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Monday, October 5, 2009

Safe Bet: Newsom's Pot Shots at Longer Parking Meter Hours Mean You'll Be Suffering More on Muni

Posted By on Mon, Oct 5, 2009 at 11:35 AM

click to enlarge Whoosh! There goes your parking revenue! - JOE ESKENAZI
  • Joe Eskenazi
  • Whoosh! There goes your parking revenue!
As first reported on Streetsblog and then this morning in the Chronicle, Mayor Gavin Newsom has made clear that he's no fan of alleviating Muni's revenue headaches by extending parking meter hours. Muni's pledge to study the merits of extended parking meter hours was one of the only takeaways for progressives during the painful Muni budget dustup from earlier this year; let Newsom's current behavior be a warning to anyone else who sees fit to shake on a deal when the other party merely pledges to "commit to analyzing" your suggestions. 

Muni spokesman Judson True noted that the parking analysis is still weeks away from being complete, so it's hardly clear that Newsom even bothered to read the draft version floating around ("Of course he didn't," said one rankled City Hall insider, who accused Newsom of "cute populism."). The mayor, it seems, is channeling the Groucho Marx character Professor Quincy Wagstaff, who sang "Whatever it is, I'm against it."

If you're scoring at home, by the way, this marks game, set, and match for Newsom in the Muni budget battle. The Municipal Transportation Agency board -- every member of which is appointed by the mayor, not coincidentally -- in May proposed a budget that slashed services while charging more for riders and did nothing to prevent other departments from pillaging Muni funds. Talk of rejecting that budget by the board of supervisors' progressives then led to a compromise that saved $10.3 million -- in a budget exceeding $760 million -- and extracted the aforementioned pledge to "commit to analyzing" the merits of longer parking meter hours.

Supervisor John Avalos -- who refused to drop the idea of rejecting Muni's budget, even after Board President David Chiu signed off on the compromise -- told SF Weekly that he believes Muni has lived up to its promise. They said they'd look into Avalos' brainchild of longer parking meter hours, and, lo, they did. Now Newsom has, in essence, stated that whatever it is, he's against it (even if you've changed it or condensed it, he's against it). And since every member of the MTA board is, again, appointed by Newsom, it'd be a jaw-dropping turn of events for the board to go against the mayor's explicit wishes and greenlight extended parking meter hours.

And yet, Muni is -- surprise, surprise, surprise -- facing a multi-million dollar operating deficit. Folks in City Hall SF Weekly spoke to expect this situation to result in less pleasant -- and potentially more costly -- Muni rides for the non-driving public.

click to enlarge Supervisor John Avalos - JOE ESKENAZI
  • Joe Eskenazi
  • Supervisor John Avalos
"Muni has a $25 million operating deficit in the current year -- mostly because the mayor assumed $15 million in his budget from selling new taxi medallions. Now that's looking like it'll bring in $3 million," said one politico intimately familiar with the MTA budget battle who spoke on condition of anonymity. "So there's a $12 million hole and now there's an additional $1 million" from not extending parking meter hours.

Two easy ways to make up that money would be Muni service cuts or de facto service cuts via reduced materials and maintenance budgets. The latter is a rather surruptitious way of reducing service; intuitively buses and trains repaired less often will go out of service more -- but it's not quite the same thing as announcing straight-up service cuts.

Avalos, meanwhile, took issue with Newsom's media message -- as evidenced in this morning's Chronicle story -- that he wants to avoid a parking meter debacle like the one across the Bay in Oakland. While Oakland officials arbitrarily decided to raise the enforcement hours without consulting anyone, Avalos noted, San Francisco's plan had the backing of the Chamber of Commerce and other business interests, would only target certain meters in strategic areas, and wouldn't take effect prior to the aforementioned study. What's more, added the supervisor, while Oakland's additional revenue was just tossed into the city's general fund, San Francisco officials hoped to use the funds specifically for parking and transportation issues.

The MTA board has full jurisdiction on whether or not to extend parking meter hours -- meaning that while Avalos and other like-minded supes can wheedle and attempt to pack meetings, the decision rests with that body alone. Avalos noted that the fact that every last MTA board member owes his or her job to Newsom "is a concern of mine," but hoped he could still "pressure the MTA board to make the right decision."

You can't say Avalos didn't give his all in this campaign, but there's only so much you can get people to do by shouting through a bullhorn. If MTA board members were concerned with the wishes of Avalos and his allies, then they never would have submitted such a draconian budget in the first place.

No, in this matter it seems Newsom got just about everything he wanted. And everyone else rides the bus.
Photo   |   Jim Herd

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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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