Supes Muni Reform Measure Nixed as Chiu Strikes Deal with Mayor

IMG_1339.jpgPhoto: Myleen Hollero/Orange Photography
Fearing a potential defeat by voters on a crowded November ballot, and saying he wants to see faster reform at the SFMTA, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu announced a compromise with Mayor Gavin Newsom late Tuesday night before casting the swing vote against a Muni charter amendment he had originally co-sponsored with three of his colleagues.

"From my perspective, we need to move immediately with MTA reform. I do not want to wait until November," Chiu said, before yanking his name as a co-sponsor. "Given that we've been accused of an alleged power grab here, which I don't necessarily agree with, I do think it's important that we give voters many reasons to support all of the measures that we're placing on the ballot, particularly revenue measures."

The "reform framework" (PDF) announced by Chiu, which was followed just minutes later with a joint press release from the Mayor's Office, has four components. First, it orders the SFMTA to come up with a plan by December 1 for restoring the remaining 5 percent service cut that will still be in effect. Last month, the SFMTA Board voted to restore half of the 10 percent service cut it implemented in May on September 4th.

Chiu said a working group would be assembled to figure out the funding and hopes that voters favor the November revenue measures "so we can use a portion of that to assist with Muni service restoration."

The deal also calls for the establishment of a Transportation Governance Task Force to look at the "strengths and weaknesses" of the current SFMTA structure, including board appointments, in addition to more oversight of work orders and an enhanced SFMTA auditing system that would include the appointment of a new Director of Audit Compliance.

"I am pleased that we were able to come to a consensus about how we can work together now to improve Muni without having to wait until next year," Mayor Newsom said in a statement. "These reforms will let us immediately begin the hard work of fully restoring Muni service and improving transparency and accountability at the SFMTA."

Gabriel Metcalf, the executive director at SPUR, also praised the deal. "I think this is great news for Muni. The labor relations system is going to be changed for the better by the voters. And at the same time, we'll make progress on other fronts as a result of these task forces. I think this is very constructive leadership on transit issues," he said.

SPUR, working with Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, recently helped qualify a measure for the November ballot that would overhaul how salaries for Muni operators are set. A labor component was also central to the Muni charter amendment that Supervisors David Campos, Ross Mirkarimi and Eric Mar had crafted with Chiu. It would have also split appointments to the SFMTA Board, wresting some of that control from the Mayor.

Two versions of the charter amendment appeared before supervisors yesterday. One would have set aside $15 million in property tax revenues for Muni, an idea put forth by Chiu that was pared down from the original $40 million, while the other version omitted the set aside. Both were defeated.

Progressive Supervisors Critical of Deal

Some of Chiu's progressive colleagues were quick to criticize the deal he fashioned with the Mayor. While calling the compromise "steps in the right direction," Supervisor David Campos, who began working on the charter amendment in April before it was merged with other proposals, said the supervisors' measure would have gone a lot further.

"Even under the plain language of this document, there is no guarantee that, in fact, any of the cuts will be restored," said Campos, who also criticized the governance task force and auditing portions of the deal, questioning whether it would actually translate into quick reform. In particular, he was skeptical that an audit compliance director, as envisioned in the compromise, would have the appropriate tools to get the job done.

"I would respectfully submit that the inspector general position that this charter amendment provides is a lot more robust," said Campos. "Something that is missing from this document is also the fact that there is no funding mechanism for that position nor does it provide for the allocation of additional resources. The last thing we wanted to avoid, in drafting the charter amendment, was to create an independent auditor position...and then have one person that doesn't have the personnel, doesn't have the staff, doesn't have the resources needed to do the job."

Supervisor Chris Daly went even further, calling the deal vague, and saying "the real meat of the charter amendment is missing from this reform framework," agreeing with Campos that there is nothing locked in to assure a restoration of cuts. 

"The only way we can get real governance reform at the MTA is by amending the charter. What we have in front of us is a charter amendment to have governance reform and that's what the Mayor of San Francisco was most opposed to."

Chiu, responding to the comments, attempted to rebut concerns that the deal would not create immediate reform, and pointed out that there is no common view on how to fund a restoration of cuts.

"We don't have consensus within this body, with the MTA, with the Mayor, on how we're going to find the money," he said. "What I think is important is we now have a commitment on the part of the MTA to issue a report outlining how to restore (the cuts), and if they don't, I will be as upset as anyone."

Chiu said if there had been more support for his set aside idea in the charter amendment, he might have considered voting for it, instead of cutting a deal.