Commentary – Quentin Kopp

SFMTA Running Off the Rails

An anonymous wit declared: “Capital punishment is when the government taxes you to get capital so that it can go into business in competition with you and then taxes the profit on your business in order to pay its losses.”

Government is surely in the rail transit business, which essentially disappeared in the post World War II era with the advent of capacious air transportation. 

Examples abound in California and in San Francisco, which last month endured illogical action by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) on a 4-3 vote of naming the Central Subway station at the end of the line nearly in Chinatown after “insider,” now-deceased Rose Pak. SFMTA did so in the face of adopting two years ago a policy of naming stations only for geographical location, which is logical because, for example, who, besides political “insiders” can identify Rose Pak. 

She was a San Francisco Chronicle reporter in the 1970s who was arrested by police after attacking physically a man whom she interviewed for a story after he failed to provide responses suiting her “storyline.” As announcer in the 1990s for the Chinese New Year’s Parade, Pak regularly insulted parade participants passing the reviewing stand, usually political adversaries. She violated the law regarding eligibility for low-income tenant treatment in securing a nifty condominium apartment in a city project near Rincon Annex. She actively aided the People’s Republic of China in its cruelty to disfavored groups such as Falun Gong, a spiritual movement in China and now the United States, whose body parts are used by communist China imprisonment of Falun Gong members after they’re executed. 

At the SFMTA hearing last month, written evidence was circulated that non-English-speaking Chinese people testified in support of the Rose Pak station renaming in return for lunch, beverages and $25! SFMTA’s action could be reversed by an initiative ballot measure, which I’ll happily support. Meanwhile, the Central Subway project itself won’t be completed this year and is overspending available funds, both local and federal. Hardworking Examiner reporter Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez noted the project’s federal financing appears precarious and the SFMTA continues to purvey false information that is three years old about the project costing $1.6 billion or $1 billion per mile. The true cost estimate now appears more than $2.6 billion, but the bureaucrats stonewall taxpayers even after the resignation last month of SFMTA’s general manager who will ravish Oakland taxpayers as assistant city manager. The project’s general contractor, Tutor-Saliba Corporation, is infamous in California and San Francisco for gouging projects with change orders and other tactics in recondite fashion, while the Rose Pak SFMTA avoids action to stop it.

Simultaneously, the now-misnamed California High-Speed Rail project, unelectrified, purveys its false information. It hasn’t laid a single foot of track between its alleged first segment from “Merced to Bakersfield,” which genuinely is only from Madera to Wasco, 30 miles or so north of Bakersfield, where you’d transfer to a shuttle bus. The U.S. Department of Transportation three months ago demanded return of $2.5 billion from the Federal Rail Administration and canceled a $929 million grant for failure to perform. 

Last month, the assembly speaker and other legislators announced that remaining funds should best be given to Caltrain for its electrification and the Los Angeles Basin commuter train, Metrolink, for similar improvements. He proposed legislative action, ignoring the fact that the approximately $4.5 billion of California taxpayer-approved general obligation bonds remain from the November 2008 action of California voters and that the law requires voter approval of diversion of such money from the high-speed rail bond issue. The legislature and governor cannot ignore voters. (That’s the subject of a pending suit by taxpayers in the California Court of Appeals on 2017 legislative diversion.)

The district attorney’s race is the most important November 2019 ballot item. I’ve withdrawn my endorsement of a Leif Dautch II after he disclosed he opposes use of tasers (instead of guns) by police officers and believes holding police “accountable” is his highest brochure priority. (The Police Officers Association also withdrew its endorsement of him.) Our police department, like other cities, can’t recruit enough police officers. We have about 300 fewer police officers than our charter requires. The last police academy class graduated less than half the recruits who began. 

Simultaneously, the establishment candidate, Suzy Loftus, as one-time president of the Police Commission, reduced public comment from three to two minutes. As author of 1996 legislation requiring public comment at local commissions on each item and at commencement of each meeting, I’m repulsed by such treatment of San Franciscans. Additionally, as legal counsel to the sheriff, she failed to stop abusive treatment of jail inmates by deputy sheriffs. I reiterate my strong recommendation of Nancy Tung, a former San Francisco deputy district attorney and current Alameda County deputy district attorney, for election. Unlike the incumbent, Nancy Tung has tried scores of criminal cases to juries. It shouldn’t be a close choice.

Thomas Jefferson in a November 1802 letter declared: “If we can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people, under the pretense of taking care of them, they must become happy.”

Quentin Kopp is a former San Francisco supervisor, state senator, member of the SF Ethics Commission and a retired judge.

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