board of supervisors

Political muscle and dealmaking got Prop. E passed

Paul Kozakiewicz


Political muscle and deal-making got Proposition E passed, which created

the SF Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA). The proposition was on the

November, 1999 ballot.


According to an article in the SF Examiner, SF Mayor Willie Brown worked hard during a

re-election year to muster support for Proposition E. The work paid off. The SF Board of

Supervisors voted 10-1 to put the measure on the ballot. Supporting the plan was a

combination of progressive and moderate supervisors: Tom Amman, Alica Becerril,

Amos Brown, Leslie Katz, Barbara Kaufman, Mark Leno, Gavin Newsom, Mabel Teng,

Michael Yaki and Leland Yee. Only supervisor Sue Bierman voted against the plan.


In the ballot pamphlet supporting their position, the 10 supervisors said, “Proposition E

will make Muni much more accountable for service delivered. It will take strong steps to

reduce traffic by finally making transit a real alternative to the automobile, and it will

ensure Muni is fully funded to meet the City’s transit needs for years to come.”

None of those goals have come to pass.


Proposition E is a SF Charter revision, which means it is a part of the City’s guiding

document and can’t be changed without a vote of the people. It had the support of many

of the city’s political leaders, including SF Mayor Willie Brown, state Sen. John Burton,

Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Assemblyman Kevin Shelley and the Democratic and

Republican parties. They all called for improving bus service in the City, but they gave up

control over the agency responsible for performing the task, changed the city’s

Transit First Policy to be hostile to private vehicles, and created a super-organization

responsible for thousands of employees – without supervision from any elected officials.

No one is held accountable at the SFMTA.


Service standards called for in Prop. E are that at least 85 percent of transit

vehicles run on-time (as measured by being more than one minute early or

four minutes late), “as measured against a published schedule that includes

time points, and 98.5 percent of scheduled vehicles must begin their run

at their scheduled times.”


But, those groups ignored or didn’t read the fine print in Proposition E,

which says (on the last page of the charter amendment): “Performance

Measures: The people of San Francisco adopt the following performance measures

as rules of the Municipal Transportation Agency. These measures shall not be part of

the Charter.” Exempt is information about the on-time performance of Muni vehicles

and the number of transit vehicles that start their runs on time.


But I don’t think that matters, since the SFMTA eliminated all printed schedules in favor

of the vague “buses every six minutes” approach, and its new app for those who

download it to their smart phones or computers.


As well, In Prop. E there are no penalties bestowed upon the SFMTA if it does not meet

performance goals. The 1999 ballot measure also completely rewrote the city’s Transit

First Policy to add: “Decisions regarding the use of limited public street and sidewalk

space shall … strive to reduce traffic and improve public health and safety.” It’s the

“reduce traffic” in that sentence that has the SFMTA waging a war on private vehicles.


The supervisors who abdicated their responsibilities on that 1999 ballot

measure are responsible for the havoc the SFMTA is creating today. A rogue,

insulated agency with its own agenda and no oversight. (I don’t count the

seven SFMTA board members as oversight, since they have limited experience

with transportation planning or implementation.)


Also supporting Prop. E were the SF Chamber of Commerce, SF Tomorrow,

SF Beautiful, SF League of Women Voters and the SF Bicycle Coalition.

The main opposition was mayoral candidate Clint Reilly, who ponied up

almost all of the money for the “paid arguments against” Prop. E. With his

name being at the bottom of every argument in the voter ’s guide, it appeared

as if he was the only opposition.


Organized labor was also happy with the deal to create Prop. E.

According to the text of Prop. E, almost all employees at Muni, including

drivers, mechanics and dispatchers, are deemed “service critical,” and their pay

is based on the two highest-paying municipal transportation agencies

in the country.


The proposition gave the agency funds dedicated from the city’s General

Fund and it calls for bonuses to be paid to “service critical” employees.


Prop. E also gave the SFMTA the power to tax, which it tried to do in the

November 2016 election by requesting a half-cent sales tax increase for transit

projects that the agency refused to spell out. Trust us. Just give us the money,

the SFMTA said. The voters, in their wisdom, said “no!”


Prop. E was passed by San Francisco voters on Nov. 2, 1999, by a 61- 39 percent vote.


Paul Kozakiewicz is the editor and publisher of the Richmond Review and the Sunset Beacon newspapers.


SEE RELATED STORY: Transportation Madness



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