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Posts from the Ross Mirkarimi Category


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."


Parking Tax Revenue Measure for Muni Makes Its Way to Supervisors

IMG_1249.jpgPhoto: Myleen Hollero/Orange Photography

A parking tax increase that could send $19.2 million to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency moved a step closer to the ballot Tuesday, as Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi introduced the measure before his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors.

Mirkarimi made the move at the behest of the SFMTA Board, which voted last week to request that the supervisors introduce the ballot measure on the agency's behalf. It would include a 10-percent increase in the commercial off-street parking tax -- that is, the tax on parking in commercial garages and lots -- and would also close a loophole that allows valet parking services to go untaxed.

"I think it's important in answering the question as to how we are able to generate revenue for the MTA," said Mirkarimi. "This is one consideration I would like us to seriously review. The last two years we have struggled to keep Muni running in the face of historic budget deficits."

Mirkarimi warned that the measure faces competition from other tax measures the supervisors are considering, the rest of which would not directly benefit the SFMTA. Not all of them will make it to the ballot. "I understand that a number of taxes potentially will be submitted for today," he said. "I also believe that in the menu of considerations for taxes, all may not make the final cut."

Several of the supervisors introduced a sweeping SFMTA reform ballot measure last month that would dedicate $40 million from the city's general fund to the SFMTA, but Mirkarimi and others have expressed reservations about that set-aside, so the parking tax could have a future as part of that reform measure as well.

As Streetsblog reported in March, the parking tax may be the most politically viable revenue ballot measure the SFMTA could pursue right now, and many of the city's transit advocates support it for its clear nexus between discouraging parking and increasing funding for Muni service.


Two MTA Board Appointments to Come at Pivotal Time for Muni

3489709659_ae7923e265_b.jpgFrom left: MTA Board Vice Chairman Rev. Dr. James McCray, Jr., Chairman Tom Nolan and Director Shirley Breyer Black. Photo: Michael Rhodes
On March 1, the terms of the MTA Board's two longest-serving directors will end, and a convergence of factors could make their reappointment or replacement more closely scrutinized than any in the agency's ten-year history. Adding to the uncertainty, one or both of the directors - Shirley Breyer Black and Rev. Dr. James McCray, Jr. - may actually be termed out of their seats, depending on how the City Attorney's office interprets the City Charter.

With the MTA facing massive budget shortfalls in the coming years on top of a mid-year budget crisis, a progressive majority controlling the Board of Supervisors, and a Mayor in his final two years in office, transit advocates and many supervisors are looking for appointees who will be independent-minded and engaged members of the MTA Board.

"In general, I think that the MTA commission has not been examining all options available to the MTA in the context of our budget crisis," said Board of Supervisors President David Chiu. "I think it's fair to say a majority of the Board of Supervisors believes we need commissioners who are independent enough to consider all options on the table."

For her part, Black is happy to continue serving, but hasn't heard what the Mayor is planning. "No one has told me anything," she said last week.

That may in part be because the Mayor is waiting to hear from the City Attorney's office on whether Black and McCray are eligible to serve additional terms. Proposition E, which created the MTA in 1999, set director term limits at three, but it's not clear whether Black and McCray's first terms counted, since both were shorter than the regular four years. Black was a member of the original MTA Board, which had staggered term lengths. Her first term, beginning in March 2000, was only two years long. McCray's first term, which began in 2002, was barely a month long, since he filled in the end of another director's term.


Plans for Muni Cuts Prompt Campos to Call for MTA Audit

IMG_1447.jpgSupervisor David Campos. Photo: Michael Rhodes
The Board of Supervisors doesn't get to vote on Muni service cuts or worker layoffs, but today Supervisor David Campos exercised one of the options the supervisors do have for influencing Muni by calling for an audit of some of the MTA's practices.

Campos' call for an audit came during a special hearing before a Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee on the Muni budget situation. After the supervisors questioned MTA spokesperson Judson True on the layoffs, most of which are effective Friday, Campos said he wasn't certain the MTA had fully considered concerns brought up by representatives of SEIU, the union hit hardest by the cuts.

"What troubles me about where we are with respect to what SEIU has proposed is that, with all due respect, I'm not fully convinced that enough consideration was given to many of these points before you came to the MTA Board or to this Board to talk about some of the very drastic things that we're talking about," Campos told True.

In a press conference before the hearing and during the hearing's public comment period, members of SEIU questioned whether laying off parking control officers (PCOs) was economical, and expressed concerns about public health impacts that could result from laying off 10 car cleaners. During the meeting, Supervisor Chris Daly screened a video of the insides of Muni buses covered in graffiti and strewn with vomit and needles to emphasize the importance of the car cleaners' work.

SEIU organizer Robert Haaland pointed to the MTA's plan to spend $6 million on budget consultants as an example of the agency's mismanagement. "Last month at the Civil Service Commission, MTA asked for $6 million to hire a firm to help them with budgeting," Haaland told the supervisors. "[If the MTA] can't plan their own budget, maybe we should be laying off managers who do the planning around the budget and just hire this other firm."

As the MTA has previously maintained, True said the agency had actually seen a decline in parking citation revenue even as more PCOs were hired in recent years, prompting the agency to cut 24 positions and bank on higher citation rates from the remaining PCOs. The agency recently implemented a 30-day moratorium on the PCO layoffs to take a harder look at PCO deployment strategies.

Not fully satisfied with the MTA's responses, Campos asked the Board of Supervisors' budget analyst, Harvey Rose, when the MTA had last been audited. Aside from a Proof of Payment audit requested by Supervisor Bevan Dufty last year, Rose said the MTA had never been audited. The last comprehensive audit of Muni was in 1996, before the MTA existed.


Mayor, MTA and Bike Activists Celebrate First New Bike Lane in Three Years

bicyclists_in_bike_box.jpgSFBC's Leah Shahum, the MTA's Oliver Gajda and SFBC Board Member Dan Nguyen-Tan in the freshly painted green bike box on Scott Street at Oak. Photo by Bryan Goebel.
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, three members of the Board of Supervisors, MTA officials, SFBC staff and bicyclists -- standing in the glaring fall sun amidst the roar of cars on Oak Street -- celebrated the city's first new bike lane in three years today, and then grabbed the paint rolls and applied buckets of shiny green paint to the Scott Street bike box.

"The good news is we didn't wait until today to get started. The injunction was [partially] lifted last week and already the folks you see behind us have been hard at work," said Newsom. "They've been out there putting in some new bike lanes and we're going to be putting in bike racks every single day."

Newsom said that San Francisco is going to try a series of innovate treatments, such as the green bike box, taking cues from European cities that have become world-class bicycling cities. And like Valencia Street, he said, the MTA will begin changing the signal timing on some streets to better accommodate bicyclists.

"We're going to be trying some things that candidly we wished we were doing for the last three years that are things that are being done around the world, particularly in Copenhagen and Amsterdam, that are being proffered and exampled in places like Portland and other municipalities," Newsom said, adding that the plan is to add six new miles of bike lanes in six months and increase the city's existing 23 miles of sharrows by 326 percent.

Mayor_painting.jpgMTA Chief Nat Ford and Mayor Gavin Newsom paint the bike box green. Photo by Matthew Roth.

Peak Fuel Report Offers Sober Assessment of San Francisco’s Energy Future

Somewhere amid the budget drama of the last several weeks, a peak oil and natural gas report (PDF) Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi called "a really big deal" got lost in the shuffle. So, when the Peak Oil Preparedness Task Force showed up before the Board of Supervisors Government Audit and Oversight Committee today, neither the committee's members nor the public were quite ready.

The report itself, which is already available online, is hard-hitting, bold, and important enough that Mirkarimi planned to reschedule a proper public hearing for August or September.

energy.use.jpgEnergy use by source in San Francisco. Image: Peak Oil Preparedness Task Force report
Peak oil and peak natural gas are "not as much science fiction as people think," said Mirkarimi, who, along with his fellow committee members, Supervisors Eric Mar and Sophie Maxwell, originally called for the formation of the task force in order to complete the report.

Jeanne-Marie Rosenmeier, the chair, hoped the public will come ready to discuss the full presentation. "Because it's 125 pages long, it's hard to ask people to read that big a report," said Rosenmeier. "But I think it has a lot of good data in it that tells us something about how San Francisco uses energy, and it casts a real light on what our options are going forward, not just for peak oil but also in terms of climate change. I think everybody should read it and take notes and come with questions and comments."


SF Supervisors Chiu and Mirkarimi Ride the Electric Bike Wave

chiu_on_bike_1.jpgBOS Prez David Chiu tries out a new electric bike. Photos by Bryan Goebel
For David Chiu, one of the challenges of being the president of the Board of Supervisors and remaining car-free has been getting from meeting to meeting in a timely fashion on his bicycle. Then there's the sweat factor. Climbing the hilly topography of his district sometimes means arriving drenched.

"I have anywhere from 8 to 15 events every day, sometimes more than that, and to get to different places is incredibly difficult. My district also has some of the most intense hills. So I’ve got Nob Hill, Telegraph Hill, Russian Hill, and to hit the hills with the suit that I’m usually in is extremely difficult."

But now, thanks to bicycling pioneer Gary Fisher, problem solved. Fisher arrived at City Hall yesterday with two of Trek's sleek new electric bikes (not yet available in the U.S.), which he is loaning to Chiu and Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi.

"It's a styling bike," said Mirkarimi after a spin around City Hall. “This is good for guys in suits.”


Supes Delay Action on Motion to Reject MTA Budget

avalos_today.jpgSupervisor Avalos on parking enforcement: "The more I think about how we need to do what's best for the environment and what's best for riders my position has changed."
The Board of Supervisors will try again on an MTA budget, voting 7-4 this afternoon to delay a motion to reject it. Instead, they'll hold a special meeting Wednesday, May 27th, at noon.

The delay, requested by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, came after Supervisor Sophie Maxwell indicated a change of heart on parking. Maxwell, considered a swing vote on the rejection motion, had previously indicated she was against adding Sunday and evening parking enforcement, measures Supervisor John Avalos, some of his colleagues and transit advocates have demanded be put back in the budget to more equitably balance it between drivers and Muni riders.

“I too have come to a different feeling about parking. I mean, I was one who said I don’t know about Sundays and I don’t know about 10 [p.m.] but I am reconsidering and I think a lot of other people could too, so I think it’s something that should really be put on the table.”

Maxwell asked MTA Chief Nat Ford how soon an MTA study on parking would take. As part of a "compromise" reached with Board President David Chiu last week, Ford agreed to study increasing parking enforcement downtown from 6 to 8 p.m. Advocates, however, have proposed that Ford's original plan to enforce parking until 10 p.m. be added back in.

“My concern is that without pressure maybe the discussion won’t happen because the parking issues are something that we need to look at and I want to look at it sooner rather than later," said Maxwell.

Ford indicated that more parking measures will be studied and brought before the MTA Board, especially in light of the fact that the agency is now facing an additional $13 million gap, due to the recent rejection of an SEIU contract and more state budget impacts.

While not giving a specific time line, Ford responded: “It will be something that we’re looking at very quickly.”  He had earlier indicated additional parking measures would not be added without consultation with the MTA Board and the Mayor's office, which is opposed to adding more parking revenue in the budget.


Supervisor Avalos, Advocates Call for More Equitable Muni Budget

avalos_transit_rally.jpgSupervisor John Avalos at Transit Justice rally. Photos by Bryan Goebel.

Supervisor John Avalos, leading the charge for a Muni budget that is more equitably balanced between drivers and transit riders, was joined Monday by a broad coalition of advocates, including groups representing seniors and youth, in a rally designed to pressure the MTA into restoring about $15 million in revenue measures carved out of the original plan. It preceded a march to the MTA where Avalos and advocates demanded and got a meeting with MTA Chief Nat Ford (hear the audio below) on the eve of a Board of Supervisors meeting to consider another rejection motion.

It remained uncertain, though, whether Avalos had the seven required votes to reject the MTA's budget, and advocates were urging citizens to put the heat on Board President David Chiu and Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, considered a swing, by calling and emailing them.

Avalos spoke to a large crowd on the steps of City Hall, calling for a balanced Muni budget that doesn't fall on the backs of riders: "When it's budget season we don't come with our hat in our hand but our fists raised to win a better budget."

Also in attendance were Supervisors David Campos and Ross Mirkarimi, both of whom voted last week with Avalos on the Budget and Finance Committee to reject the MTA budget a second time, a move all three hoped would get the MTA to budge.

"In a city like ours that professes to be green, well, almost green, and professes to be aggressive in tackling global warming, this could be one of the most counter intuitive actions we could take in terms of trying to get people out of their cars and riding Muni," Mirkarimi said of the current MTA budget.

Campos said the "Transit Justice Package" proposed by Avalos represents an effort on the part of the progressive members of the Board to work with the MTA.

"I think that anyone who cares about making the city true to the principal of Transit First would jump at the opportunity of supporting something that simply gives 15 million dollars back to the system. That is not a radical proposal at all," said Campos. "It recognizes that we should not be balancing the MTA's budget on the backs of the poor."


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Can the Board of Supes Still Force a Better MTA Budget?

budget_and_finance_committee.jpgBudget and Finance Committee file photo by Bryan Goebel
The Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee voted for a second time Wednesday to reject the MTA budget and send it back to the full Board. It followed a narrow vote by the full Board Tuesday to table BOS Prez David Chiu's original rejection motion, following a "compromise" reached at the last minute to put $10.3 million in revenue and cost savings back into Muni's budget.

The 3-2 vote, with Supervisors Bevan Dufty and Carmen Chu dissenting, followed a lengthy discussion in which Supervisors John Avalos, David Campos and Ross Mirkirami argued that the MTA budget was still woefully unacceptable, with all agreeing the rejection motion was the only way to get the MTA to budge some more. A procedural move at the last meeting allowed members to consider the motion again.

"We were able to get to where we got to yesterday because we had a measure before us calling for the rejection of the MTA budget," said Avalos. "I do think that we live in a political world and need to have this rejection measure before us in order to be able build the kind of pressure we might need to get some more changes."

Avalos said if there was anything flawed about the process over the last week it was that supervisors weren't being specific enough about changes and ideas they wanted to see in the budget, instead only criticizing what they thought was wrong with it. 

"I think if we have a process where we can come to some agreements that are specific and take those to the MTA and the Mayor and use the next week to discuss that somewhat further, we might be able to make a few other changes that can alleviate perhaps fare increases [and] service cuts that are alarming.”