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SF Voters Reject Cars-First Prop L — Will City Hall Finally Take the Hint?

According to Folks for Polk, merchants took at least 10 of their “Yes on L” posters down “after the facts were made clear.” Photo: Folks for Polk

Proposition L was nixed by San Francisco voters yesterday. With nearly all of the votes counted, 62 percent rejected Sean Parker’s measure to keep SF in the 20th century by prioritizing free parking and encouraging driving.

Leaders at City Hall, and the agencies that shape SF’s streets, should read the writing on the wall: San Franciscans want to put the era of automobile-centric streets behind them, and it’s time to stop letting a vocal minority of curmudgeons hamper efforts to make streets safer and Muni more reliable.

“The voters gave a pretty resounding ‘yes,’ we do want these things built,” said Peter Lauterborn, who managed the “No on L” campaign. “I hope that the city leadership takes that to heart.”

“Hopefully, for projects that we’ve set out to do — Vision Zero, the [Transit Effectiveness Project] implementation, establishing the bike network — the SFMTA will be bolder than they have been in the past,” said Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich.

Voters also overwhelmingly approved two transportation funding measures, Propositions A and B. That’s a sign that San Franciscans have a strong appetite for better transportation options, and that they’re willing to bank on city agencies like the SFMTA to deliver them.

The success of Prop A, a $500 million general obligation bond for transportation, was not surprising given the political boost it got from City Hall and specifically Mayor Ed Lee. Lee helped to raise over $1,100,000 for the Prop A campaign, despite no organized opposition.

Meanwhile, the more controversial Prop B garnered a surprising 61 percent of the vote, even though no campaign committee was organized nor was money raised to promote it. “The campaign was gathering an impressive list of endorsements,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener, who authored the measure.

“The voters showed that they really do care about smart transportation policy and investment,” said Wiener. “City Hall needs to match our own budget priorities with what the voters want.”

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NACTO Street Design Guides Now Official Policy in SF

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The Board of Supervisors yesterday voted unanimously to establish the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ Urban Street and Urban Bikeway Design Guides as official policy for all city agencies, as proposed by Supervisor Scott Wiener.

The NACTO guides, which provide designs standards for parking-protected bike lanes like this one in New York City, are now official guidelines for all SF agencies to follow. Photo: Utility Cycling

“Safe and livable streets start with smart street design reflecting the needs of all users,” Wiener said in a statement. “Safe streets and livable neighborhoods require the three ‘e’s — education, enforcement and engineering. Importing NACTO’s urban design policy will guide us to deliver on that third e — engineering — by ensuring we design streets for all users, including not just cars but also pedestrians, transit riders, and cyclists. For San Francisco to have a more sustainable future, we need an environment that encourages and allows people to safely and enjoyably walk, bike, and use transit, in addition to driving.”

“Engineering is the most important because it naturally educates every user of the street,” said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider, applauding the adoption at a hearing on Monday.

At yesterday’s board meeting, Wiener said adopting the guides is “what we should’ve done a long time ago.” The SFMTA already adopted the NACTO guides in January, but other city agencies that play a role in street design will now be able to rely on the latest American engineering standards for city planners to use in building people-friendly streets.

The NACTO guides “give us the toolbox and the tactics to make streets safer, more livable, and more economically vibrant,” said Darby Watson, section leader for the SFMTA’s Livable Streets subdivision, at Monday’s hearing. ”Both guides have been fully vetted through a peer-to-peer working group of city engineers and planners sharing and developing these guidelines specific to urban places.”

A press release from Wiener’s office noted that “one of the NACTO guidelines adopted includes the policy that individual lane widths on most streets not exceed 10 feet.” As walkable urban design luminary Jeff Speck wrote on CityLab this week, wider lanes encourage drivers to speed and make streets more dangerous.

“While most existing lanes in San Francisco are 10 feet or less,” Wiener’s press release said, “certain departments recently attempted to require that streets approved for the Candlestick and Hunters Point Shipyard be widened to include travel lanes that were 13 feet wide.” The leading “certain department” pushing wider streets in that development area has been the SF Fire Department.

In two weeks, the NACTO Designing Cities Conference will be hosted in San Francisco, from October 22 to 25. SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin is currently the president of NACTO.

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Supes Stand Up to Transbay Developers, Approve Original Rail Funding Deal

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The Board of Supervisors yesterday unanimously approved the original agreement to fund Transbay District transportation upgrades, like the downtown rail extension to the Transbay Transit Center, through development charges. Although supervisors had announced a compromise agreement two weeks ago, some developers apparently backed out of it. City Hall officials decided to move forward with the original agreement, since those developers threatened to file a lawsuit either way.

A rendering of the Transbay Transit Center and surrounding high-rise development to come, via TransbayCenter.org

The disagreement arose after Transbay developers began to fight the establishment of a special property tax, called a Mello-Roos tax district, which they had agreed to in 2012 to help fund local infrastructure projects, like the extension of Caltrain and California high-speed rail to the Transbay Center. The developers, who still must approve the Mello-Roos agreement in a vote, hired former Mayor Willie Brown to lobby for a lower tax rate, since property values (and thus projected taxes) have skyrocketed in recent years.

“Kudos to the Supervisors for supporting the original Mello-Roos agreement, rather than delaying the vote again or agreeing to further concessions,” said Livable City Director Tom Radulovich. “Any project of this size is going to be subject to lawsuits and threats of lawsuits. Shame on these developers for seeking to reap all the benefits of the Transbay project, their beneficial re-zoning, and San Francisco’s booming land values, without any portion of this enormous windfall going towards the public good.”

Under the compromise agreement announced two weeks ago, the developers would have paid the same maximum of $1.4 billion in taxes, but spread over 37 years instead of 30. Supervisor Scott Wiener said this would have retained “every penny” of the original deal, but some said the economics would’ve worked out in the developers’ favor. The SF Chronicle penned an editorial on Sunday blasting the “unwarranted tax break to developers” and “huge giveaway”:

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Wiener Moves to Make NACTO Street Design Guides Official Policy for SF

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Supervisor Scott Wiener has introduced a bill that would make the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ guides for Urban Streets and Urban Bikeways official city policy. The SFMTA Board of Directors already adopted the NACTO guides in January, but Wiener’s legislation would establish them as official guidelines for other agencies to use, including the Department of Public Works, the Planning Department, and the SF Fire Department.

Supervisor Scott Wiener riding on Bike to Work Day. Photo: SFBC

“The MTA is not the only agency that’s designing streets,” said Andres Power, an aide for Wiener and previously the Planning Department’s manager of the parklet program. “The idea is to have a sense of what it is that is our collective city policy.”

The NACTO guides provide the latest American engineering standards for city planners to use in building people-friendly streets. Notably, Caltrans recently endorsed the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide, clearing the way for established standards for protected bike lanes in California.

Wiener hopes to have the legislation approved in time for the NACTO Designing Cities Conference, which will be hosted in San Francisco from October 22 to 25. It will be the first time the national event is held in SF, one year after SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin was named president of the organization.

Power said the NACTO guides will help complement SF’s Better Streets Plan, which was adopted citywide in 2010. Whether the BSP has been consistently implemented is an open question, but it mainly provides design guidelines for sidewalks, not roadways.

The NACTO guide adoption could provide more leverage for city officials to counter protests from the Fire Department against narrow roadways that create a safer, slower street environment. SFFD has fought projects that include roadways narrower than the minimums set in national fire code recommendations designed for suburbs.

Wiener plans to introduce further legislation to continue his efforts to reform the city’s street design and fire codes, Power said.

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Supes, Mayor Get Developers to Pay Nearly Full Tax for Transbay Rail

Developers agreed to pay nearly the full property assessment rates to help fund transportation projects in the Transbay Transit Center District, under an agreement announced by the Board of Supervisors yesterday. Supervisors and Mayor Ed Lee stood their ground against the developers, who hired former mayor Willie Brown as a lobbyist to try to lower the rates on the special infrastructure tax district, known as a Mello-Roos District. The move threatened to cut funds from the extension of Caltrain and high-speed rail downtown into the Transbay Center under construction.

A rendering of the Transbay Transit Center and surrounding high-rise development to come, via TransbayCenter.org

The SF Chronicle reports:

Under the agreement, the city will still collect up to $1.4 billion in taxes from property owners around the new transit center for the Caltrain, and possibly high-speed rail, connection. But the revenue would come in over 37 years instead of 30 after city officials agreed to extend the life of the tax district to make it more palatable for the property owners.

Even though the rates hadn’t changed from 0.55 percent of property values, developers complained that the skyrocketing value of real estate in downtown had increased the maximum project revenues in the district from $400 million to $1.4 billion.

The Board of Supervisors won’t vote on final approval of the agreement for another two weeks while the details are worked out, but members said it looks solid at first glance. Supervisors Scott Wiener and Jane Kim lauded the agreement, and credited Mayor Lee for standing firm against the developers’ attempts.

“I’m not referring to this as a compromise, because the [Transbay Joint Powers Authority] is getting all the money that we were seeking,” said Wiener.

Mayoral spokesperson Christine Falvey told the Chronicle on Monday, “The city believes that the special tax rates that the developers are being asked to pay are more than fair considering they are taking advantage of a very significant increase in height limits for their buildings offered under the transit center district plan.”

The developers apparently backed down on their threats to sue the city if it didn’t assess the property values at their 2007 rates rather than current ones. Before the agreement was reached in a closed session, Wiener said, ”If [a lawsuit is] what has to happen, so be it. I don’t think we should cave in.”

“I don’t think much of the legal claim that’s being asserted,” said Wiener. “I think it’s pretty clear that the valuation was not going to be at the bottom of the recession.”

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Mayor-Funded BeyondChron Attacks Wiener’s Transit Funding Measure

BeyondChron editor Randy Shaw, who gets funding from the Mayor Ed Lee’s office for projects like the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, penned a predictable defense of Lee’s recent attack on Supervisor Scott Wiener’s transit funding ballot measure today. Shaw backed Lee’s decision to drop support for the vehicle license fee increase, and argued that Muni’s share of the city’s general fund has increased enough in recent years, compared to other city services.

Screenshot from BeyondChron

Much like Shaw’s January article lauding the mayor’s call for free Sunday parking – which ignored the SFMTA’s report on its impacts – his latest piece just mimics Lee’s position. Mayor Lee said on Monday that Wiener’s measure is “disturbing,” that it “can be very damaging” to the city budget, and that he “has to hold the supervisors [that voted for it] accountable.”

Shaw argued that, by mandating a set-aside for Muni and safer streets, Wiener’s ballot measure would “reduce the ability of elected officials to set budget priorities” such as the Children’s Fund and increased wages for non-profit worker contracts. Shaw targeted his arguments towards Wiener, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu (one of the five other supervisors who supported the measure), and Streetsblog:

Wiener, Chiu and many transit advocates like to depict Mayor Lee as Scrooge when it comes to transit funding. They continually point to the mayor’s “abandoning” the Vehicular License Fee for the November ballot, despite this being “recommended by his own task force.”

Mayor Lee only “abandoned” the VLF for this November because polls showed voters strongly opposed it. As the SF Chronicle’s Matier & Ross reported on May 7, “a poll of 500 likely San Francisco voters – conducted for Lee by EMC Research from March 21-27 – found just 24 percent supported the fee increase. That is far short of the simple majority required for passage. Sixty-nine percent were opposed, and the remaining 7 percent were undecided.

Curiously, Aaron Bialick of StreetsblogSF cited the Matier & Ross story in reporting that the poll found 44% approval for the VLF. Bialick has repeatedly bashed Lee for not moving forward on the VLF, yet even with his misreading of the poll results—and 24% v 44% is a big difference—you can’t go forward with ballot measure when your support is under 50% before the opposition campaign kicks in.

The cherry-picking there is blatant. The Matier and Ross article Shaw refers to says, “When pollsters told survey respondents about the improvements the money would provide for Muni, road repairs and the like, support climbed to 44 percent — still below the majority threshold.” It would raise $1 billion over 15 years for pedestrian safety projects, bike infrastructure, transit improvements and vehicle purchases, and road re-paving — just by restoring the VLF to the rate that it was at statewide for over 50 years.

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Mayor Vows to Punish Supes Who Backed Wiener’s Transit Funding Measure

Mayor Ed Lee, who has cut into transportation funding by nixing Sunday parking meters and abandoning a proposed vehicle license fee increase, now says that he will punish the six supervisors who voted to approve a ballot measure to increase transportation’s share of the general fund. Supervisor Scott Wiener proposed the charter amendment as a stop-gap measure to fund the city’s transportation needs, while SF waits two years for the mayor to support a vehicle license fee measure.

Mayor Ed Lee with SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin yesterday, where he told reporters that he will “hold the supervisors accountable” for putting Scott Wiener’s transit funding measure on the ballot. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SF Chronicle reported on Sunday that ”the mayor’s office seems to be hinting that it will target programs important to the six supervisors who voted to place Wiener’s proposal on the ballot — Wiener, David Chiu, Jane Kim, London Breed, Malia Cohen and David Campos.”

Lee confirmed this report at a press conference yesterday, where he signed his touted $500 million transportation bond ballot measure. The mayor told reporters, ”I have to hold the supervisors that did this accountable,” and called Wiener’s measure ”disturbing,” adding that it “can be very damaging” to the city budget.

“Fiscally, it was not responsible to have done,” Lee said. “It disbalances the budget, and it was not what we had all collaboratively agreed to do.”

If passed, Wiener’s charter amendment would allocate an estimated $22 million to transportation in fiscal year 2015-2016, with 75 percent dedicated to Muni and the rest dedicated to bicycle and pedestrian safety improvements. Subsequent increases, based on population growth, would follow each year. A provision in the measure allows the mayor to nix it, once voters approve the vehicle license fee — as expected in November 2016, if the mayor follows through on his pledged support.

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Supes Approve Wiener’s Population-Based Transit Funding Measure for Ballot

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The Board of Supervisors voted 6-4 today to put on November’s ballot a charter amendment that would increase the share of general funds devoted to transportation, based on population growth.

Supervisor Scott Wiener introduced the measure as a backup plan to generate transportation revenue — 75 percent of which would go to Muni, 25 percent to pedestrian and bike upgrades — after Mayor Ed Lee dropped his support for putting a vehicle license fee increase on the ballot this year. If passed by a majority of voters in November, Wiener’s charter amendment would provide a $23 million budget boost in the first year by retroactively accounting for the last ten years of population growth. Annual funding increases, commensurate with population growth, would follow.

“For too long, City Hall has been slow to prioritize transit funding,” Wiener said in a statement. “We are a growing city, and we need to take firm steps to ensure that our transportation system keeps up with that growth. Improving transit reliability and capacity, and making our streets safer, are key to that goal.”

The six supervisors who voted in support of the measure were David Chiu, London Breed, David Campos, Malia Cohen, and Jane Kim. The votes against came from Supervisors Katy Tang, Norman Yee, Mark Farrell, and Eric Mar. Supervisor John Avalos was absent.

At a recent committee hearing, Supervisors Tang and Yee voiced their “discomfort” with the measure, because it could siphon off general funds that could be used for other city services. Tang also said asking voters to pass the measure, in addition to the $500 general obligation bond for transportation, may be too much of a burden. According to reports from staff at City Hall, Mayor Lee also opposed it for those reasons.

When asked for comment on the supervisors’ approval of Wiener’s measure, mayoral spokesperson Francis Tsang only said, “Mayor Lee’s transportation priority for November is for approval of the City’s first ever $500 million general obligation bond for transportation.”

Wiener’s measure includes a provision that would allow the mayor to nix the charter amendment, if the vehicle license fee increase is passed in 2016.

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Supes Vote Next Week on Wiener’s Backup Transportation Funding Measure

Supervisors are expected to vote next week on Supervisor Scott Wiener’s backup plan for transportation funding — a charter amendment that, with voter approval, would increase the share of the city’s general fund that gets allocated to Muni, pedestrian safety, and bike infrastructure. That share would be tied to the city’s growing population.

Supervisor Scott Wiener. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Wiener introduced the measure as a safeguard that would increase transportation funding even if Mayor Ed Lee dropped his plan to put a vehicle license fee increase on the ballot. Lee subsequently did drop his support in June, at least until the 2016 election, so Wiener proposed his stop-gap measure. The legislation includes a provision that would allow the mayor to remove the charter amendment if the vehicle license fee increase is passed in 2016, according to Wiener.

“We are a growing city. We’ve grown by 85,000 people since 2003… and we have not made the investments we need to make sure our transportation system, particularly Muni, keeps up,” Wiener said at a committee meeting last week. “This will help bridge the gap.”

The vehicle license fee increase would have generated about $33 million per year for the SFMTA. The agency’s two-year budget assumed its passage in 2014, along with a $500 million general obligation bond for transportation that supervisors unanimously approved for the ballot yesterday.

Currently, Muni gets about $232 million in general funds annually. If approved, Wiener’s charter amendment would provide a $23 million budget boost in the first year, retroactively accounting for the last ten years of population growth. Seventy-five percent of the new funds would go to Muni, and 25 percent to “street safety measures,” according to Wiener.

“Muni’s been severely underfunded for years,” said Ilyse Magy of the SF Transit Riders Union, which has applauded Wiener’s measure. “It’s essential that measures based on alternative funding strategies be put into place,” she said, noting that Mayor Lee also cut $11 million annually from Muni operations by repealing Sunday parking meters.

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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.

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