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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Transit Advocates Wait For MTA Board to Knuckle Under to Mayor

Posted By on Thu, Jan 21, 2010 at 7:30 AM

click to enlarge JIM HERD
  • Jim Herd
When you're watching Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, there's always a fleeting thought, part-way through, that this time Shylock is going to prevail and humble those feckless, bigoted aristocrats who consider him a subhuman. Never happens. Can't happen. It's not in the script.

In a similar vein, transit advocates were enthused by the Municipal Transportation Agency Board's Tuesday display of verve. But the ones we spoke with were still gritting their teeth and waiting for the MTA Board to, eventually, fall in line with Mayor Gavin Newsom's wishes. To do otherwise; well, it's not in the script.

"I was one of the people who helped write Prop. E and Prop. A and helped establish MTA's independence -- or alleged independence," says Tom Radulovich, executive director of the nonprofit Livable City. The MTA Board "is not independent at all. What it's turned out to be be is a perfect cat's paw. It hides accountability rather than creates accountability. It makes the entire system less accountable. The Board looks like it's running the agency, but it's not. The person making the decisions, the person who should be responsible for the failure of MTA to meet any of its charter-mandated goals, is not held accountable."

The guy Radulovich is talking about is Gavin Christopher Newsom.

"Obviously the mayor does appoint all the board members," affirms Manish Champsee, the president of Walk San Francisco. "Board members, to varying levels, are beholden to him."

Of course, board member Bruce Oka yesterday told SF Weekly he could give a damn about appeasing the mayor. But even Oka conceded that several of his colleagues are loath to buck Newsom -- and, what's more, Oka believes the mayor's influence led MTA staff to not include measures such as extended parking meter hours among the proposals submitted to the board this week.

Radulovich -- who is also an elected member of the BART board -- wondered what the upside was for serving on the MTA Board. "It's kind of a miserable job. You're the fall guy for the mayor," he says. "The guy calling the shots isn't in the room. He isn't accountable. And they're paid nothing to do that." Nettlesome members -- such as Leah Shahum and Mike Kasolas -- have a way of finding themselves off the board, added Radulovich.

Both Radulovich and Champsee essentially said they hoped the MTA board would "do the right thing." Champsee said he felt the board would realize the political blowback for jacking up the price for senior, disabled, and youth ridership would outweigh extending parking meter enforcement. Radulovich said even the mayor might come to see things that way.

But when someone says "I hope they do the right thing," it usally indicates "I think they won't."

"If past actions are reflective of future performance, then chances are good" the MTA Board will knuckle under, said Radulovich. "Things change. But I do worry about it."

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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