SFMTA Board Extends Fiscal Emergency, Eyes Parking Meter Extension

mta_board.jpgSFMTA Board Director James McCray, Chair Tom Nolan and Director Shirley Breyer Black at today's meeting. Board secretary Roberta Boomer in foreground.
The SFMTA Board of Directors voted to continue the agency's declaration of fiscal emergency today, but took a proposal to charge a premium for cable cars and express bus routes off the table, and promised to use some of the $36 million expected from a state windfall to help "defray or delay" a 10 percent service cut scheduled to take effect in a month

SFMTA Chair Tom Nolan said he wanted to make the scheduled service cuts "less burdensome on riders" by using some of the state money, and directed staff to come back with "a series of proposals to do that." Specifically, $17 million would be used in this fiscal year, and $19 million carried over to 2011-12. A much smaller portion would be used to lessen service cuts.

"Seventeen million dollars will cover $12 million in existing deficit that we have for the current year, and then there'll be approximately $5 million after that we could use to put some service back on the street, at least until July 1st, in terms of the service cuts, and/or rollback or delay the service cuts until July 1st," SFMTA Chief Nat Ford said in an interview.

Director Cameron Beach called the state money "alleged," because the SFMTA has not gotten a check yet. Indeed, the timing of the funds remained unclear. The SFMTA is struggling to fill a $55 million budget gap in the next fiscal year and a $45 million hole the year after.

Ford said he was hopeful about some impending stimulus funds for capital projects that could be diverted into operations. "We're trying to buy time and let some of these things mature before we cut the service, frankly." He said while the next budget cycle promises to be full of "difficult choices," he sees things improving in 2012.

"We've got one more year of stiff belt tightening. However, in year two [2012], we have a very manageable deficit and light at the end of the tunnel."

nat_ford_and_wayne_friedman.jpgSFMTA Chief Nat Ford is interviewed by ABC7 reporter Wayne Freedman at today's meeting.
Director Malcolm Heinicke said the partial rollback in service cuts should be focused on high-demand routes like the 38 and 14 lines. "We should be restoring in areas where riders are most affected first."

The board meanwhile voted 5-2 to extend the fiscal emergency declaration for the next fiscal year, something CFO Sonali Bose described as "setting up an insurance policy," with directors James McCray and Shirley Breyer Black opposed. The declaration allows the SFMTA to implement fare hikes and service cuts without California environmental review. 

"It gives us some flexibility as we go into uncertain times," said Nolan. 

The vote came after a few hours of public testimony from at least 45 speakers, many of whom decried the cuts, and criticized fare inspectors for allegedly harassing some of the transit system's most vulnerable riders, including non-English speaking and undocumented riders. 

Ford, asked to respond to the complaints by Nolan, denied the agency is profiling riders, and said their main goal is to target areas that have high incidents of fare evasion.

Many speakers were also doubtful the Muni crisis would improve anytime soon.

"This is not going to get fixed in two years. It's just not, and I think some of you know that, and it's going to require making some really hard political decisions," said transit advocate Sue Vaughan.

Parking Meter Extension Pilot Moving Forward

The SFMTA Board also seemed to be supportive of a 90 day pilot project that would begin June 1 to extend parking meter hours to Sundays in six business districts across the city. Though CFO Sonali Bose said not one neighborhood group has stepped forward to publicly support it, many individuals and merchants have backed it.

SFMTA Director Malcolm Heinicke seemed the most enthusiastic. "I think we should move forward with this pilot project and resist any temptation to back away from it simply because we've got new money." His only question was how much the pilot would cost, to which Bose explained that it was being done in conjunction with SFPark, one of the most innovative parking management pilots in the US., and costing the agency very little.

The pilot demonstration areas for enforcement on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. would cover a portion of downtown San Francisco, Fisherman's Wharf (where Port meters are already on until 7 p.m.), Chestnut/Union Streets, the Inner Richmond, Hayes Valley and West Portal. Those areas were chosen because they already have SFPark sensors or are about to get them. In Fisherman's Wharf, the meters will run until 9 p.m. on weekdays, and until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, according to the proposal:

As part of this pilot demonstration, existing time limits at normal metered parking spaces will be increased to four hours in Fisherman’s Wharf, Chestnut/Union, Downtown, and Hayes Valley areas (time limits at yellow and green zones will remain unchanged). In addition, those areas (not including Union Street) will also receive new parking meters that accept credit cards in addition to coins and the SFMTA Parking Card. In the West Portal and Inner Richmond  areas, parking meters and time limits will remain unchanged.  

Though Mayor Gavin Newsom has opposed extending meter hours across the city, he recently said he might be open to doing it on Sundays, perhaps next year. As we've reported extensively on Streetsblog, many cities -- Los Angeles, Long Beach, Glendale, Pasadena and Montreal among them -- have implemented parking enforcement on evenings and Sundays.

Although some merchants have expressed concerns, the SFMTA points out in its pilot proposal that "parking meters are an effective tool for promoting business vitality by helping to create open parking spaces so that customers can easily find a parking space." The agency plans to do a lot of outreach and preparation for the pilot.

Ford, after getting an opinion from legal counsel, told the board that he has the authority to implement the pilot and does not need any further approval.

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