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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Tech Shuttle Vote Was a Fiasco -- a Preordained Fiasco

Posted By on Wed, Jan 22, 2014 at 11:45 AM

click to enlarge Fair enough. But not exactly municipal policy in action.  - JOE FITZGERALD RODRIGUEZ
  • Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez
  • Fair enough. But not exactly municipal policy in action. 

Tuesday's rancorous, carnival-like vote regarding regulation of tech buses was the sort of spectacle that makes one's heart ache for the fetid state of democracy. 

Except what we witnessed wasn't democracy. It was a sideshow. And, worst of all, it was a preordained sideshow. 

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors is, exclusively, handpicked by the mayor and answers to the mayor. The MTA sets the standard for mayorally controlled, rubber-stamping boards. You are not going to alter the mindset of such a body by making public comment on the day of a vote, let alone fulminating in a manner that would embarrass Richard Sherman and calling for the city to assume the role of municipal Robin Hood by squeezing the rich for "everything they have." 

This is about as effective as shouting at a wall. A mayorally appointed wall. 

That's not to say that people with strong feelings ought to shut up and accept the wretched state of things because That's How It Is. On the other hand, those hoping to make the case for the non-elites might want to think about not talking so much, or at least not talking so much in public settings where people can hear the crazy words coming out of their mouths, which apparently reflect the crazy thoughts within their heads. 

Yesterday was a municipal trifecta of lowlights. Everyone came off poorly. 

The anti-gentrification warriors who, despite plainly stated law, insisted on harpooning Google et al. and harvesting its resplendent supplies of blubber to burn in the city's lamps for generations to come were merely regurgitating a longtime fantasy of the city's left

The Googlers who testified all stuck, eerily, to the company-issued talking points. Their speeches harked to hostage videos: Google is treating me well. I am being fed three meals a day. Without the shuttles I would be forced into a carbon-emitting car. I am not a millionaire. I support small businesses. I love this city

That didn't come off well, either. Thanks to these bus-riding engineers' work, we can all Google the meaning of the word "cloying." Incidentally, the specter of wild-eyed extremists making fools of themselves -- and setting the tenor of the meeting -- was a certainty. Google should have just sat back and allowed that to proceed. After all, it's not as if the outcome of this event was in doubt.  

That brings us to the MTA Board, which came off as what it is: A passive conduit for a tech-besotted mayor -- and a body that has allowed itself to be manipulated over far more weighty matters than these damn buses

(An aside: Those drawn to government-watching by the ascendant Tech Bus issue marveled at the notion of 80 minutes of high-decibel public input. But that ain't nothing. More than 100 people yowled for two hours and change at the Planning Commission last year regarding Pet Food Express. That's how we roll here in San Francisco. Bring a magazine.)

Thankfully, there are ways to get things done that don't involve counterproductive, theatrical outbursts at a municipal show trial. 

The pilot program the MTA Board unanimously greenlit yesterday is not exactly a Swiss watch. Nearly every aspect of it is in flux: It's not certain which stops will be designated corporate shuttle-accessible; it's not certain how the shuttles will be made to get out of Muni buses' way; it's not even certain the much-commented-upon charge of a buck a stop will stand pat. 

The comical notion of the world's richest companies coughing up a piddling dollar a stop is easy fodder for those who'd like to "squeeze them for everything they have." Fair enough. But state law limits the city to only collecting enough to remunerate the enforcement program. And -- the point everyone seems to miss -- it's not about the money. It's about forcing participation in a program, punishing interlopers who don't join that program, and making the program work as well as it can for everyone. 

At this point, input aimed at punitively driving the tech buses into oblivion isn't helpful. The purpose of Muni's plan-to-be regarding corporate shuttles isn't to wreck its plan-to-be. 

The aim now should be to identify the true sticking points for the vast majority of us who aren't sitting in air-conditioned, Wi-Fi enabled buses -- hogging Muni stops; inconveniencing public transit patrons; running on bike routes Muni buses have been shunted off of -- and tackle those. 

There are city officials willing and able to carry that banner. It's not perfect, but nothing in this city is perfect. 

Or you can show up on the day of a vote and preach to a mayorally appointed rubber-stamping body about class warfare.

Just remember: Those counting on you saying ludicrious, polarizing things will squeeze them -- for everything they have. 

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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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