With Two MTA Directors Termed Out, Advocates Ponder Wish List

IMG_5960.jpgPhoto: Michael Rhodes

The City Attorney's office has determined that the short first terms of MTA Board members Shirley Breyer Black and James McCray do count towards the three-term limit for directors, meaning both are termed out as of May 1. That answers an open question about the seats that Streetsblog first raised last month.

As a result, Mayor Newsom has two spots to fill, and with his recent announcement that he's accepting resumes for positions on the MTA Board, transit advocates and community group leaders are starting to develop wish lists of traits for new Board members.

The top item on most of those lists, it seems, is that the new directors be regular Muni riders.

"The new MTA Board Member should be one from the community, an actual frequent Muni rider," said Wing Hoo Leung, Vice President of the Community Tenants Association. "He or she should be an experienced community leader that knows and understands the needs of the public."

Bradley Angel, Executive Director of the environmental justice group Greenaction, had the same request. "That's the expertise they really need and agencies like the MTA don't take into account," he said.

Marlene Tran, spokesperson for the Visitacion Valley Asian Alliance and herself a Muni rider for 40 years, said she's been making suggestions to Muni for improvements for so long that a friend tried to nominate her for the position. She's not interested, she said, though she'd also like to see a regular Muni rider nominated to the Board.

Given that Muni's riders are as diverse as the city itself, Angel, Leung and Tran all feel the new Board appointments should continue to reflect that.

"Clearly, a lot of the proposed Muni cutbacks would definitely disproportionately harm lower-income residents and people of color," said Angel. "It would be very timely and long-overdue to have better representation of not only people sympathetic and aware of those impacts, but actually representative of the communities who use and need public transportation the most."

Fluency with multiple languages would be a plus as well, said Tran.

Jason Henderson, a geography professor at San Francisco State University, said his wish list includes someone who is a visionary about long-term transportation improvements and supporting the city's Transit First policy, but who is also ready to face the immediate crisis.

On the long-term issues, said Henderson, that means thinking about the link between transportation and land use in the city. "We need someone who is aggressive on the issue of matching urban infill development with expanding transit capacity," he said. "We cannot add all the new condos the Mayor's people are pursuing without expanded transit capacity."

He'd also prefer a new director who can take the lead on advocating for congestion pricing, parking reform, a tax assessment district, and a transition to system-wide proof-of-payment. "Some of this no doubt requires state legislative changes, but the board needs to actively push it," said Henderson.

The MTA is also in charge of the city's bike infrastructure, and Henderson said new directors would need to be able to navigate the challenge of successfully expanding the bike lane network in a way that doesn't slow down Muni.

Most of the director appointments in the MTA's ten-year history have been people strongly loyal to the Mayor, with few exceptions. Tran said that shouldn't be the case this time around. The new appointment "should not continue the trend to rubber-stamp Muni management's proposals, but to challenge this public agency to be more fiscally responsible," she said. "So, related background experiences is a plus."

"Hopefully, this appointment is for the most suitable candidate and not simply as a payback political appointment," she added.

The Mayor has said he's looking for someone who rides Muni regularly. He may also be looking for women, given that Shirley Breyer Black is the only woman on the seven-member Board. (Muni's ridership is nearly 50 percent female, after all, according to a 2006 Metropolitan Transportation Commission survey.)

Whoever is appointed will not start until May 1, too late to be present for the Board's key vote on the budget for the next two fiscal years -- though perhaps in time to take heat in the aftermath. They'll also face confirmation by the Board of Supervisors, and will then serve a four-year term.

With a three-term limit, that means a director nominated now who stays in the good graces of future mayors and supervisors just might be around until 2022.

Who would you nominate for the MTA Board? Let us know in the comments section below. And if you're interested in applying, send a resume to the Mayor at gavin.newsom@sfgov.org.