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.