Leona Bridges’ Nomination to SFMTA Board Headed to Full Board of Supes

Bridges with outgoing Supervisor Bevan Dufty. Photo: Aaron Bialick
Bridges and Supervisor Bevan Dufty pose for photos after today's Rules Committee meeting. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Leona Bridges’ nomination to the SFMTA Board is headed to the current Board of Supervisors for confirmation after being approved this afternoon by the Rules Committee. It managed to get through committee on a day when most of outgoing Mayor Gavin Newsom’s nominations to commissions were put off because he is delaying his swearing-in as lieutenant governor in a move to prevent the current board from appointing an interim mayor.

Bridges, a former manager at Barclays Global Investors who oversaw $800 billion in assets, described herself as an independent thinker who has been a lifelong Muni rider. She was nominated to the SFMTA Board last month to fill a seat that has remained vacant since May.

While she doesn’t have a background in transportation, Bridges was praised by the committee and a number of supporters, including leaders of the African American community, who testified that as an African American with financial expertise she will bring much-needed diversity to the board. The Rev. James McCray, whose term expired last year, was the last and only African American member of the board.

“Growing up in San Francisco, I walked to Benjamin Franklin Middle School, rode three buses to Abraham Lincoln High School and rode three buses to San Francisco State University. I have continued to be a lifelong user of Muni transportation. Additionally, I take taxis and I walk many places,” Bridges told the committee. “I have a vested interest in knowing that we have timely, accessible, reliable, affordable and safe modes of transportation and services in this city.”

She identified transit accessibility among her six top policy priorities, along with affordability. “All modes of transportation and parking garages must be affordable, and not disproportionally impact low-income communities. We must serve all communities in this city,” she said.

Her other priorities include transit reliability, safety, local hiring for Muni contracts and finance. When asked by Supervisor Eric Mar what ideas she had for ensuring adequate funding streams for Muni, she didn’t offer any clear cut answers but suggested “possibly issuing bonds” and “if we do that we have to get it right.” Bridges said she would also examine the way current streams of state and federal revenues are allocated. “There are some areas in parking as well as in traffic where we have allocations that we could probably streamline,” she said.

Bridges, who acknowledged that she would have a learning curve at the SFMTA, could not immediately answer a question from Mar about congestion pricing and would not state what her position on Proposition G was. After the meeting, Bridges declined an interview with Streetsblog, deferring all questions to SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose.

Transit Advocates Criticized for Lack of Diversity

In public testimony, Elizabeth Stampe, the executive director of Walk SF, asked that the nomination be delayed so transit advocates could get a better feel for where Bridges stands on the issues. Some supervisors had criticized the mayor for making last-minute appointments before he leaves office, putting the Rules Committee in a crunch.

“We would really like to ask, as part of the sustainable transportation community, to have the opportunity to meet with Ms. Bridges about pedestrian safety, about cycling, about public transportation and so we would ask that you would defer…or continue the nomination to give us a chance to do that,” said Stampe.

Supervisor Bevan Dufty saw that as an opportunity to criticize transit advocates for a lack of diversity.

“I’m just really intrigued,” Dufty responded. “Are there any African Americans on the board of Walk San Francisco?”

“No, it’s a very small board. We absolutely support diversity on the MTA Board,” Stampe replied.

“Right, but I’m sort of suggesting it’s a two-way street. And so what I’m offering to you is as much as you’re interested in engaging Ms. Bridges to understand her perspective I think your organization, like so many others in the environmental community, could do a far better job of engaging with the affected communities themselves,” Dufty said to a roar of applause.

Campos, the chair of the Rules Committee, said he was prepared to delay Bridges’ confirmation, along with the mayor’s other nominees, but was so impressed by the public testimony in favor of Bridges that he decided to move it forward. He also criticized transit advocates on the diversity issue.

“I do think that often times transit advocates don’t fully get the point that transit advocacy cannot work if the people who are involved in that movement are not reflective of the diversity of our city,” Campos said. “As a person of color myself I will tell you that time and time again I have been frustrated that when we have those kinds of policy discussions and conversations that the diversity of our city is not reflected in terms of who is seated at the table.”

The Rules Committee vote to move the nomination forward was unanimous and is likely to be approved by the full Board of Supervisors tomorrow.

  • Dufty’s ‘applause-generating’ critique is shallow and just plain stupid. It was politically expedient for him to fire this charge, but let’s think about it for a minute.

    Does anyone really believe for a minute that Walk SF’s objection to quick confirmation has anything to do with keeping the board white / asian? That’s bullshit. I’m not anti-diversity, and it is important that there be a black representative on the board–the point is that said representative need not necessarily have to be Bridges (who didn’t even know about Prop G, congestion pricing, and thinks parking garages downtown need to be *cheaper*)–there are surely many african-americans in SF that newsom could nominate who have a much better sense of transportation issues in SF than Bridges. Identity politics & racial representation are fraught and incredibly cloudy issues–just consider Obama’s record with black policy makers and advocates for improved minority conditions in this country–so let’s leave the simplistic soundbite in our id for now Mr. Dufty.

    – Justin

  • Sorry, one more thing, re: Dufty’s fuller comment — Bridges is not some perfect example or representative of the ‘community’ that Mr. Dufty accuses transit advocates of ignoring (Dufty: “And so what I’m offering to you is as much as you’re interested in engaging Ms. Bridges to understand her perspective I think your organization, like so many others in the environmental community, could do a far better job of engaging with the affected communities themselves.”)–race *and class* are both important, and Ms. Bridges may be black but she does not belong to the class of which Mr. Dufty’s comment refers to–again, this is bullshit meant to obscure Ms. Bridge’s lack of strong positions on SFMTA issues.

    J

  • SFResident

    Yes David and Bevin, millionaire investment bankers are much more “reflective of the diversity of our city” than are the tens of thousands of San Franciscans who actually rely on public transit for their livelihoods.

  • Michael

    It’s true, transit advocacy groups in SF are overwhelmingly lacking in racial diversity. That means that we’re both failing to include the full range of perspectives that exist in this city, and we’re leaving ourselves open to the (actually blatantly shallow and politically convenient) attacks of people like Bevan Dufty, not to mention the legitimate (and less politically convenient) criticisms of people like David Campos. The overwhelming confirmation (so far) of this questionable appointment should be a wake-up call. There’s no lack of people of color with progressive views on transportation in this city, and it’s time for advocates to bring them into the picture.

  • Leona_Admirer

    The city of San Francisco would be lucky to have a woman such as Leona Bridges on the SFMTA board. She is smart, selfless, & extremely motivated. As someone that has personally worked with Leona Bridges over the years, and seen her devoted to various causes, I have full confidence that she will be an amazing asset to the city.

  • Campos and Dufty are two sides of a tired, useless, and divisive coin issued by political hacks. I used to like Bevan but not anymore – he’s shown once again he’s all about playing politics. And Campos? Useless and divisive.

    It’s not “racism” to ask questions of a nominee in the hopes that such open dialogue would result in us knowing what they’d do (vs. a lot of talk that sounds good) to make the changes at the MTA necessary to get it going in the right direction. Ms. Bridges is an intelligent and experienced person, and I don’t think she needs scripted bullshit from Ex Mayor Newsom’s office or anyone else to help her get the position – I’m sure if we had a Rules Committee not dominated by people who are hacks first, and servants second, we might have had that today.

  • Michael Smith

    Since Dufty thinks that Walk SF needs an African-American on the Board in order to help protect pedestrians and since Leona Bridges desperately needs transportation experience the simple and obvious solution is for her to first join the Walk SF Board for a few years. Then she would be far more qualified to be in charge of the MTA.

    Walk SF would certainly welcome her.

    Mrs Bridges – how about it?

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