There’s been a lot of attention lately on how much the Mayor’s office controls the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s (SFMTA) budget process. The Mayor makes all seven SFMTA Board appointments, generally with an expectation of complete loyalty, ensuring that it’s the Mayor who ultimately calls the shots behind the scenes.
Now a ballot measure proposal making its way through the drafting process could change that and a lot more.
Sitting down with Streetsblog in his office yesterday, Supervisor David Campos made the case that it’s time to tweak Muni’s governance yet again.
"We believe that the current structure where the Mayor appoints all members of the MTA Board is not working," he said.
A working group of transportation advocates, community groups and fellow supervisors Eric Mar and Ross Mirkarimi has been hammering out the details of a three-part ballot measure that would likely give the supervisors appointing-power over three of the SFMTA Board seats. The measure would likely also change the way the budget process works and address a broad array of labor issues.
The working group hasn’t settled on specifics yet for SFMTA budget procedure, but Campos said it hopes to address several concerns, especially the perceived lack of meaningful input from Muni’s ridership on what the budget looks like.
"We feel that we need more input and more meaningful input by the ridership," said Campos. "I think that a lot of people feel frustrated that the budget options at this point seem to be: you cut service or you increase fares."
Unlike the appointed SFMTA Board, Campos argued that the district-elected Board of Supervisors would be more responsive to public feedback around the budget.
"In the process of doing that," said Campos, the goals would be "making sure that riders are represented in the decision-making, making sure that all options are explored, in terms of budget options, [and] making sure that there is an independent analysis of what is happening or not happening within the MTA."
The labor component of the measure will likely be influenced by the pending results of a management audit.
"I think that we recognize that we have to address some of the labor issues that have been raised," said Campos. That means labor issues anywhere from the operators — which Supervisor Sean Elsbernd’s proposed ballot measure already seeks to address — to management, which is the target of the audit.
Campos hasn’t seen the results of that audit yet, which should also inform the Supervisors’ up-or-down vote on the SFMTA’s two-year budget in the coming weeks, but he stressed that it would be followed by a more comprehensive audit of the agency due this summer, the first since the 1990s.
Groups like the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER), the new San Francisco Transit Riders Union, as well as Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich have given feedback on the ballot measure, which Campos stresses is still far from set in stone. It will need to come before a Board of Supervisors committee in the next month to stay on track for the November election.
Supervisors to Consider SFMTA Budget
The Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee will be holding a hearing on May 5 to examine the SFMTA’s two-year budget, which continues 10-percent service cuts into fiscal year 2011 and rolls them back by half in fiscal year 2012. That hearing will be followed by the rollout of the service cuts on May 8, part of a cost-cutting measure the SFMTA took to balance its budget for the current fiscal year.
Campos reiterated what he said at a San Francisco County Transportation Board hearing yesterday: He’s not convinced the SFMTA staff and board have looked under every rock for alternatives to service cuts or fare increases.
Campos would like to hear more about reducing work orders, as well as short-term revenue measures like extending parking meter hours, and long-term money generators like potential revenue-raising ballot measures. The supervisors will also be grilling SFMTA staff on the specifics of the service cuts, he said, including whether the most-packed lines can be spared cuts during peak hours.
As for rider feedback on the budget process, there’s no need to wait until the SFMTA Board appointment process changes, if it ever does (and some argue that the Board of Supervisors should have less say over Muni, which 2007’s Proposition A ensured). As it stands now, the public will get its first chance to speak on the fiscal years 2011 and 2012 budget before a body it elected at next Wednesday’s Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee meeting.
"I think that it does make a difference when riders come and become a part of the process," said Campos. "Involvement is really key, in terms of [Muni riders’] role, if you have specific ideas of things we need to look at, because we try to think of everything, but sometimes we miss things."