Central Subway Disinformation: The “Gift” That Keeps on Giving

It is truly amazing how a piece of disinformation can be repeated, over and over and over by the press, the People Who Know Things, politicians and the like. Facts don’t matter – instead people insist on repeating things that simply aren’t true. To the outside observer (usually from New York or Los Angeles) this is just another example of how we’re “stupid” and need another lecture from outsiders about Our Fair City. To those in San Francisco, as always, the truth is a bit more unsettling.

Case study for today: news of a “study” to “extend” the Central Subway to Fisherman’s Wharf. The billion dollar a mile subway, sucking up every federal dollar the City and the SFMTA can grab, is a starting point for an immense amount of internet commenting, endless chatter, and political posturing. None of these things are based in reality, however, but the talk does make for a good distraction from Real Problems at Muni and the SFMTA.

The article’s incredibly deceptive lede (“San Francisco’s newest — and still under construction — subway may soon see an extension from Chinatown to Fisherman’s Wharf), is the most annoying part of the article, so let’s just make it clear – the likelihood of the Central Subway being extended past Chinatown is a lovely fantasy, but nothing more.

Yes, there’s a “study” that will look at the possibilities, and YES, people sure do love to talk about the merits of such a fantasy. There’s just one little problem – there is absolutely no money locally, or from the state or federal governments to pay for what would be a multi-billion dollar effort. None. To talk about a Central Subway extension like it’s going to happen anytime in the near future is at best, misinformed. At worst, it’s an example of how politicians use the SFMTA to advance their personal goals, at the expense of solving more pending problems that affect your daily life.

Put another way: do you really think either a Trump or Clinton administration is going to push a Republican Congress to whip out the federal checkbook for a billion-plus dollar subway serving a limited population in a city of less than a million people? No, really-put aside other political fantasies, such as a “Speaker Pelosi” or a “functional Democratic Majority in Congress” and really think that one through.

Of coruse, discussion of a fantasy extension of the Central Subway isn’t complete without endless articles whining about the supposed “loss” of the former site of the Pagoda Theater on Columbus. Last week ground broke on condos long planned for the site.

As always, this set off another wave of comments, blogs, and whatnots all lamenting the “loss” of the site. Loyal Readers will recall that this became a political football for then-Supervisor Julie Christensen, and current Supervisor/State Senate candidate Scott Wiener to use during the fall campaign. Nevermind the fact that the site was never intended to, nor is it placed for, a future station, “planned” or not.

Recently when I Twittered a 140-character notion about how funding for a Central Subway, or ANY subway, was extremely unlikely, the witty rejoinder I heard, more than once was that city leaders needed to “get creative” and “think outside the box” to “get it done.” This is an example of why having Big Policy Discussions on Twitter is endlessly stupid -and an example of the smart sounding, yet incredibly naive/stupid thinking that pervades such places as Twitter or Medium.

The problem isn’t “creative thinking” – it is the reality of how projects are funded. Unless King Zuckerberg or Prince Parker are willing to part with their money (along with their assorted billionaire bros) to pay for these and other needed transportation projects right now, all the plans in the world won’t be any more relevant than all the other plans made over the last century that never got done. I’ll let you decide if you want to hold your breath until said billionaire tech bros are willing to part with their money for such an endeavor.

Also, all this chatter begs a more important question – do we really need to extend the T-Third line to Fisherman’s wharf? Or would a magical appearance of billions of dollars be better spent on say, building a subway along Geary Street? Or improving the N-Judah line? Both have a ridership that’s already huge, and both are only going to get more crowded.

I suppose since we didn’t have the Second Coming of Satan aka Sup. Aaron Peskin, who apparently is personally responsible for every single problem San Francisco has ever had, running for office out here, such ideas are best left to die as they always do by the San Francisco elite known as the City Family.

For me, from now on whenever some blog or Twitter person or whatever starts in on the usual nonsense on this topic, I’m just linking to this post, and leaving it at that. Besides, I have cats to Tweet from Neko Atsume. LOL!

UPDATE: Here’s a copy of the SFMTA report on the Pagoda Theater site, and other Big Ideas related to the Central Subway.

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