Commentary: Why This Working Family is Supporting Muni Reform

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Editor’s note: On Friday, we presented an op-ed opposing Prop G. Today, Gillian Gillett, a transit advocate who is the chair of SPUR’s Transportation Committee, explains why she’s voting for Prop G.

Living in San Francisco provides families with many unique opportunities for learning, entertainment, and other benefits of a diverse, urban environment. However, families also face some unique challenges, as San Francisco has the lowest percentage of children of any American city, and parents like me with children in San Francisco’s public school system face additional challenges day to day. That’s why a well run Muni is absolutely critical for both working families, and for San Francisco as a whole – without it, San Francisco doesn’t function. That’s why my working family is supporting Muni reform.

Let’s look at some of the challenges kids in public school face right now.

The San Francisco Unified School District is considering cutting 57 percent of its transportation budget. That means 900 more kids won’t have a way to get to school, and at least 950 won’t be able to attend after school programs, which we know are vital for working families. 
This is especially troubling considering the fact that in many neighborhoods, kids outnumber [pdf] the available desks at school facilities. For example, in my neighborhood, the Mission, there are 2000 elementary school students, but only 1100 spaces in the elementary schools, and 40 percent of households do not own a car. 
Thus, when people suggest that parents of public school kids don’t send their kids to local schools because they “don’t like them,” they do not understand how the public school system sometimes works. This is also why a functioning Muni is absolutely critical for these families to succeed at work and at school.

In a time of economic crisis, we have to spend every dollar as effectively as possible to get the most benefit, and Muni is no exception. For the last several years, Muni has been making significant cuts to service. Even with the minor restoration of service, many families, particularly those who depend on Muni, are having a harder time juggling school, after school activities and work, when they have to wait longer and longer for a bus that may never arrive, or find themselves stranded when a connecting bus is late, or cannot get on a bus because it is overcrowded. If the current Muni trend of cutting service and charging more for it continues, people will choose cars over a slow, expensive transit system or decide to move out of San Francisco. I’d love to think everyone would switch to bicycles, but that’s not an option everyone can enjoy.

That’s why my family is firmly behind Proposition G, the “Fix Muni Now” charter amendment. As SPUR’s Transportation Committee chair, I’m well aware of how complex the MTA and Muni are, and that this is only one of many things we need to fix to make Muni run properly. It is, however, a critical step towards improving the Muni system. 
At a time when we are cutting service, we can no longer afford to be paying out uncontrolled overtime and various types of premium pay. We can no longer afford work rules that drive up the cost of running Muni and make it less efficient – we need to modernize them so that we can get the most for our money and put the savings back into running Muni as efficiently as we can. 
I’m more than happy to advocate that our Muni operators are paid professionally and get benefits that ensure their safety – I just want to see Muni spend its dollars wisely and not waste it on anything, including excessive overtime.  I want Muni to be as flexible as possible in providing service, fleet usage, staffing needs, schedules and operations; and with the current language in the charter and the MOU this flexibility is not possible.

That’s not “class warfare” – that’s common sense that helps us all.  Let’s not lose sight of who really depends on Muni – SF’s working families. Let’s not forget about them when we vote next week. Vote Yes on Proposition G to reform Muni now.

  • Benjamin

    Gillian is right on here. We need sensible reforms to make sure everyone in San Francisco — especially those such as schoolchildren — have access to a world-class transit system. There are other problems with Muni, but we have an opportunity to fix THIS problem with Muni NOW. Vote yes on Prop. G!

  • All this energy, so much faith in this measure, and bound to be so little payoff.

  • Shanna

    I completely agree, Muni needs to be available for everyone. I know how much reform Muni needs based on my bus rides to and from college everyday. We need a safe and reliable transportation system that is beneficial to all SF residents, Prop G will help make that happen.

  • I’ve gone back and forth on Prop G, but I’ve finally decided to vote no. There’s a lot of good here, but ultimately the measure contains a poison pill: the unfair requirements that put a thumb on the scale against the drivers if a contract negotiation goes to arbitration.
    SF can do better than this: we can fix MUNI, and treat front-line MUNI workers equitably. The next time we go to the polls, you can bet I’ll support a proposition that does that. Unfortunately, that’s not Prop G, and I’m voting No.

  • Katie

    Proposition G is about efficiency – something San Francisco’s transportation system needs more of. A better working Muni is necessary for all of us. Yes on G!

  • Emily

    Just like schoolchildren, so many divisions of our city’s population are vulnerable to the whims of Muni service. Steps toward reform are steps in the right direction!

  • I agree that we all deserve a more reliable MUNI. I strongly disagree that that’s possible without treating front-line workers, including drivers, as partners in improvements. Prop G treats drivers as adversaries, and from where I’m sitting, that’s a step backward in making MUNI better for everyone.

  • Alex

    Sasha: And yet the drivers treat the passengers as adversaries. Go figure.

  • mcas

    Gabriel Metcalf, Executive Director of SPUR, which Gillian is representing told Streetsblog just last week: “It’s important not to oversell Prop G.”

    …and now we have the impassioned blog post from a SPUR Board member implying if we don’t pass Prop G:
    – 900 more kids won’t have a way to get to school,
    – and at least 950 won’t be able to attend after school programs

    But, if we do pass Prop G:
    – Stop service cuts, magically.
    – Improve missed runs, magically.
    – Reduce over-crowding, magically.
    – Reduce Car Dependency, magically.

    The post is very impassioned, and well-written, and Gillian is a very smart advocate– but I doesn’t have any actual facts as to *HOW* Prop G is supposed to do *ANY* of these things, all the while contradicting their Executive Director’s sentiments admitting it can’t do these things.

  • G is but one of many reforms we need. Don’t say no just because we haven’t hit the other ones yet: ending the looting of Muni by City Departments, restoring a real Local VLF that plugs the hole created by the state raids on Muni, and other stable, long term revenue sources, and reform in management so we’re not paying a Muni CEO who is not only paid more than a Supreme Court Justice and does not realize he works for us, not for the Mayor or the upper management.

    Put all that on a ballot and I’ll hella vote for it too. Surely even unions could support THOSE reforms?

  • this new “G is oversold” crap is just more lies from the TWU and their allies. It’s one piece of a bigger problem. Stop being jerks and look at reality.

  • Al

    “Put all that on a ballot and I’ll hella vote for it too.”

    Yeah. I don’t doubt that drivers aren’t the villains here (at least not all of them), but I haven’t seen much evidence that the drivers’ union is working toward actually improving Muni. If they had me convinced that improving Muni was among their goals, I would not vote for G. If you believe management is the problem, then let’s create a measure to reform it, and I’ll vote for that too, but I’m not seeing it as enough reason to reject G.

  • Micah


    Prop G will not magically make these things occur: the decreased car dependence, the mystical restoration of service, the cure for a rainy day. But, what it will do is restore sanity and rationality to the operator contract negotiation process upon which much of the internal financial side of MUNI is based. It is that first step that will allow MUNI to turn the corner towards becoming the viable public transportation system it should be. It is a step, a profoundly important first step, not a cure-all, and without this step we’ll get nowhere. No one on the YES side believes otherwise.

    As for this nonsense about attacking drivers: Whoa. Let’s be honest here. Who else, union or not, has their salary based upon the average of the nation’s two highest? I know I certainly don’t. Do you? I bet you don’t. This proposition restores reason. Having your salary unconditionally based upon an average of the nation’s two highest isn’t reasonable. And, clearly, isn’t workable either. Try again.

    Should we even talk about MUNI work rules?

    YES ON G.

  • @Greg – But prop G *is* being oversold and I say that as somebody who will most certainly be voting yes. From their tag line “Fix MUNI” to glossy ads I’ve gotten in the mail that imply prop G will solve everything to to the spurious “think of the Children” argument presented here, the Prop G campaign has been all about oversell. That’s not a reason to vote against the measure, but the point that more needs to be done to fix MUNI must be repeatedly stressed.

    We need to vote yes on prop G but if we *only* vote yes on prop G then we’ll end up with the same broken system.

  • Thank you for such a well-written, thoughtful explanation of the benefits of this proposition that I can and will share with my friends and relatives. Sure, you nah-sayers, government (and this proposition) aren’t perfect, it doesn’t go far enough, it doesn’t do everything right, it contains a poison pill. Don’t let this detract any of you. This is the same argument you hear for complacency. Not something I expect from commenters on this particular site. It’s an imperfect world, after all, or we wouldn’t need sites, or propositions, like this.

  • Matt

    Right on! I’ve yet to hear a single convincing argument against Prop G, which I consider a supremely reasonable proposition. Here’s what I’ve heard so far:

    “Prop G won’t fix all of Muni’s problems.” — Of course it won’t, but Prop G is a necessary first step. Without labor reform, there can be no Muni reform.

    “The real solution is to increase transit funding overall.” — Maybe if this were Saudi Arabia, we could afford to throw money at a bloated and inefficient system and allow one set of workers to continue enjoying an exalted status. “Increasing funding” is the usual liberal knee-jerk reaction to problems, and it rarely solves the core problem.

    “This is class warfare!” — Incredibly silly.

    “This is discrimination against minorities!” — Even sillier.

    “Requiring arbitration when both sides fail to reach an agreement harms drivers.” — This requirement recognizes one basic fact: Muni workers, like PG&E workers or police officers, serve a vital public function. They cannot be allowed to strike. Instead of taking to the streets, arbitration requires both sides to present their cases and settle them immediately. The arbitrator would be a neutral third party, so no side is really favored.

  • mcas

    @Greg: I don’t appreciate being called a jerk and I think you should check your attitude when you aren’t on your own blog- Streetsblog is and should remain a civil discussion about policy– not a 5th grade party. I’m not an ally of TWU– I’m just asking what Prop G will actually do to improve any of the things Gillian listed in the post. And as for ‘G is oversold’ being some underhanded plot by TWU– Gabe Metcalf, the Executive Director of SPUR, who is the key backer to Prop G, said it.

    @Micah: So, you basically are admitting that everything wrong with Muni in this article *won’t actually be fixed by Prop G*… right? Then, we’re on the same page- why vote for a do-nothing Prop?

    Simply put, Prop G is valued at saving a whopping $10 million at most– that’s what, 4 hours of Muni operations? How much did SPUR and Scott Weiner spend on this campaign?

  • Gillian Gillett

    This map illustrates where the kids are in the Bay Area (each red dot is 25 adults; each blue dot is 25 kids):

    This map illustrates where the SFUSD operates schools (“citywide” schools do not have a neighborhood, but draw from the entire city):

    Kids don’t have driver’s licenses; nor do we want to encourage their driving, or being driven to, school.

  • bs

    “The perfect is the enemy of the good” –Voltaire

    Prop G is far from perfect, but I believe it’s a (tiny) step in the right direction. If there was a better alternative on the ballot, I would vote for that instead. In fact, I hope MUNI drivers and others get something on the ballot next time that reduces Nat Ford’s salary by 50% (and large cuts in the salaries of other upper management as well). I would be more than happy to vote for that!

    mcas: EVEN if Prop G saves only $10 million, it’s a start. I don’t care how much Scott Weiner spent on this campaign as that’s not coming out of my (taxpayer’s) pocket.

  • @mcas – now you’re being intellectually dishonest, by tying this initiative to Scott Wiener. While he supports it, you are going out of your way to make him the boogeyman – sniffing a way to turn a discussion of G into a D8 Campaign forum.

  • Michael Smith

    Given that prop G is going to win by a landslide (thanks mostly to the TWU making the drivers look really, really bad) it is really time to start thinking about the other things that need to done to improve Muni. So I really wonder:

    * Will Supervisor Elsbernd, SPUR, Chamber of Commerce also come out forcefully for other improvements such as stop consolidation, transit preferential signaling, and effective transit lanes?
    * Will the same people who are against prop G continue to oppose change and be against such improvements?

  • Matt

    @Michael Smith — Couldn’t agree more. These are such easy fixes, and so cheap, and so effective. I would trip over myself to vote for these if they were on the ballot.

  • mcas

    @John: Scott shares his campaign office with Prop G! A ton of his mailers are focused on his support (or falsely implying Rafael is opposed to it). Short of Elsbernd, Scott’s the biggest non-organizational cheerleader for it, I’d say. I’d say he’s hitched his campaign’s wagon to Prop G pretty firmly.

    @Michael Smith: As someone who doesn’t support G, I’m looking forward to helping do all of your first points with the same people who support Prop G. And I have no doubt SPUR and other principled Prop G supporters will continue to work to better transit, as well, with folks like me who are on the other side today.

    In every election cycle, there are disagreements on policies/candidates/tactics– and so long as people don’t go after personal attacks or name-calling, people and organizations continue to work together– that’s how politics work.

    November 3 rolls around, someone wins, someone loses, and you re-group and continue to build a better San Francisco.

  • @John – Scott seems to be using prop G as a way to run ads that I presume don’t count against the spending cap. All the pro prop-G fliers I’ve received at my D8 house have really been “LOOK AT SCOTT WIENER” ads. It’s duplicitous and one of the reasons that I’ll be holding my nose when I vote yes on G. I also think this is a big part of why this measure is half-assed and only deals with narrowly attacking labor – it’s a better wedge for Scott and Sean that way.

    As bs said, we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good and these are not good reasons to vote against it, but they are reasons to redouble our efforts to continue to reform MUNI once this election is over.

    @Michael – Yes! Those are the questions we need to be asking.

  • When our elected officials practice the art of empty promises instead of taking action to fix things, we have to use the blunt tools available to us to do the job – Yes on G.

  • When Wiener tweeted “MUNI is beyond incompetent” a few weeks back he wasn’t talking about the drivers. He had an endorsement interview with the Chron and he didn’t say “MUNI sucks, this is important, I’ll take a cab” – he took MUNI because that’s what you do. And MUNI failed him. And it wasn’t because of the drivers. He thinks it is as unacceptable as any of us would, and I actually think he’ll make an attempt to do something about it if he wins (and even if he doesn’t).

    When I asked Rafi about G, he looked like he had just eaten a lemon. A lot of people talk about this being a “first step” or only “part of the solution”. I can’t really tell if Rafi is annoyed at the work rules or not. The overtime rules are patently ridiculous – it shouldn’t be a stretch to say that.

    My conversation with Rebecca Prozan left me with this opinion – she is “vaguely aware of something called “MUNI”.

    At one of the D8 debates they asked “If you had to cut money from the budget from these three agencies, which would you cut – schools/police/muni”.
    Prozan picked MUNI as first to cut.

  • And now that I said this, Wiener sent out a mailer pandering to drivers regarding Mandelman wanting to nickel and dime drivers by extending meter hours.

    Pobody’s nerfect.

  • Alex

    Murph: It’s the best of the worst. FFS RescueMuni endorsed Chu. 🙁


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