of the F line extension to Fort Mason.) Obviously four Supervisors disagree with me.
    Ultimately, however, this is all really a distraction from the core problem of escalating costs with no escalating revenue source. Why not solve THAT problem? Because that’s actually difficult and requires taking on riders, auto drivers, taxpayers, and unions, some or all of whom MUST pay more if service is to continue at all. So instead it’s re-re-re-reform.

  7. anonymouse says:

    So, giving the Board of Supervisors control didn’t work, and giving the Mayor control doesn’t seem to be working right now. I think this means that we need to try something else. But what? A compromise with some control going to both? But would either side really care to make Muni work, or would there just be political stalemate while service suffers? Perhaps an elected board? That seems like a great idea, let the people who care about Muni elect representatives to have some say in how the system is run. Sounds great, until you think about who “cares about Muni”: NIMBYs and special interests, those who are trying to preserve their parking spot or their particular bus stop, while the vast majority of “Muni owners” don’t know or care who their Muni Representative is. And of course the Mayor and Supervisors are elected too, and look how well the city is run. I think the best thing to do is remove Muni from the political process as much as possible. Perhaps make it a quasi-independent authority, and give it a dedicated source of funding, so that it’s not subject to political demands. Separating Muni further from the City government would also make work orders more than just a matter of internal City accounting.

  8. Greg Dewar says:

    Well I do agree on the revenue question being key, which is something I’ve said for years. Replacing the gas tax revenue with something local is going to be difficult no matter what. However on this, both progressives and “moderates” have nothing to say about this issue.
    Progressives only have this mushy “tax downtown” idea or “tax St Francis Wood” idea, both of which are meaningless. “Moderates” or “downtown” people have no ideas beyond “cut worker pay” and “cut waste.” Vague things like that help no one.
    If there was a way to replace the state gas tax with a local one, and find some other ways to pay for things (I’d love to see a non profit made up of philanthropists help subsidize cable cars because they are a national treasure), I think that + the efficiencies mentioned in the most recent audits would help us stabilize. But I don’t think anyone on any side will go for any of those ideas as you so correctly ID – its going to take a lot to get a lot of people to accept some big changes, which ain’t easy.
    PS: That blocking of the F line to Fort Mason was disgusting. Alioto Pier should be ashamed of herself, doing that on behalf of a few wealthy donors.

  9. Greg Dewar says:

    @anonymouse: I seriously doubt we can keep any public entity free of politics – the very nature of something run by and for the entire public’s benefit is going to have a little bit no matter what. And look at the SFCTA – with a few exceptions, it’s generally well run and isn’t paying giant salaries to do-nothings.
    In the end, as I’ve said from day 1 of this blog, looking through the lens of Muni, you see all aspects of San Francisco- the good bad and ugly – in focus. There’s plenty of things that are feasible to be done on Muni or the parks or whatever – San Franciscans simply aren’t interested in doing them, and pay attention to non binding resolutions and feelgood stuff. Plus when you have a city that caters to the wealthy and the very poor in a way only a Third World Country could love, the rest of us are left behind.

  10. MrEricSir says:

    What kind of people sit on the MTA board? Are they just Newsom’s friend? Do they owe him a favor? If no, why else would they be there?

  11. anonymouse says:

    So here’s another thought… if the problem really is San Franciscans, then maybe there really is something to the whole agency consolidation idea. Merge Muni, AC Transit, and BART into one agency, and dilute the apathy and politicalism of San Franciscans with some influence from the rest of the Bay Area. It’s probably a really bad idea in ways that I haven’t really had time to think of, but maybe it’s worth considering, at least as an alternate-universe sort of possibility.

  12. david vartanoff says:

    The issue is NOT the Supes or the Mayor, the issue is who in SF will genuinely support transit rather than greenwash while sabotaging Muni. I do not believe increasing BOS influence over MTA will be any worse than at present given that every sitting member was approved by them. The bottom line is that whether you believe MTA board members are the mayor’s stooges, or merely unimaginative, the entire interplay of civil service unions, inadequate revenue, low productivity, embezzlement via bogus work orders, or anti transit traffic policies is NOT going to be solved by changing the appointment process of four MTA board members. Unless and until the BOS finds enough guts (backbone, cojones) to shred the current MOU, decimate the management, and insist on REAL REFORM, nothing will change. SPUR, the recent audit, RM, and many others have pointed out ways to improve MUNI which have mostly been ignored or met with “we can’t do THAT, just find us more money”. If the BOS really wanted Ford gone for instance, they could signal that NO budget would be ratified until he leaves. They aren’t willing to pick a REAL fight. So get your work gloves,and move all the chairs to starboard AMs and back to port PMs.

  13. @makfan says:

    Honestly, in SF we just throw things at the wall and see if something sticks.
    All things being equal, I believe the BOS should be making legislative policy and the major should be carrying out that policy and overseeing the departments and agencies that make up our city/county. Unfortunately, Newsom has had a particularly dysfunctional relationship with the BOS and MUNI is just one thing that has suffered.
    There are no easy solutions to the MUNI problems, but a leader who truly decided to focus on it could make it a little better.

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