Supervisor Avalos, Advocates Call for More Equitable Muni Budget

avalos_transit_rally.jpgSupervisor John Avalos at Transit Justice rally. Photos by Bryan Goebel.

Supervisor John Avalos, leading the charge for a Muni budget that is more equitably balanced between drivers and transit riders, was joined Monday by a broad coalition of advocates, including groups representing seniors and youth, in a rally designed to pressure the MTA into restoring about $15 million in revenue measures carved out of the original plan. It preceded a march to the MTA where Avalos and advocates demanded and got a meeting with MTA Chief Nat Ford (hear the audio below) on the eve of a Board of Supervisors meeting to consider another rejection motion.

It remained uncertain, though, whether Avalos had the seven required votes to reject the MTA's budget, and advocates were urging citizens to put the heat on Board President David Chiu and Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, considered a swing, by calling and emailing them.

Avalos spoke to a large crowd on the steps of City Hall, calling for a balanced Muni budget that doesn't fall on the backs of riders: "When it's budget season we don't come with our hat in our hand but our fists raised to win a better budget."

Also in attendance were Supervisors David Campos and Ross Mirkarimi, both of whom voted last week with Avalos on the Budget and Finance Committee to reject the MTA budget a second time, a move all three hoped would get the MTA to budge.

"In a city like ours that professes to be green, well, almost green, and professes to be aggressive in tackling global warming, this could be one of the most counter intuitive actions we could take in terms of trying to get people out of their cars and riding Muni," Mirkarimi said of the current MTA budget.

Campos said the "Transit Justice Package" proposed by Avalos represents an effort on the part of the progressive members of the Board to work with the MTA.

"I think that anyone who cares about making the city true to the principal of Transit First would jump at the opportunity of supporting something that simply gives 15 million dollars back to the system. That is not a radical proposal at all," said Campos. "It recognizes that we should not be balancing the MTA's budget on the backs of the poor."

Avalos proposed the changes to the MTA budget following a series of meetings with transit advocates. The package calls for reducing fare increases from $2.00 to $1.75 (or delaying the hike until January instead of July) and reducing the Lifeline Pass for low-income riders from the current $35 to $20. It also puts Sunday and evening downtown parking enforcement back on the table. Critics had charged the budget unfairly forces Muni riders to shoulder more than drivers by a 4-to-1 ratio. See the complete list of proposed changes here (PDF).

Avalos' plan would also hold the rate for a Fast Pass at $55. Addressing a question from a reporter about whether a Fast Pass hike is fair considering transit riders in some other major cities are paying far more, Avalos said: "I think we have different ways of doing things in San Francisco and I think it's worthy to consider that we would have the most economical and equitable type of Fast Pass in the country. And given that we are a Transit First city it would be a Transit First policy to have a very affordable Fast Pass."

rally_wide.jpgSupervisor David Campos addresses the rally.
Tom Radulovich, the executive director of Livable City and a member of the BART Board of Directors, told the rally that all they're asking for are changes originally proposed by Ford. Those changes  were eliminated because of pressure from Supervisors Carmen Chu and Bevan Dufty and directives from the Mayor's office. Radulovich said what advocates are asking for balances the budget in a way that "is in harmony with our values," while taking the edge off cuts for the most vulnerable, transit dependent citizens.

"We as a city have twice in the past ten years written into our city charter, which is the constitution of San Francisco, that San Franciscans have a right to a transit system which is safe, which is reliable, which serves every neighborhood and which they can afford," he said. "The current budget that we have from MTA does not do that."

Rev. Arnold Townsend of the Western Addition Citizens Advisory Commission said the issue of a fair Muni budget shouldn't have any type of political label on it.

"This is not a progressive issue and it shouldn't be a regressive issue," he said. "It's an issue dealing with the question of need and the most illogical thing I can think of is raising the fares for seniors and young people, students."

Avalos has also proposed a charter amendment that would reform the MTA Board of Directors, calling for three of them to be appointed by the Board of Supervisors, three by the Mayor and one by a government body yet to be determined, or elected. All seven members are currently appointed by the Mayor, who advocates complain wields too much control over the agency, and has hamstrung it in many ways. Avalos plans to introduce the measure Tuesday, the last day supervisors can introduce measures for the November ballot.

"Ultimately, we need to have an independent MTA Board, one that doesn't cowtow to the Mayor, but is actually directly responsible to drivers, riders, people who care about pedestrian safety, and cyclists in San Francisco, to all of us," said Avalos.

avalos_ford_mta_meet.jpgAvalos and advocates meet with Nat Ford following rally.

After the rally at City Hall, Avalos lead a march to the MTA building at One South Van Ness Avenue where he and about thirty advocates met with Ford in a seventh floor conference room. In the 15-minute meeting Avalos laid out his demands. Hear the full audio here:

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Avalos pressed Ford to make his proposed revenue changes in the budget by using his authority as executive director to rejigger 5 percent, or about $40 million. Ford responded that even though he has that discretion, he still has to consult with the MTA Board. He refused to make any changes or promises but said he is committed "to continue looking at options to reduce the impact of fares on these citizens."

Avalos' call for a new MTA budget comes after the Board of Supervisors earlier this month, in a 6-5 vote, agreed to table a rejection motion originally proposed by Chiu.  The District 3 supervisor led the original charge to reject the budget but rescinded the resolution after agreeing to last-minute negotiations with the Mayor via Supervisor Chu. The last-minute "compromise" happened after Chiu realized he couldn't secure Maxwell's vote despite an intense lobbying effort. The deal resulted in about $10.3 million in changes, including some yet-to-be announced service enhancements, which critics -- including Supervisors Avalos, Campos and Mirkimiri -- say still falls short.

Advocates spent the afternoon Monday lobbying Chiu to support a rejection, but it was unclear whether he was willing to change his position.

See more pictures on our Flickr page.  We'll be tweeting from today's Board of Supervisors meeting, which begins at 2 p.m.