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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Police, Muni Alter Time and Space: 24 Hours Becomes One Month In Quantifying How Cops Bill Transit System

Posted By on Thu, Jun 11, 2009 at 12:01 AM

click to enlarge But can he make the buses run on time?
  • But can he make the buses run on time?
Albert Einstein's famous -- and famously dumbed down -- explanation of his Theory of Relativity was "If you sit on a stove for a minute, it feels like an hour. If you sit next to a pretty girl for an hour, it feels like a minute." It warrants mentioning that, anecdotally, Einstein conceived of his most famous theory while on a trolley. Perhaps he was on the in Bern, Switzerland-equivalent of the N-Judah, hatching his theory while stalling in a tunnel between pretty girls or malodorous guys who wouldn't stop singing show tunes.

All we're saying is, public transportation outfits have made proud contributions to the world's understanding of how space and time can be manipulated. Closer to home, both the San Francisco Police Department and Municipal Transportation Agency have done their part. 

How'd they do it? Easy -- remember back when the Board of Supervisors was giving the mayor and Muni grief because of the public transportation agency's budget being pillaged by other city entities' "work orders" -- including tens of millions of dollars by the cops? Well it turned out that the cops didn't really have a method of explaining just how they came up with the massive totals they were charging Muni -- or if they were even doing that work. So, on May 12, the police promised they would create a detailed "Memorandum of Understanding" with Muni "within 24 hours." The days and weeks dragged on until -- guess what? After 24 hours of MTA-SFPD-Einstein time, that MOU was finally slated for presentation at Wednesday night's Police Commission meeting -- a 24-hour month! We've got a copy of it -- and it's an interesting read.

The good news is, one of the most egregious wastes of money has been curtailed. Under Supervisor David Chiu's questioning, police officials last month admitted that they charged Muni hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for merely driving past Muni garages and giving a quick look to make sure no one was slipping the structures into his backpack and making away with them (or something like that). That's stopped completely: "Night Parking enforcement" and "Garage Drive by enforcement" have been nixed. That's hundreds of thousands of dollar saved -- which is nice -- but it's still just a drop in the bucket.

Other developments of note:

  • An as-yet unnamed senior police officer will be named "Director of SFMTA's Security and Enforcement Division" in a joint decision by Police Chief Heather Fong (or her successor) and MTA CEO Nat Ford. This boss of the cops who patrol Muni is still a cop -- but is mandated to spend 95 percent of his or her time on Muni matters. In essence, Muni is getting what it pays for when it's forced to pay through the nose for law enforcement to hop on buses and trains;

  • A "Muni Response Team" composed of one sergeant and 12 police officers will be formed. Reading between the lines, the cops who are already supposed to patrol Muni -- critics say they're hardly ever there -- will be "supplimented" by this force. Remember that "getting what you pay for bit"? Of course you do. Muni will pay these cops' salaries and benefits.

  • Muni will continue to pay the police for enforcement of parking matters (blocked driveways, etc.) from midnight to 6 a.m., throwing down an "average cost per call" for every bastard who leaves his car wherever he pleases. When the clock strikes midnight on Jan. 1, 2010, Muni will take over these duties.

  • It looks like Muni will be paying for each and every traffic officer this city's got. The "Traffic Company" -- 12 sergeants and 85 officers -- will report for "traffic management and enforcement in the City and County of San Francisco." And Muni's paying for the lot, via interdepartmental work orders.

You can read a summary of the MOU here:


By the way, if anyone thought that having to account for every penny would, perhaps, shame the cops into not charging Muni so much -- it didn't quite work that way. Sure, the Board of Supervisors' rambunctiousness shaved several million dollars off what the cops would have gotten. But the SFPD is still slated to receive more this year than before. The work orders the SFPD billed -- or will bill -- Muni in fiscal 07-08, 08-09, and 09-10, respectively are: $11,121,134, $11,484,263, and $12,254,666. 

Boy that sure seems like a lot of money. But, as we're sure the police, Muni, and a certain physicist might say: Everything's relative.

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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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