Supervisors, Muni Operators and Riders Call for Rejection of SFMTA Budget

IMG_2012.jpgSupervisor Eric Mar. Photos: Michael Rhodes

In one of the broadest public organizing efforts around Muni in the past year, speakers from a range of groups -- as well as several members of the Board of Supervisors -- called today for the rejection of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's (SFMTA) two-year budget, which includes 10 percent cuts to Muni service.

At a noontime press conference on the steps of City Hall, Supervisors David Campos and Eric Mar both supported rejecting the service cuts, as did representatives from groups belonging to a fledgling coalition known as Muni Operators and Riders Expanding Public Transit (MORE).

"I will not support a budget that includes the dramatic and draconian service cuts put forward by the MTA," Mar told the assembly, echoing what Board of Supervisors President David Chiu said yesterday.

Instead, said Mar, the SFMTA should develop a more equitable budget that isn't balanced on the backs of Muni riders. That could include pushing several revenue measures for the November ballot, he said.

Campos said he didn't wish to personally attack SFMTA management, but he's unconvinced the agency has done everything in its power to find financial alternatives to cutting service or raising fares.

"We as a city need to make making Muni work a priority," said Campos, who's working with Mar and Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi to craft a ballot measure that would make several changes to SFMTA governance.

Coming on the heels of an SFMTA audit of work orders, Campos said an audit of the agency's management would be made public in a few days.

IMG_2005.jpgEric Williams, a representative from Local 250-A, the Muni operators union.

A wide range of groups spoke at the event, including representatives from POWER, Chinese Progressive Association, Chinatown Community Development Center, the Community Tenants Association, Causa Justa, Senior Action Network, the Harvey Milk Club, and the Transport Workers Union Local 250A.

The list of demands put forward by MORE includes stopping the service cuts, seeking "progressive sources of revenue" -- i.e. not service cuts or fare increases, ending saturation fare inspection stings by the police department, and not blaming Muni's budget mess solely on drivers.

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd's name came up repeatedly in reference to that last item, because he's pushing a ballot measure that would change the way Muni operator salaries and benefits are set. This afternoon, Elsbernd was out with volunteers at Pine and Front to gather signatures for the petition.

Eric Williams, a union representative from Muni's cable car division, called that measure a "racist attack," targeted at the city's most heavily black and African American union. Instead, Williams told the crowd, the SFMTA's Board should carry out its duty to aggressively seek revenue sources outlined in 2007's Proposition A.

But in a sign of just how complex the alliances involved in transit organizing can get, Elsbernd himself has not ruled out joining the opposition to the SFMTA's budget. "I'm certainly not happy with a lot in it. There's a lot to be upset about," Elsbernd said this morning. "Like everybody, I'm less than thrilled with 10 percent service reductions."

"I haven't figured which way I'm going to go on it," he added.

IMG_1995.jpgSupervisor David Campos.

The Mayor appoints all seven members of the SFMTA Board and the two-year budget they passed last month mostly reflects his wishes. The Board of Supervisors' six progressives, including Campos, Chiu, and Mar, are set to oppose the budget. As a sign that the Muni budget battle goes beyond the usual rift between the board's progressive block and the Mayor, some transit advocates hope to court Elsbernd and other supervisors who often vote with the Mayor

The Board of Supervisors would need seven votes to reject the budget, and must give the budget a thumbs-up or thumbs-down by July 31. Next Wednesday, the board will take a first committee vote on the matter. Yesterday, Chiu introduced a measure to reject the budget.

IMG_2007.jpg Chinatown Community Development Center's Deland Chan and Community Tenants Association's Donna Chan address fellow transit supporters.

Today's press conference represented an especially broad coalition of groups, a tough challenge since different organizations often have plenty to argue about over transit, including whether to support extending parking meter hours, and the exact role of police on Muni. But opposition to service cuts appeared to be a unifying front.

As one Muni operator put it, Muni supporters need to "stop allowing them to pin us against one another like roosters in a pen."

To Dave Snyder, who's coordinating the new San Francisco Transit Riders Union, the MORE coalition -- and the support from several supervisors -- was a hopeful sign.

"I'm heartened by, and supportive of, this activism from so many different quarters of the population of San Francisco," Snyder said.