As Central Subway Funding Deadline Looms, Chinatown Rallies Support

Chinatown Community Develompent Center and Chinatown Tenants Association members rally for the Central Subway. Photo: Matthew Roth
Chinatown Community Develompent Center and Chinatown Tenants Association members rally for the Central Subway. Photo: Matthew Roth

Much has been made over the past two days about the funding gap the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) needs to make up by spring of 2011 to complete the Central Subway, the result of an article in the Chronicle and a small dust up between the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) Executive Director José Luis Moscovich and SFMTA CFO Sonali Bose yesterday.

Moscovich criticized Bose for presenting what he said was an unconvincing plan [pdf] with scant detail on how the SFMTA plans to find $137 million by February, 2011, when it owes the Federal Transit Administration its local funding plan to secure federal New Starts grants of up to nearly $1 billion. Though the SFMTA is confident it will meet the obligations from the feds, Bose was instructed to return to the SFCTA with a more detailed plan next week.

Despite the theatrics of the meeting, SFMTA Central Subway project manager John Funghi told Streetsblog the agency has numerous options for identifying the funding and that it doesn’t need $137 million in cash, merely the commitments from regional and state partners to program the money and spend it by 2015.

“It’s a programming exercise to program the project by the first quarter of next year,” said Funghi, who noted the SFMTA still has at least $60 million set aside for it from Proposition 1A, the High-Speed Rail bond, given the inter-connectivity to the larger project. He also hoped to get more money from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission through regional funding measures like Proposition 1B. The agency could also consider bonding for the project, once it has established its credit rating to issue municipal debt.

Opponents of the project, like Save Muni’s Howard Wong, argue the capital investment in the Central Subway prevents the agency from addressing massive deferred maintenance needs to motor coaches, trolleys and other infrastructure. “The entire Central Subway program is damaging to the system,” said Wong. “They have $2 billion deferred investments. Any funds put toward any other long-term infrastructure project is damaging to the current existing operations.”

“Muni riders in the next few years are facing that poor service, crumbling service,” he added.

Image: SFMTA
Image: SFMTA

As for criticism that the SFMTA will add debt to a system that will be paid from future operating revenues, Funghi said the FTA’s rules prohibit such a scenario.

“That’s sort of a cardinal rule. We’re not going to do that, or you lose the funding,” said Funghi. “We’re putting together a solid financial plan to assure the FTA that we won’t do [that].”

“If we don’t close the gap, there won’t be a project,” he added. “There isn’t a fear that we’re going to move ahead with a program that won’t be fully funded.”

Despite the SFMTA’s confidence it will meet its obligations, Chinatown advocates were concerned enough by the possibility the project wouldn’t cross the finish line to hold a rally Monday in support of the Central Subway.

“This is an environmental justice issue that we’ve been fighting for for a long time. It’s a good thing for all of San Francisco,” said Chinatown Community Development Center’s Reverend Norman Fong. “We’ve already paved the way for federal funding. We don’t want Sarah Palin or any of her buddies to get that money. It’s gotta stay with us. This subway is our subway and it’s going to happen. We should celebrate it.”

Several speakers at the rally referred to the project as an environmental justice issue and said the city should fulfill its promises to the Chinatown community, some decades old.

“There seems to be some sort of movement to target the Central Subway as though not supporting the Central Subway would resolve the issues within Muni,” said Alex Tom, executive director of the Chinese Progressive Association. “Just as the right and the conservatives targeted bus drivers and said that bus drivers are the problem with the system and we need to cut the wages of bus drivers. Muni as a whole system has problems, but we cannot allow people to scapegoat Chinatown and to scapegoat this subway project to say that this subway is the problem with Muni.”

Amid chants and cheering from approximately fifty people at the rally, Wing Hoo Leung, Vice President of the Chinatown Tenants Association, said the project opponents were not representative of Chinatown. “The people of Chinatown have spoken. Those of us who live and work in the neighborhood have said yes to the Central Subway,” said Leung. “We need to respect those voices and work positively toward making this project a successful reality.”

According to Carter Rohan, acting executive director of the SFMTA, who updated the board of directors yesterday, the SFMTA will return to the SFCTA next week with a more detailed funding plan. He also assured directors the agency would meet the FTA’s guidelines and line up the funding in time. “In the coming months, we are very confident the funding gap will be successfully addressed to begin major construction as scheduled.”

  • “he SFMTA still has at least $60 million set aside for it from Proposition 1A, the High-Speed Rail bond, given the inter-connectivity to the larger project.”

    I’m sure the feds are wise to the fact that the CS won’t “connect” with HSR. Maybe Funhgi is a really good liar, he does do it for a living, but 4th and King won’t be the terminus.

    “We don’t want Sarah Palin or any of her buddies to get that money.”

    Talk about staw-man argument. Ha.

    “Those of us who live and work in the neighborhood have said yes to the Central Subway”

    Convient when you keep a great majority of the neighborhood in the dark about the project.

  • Evan

    The CS will stil make it a lot easier for people to get to Transbay. As someone who rides along this corridor all the time, it’s desperately in need of more capacity.

  • Mad Park

    Remind this non-resident of how the CS will connect to the BART and MUNI subway at Market Street? And if not, why not? And, further, if not, of what use is this project?

  • Alex Tom, executive director of the Chinese Progressive Association, is right. Diverting the funds earmarked for the Central Subway will not solve all of Muni’s problems.

    However, a new emphasis on using available transportation funds cost-effectively to address these problems would be a good start. The poor service along Stockton Street has been a problem for decades. In all those years little has been done to bring bus travel along that relatively short section of congested thoroughfare up to standard.

    So now the SFMTA wants to build a mile of super-expensive subway. is convinced that building a costly and highly disruptive subway extended only as far as Washington Street is even close to being a good idea. Much better would be to clean up the service along Stockton by using part-time individuals at key bus stops to speed up fare collection and loading, immediately deploying low-floor buses on the 30 and 45 lines, equiping all Stockton Street buses with transponders designed to pre-empt traffic signals, and shifting the southbound leg of the 8x line from Stockton to a southbound bus-only lane on Kearny.

    San Francisco’s government recently completed a successful conversion of Market Street to a more transit, patron and bicycle-oriented thoroughfare. San Francisco’s government can and should do the same for Stockton Street.

    The fatally-flawed Central Subway has been heavily sold on completely false pretenses. For a summary of what’s wrong with the subway go to The subway simply won’t do what its promoters say it will do. If the subway is built in its present form, no group in the Bay Area will ultimately be more disappointed than the people of Chinatown. is made up of strong public transit advocates who want to see Muni…..all of Muni…..get better for the benefit of not only Chinatown but also the rest of San Francisco. For more information about our organization and how to become active in our group, go to

  • joan wood

    Those of us who live in North Beach will have to suffer 6 months of upheaval from the extension of the Central Subway tunnel SEVEN BLOCKS PAST the Chinatown stop to emerge at Washington Square. This will require re-routing of 6 bus lines in addition to the effect on businesses, cars, parking, utilities, and pedestrians for a very long time. The decision for this extension – “Alternative B”- at an additional cost of $20M, was made by MTA in consultation with SPUR, an association of mostly developers and lawyers. The purpose was to persuade any doubters that eventually there will be money and motivation to extend the Central Subway to Fisherman’s Wharf. Has anyone traveled on the Third Street Railway? The Central Subway is Phase II of this enterprise. Is Phase I a success? Enough said. Consider saving the $20M to Mind The Gap.

  • @joan – while your argument sounds a little “nimby” on its face – looked at deeper it’s not as nimby as it looks. You are getting some bad stuff in your back yard – but it serves no greater good. But I don’t want to save 20 million, I want to save billions. Can the whole thing.

  • @Evan, the CS gets nowhere NEAR the transbay terminal.

    @Mad Pak, 1000′ walk (no people movers) and 90′ up/down at Union Square. And we all know how reliable escalators run by MTA are.

  • Alex

    @Evan With one car trains spaced 10 minutes apart *at best* and eliminated/reduced bus service along the Stockton corridor, the subway to nowhere won’t increase capacity at all. Nice try tho.

  • Katherine Roberts

    Hey, if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 1,000,000 times. RE-convert the Stockton Tunnel back to the streetcar tunnel it was originally built (& designed) to be, & beef up surface transit along that corridor. This will effectively solve the problem of getting downtown commuters to & from Chinatown. How much would such a project cost? Millions? Billions? Trillions? I think more like mere thousands — plus, it would actually work. That’s why it’s not an option here — way too logical, inexpensive, & simple.

    Can the Central Subway NOW. A total disaster to the city & Muni. As if Muni weren’t enough of a disaster as it is. Stop this scandalous boondoggle in its tracks, & let’s get on with the real business of providing decent, functioning transit to the good people of SF. We have to do SOMETHING right at some point, don’t we? Don’t we?

  • All I know is that businesses in SoMa are getting the shaft as the construction fumbles during the utility relocations harm their revenues …. SoMa gets no respect.

  • I keep questioning the purpose of the Central Subway. The money spent digging a tunnel would be better spent on finding better ways to get transit vehicles in and out of Stockton St. without the traffic jams and the long loading times in Chinatown.

    If the Central Subway wants to gain dividends on its investment, I’d invest in getting the line to reach Fisherman’s Wharf. This relieves the congestion on the F-Market and during the major shutdown of the Cable Cars for its planned construction, a good alternative to get to the tourist attractions.

  • This is what happens when politicians make up promises during an election campaign. The bad idea born out of political necessity ends up with billions of dollars wasted. The sheer amount of lying and cheerleading by people all in on the take for redevelopment and contracts is disgusting. Maybe a Republican house isn’t so bad – I’m sure they’d love to yank the cash from this thing.

  • To Evan,

    You are under the mistaken impresssion that the Central Subway would make it easier for you to get from Chinatown to the Transbay Terminal. Today you ride a slow and crowded bus along Stockton to Mission and then transfer to an eastbound Mission Street bus to the Transbay Terminal at First and Mission. This is not good enough, but digging the currently planned hole under Stockton Street would make things worse, not better.

    With the Central Subway you’d either ride past Mission to the Convention Center Station at Folsom and walk back about 1,200 feet to Mission to catch the Mission Street bus, or you’d get off at the Union Square Station and walk at least 600 feet to catch a Market Street bus to First…and then walk another 600 feet to Mission.

    Either way, your trip to Chinatown via the Central Subway would involve a lot more walking than today’s trip via bus. The way to make it easier for you…and everyone…to get from Chinatown to the rest of San Francisco is to clean up the Muni surface operation along Stockton Street.

  • Prince Newsom saves the day.

    “The plan calls for the agency to use $21 million in funds from the state high-speed rail bond, which included money for transit agencies that would provide connecting service to the fast rail line.”

    I really hope the state sees through the lies and doesn’t allow HSR money to go to a project that doesn’t even connect with HSR.

    SFCTA meets at City Hall Room 263 at 9.30 on Tuesday Nov.23 to further discuss funding. I can’t make it since I’ll be stuck in a cube, but I’m working on getting a list of email addresses for the SFCTA so I can write and express my distaste for this project. If you are available to speak up against the project, please try to make it to City Hall tomorrow.


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