The San Francisco Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee voted 4-1, with Supervisor Carmen Chu dissenting, to recommend the rejection of the MTA’s $778 million budget following a marathon meeting yesterday that featured some enrapturing political theater when BOS Prez David Chiu grilled MTA Chief Nat Ford.
The motion was amended to include a procedural step that allows a revised MTA budget (and a resolution to reject it) to go to the full Board of Supervisors Tuesday, or be tabled and brought back before the committee, a move meant to give the supervisors more leverage.
"I’ve asked them (MTA) to see if the staff can sharpen their pencils again and take another crack at this budget," said Chiu, who has been applauded by advocates for taking leadership on the MTA budget, which calls for unpopular fare hikes and service cuts to deal with a $129 million deficit. "Hopefully in the next couple of days we can see if there’s a budget that could be acceptable to us at the Board and if there is no headway in that conversation then we will be able to vote on this rejection motion."
The comments toward the end of a seven hour committee meeting followed an intense q-and-a session with Ford in which Chiu hammered home a series of questions intended to expose the MTA’s inefficiencies. He questioned Ford about MTA work orders, specifically from the San Francisco Police Department and 311, which are draining Muni’s budget.
Ford responded: "The MTA Board has requested that an audit be done in terms of these work orders but it’s my sense that we are paying for services that the MTA needs, the degree of which I think the audit will bear that out, and we can debate that, but I think that there are some services that are essential."
And on 311: "At this juncture we’re paying for something that we asked for, that we needed, and that we agreed to."
Chiu replied: "I appreciate that but I guess from my perspective if I had a $1.96 per call I would rather provide that to a Muni passenger to ride the bus for free, which I believe was something Mayor Newsom had proposed in 2007," a comment which elicited laughter and applause from the audience.
Ford could not speak to the MTA’s history of a $300,000 work order for police protection at city-owned garages. Chiu was concerned about a police department work order for free parking in the North Beach garage, which is in his district.
"I’m not famiiar with that arrangement," Ford replied.
"My understanding, also, is police officers are doing drive-bys of city garages so we can pay this money but it doesn’t strike me as a good way to spend money. I also understand that San Francisco Police Department cruisers, when they pass by private garages, when they pass by Macy’s, when they pass by other private property, that the owners of those properties are not charged a protection fee back to the MTA."
"I am unfamiliar with any arrangement of that nature. We are in the midst of negotiating an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) with SFPD, we do not have a finalized MOU at this point…but that is not part of an agreement that I’m aware of."
"It has been really befuddling that there has not yet been an understanding between the police department and the MTA as to how monies are spent," said Chiu, adding that there has been no accountability for the process.
Ford responded that he’s been in negotiations with the SPFD for a year, but Chiu asked, "Why has it taken a year?"
"Because it’s a very difficult negotiation that’s underway with the SFPD," Ford replied.
"If I could do anything to help I’d love to do that," said Chiu.
Chiu also asked Ford why a proposal for Sunday and evening parking enforcement was eliminated, and pressed him to explain what the cost ratio is in the budget for a Muni rider versus a car owner.
"I’ve heard from a lot of Muni passengers who actually feel like the balance of the hits on Muni passengers versus car owners isn’t exactly balanced," Chiu said.
CFO Sonali Bose explained the ratio was about 4 to 1: $22 million raised through fare hikes and only $3.85 million from parking revenue. Ford said the parking enforcement items were taken off the table after public comment, and at the request of some supervisors and members of the MTA Board.
Supervisor David Campos also questioned Ford, and was concerned about how the fare hikes and service cuts would impact disadvantaged communities. Ford responded that a Title 6 review "will be completed before the service adjustments are made."
Campos responded, "I think it’s important that this Board, before we sanction or approve any budget that has this level of service cuts, has a full grasp and understanding how those cuts will affect the most disadvantaged people in our communities."
Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who voted in favor of the rejection motion, explained his wavering position against Sunday parking enforcement, saying, "I am personally needing to understand how my merchants perceive this." Dufty had planned to hold a meeting today with Castro merchants on the issue.
It now appears Ford will huddle with MTA staff and see what can be done to make the budget more agreeable to the Board of Supervisors, and lessen the impact of fare hikes and service cuts. Ford has the discretion to rejigger 5 percent of the total budget, or about $76 million. It doesn’t appear, at this point, the budget will go back to the MTA Board, unless fee increases are involved, which require public testimony.
Chiu now has what appears to be eight votes to reject the budget, including support from Dufty and Supervisor Sophie Maxwell.
Click here for a recap of yesterday’s meeting on Twitter.