Board of Supervisors Rejects Muni Service Cuts Appeal

IMG_1811.jpgDavid Pilpel, the appellant, speaks before the Board of Supervisors. Photo: Michael Rhodes

The Board of Supervisors rejected an appeal today that would have halted the 10 percent cut in Muni service that’s set to go into effect May 1.

By a 7-4 vote, the supervisors affirmed the Planning Department’s determination that the service cuts are statutorily exempt from environmental review since they’re covered by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s declaration of fiscal emergency.

David Pilpel, a regular at SFMTA Board meetings, had appealed the service cuts’ exemption from environmental review, arguing that the SFMTA isn’t a publicly owned transit agency but a city department, that the service reductions did not receive public hearings and that the SFMTA’s budget shortfall is a chronic problem and not a short-term crisis.

“This is a known, predictable and preventable problem. This is not brand new,” Pilpel told the supervisors during a hearing today.

The Planning Department responded that the SFMTA had met all the criteria for exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act, and that the decision wasn’t on the merits of cutting service, but on whether the SFMTA had followed procedure.

“For the Planning Department this is very much a black-and-white issue: you either meet the statutory exemption requirements or you don’t,” said the Planning Department’s Viktoriya Wise.

Sonali Bose, the SFMTA’s Chief Financial Officer, said the law allowing exemptions from environmental review was created for just such an occasion. “We believe it’s very clear the MTA met the standard,” said Bose. “We did not have enough revenue to meet our expenses.”

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd ardently supported that position. “Does it make sense for a city to have to spend 6-8 months and million of dollars on an [environmental impact report] every time they have to make service cuts?” asked Elsbernd.

Most of the supervisors agreed with that conclusion, with John Avalos, David Campos, Chris Daly and Eric Mar dissenting. After directing an intense line of questions at Planning Department and SFMTA staff, Campos said he wasn’t satisfied that the SFMTA had held proper public hearings for the cuts.

Supervisor Daly argued that the Board of Supervisors should do everything in its power to stop transit cuts, given the environmental impact of cutting transit service. “If we cut transit, we’re cutting everything that is environmental about us,” said Daly. “If I’m wrong on the law, fine, I’d rather go to court and get sued and lose.”

But Campos and Daly failed to muster the six votes needed to support the appeal, with Board of Supervisors President David Chiu breaking from his progressive allies on the vote. “It would be the easy thing to do, but I think our job is to follow the law and call the balls and strikes as we see them,” said Chiu. “I think in this case the law is clear and it makes sense.”

In the end, the supervisors gave kudos to Pilpel’s meticulous appeal for its “extreme creativity” (as Chiu phrased it) and to Pilpel for his dedication to transit, but it wasn’t enough to stop what Pilpel called the deepest Muni service cuts in modern history. The agency’s board voted in February to enact the cuts to help balance
its budget
through the end of the current fiscal year.

Still, while Chiu opposed using the appeal process to block the current round of cuts, he told his colleagues he’d oppose the SFMTA’s budget for the coming two fiscal years if the SFMTA Board doesn’t vote to return some of the service to the streets.

“I certainly expect that the MTA is going to roll back in a significant way the 10 percent service cuts that are proposed [for the next two fiscal years,] and if they don’t, I won’t support the budget,” said Chiu.

  • Chiu, what color is the sky in the world you are living in? “I certainly expect that the MTA is going to roll back in a significant way the 10 percent service cuts that are proposed [for the next two fiscal years,] and if they don’t, I won’t support the budget,” said Chiu.

    Well, the SFMTA is great at feeding a line of bullshit – so Chiu they will promise you whatever you want to be promised. You want them to say they’ll return service, then they’ll tell you they will return service.

    And why, oh why, hasn’t the SFMTA put ANY revenue measures forward the last 10 years? You can not declare a fiscal emergency if you have structured yourself in a way that your only option is cutting service and raising fares. Then it is obvious the vote for a fiscal emergency was only to avoid CEQUA. These are planned reductions in service and planned hikes in fares – the SFMTA has only now been given the stage on which to act out its play.

  • Oh, and thanks for the write-up, Michael.

  • It was a long shot for that EIR idea to pass anyway. I’m still grumpy that Muni is only 16 days away from service cuts, and there’s no publication of time schedules because while major lines have frequent buses, my line is at least every 20 minutes.

  • david vartanoff

    My hat is off to David Pilpel for the effort. SFMTA will lie, the BOS will whing but service WILL be cut, if not officially then the pattern of recent decades–never actually hiring enough drivers and mechanics to put the scheduled runs on the street. Anyone who reads the Daily Reports can see that many buses never run. When 10 buses are missing on Mission Street service IS cut.

  • Nick

    -“Does it make sense for a city to have to spend 6-8 months and million of dollars on an [environmental impact report] every time they have to make service cuts?” asked Elsbernd.

    This doesn’t make sense. How can they determine an EIR is unnecessary based on the cost and length of time involved especially when the outcome (service cuts) is predetermined?

    It’s like saying an EIR on the Bike Plan was unnecessary because we’re going to do it anyway. Might as well save some money while we’re at it.

  • Alex

    Look. What did you expect? What he should have at least considered was an attempt at getting an injunction against the declaration of a fiscal emergency. The only reason that a fiscal emergency was declared was to skirt the EIR. To demand an EIR at this point was a bit absurd.

    What might be more constructive would be to disincentivize declaring fiscal emergency. Suspend all bonuses and COLAs. Allow parking rates to be adjusted upwards without review, and mandate that they must go up by some amount. Suspend payment of intracity work orders. Stuff like that.

    Where are our local advocacy groups? I realize the transit riders’ union is busy fixing MUNI by encouraging riders to move to the back of the bus, but what about Rescue MUNI? This whole fiscal emergency thing is a rather large loophole that ought to be closed (even if it requires fixes at the state level)

  • Alex

    As for the cuts, the tragedy is not in the cuts themselves. And Chiu et al are morons for demanding more hearings. More hearings equals more waste. It’s that simple. The MTA doesn’t need more input. It doesn’t need to pay more overtime to staffers to handle these farcical meetings. They simply need to cut the cord to our coke addled mayor.

    The real tragedy in all of this is the amazing lack of thought put into these cuts. Take two examples, the M and the 108.

    The M. The MTA is proposing that every other run of the the M be turned back at SFSU. Has anyone thought about why they don’t do this now? Anyone? Perhaps you’ve noticed the signals and interlocks and whatnot out there. None of it’s being used. The signals never light up, some aren’t even aimed at the drivers. LRVs treat them like stop signs. Why?

    (drum roll please)

    Because they’re dangerous. Due to a combination of unreliable hardware and an incomprehensible interface, the crossover tracks have been out of service for NINE YEARS. The infrastructure there was only seven years old, if that. In that period of time, an ex-MUNI driver counted roughly twenty-five (25) derailments.

    So, let’s think about that for a second. This wonderful cost saving measure will put the MTA at risk for regular derailments and misrouted trains. Which lines are going to be cut further to cover the cost of repairs to the LRVs? Whose bonuses will be cut to fund the overtime to run shuttle buses in place of stalled LRVs?

    A modicum of forethought could have prevented *anyone* from following through on this half-baked idea.

    The 108. Do I really need to say anything about the MTA’s plans to gut peak service to a transit dependent neighborhood? Thought not. Just in case: for all of the missed runs that the Mission St corridor has seen, the riders can take BART, walk, or bicycle to their destinations. You still cannot do even this from Treasure Island.


  • Katherine Roberts

    Good work, David. I know you put a lot of time, effort, & aggravation into this, & I am sincerely sorry your efforts did not pan out. I can understand the predictable “moderates” on the Board not agreeing with you, but what happened to Mirkarimi & Chiu? They ought to have their heads handed to them on a platter for this. Kudos to Campos & Daly, who at least had the sense to know what was going on, & to speak out about it. I’m hoping if Eric Smith wins in Sophie’s district we will at least have one more reliably good vote on the Board. Fiascos like this show me how badly it’s needed.


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