SFMTA’s Wake-Up Call
By Sandra Lee Fewer
The results of the June 7 election should have been a huge wake up call for SFMTA. I can’t remember when a bond measure has not passed in San Francisco.
Compared to Prop. H (pro and con), Prop. A got very little attention. There was no organized opposition. No committee spent $7 million to pass it or oppose it. In fact, it was almost as if the City was not concerned that the $400 million bond would fail at the ballot. But it did. Perhaps, a deep review of their campaign strategy is called for. Or, more wisely, SFMTA needs to “repair” its relationship with the voters. Recent polls reveal voters are “disenchanted” with the city government and, apparently, they are especially “disenchanted” with SFMTA.
There are a few things SFMTA could immediately do to attempt to repair the relationship. It could start building trust by being honest, transparent and collaborative. No small feat for an organization that has repeatedly struggled with communication, open dialog, authentic engagement and a never-ending arrogance that its engineers know best.
It is no wonder that San Franciscans shake their heads in disbelief when SFMTA installs “traffic circles” on a Muni route; why is there one at 23rd Avenue and Anza Street?
Then there are the slow streets and street closures. Supposedly they were instituted during the pandemic and SFMTA “promised” they would be temporary. But SFMTA offered no real criteria on which ones should be eliminated and which ones should be permanent, leaving it to political groups to fight it out by attending SFMTA meeting after meeting hoping to be heard.
Or maybe it’s the hundreds of millions of dollars in overrun costs for the Van Ness BRT and Central Subway, with no real accountability. Should I go on?
Now SFMTA has really angered the Geary merchants (once again) about two proposed changes: SFMTA is proposing to extend the use of parking meters to 10 p.m. and on Sundays. Plus, SFMTA also wants to eliminate angled parking from 15th Avenue to 28th Avenue to create a “red carpet lane.” These two changes have prompted more than 70 small Geary businesses and churches to sign on to a petition against these changes, mainly upset over the lack of transparency, open dialog and the lack of proper notification to the store owners.
Most store owners had no idea this was being proposed, contrary to what SFMTA has claimed. Most importantly, the Geary merchants are mad. Very mad. They have struggled these past years to keep afloat, sunk tens of thousands of dollars into parklets which will have to be removed to accommodate the red-carpet lane and still have not recouped their losses from the pandemic.
On top of this, SFPUC plans a huge sewer replacement project on Geary within the next year or two. Supervisor Connie Chan has been assisting the merchants, but her power is severely limited since the SFMTA board is 100% appointed by the mayor.
The Prop. A bond measure was very important. Running a transit system is an expensive endeavor, and costs continue to climb for basic maintenance and repairs. Most importantly, seniors, low-income folks and others depend wholly on public transit to go to work, to medical appointments, to shop, to take their children to school and to just get around the City. Also, if we are really serious about lowering emissions and curbing our dependence on fossil fuels, we must have a dependable, reliable public transit system. For these reasons and more, SFMTA must mend its relationship with the voters of San Francisco. Thousands of people depend on it.
There is talk that SFMTA may re-introduce the bond on the November ballot, hoping to get the two-thirds majority needed to approve the bond. My advice to them: Start working on your relationship with the voters now!
And, by the way, what’s happening with an underground transit system out here on the west side?
“A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity.” – Dalai Lama
Sandra Lee Fewer is a fourth-generation Chinese-American San Franciscan, former Board of Education commissioner, former member of the SF Board of Supervisors representing the Richmond District and has lived in the Richmond for more than 60 years.