It’s no secret who controls the MTA budget, and the pared down solutions that wind up on the table to solve the agency’s worsening deficit, so it comes as no surprise what happened yesterday at City Hall in Room 200 when the Mayor’s office called in three members of the MTA Board of Directors who so boldly expressed an interest in extending parking meter hours at their last meeting. Directors Jerry Lee, Cameron Beach and Bruce Oka were apparently told to back off. At least one of them, however, is bucking the Mayor’s wishes.
"I don’t respond well to threats," said Director Oka, who wouldn’t reveal the exact details of his discussion with the Mayor’s chief of staff, Steve Kawa, but confirmed the meetings. "Before yesterday, he and I got along quite congenially."
"I don’t know if you’ve heard this about the Mayor’s office, but they tend to be a little aggressive when they want people to be in line with the Mayor. Now, I know I should be a good soldier and go along, but I’m not going to do that."
The defiant Oka, who, along with the rest of the MTA Board, is appointed by the Mayor, said he plans to press ahead with demands to extend parking meter hours in San Francisco to help Muni close its $16.9 million deficit now and in future years despite the Mayor’s persistent opposition.
"Unlike me, the others on the Board need to keep their jobs. To be honest, if I lost this job I have other things to do. But I’m not going to let us stick it to the transit rider. The transit rider pays four times more than the automobile driver, and they don’t want to hear that, but it’s true. We’ve raised our fares a lot compared to what we’ve done to parking meters, parking garages, and the like."
Oka, who spends a lot time riding Muni, and believes private auto use is a privilege and not a right, said Muni riders are just not getting their $2 worth. "If you’re going to put $2 in the fare box, you better get clean buses, you better get buses that are on time, and you better get operators who don’t give you attitude."
And given the draconian proposal to slash Muni service by 10 percent, why doesn’t the Mayor want to budge on this one, and potentially pull in an estimated $9 million a year by extending parking meter hours?
"I know why the Mayor is so adamantly opposed to it, and he’s afraid he’s going to lose the business community. He’s afraid he’s going to lose business and that’s the whole thing," said Oka. Nevermind the "pathbreaking" study the MTA did that predicted businesses would see a higher turnaround, or that most people in San Francisco don’t drive to shop.
The latest Muni budget document released today does not include extended parking meter hours as a solution, despite MTA Chief Nat Ford’s promise to Streetsblog at the last meeting that he would put it back on the table because Oka, Beach and Lee had asked for it. We can only assume Ford was told not to do that by the Mayor’s office.
Beach and Lee did not return phone calls seeking comment. Neither did the Mayor’s press office.