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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Progressives' Muni Charter Amendment Finalized

Posted By on Thu, Jul 15, 2010 at 4:30 PM

Who can fix this? Anyone? Supervisors? - JIM HERD
  • Jim Herd
  • Who can fix this? Anyone? Supervisors?
If ever a Muni rider -- packed into a sweaty, steaming bus or train in the midst of an interminable delay -- dreamed of taking revenge via the ballot box, oh happy day: Your dreams are coming true.

There will be not one but two Muni-related charter amendments on the ballot come November. Sean Elsbernd's "Fix Muni Now" legislation qualified for the ballot last week. But the lesser-known -- and more far-reaching -- amendment introduced by four progressive supervisors had its language finalized only recently. Here's what that would do:

Who can fix this? Anyone? Supervisors? - JIM HERD
  • Jim Herd
  • Who can fix this? Anyone? Supervisors?
The amendment -- sponsored by Supervisors David Campos, David Chiu, Eric Mar, and Ross Mirkarimi -- would change Muni's status quo in nine key ways. The 50-page measure will be heard before a special session of Rules Committee on July 20 (it should have been today, but there was an administrative SNAFU). If you're really a Muni junkie, here's the legislative digest:

MTA charter amendment digest-v2.pdf

Otherwise, here's a synopsis of some major features:

  • The amendment previously came under fire for establishing a $40 million set-aside for Muni -- when the city is already struggling with a budget deficit approaching $500 million. That set-aside is now contingent on voters approving "revenue measures" (that'd be taxes). The Muni set-aside is actually, itself, a set-aside of one cent for every 100 bucks of taxes taken in. This, the amendment predicts, will still amount to $40 million. And if voters don't approve the tax measure, "the City Attorney is authorized to take all steps necessary to remove this subsection 8A.105(b)(4) from the Charter."

  • Currently, if the supes reject Muni's budget -- which they never have -- Muni is not required to submit another budget. So it can play chicken, the city general fund goes to hell, and ... now you see why the supes have never rejected Muni's budget. This amendment would not only lower the number of supes necessary to bounce Muni's budget from seven to six, but would require Muni to resubmit a budget.

  • Currently, the supes must give the greenlight for whole routes to be cut; this is called "route abandonment." This amendment redefines "route abandonment" to "include reductions in any particular line by more than three service hours/day and reduction of more than 5% of total system wide transit service hours." You can see where this is going; if this amendment passes, supes can do more than grandstand and complain about Muni service cuts. They can forbid them.

  • The progressive amendment, like Elsbernd's, would do away with the charter-enshrined requirement that Muni drivers earn at least the second-highest salary in the nation and avoid collective bargaining. But this amendment does not go as far as "Fix Muni Now." Muni drivers may earn more than they do now via collective bargaining and they may earn less. Elsbernd is candid that he's not really concerned with salaries; he just wants to be able to negotiate about wages and benefits in order to bargain away some of Muni drivers' more onerous, wasteful, and antiquated work rules -- that's where the real savings lie. As his amendment notes, if the city and the Muni drivers go into binding arbitration, the union

    would have to justify why its existing work rules "outweigh the public's

    interest in effective, efficient, and reliable transit service and

    [are] consistent with best practices." This clause is not in the progressives' amendment; Campos told the press he found it heavy-handed and objectionable.

Finally, what happens if both Muni-related amendments pass? The answer is ... they both pass. It is the city attorney's role to decide whether language in either amendment directly contradicts with the other, but that determination doesn't have to be made until after the election. If the measures are found to contradict, however, the one that gets the most votes overrides the other.

Elsbernd is confident that amendment will be his.

"One measure is endorsed by the transit workers, and one is not," he says. "If David Chiu would like me to, I'd be more than happy to fund a mailer noting that the transit workers have endorsed his ballot measure." 

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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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