The 30-odd folks who filed into the Main Library's Koret Auditorium for a recent "Muni Town Hall" looked exactly like you'd expect the crowd at a Muni Town Hall to look. Everyone was soaked through, with moist eyes and gaping mouths. That it was pouring outside was only incidental.
The master of ceremonies was new Muni chief Ed Reiskin, who comes off as endearing as he earns just shy of $300,000 but still wears a suit that's too big on him. The series of town halls were held to allow Reiskin to impart the ramifications of Muni's perpetually underfed budget on the system's riders. This he did, allowing Muni to check off a box next to "had public meetings."
Reiskin trotted out the term "right-size service," which sounds better than what it means: "reduce transit service and cut back on maintenance." Finally, pointing to a slide, he identified the astronomical total of $25.4 billion as "what we need over the next 20 years to bring the entire transit system into a 'state of good repair.'" The other number on that slide, $510 million, represents the "annual state of good repair costs," of which he anticipates only being able to obtain $250 million a year to "maintain core assets."
That's a lot of numbers, and Muni finances quickly grow confusing — all the more so because if you spend $510 million annually over 20 years, you've only spent $10.2 billion, rather than the $25.4 billion Reiskin cited. In fact, Muni's 2010 "State of Good Repair" report claimed its 20-year expenditures would be $10.2 billion — which, naturally, requires $510 million a year.
What the hell? Agency spokesman Paul Rose says the gargantuan $25.4 billion total represents not just the cost of maintaining Muni's existing assets, but capital projects to build new stuff. Of course, to meet that spending need over two decades will cost much more than that annual $510 million.
So, at a meeting ostensibly held to educate the public on Muni's finances, Muni tied together the unconnected numbers $25.4 billion and $510 million both on paper and verbally. When asked why the $10.2 billion figure wasn't even mentioned, Rose said there's only so much room on a PowerPoint slide.
There's no limit on the rancor the public can direct at a well-paid city employee. Reiskin ducked Central Subway critics' questions — but there was no possible answer for the raw invective directed his way by advocates of making Muni free for various populations, irate users of discontinued bus lines, and one angry woman who bellowed "How dare you come up here with charts and everything! People here don't recognize charts!" (She also bemoaned the library's poor selection of Nancy Drew books.)
Shouting at city officials feels good, but it's not particularly cost-effective. Considering Reiskin earns $294,000, the two hours he spent confusing and being berated by the public cost the city some $294. How much it'll cost to maintain Reiskin in a state of good repair over the next 20 years is unknown.