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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Terminus: Progressives Stymied as Supes Can't Muster Votes to Reject Muni Budget

Posted By on Wed, May 27, 2009 at 1:19 PM

click to enlarge Muni CEO Nat Ford meets the press - JOE ESKENAZI
  • Joe Eskenazi
  • Muni CEO Nat Ford meets the press
Today's very special noontime Board of Supervisors meeting clocked in at an extremely svelte 50-odd minutes. But, as was always the case in the ongoing wrangle over the Municipal Transportation Agency's budget, you could have boiled the whole thing down to a momentary exercise:

Clerk: What'ya think, Sophie Maxwell? This budget good enough?

Sophie: Suits me!

And there you go. Once again, Maxwell decided that the act of rejecting Muni's budget and forcing the MTA to draw it up again from scratch was too radical for her, and once again the board's progressives were hamstrung. By a 6-5 vote, the supes opted to not reject the MTA budget, essentially enshrining a slightly modified version of the "compromise" board president David Chiu brokered on May 12. Your fares will start going up in the summer.

Chiu wouldn't play along with the obvious line of thought that, if Maxwell had been gung ho to spurn Muni's budget, he would too. Instead he said that if the facts had compelled her to do so, then they would have probably led him that way, too. There's a Harvard man in action.

The board president spun this move as the best the supes could get: He claims that the board's obstinance has spared $30 million in cuts from Muni's transit-related activities: Roughly $15 million in reduced "work orders" -- the means by which departments only tangentially related to the MTA pillage the transit system -- the $10.3 in savings in Chiu's compromise, plus a dicier proposition that at least $5 million will later be raised in parking-related revenues.

This last claim was the crux of why Chiu opted to cease his hounding of the Muni budget process. He received promises from both Muni CEO Nat Ford and MTA board president Tom Nolan that they will "commit" to analyzing increased parking revenues -- that's right, we said "commit to analyzing." To be fair, Nolan assured Chiu that he had the votes to make this happen.

Of the $10.3 million Chiu pried loose from MTA earlier this month -- a fairly paltry amount that led his fellow progressives to claim the board president "got played" -- Ford today reiterated that $8.7 million of that will go toward service increases on a number of bus lines (including the 5, 38, and 44) and J-Church rail line. The remaining $1.6 million goes toward staving off fare increases for youths, seniors, and the disabled. That and Ford and Nolan's pledge that any near future budget shortfalls will be met via parking revenue was what won Chiu's support.

That wasn't near good enough for Chiu's left-leaning colleagues, especially John Avalos -- who, since the May 12 compromise budget, has been relentlessly politicking for "transit justice" via increased parking fees and fines. On May 18, he led a group of supporters on an impromptu march to MTA headquarters for a meeting with Ford -- the MTA CEO brushed off Avalos' proposed $15 million in revenue measures (largely from parking) and only promised that he'd give the supe a call sometime down the road.

Avalos grew frustrated when it was apparent that Ford had given him the brush-off once more. None of the supervisor's suggestions had been looked into; Ford and others did pledge to analyze more parking revenue measures, but these kinds of non-binding promises don't show up on a budget.

"I gave MTA a week of good-faith effort to get some changes in this budget. I find it quite alarming and in some ways disrespectful that we're not getting something different," said a peeved Avalos, directly to Ford, who stood stoically about a yard away. "There's nothing here. Nothing at all. You're presenting the same service enhancements you presented two weeks ago as a 'change' in the budget. This budget is getting gonged, at least by this supervisor here."

A Gong Show reference. There's lots to like about Avalos.

David Campos similarly noted he'd give the thumbs-down to the budget when his questioning of Ford revealed that service cuts affecting residents of the Alemany Housing Project had not been discussed with residents there -- or with the supes for that matter (Campos, it was obvious, would like to be involved in these discussions).

But, as always, it all came down to how swing Supe Maxwell would vote -- and as soon as she thanked Chiu and Carmen Chu for the budget compromise they worked out, it was obvious what she was going to do. As if to underscore this point, Chris Daly immediately got up and went for a stroll at exactly this moment and began chatting up his pals in the press box. He knew what was going to happen -- and so did we (though we did have to try to write down what Maxwell was saying, which didn't bother the loquacious Daly). Reading through Maxwell's statements, it appears that Muni's pledge to look into using parking revenue -- yes, you'll likely soon be paying evenings and on Sundays -- was good enough for her.

So, for those of you who ride Muni, what does this mean? It means you'll be paying more, getting less, and the system is still pillaged by the police, 311, and other departments to the tune of $63 million and change. If you buy into Chiu's logic, you're getting a better deal than you would have even last month -- but no one's rejoicing here. Avalos called this a "crappy budget," though he only hoped to upgrade it to a "crummy budget."

Pretty soon, however, the ramifications of other budgets will, literally, make this yesterday's news. 

"I think it's time to move on with this conversation -- in part because we don't have the seven votes to" reject Muni's budget, said Chiu. "But also in part because, in three business days, we're getting the mayor's budget. There's a half a billion dollar hole in this budget. It'll make this debate look like child's play."

Be still my beating heart.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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