Muni 2011: Same Old, Same Old, Or A New Hope?

Let’s face facts, 2010 sucked. Well not completely, because the Giants won the World Series, and a few other good things, but overall things kinda sucked. The economy continued to suck. San Francisco’s carnival of lost souls known at City Hall continued to suck. And Muni? Do I even have to go there?

Despite that, I actually have a small bit of hope that things might not be as bad as they could be. Small, minuscule, nano-sized hope, but hope nonetheless. But first, a quick review of 2010 is in order.

Three things characterized Muni’s ongoing drama this year: the cynical manipulations of a so=called “Green Clean” Mayor (and the overpaid leadership known as Nathaniel Ford), the ongoing fetish of Soon To Be Ex-Governor “Climate Change” Schwarzenegger and his Democrat allies to defund all transit with shell games, and the treatment of Muni as a political football by So-Called Progressives.

Re-reading the 2010 archives, it’s clear that all the hype and PR shenanigans about being “green and clean” by Ex Mayor Newsom didn’t match up with his policies in San Francisco, especially when it came to living up to that “transit first” thing everyone says.

I can’t imagine any “interim” Mayor being any worse than Newsom, but then again, when one of the prospects is Sup. David Chiu, who knows. You’ll recall he championed a so-called “progressive” Muni reform bill, only to toss it aside as part of a political deal cut with Newsom. The result was a commission where people blabbed on about Muni, but of course didn’t do anything. So much for “progressives” being good on transit issues. But we won’t know until the political games are done sometime next week.

The other PR football tossed around was of course the discussion of cuts. The MTA board (appointed by Newsom and approved by the Board) was congenitally unable to come up with anything but fare hikes and service cuts, some crippling certain lines, or ending others. They tossed out a $4 million study that basically laid out what needs to happen to make Muni work in favor of short term budget nonsense. Then we had the back and forth of up and down cuts, all with misleading percentages to make you think you were getting something more for your money – when in fact it’s short term patches that won’t hold up for the long term.

We also had a rather raucous discussion about how Muni operators are paid. As I repeatedly said, the concept that “driver pay” is the only thing hurting Muni was patently ridiculous – and I was initially against what become known as Prop. G.

However, after doing all that research for the piece I co-wrote with Joe Eskenazi at the SF Weekly, I realize that it was a painful, but necessary fix to cure some inefficiencies with regards to overtime and that whole “pay people to sit on their ass” problem that we can’t afford anymore. Nevertheless, the campaign got nasty and some of the most dishonest political mail I’ve seen in my life played every emotional card in the book to dissuade people from voting for this.

It passed in a landslide.

That said, there was a sense on the “yes” side that perhaps some of the rhetoric about “fix Muni now!” might end up elevating expectations, when in fact it will take several years for the full effect of this measure to have its presence felt. Thus, if anyone was expecting Jedi-like miracles to transform Muni overnight, well, they were deluding themselves.

It is important, though, to remember that not everything sucked all the time. Muni took us to the Giants games and the street parties and the victory parade afterwards. Urban improvements like the “parklets” popping up around the city, and events like Park(ing) Day set a new record for participation (and those of us in the Inner Sunset bravely held our ground on Irving despite the fact that it was extremely foggy and cold that day). This year I got to hang out with fellow Muni bloggers, SF bloggers and the awesome people at Market Street Railway and help decorate the historic streetcars for the holidays. And, on days of Muni Win, we talked about it on Twitter and the blog.

And, not to toot my own horn, but the Muni Rider Voter Guide project had some modest success in flushing out which candidates knew anything about muni (or even rode it) and which ones did not (and getting me yelled at in the process, haha).

It’s this last point that gives me a little hope that things at Muni might get a little better, or at the very least, we’ll have some people who will try to do something, and not grandstand on the issues. Scott Weiner is a regular rider of Muni to his job at City Hall, and Mark Farrell is a native San Franciscan who’s been riding the system for decades. Sup. Jane Kim has to represent a district that’s particularly reliant on Muni, and serves a diverse population. All three did very well on the issues, and I want to tip the hat to Scott Weiner for being especially willing to listen to my views on Muni, and I don’t even live in his district.

Likewise, we have an opportunity to break free from the Era of Charisma, and elect someone in 2011 who might actually want to do the work of running the city, instead of running for higher office. I am already working on a much more comprehensive plan for the voter guide so that you, the owner/rider of Muni, can ask tough questions of the (many) candidates running. I am hoping to even work out terms of a debate, one that is not a bunch of “2minute1minute” questions and quips, but instead an honest discussion by those who say they want to serve us as SF’s Mayor. (and if you have suggestions, feel free to email me with ’em.)

Whomever is made “acting Mayor” is going to have a lot of pain to administer to just about everyone in the City, and whomever that is needs to start talking to the people, and not rely on the echo chamber of pundits, PR people, and City Hall denizens who think they own the City.

I will continue to do my best, as I have in the last 5 1/2 years, to keep on top of this as best I can, but as always, it’s listening to you where I find out the most about what’s going on every day. This past year was not a great one for me – I didn’t make as much money as I normally do (which subsidizes my time working on this project), and I had a number of other outside issues, unrelated to “blogging” or “Muni” or whatever, that required my time. (All I can say is, if you get a health scare, don’t freak out and all that until you’re really sure you’ve got some horrible illness.)

Rather than quit, however, I’d rather stay on and just work an extra job or whatever, since in the end, what I’ve valued most is meeting a diverse group of some of the most wonderful people in a great city, all of whom share a common sense view of things and who are out there, every day, doing something to make our City the best it can be. That’s why in the end, as dark as they days have been, and will likely to be for some time, I still think there’s some hope that it doesn’t have to be all bad.

I realize this is probably sounding like wishful thinking, but if we didn’t have wishful thinkers, we never would have had San Francisco in the first place.

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