Supes Reject Appeal for CEQA Review of Sunday Parking Meter Repeal

The Board of Supervisors voted 9-2 yesterday to reject an appeal, filed by sustainable transportation advocates, to require environmental review of the SFMTA’s repeal of Sunday parking meters. Although the vote was not on the merits of Sunday parking metering, but rather whether the SFMTA violated the California Environmental Quality Act in repealing it, the hearing shed some more light on the political stances of some supervisors.

Photo: Aaron Bialick

All supervisors, except John Avalos and Eric Mar, voted to reject the appeal. Supervisor Scott Wiener argued that, even if supervisors opposed removing Sunday meters and the SFMTA governance structure that allowed Mayor Ed Lee to push it through, CEQA must be applied consistently. “I have enormous respect for the appellants in this case,” he said. “I work with them regularly in our joint quest to adequately fund our public transportation system and have smart transportation policy in San Francisco… but this is about whether the SFMTA correctly applied a CEQA exemption.”

Wiener has been a proponent of reforming CEQA to curb frivolous appeals, which are often used by opponents to delay even environmentally beneficial projects, like bike lanes. Since the Sunday meter repeal was approved as part of the SFMTA’s budget as a whole, and budget adjustments have a statutory exemption from CEQA review, Wiener argued that upholding the appeal would mean it would have to apply to other changes, like the free Muni for low-income youth program.

“Rejecting a correctly applied statuary exemption because one might disagree with the underlying policy decision, and trying to force it into a higher level of CEQA review, has profound implications not just for this issue but for the many, many other situations that MTA and other agencies deal with — situations [like] fees, fines and fares,” Wiener said.

But the appellants, representing Livable City and the SF Transit Riders Union, disagreed. They argued that removing Sunday meters comes with a particular set of impacts, particularly increased traffic congestion, since the SFMTA’s own studies showed benefits such as cutting in half the time that drivers take to find a commercial parking spot.

“If you’ve listened to the SFMTA over the past decade as to why they manage parking, why we need variable pricing, and Sunday and evening meters, they say it’s not about revenue. They say it’s about intelligent management of parking. It’s about reducing cruising for parking in neighborhoods,” said Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich. “Now SFMTA is saying well, no, this is purely budgetary.”

Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider added that when distracted drivers “are circling, looking for parking without a metered system, that leads to pedestrian injuries. The more traffic we have circling, the more likelihood there is for collisions and frustration on behalf of drivers.”

“A CEQA budget exemption should not be used to mask political decisions,” said Cynthia Crews of the League of Pissed Off Voters.

Supervisor Mar agreed, citing a January Streetsblog article which pointed out that, based on the SFMTA’s December report, repealing parking meters on Sundays would double the average time drivers take to find a commercial parking spot, reduce turnover for businesses by at least 20 percent, cut the availability of commercial parking in half, and reduce the occupancy of underutilized parking garages by 13 percent during the hours that the meters are in effect.

“Rolling it back is not a step towards a transit-first city,” said Mar. I feel like it’s a step towards a car-dominant city.”

“It’s a bad precedent to hide the political elephant in the room,” added Mar, “which is a mayoral decision to roll back a policy that was to protect the environment, and many important benefits, without discussion and without a thorough review.”

Yesterday’s hearing offered an enticing opportunity for Mayor Lee’s purported public revolt against Sunday meters to manifest itself. But just six people spoke during the opponents’ turn to testify, and three of them didn’t even talk about parking meters.

Of the three who did speak to the Sunday meter issue, one was Christopher Bowman of the Log Cabin Republicans. Bowman was interrupted by Board President David Chiu, who reminded him that he was not allowed to use the public comment period to “electioneer” for his ballot iniative to “restore balance” for cars in San Francisco. The other two were Mari Eliza, an anti-parking meter activist, and a woman who said she just happened to be at the hearing and supported free parking for churchgoers.

Of the other three speakers, one man declared that the entire discussion was moot, because soon “we’re all going to be riding in Google’s robo-cabs.” Another was a taxi driver, who regularly speaks at unrelated hearings to call for stricter regulation of Lyft and Uber. The third said he was a new resident, and demanded clarification on his rights to ride nude on Muni.

Supervisor Avalos said he voted to uphold the appeal, since removing Sunday meters was “reducing the amount of money, and preventing the MTA from meeting its operational needs, which the [CEQA] exemption was built for.”

Supervisor David Campos didn’t state a stance on Sunday meters or the appeal, though he voted to reject it. But he argued that the root of the problem was the level of control that the mayor has over the SFMTA Board of Directors, since he appoints all of its seats.

“I think the way this matter was handled by the SFMTA, respectfully, is not something anyone should be happy with,” said Campos. “We have a budget system that is essentially run by decisions made in the Mayor’s Office.”

Wiener acknowledged that “the MTA is an imperfect agency, but transparent,” and argued that “systematically, the elected officials in this building have not prioritized transit funding.”

“There are times when it is tempting… if you disagree on a substantive policy level, to say we’re gonna grant the CEQA appeal,” said Wiener. But doing so “would set a very, very broad precedent.”

  • Mario Tanev

    I would like to clarify something important.

    Just because statutory exemptions don’t require further CEQA review, doesn’t mean that the impact of the environment doesn’t matter. If a statutory exemption is used for something that doesn’t harm the environment, nobody would object, because there are many other exemptions, like not using an exemption at all, the common sense exemption, several categorical exemptions (such as a pilot, e.g. information collection), or a negative declaration (after an initial study).

    Before the specific fares and fees exemption was introduced, agencies had lowered fares without any objections, and I don’t think anyone has objected since. This specific exemption was introduced when an agency had tried to take an action that negatively affected the environment, and it tried to raise fares. The agency had to choose between raising fares or cutting service – both actions would have a negative environmental impact. So it was identified that an agency should be allowed to do so, or be put at risk of delinquency. This action was a necessity and was enshrined into law, regardless environmental impacts.

    Removing parking meters on Sundays is not a necessity and it harms the environment. It cannot use any other exemption, except for perhaps the pilot (aka information collection) categorical exemption (after which pilot, information would have shown the negative impacts). Disallowing use of this exemption in this case would not endanger fare decreases (plus how often do we get fare decreases?).

    There is no precedent here. Most actions that result in lower revenues either have nobody to make the case against them, can be justified under other exemptions, have no environmental impact, or have no clear evidence that they harm the environment. This case is different. San Francisco cares about the environment so there are parties interested in upholding the spirit of environmental law here. This action cannot be exempted in other ways. There is clear environmental impact, and there is evidence to that effect from a study of a public agency.

    So, as much as I respect Supervisor Wiener, his goal is to protect the existing order. Just the chance that other city actions might be affected by a potential ruling on this, worries him. Frankly, all city officials are very afraid of CEQA. And that fear has been used by opponents of progressive transportation policy to water down good proposals like Polk St. The balance is skewed against such proposals, and in favor of what the mayor did with Sunday meters. While CEQA should be reformed, we’re hurting ourselves by allowing CEQA to only be used as a force against good. And even if reformed, there should always be some requirement of public agencies to inform the public about the negative environmental consequences of their decisions. In this case, SFMTA hid its report, and never discussed it at a board meeting. Even a standard as low as forcing agencies to reveal any analysis they have already done, would be something that must be upheld.

  • Mario Tanev

    On a personal note.

    While I respect Wiener a lot, he disrespected and patronized the appellants by stating this is not about CEQA but about policy. I’ve personally always believed that the spirit of CEQA is to provide information to the public when an action that may have some serious negative consequences to the environment is to occur. With any action, there may be positive and negative consequences, so the public process can decide on the tradeoffs, but information was key. Because of this belief, I found it perplexing that the law would allow the action that SFMTA took, and as I researched the exemption they used it was obvious it was not designed for that. There is no rationale for CEQA to allow lack of disclosure for something that harms the environment, yet is done for a non-enumerated purpose. If that were the case, then everything could be exempt. The fares and fees exemption specifically enumerates the purposes of the exemption, and making it cheaper to park is not one of those purposes.

    So, contrary to what Wiener believes, this was not a shot in the dark in hopes of getting the appeal upheld on policy grounds.

  • murphstahoe

    Even if the appeal is upheld, we never got an answer for his other question. If the appeal is upheld, then what? SFMTA has to do an EIR on Sunday Meter removal? At which point they can declare that they have done the necessary review and remove Sunday metering anyway?

  • Mario Tanev

    They can do an EIR which will provide a really thorough analysis of the harms of removing Sunday metering. At least the public will know in detail (the planning department has been poo-pooing SFMTA’s analysis, they won’t be able to do that to an EIR). Before it is implemented, the public can provide comment on the EIR based on the information available, which currently isn’t. The political pressure given the disclosures to not implement it would be significantly higher. The reason this proposal snuck under the radar was because it was viewed as a decision that has only positive impacts.

    And let’s not be naive. If the city knew they would have to perform an EIR, they would not have taken this step. They took it recklessly, not expecting a challenge.

  • Mark Camara

    From the article: Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider added that when distracted drivers “are circling, looking for parking without a metered system, that leads to pedestrian injuries. The more traffic we have circling, the more likelihood there is for collisions and frustration on behalf of drivers.”

    Also from the article: SFMTA’s own studies showed benefits such as cutting in half the time that drivers take to find a commercial parking spot.

    Let’s think about these two pieces of information. They suggest that with free meters there is more traffic because they cant find parking. They also suggest that when meters are enforced on Sundays that its easier to find a spot. Let me just stop and think for a moment. Doesn’t that mean when meters are enforced that people are either not going to areas with parking meters or they are spending less time in areas of the city that have parking meters? Were any studies done to see how these changes affect the revenue of businesses?

    SF has gone through many changes over the years. We’ve added more bike lanes and installed parklets around the city. At the same time, the city’s population has increased. In 2000 San Francisco had a population of 776,733 and 805,235 in 2010 (http://www.bayareacensus.ca.gov/counties/SanFranciscoCounty.htm). It was reported in 2013 that our population had increased to a million (http://www.sfexaminer.com/sanfrancisco/san-francisco-at-1-million-citys-population-is-booming-once-again/Content?oid=2659836). Simply charging more money at meters or increasing the days/hours meters are enforced is not a long term solution. The city needs more parking.

    Look at the discrepency betwen parking lots and parking garages in San Francisco (http://www.sfmta.com/sites/default/files/maps/Off-Street%20Parking%20Garages%20%26%20Lots%20Map.pdf). It would be intersting to see a study that showed which parts of San Francisco have the most accidents in correlation with parking availability. Some of these parking lots only hold 20 to 30 cars. Our population has increased by around 30% since 2000. What has San Francisco done to increase parking availability throughout the city? The SFMTA map shows there are 0 garages on the western half of San Francisco. Have you ever tried to find metered parking spots on Irving or Clement when the meters are enforced? It can be difficult.

    This year SFMTA took a detailed census of parking spaces (http://www.sfmta.com/news/press-releases/sfmta-completes-citywide-census-street-parking-spaces). There’s not much that can be done to increase the number of parking spaces on the street but the city could still improve parking with lots and garages. SFMTA has employees working throughout the city. They should have input on where parking is the most difficult. It would be nice if the city put some more effort into increasing parking spaces in those areas.

  • coolbabybookworm

    First off, let me start off with lol. It feels a little like you just heard about this, which is fine, but there’s been a lot of ink spilled on it that addresses everything you bring up. Here’s a few points.

    The Chamber of Commerce and many businesses came out in support of Sunday metering and I believe the SFMTA survey includes parts that showed commercial revenue was up in proportion to the parking turnover. Finding a parking spot is made easier with metering (why they were invented) and the turnover allows more people to use the limited space on commercial corridors. It can also encourage people to use other means to arrive at their destination, but mostly people weren’t able to park for free from Saturday to Monday, blocking shoppers who wanted to drive.

    Looking at the bigger picture, we have dedicated so much of our city to driving and parking that it’s insane to think that adding more would be a solution. The other day at a presentation on parking someone brought up that if you add up all the on street parking in SF it’s bigger than Golden Gate Park. How much is enough? We have a growing city with limited right of way, if we add garages and they are successful then we increase grid lock because of the new trips generated and our street capacity isn’t getting bigger so it cannot keep up. It’s called induced demand, if an underpriced commodity is provided (free parking) demand will increase to match the supply no matter how much you have. Furthermore, many of the city’s garages are currently underused already so why build more when the problem is more nuanced than endlessly build supply? And lastly the cost of building parking is astronomical. Building spaces in a garage can cost over 100K per space. Why would we build that when we can accommodate people moving much more efficiently space and cost wise via transit, walking, biking, or a combination?

    Since you’re looking at a long term solution, the policy that the SFMTA was pursuing, although they’ve lost their way it seems, is to manage parking. Through the limited SFPark program, they are changing the price in certain areas to avoid having underutilized blocks (when it’s too expensive) or over utilized blocks (when it is too cheap), as well as improving signage, information, and increasing use of public garages. The other part of that is encouraging people to leave their car at home for more trips or reduce car ownership by making walking and biking safer and more comfortable and improving transit.

  • coolbabybookworm

    In not so many words, here’s this picture to show why we can’t build our way out of this.

  • An increase in population doesn’t require an increase in cars. The city’s land area is constrained by water on three sides and mountains on the 4th, and in fact cars compete for living space. The goal should be less parking, not more. Laws of physics.

  • Mark Camara

    I appreciate your reply and all the information in it. Perhaps SFMTA will improve the situation with the new meters they are installing. I have seen them popping up in the Sunset and Richmond. The new meters will allow them to change pricing based on demand which may help free up spaces. I don’t expect the city to constantly add parking spaces as the population increases, but I also don’t think it’s a good solution to *never* add anymore parking spaces. It can still be very difficult to find a metered spot during enforced hours.

    I’m also more concerned about parking availability than free parking. I would rather have paid parking available than not being able to find a spot. You mentioned some garages are underutilized, but again there are 0 garages on the western half of the city. Even if garages are too expensive, an extra couple of lots in key areas could help.

    You said, “Why would we build that when we can accommodate people moving much more efficiently space and cost wise via transit, walking, biking, or a combination?” I like the combination idea, but I think that plan should include *some* extra parking spaces. I realize this is just my opinion and have no problems with people disagreeing. I like all the ideas people are sharing here because it helps increase our knowledge of the situation.

    On a side note, it might not be the best idea to initially respond to someone’s post with “lol” and suggest they just heard about this situation. I have lived in SF for over 3 decades and have read many news articles about the parking in this city. Having said that, I also realize that I don’t know everything about the situation. That’s why I have many questions posted in my initial response. You took the time to address my questions. Thanks! =)

  • gneiss

    Who is going to pay for the new garages and where would you plan on putting them? When it costs over 100K per parking spot in garages, not to mention the land costs, we’re talking about a significant amount of money to build a 20 or 50 car parking garage.

    If the city came to you and said that they were condemning the block next to where your house was to build a surface parking lot would you agree? Now – ask yourself how likely anyone in the ‘western neighborhoods’ would be willing to have a parking garage built next to where they live or work and you’ll get the picture about the political realities of building parking garages or surface lots in the city.

  • Mark Camara

    I wouldn’t plan on putting them anywhere. I don’t work for the city. If the city proposed a lot/garage they would figure out the funding. I was simply suggesting it would be helpful to have some extra parking spaces.

    The city also won’t be coming to me about condemning a block because I don’t own a house.

    Lots/garages don’t have to be built directly next to houses. The city could even wait to see if any businesses are up for sale that have their own lots and convert them to metered parking.

  • gneiss

    Mark – right – so we’ll take active businesses on the tax roles and make them public parking garages that generate no sales tax or other tax revenue. Good job.

    If you don’t even have the intellectual honesty to admit that building parking garages is unpopular then I don’t think you should be proposing them. Pushing the responsibility off on to city employees ignores our city political process which involves local community involvement for every single decision. If you’ve ever been to a community meeting then you’ll know that the city struggles to make any changes, even ones as simple as moving bus stops. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be for SFMTA to condemn or purchase expensive land to convert into parking that wouldn’t even be able to generate tax revenue.

  • sadat

    I blame this on corruption!

    judges, attorneys and every government official geting paid under the table.

  • 94103er

    It was reported in 2013 that our population had increased to a million

    No dude, read the article again. That’s not predicted to happen for another 18 years.

  • Mark Camara

    You’re right! I need more sleep. =)

  • Mark Camara

    An hour before your initial post, my second post stated, “I realize this is just my opinion and have no problems with people disagreeing. I like all the ideas people are sharing here because it helps increase our knowledge of the situation.” In adition I said, ” I also realize that I don’t know everything about the situation. That’s why I have many questions posted in my initial response.”

    Those statements were made after coolbabybookworm made a nice post with lots of information in it. I initially said, “The city needs ,more parking.” After reading others’ posts I realize it’s highly unlikely this will hapen. I still think we have a parking problem. My second post also mentions that more old parking meters are being replaced by the newer ones that can change pricing based on demand. I hope that will alleviate some of the parking difficulties in the city.

    You make good points on the city’s political process. However, I’m not sure why it was necessary to bring up my “intellectual honesty.” I thought the whole point of these comments was to share ideas and information.

  • jd_x

    We don’t need more parking: parking begets driving, which begets more parking, which begets more driving. It’s a cycle that has no end, as the continued congestion on all roads shows even as we continue to pump billions into expanding them. Cars are *inherently* an inefficient way to move people and always will be since they take up an enormous amount of space and weight just to move, on average, about 250 lbs (1.4 people is the average number of people in a car, plus throw in a bag). They should never be used for day-to-day transit in dense areas. Instead people should be walking, cycling, and taking public transit. Cars should be reserved for trips to far away places not served by public transit, emergencies, moving the injured or elderly, etc. and not for day-to-day transit of healthy people which is how we currently use the car.

    So to keep saying “we need more parking” is acting like it’s 1930 and we haven’t thought this through before. And that’s excluding the massive environmental and health issues with cars. We don’t need more parking: we need more reliable and frequent public transit options as well as better walking and cycling infrastructure. That’s how you move *people* efficiently, not through cars.

  • coolbabybookworm

    Sorry for the tone, I’ve edited my post. Thanks for your response. The last two points I have to add are that the Western neighborhoods don’t have parking garages but they also haven’t added very much population in the last few decades the way other areas of the city have. As other’s have pointed out, the western neighborhoods are relatively well built out so there isn’t space to build a new garage or lot in the residential areas, and commercial areas are served to some extent with private parking garages such as at Target and other locations.

    And my second point is that the SFMTA does add parking, or limits the amount removed for projects, through converting parallel parking on side streets into back in or angled parking. I can’t remember the specific project, but there was one that was potentially going to end up adding a few parking spaces even though the point of the project was to improve transit or pedestrian safety.

  • David D.

    Until BART service is improved so the Sunday schedule matches the Saturday schedule, I am happy to see Sunday meters go away. Don’t like meter-free Sundays? Improve public transit so people don’t drive! During meter hours, there is half as much Sunday service on BART compared to Saturday.

  • coolbabybookworm

    BART is not part of the SFMTA so that’s like asking for lower garbage rates before they raise MUNI fares. But more importantly, BART covers a small part of SF. What does BART have to do with finding parking on Clement or Chestnut? It’s MUNI that takes the most people in SF on Sunday, not BART. But I agree in that I would appreciate improved Sunday service.

  • Mark Camara

    I agree that we can’t expect changes between SFMTA, MUNI, and BART to work together. However, I do see David’s frustration with the BART schedule. I think he was just thinking about how to cut down on cars in SF. Perhaps if BART had better Sunday service, there would be less people driving into SF. This has nothing directly to do with SFMTA but it’s still related to the problem with cars people have been talking about and a need for more people to use public transportation. Someone even made a facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/24bart ) to gather support for better BART service. Changes seem unlikely, but I like how people are sharing news and ideas. There was a news report (http://www.sfexaminer.com/sanfrancisco/247-service-wore-out-bart-cars/Content?oid=2568200 ) about BART’s fleet being too old to handle that kind of service. I know some comments are not closely related to SFMTA’s Sunday meter situation but I still like all the info people are sharing. =)

  • David D.

    They are different agencies, but they do not exist in a vacuum. A huge number of the vehicles traversing SF streets come from outside city limits, and BART is the primary means of traveling to/from SF from elsewhere in the Bay Area. There are countless people like me who legitimately consider driving into SF on Sundays, if they cannot avoid heading into SF at all, because there isn’t adequate BART service. Putting up with unreliable, slow Muni service is tough, but adding a layer of infrequent BART service on top of that is enough to steer any sane person away from public transit.

  • rlrcoaster

    The reason drivers aren’t circling on Sunday is because they aren’t out shopping at all…amazon.com, baby.
    The reason Ed agreed to abolish Sunday meters is he want to get reelected. But the 60% of commuters who are forced to drive due to no viable alternatives are having it. The City has punished drivers so badly, no vehicle license fee is gonna pass, and no additional roadway bonds either, since the money wasn’t used for roads at all…it was used for free rides and bike lanes for the 3%.

    I’ve lived in SF 25 years, and Muni still sucks. I tried being carless, until I almost lost my job. Can’t ride over Twin Peaks after a 10-hour shift on my feet..

  • rlrcoaster

    Lots can and should be built underground. Any professional knows you have to have alternative means to get to work, because public transit just doesn’t go everywhere and isn’t often convenient. Why do you think the vast majority of people drive? Not because they love traffic, but they aren’t give a reasonable alternative to commute or transport their families.

  • rlrcoaster

    Most jobs are not in the City. Most jobs are not easily accessible by public transportation. Most City dwellers commute outside the city. Most tourists drive into the city. And Transit isn’t reliable in SF, and is largely unavailable outside SF.
    I’d never buy a condo without a parking spot! I don’t even own a car, but someday my job won’t be accessible by transit, and I can’t exactly move because I couldn’t afford to; we’re trapped by the economics.

  • rlrcoaster

    Except, I can’t haul 12 bags of groceries from Costco on a bike or on Muni. And car sharing is largely unavailable on weekends, because everyone wants to drive! We simply have to have infrastructure for cars; the US and SF aren’t going to change in our lifetimes.

  • rlrcoaster

    CEQA is a very important part of our City. To bypass is it ridiculous. But that is exactly what SFMTA does on a regular basis. They constantly remove lanes, and create unbelievable congestion along major arteries. Just look at the road rage along San Jose Avenue, backed up for 1 mile and 6 or more light cycles to get through. CEQA was bypassed for that out of zeal to install yet another largely-empty bike lane. Simply forcing a “politically correct” solution only creates a bigger problem.

  • rlrcoaster

    I’ve been wait for “more reliable and frequent public transit options” for 25 years since I moved to SF. It’s never happened! To get to work on time and not get fired, you have to be self-reliant. I work 10 hours a day on my feet, and I’m not riding a bike over Twin Peaks at midnight to get home.

    Until we have 24/7 SUBWAY service, not rinky-dink 19th century light rail, I can’t be guaranteed a way home.

  • NoeValleyJim

    Why do you have to ride over Twin Peaks? The only reason to go over Twin Peaks is to go to Twin Peaks, there are many routes around it.

    An electric bicycle will get you anywhere: I lived 15 years with no car in San Francisco and had no real problems. When I really needed one, I used a carshare.

    With the money you save by not owning a car, you can afford to live closer to work to boot.

  • NoeValleyJim

    12 bags??? How big is your family? I feed the whole family for a week on the four bags I carry on a cargo bike home from Costco.

    If you plan ahead, you can reserve a car on the weekends on car sharing services. I know because I have done it.

    The US and SF are in for major changes in our lifetimes: the oil is going to run out and we can’t keep polluting the atmosphere with green house gases the way we have been. Luckily San Francisco is already moving in the right direction. People who are unwilling to adapt to changing circumstances are going to see their standard of living go way down.

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