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Monday, March 8, 2010

Union Leader Says SF Weekly Misquoted Him. Video Evidence Says We Didn't.

Posted By on Mon, Mar 8, 2010 at 8:30 AM

Last week, we watched Cable Car driver and Transit Workers Union leader Eric Williams verbally demolish the organizers of the so-called "March Against Muni." Yet we were perplexed by some of what Williams said, namely his claims that it took "only $200 million" to operate Muni, but the agency's budget was more than $700 million. The half-billion dollar difference, he said, was unaccounted for.

We subsequently demonstrated that it takes a hell of a lot more than $200 million to operate Muni; that pays for the 2,000 drivers' salaries and benefits -- and that's it. You still need lots of other workers. And buses. And trains -- otherwise all you've got is a walking tour. Also, if you peruse Muni's 548-page budget, it really does explain where the money is going. One may take issue with how much Muni pays out -- but that's not the same as charging the agency with losing half a billion dollars.

Williams cried foul, penning a comment to our article claiming we'd misquoted him:

I asked you not to miss quote me and you did it anyway,what was said it

takes 200 million for operators cost.we were talking about the transit

operators only not any other department within the agency.

That may be what Williams meant, but, as the video above demonstrates, it isn't what he said.

Starting at around the 2:30 mark, Williams says, "It does -- hear me clearly -- it does take $200 million to run this system. The agency has a $700 million budget. Where is the other $500 million?"

And, for good measure:

"The budget is $700 million (garbled). Yes it does take $200 million to run your systems for operations. Yes it does. The question you need to be asking is where the $500 million at. Where is the other $500 million? ... The MTA is wasting your taxpayer money not on operations for keeping those buses rolling but on other things we don't know. We need to find out where that $500 million is."

We called and asked him how, exactly, we'd misquoted him. Williams gamely returned our call. In a friendly conversation, he noted "I'm no math major, but even I know it takes more than $200 million to run the system."

So, what he said in these videos ... well, that's not what he says he meant to say.

Yeah, he knows the $200 million figure is just the yearly salary and benefits for drivers. And, yeah, he knows it takes a lot more money and people than that to run a system. And, yeah, he knows Muni didn't simply lose track of half a billion dollars. What he meant to say was that Muni ought to be putting more of its resources into transit and the people who make transit go. And "I wanted to get down to all the wasteful spending. I feel like there's a whole lot of misspending going on."

Amen to that. But Muni also has hundreds of millions more than $200 million tied up in front-line workers' salaries and benefits, as well as maintenance, vehicle costs, etc. It's all in the budget if you care to look.

Williams seems to be a passionate, forceful, and charismatic leader, and his message that Muni's management is misspending its millions is certainly a reasonable argument for one to make. We're confident he can find a way to express this point without wildly inaccurate numbers or claims that half a billion dollars was lost like coins in a couch.  

Videos   |   ActionNewsSF

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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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