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Mayor Ed Lee

Mayor Lee Abandons Vehicle License Fee Ballot Measure

Today's Muni "sick-out" reminds us once again that San Franciscans need better ways to get around. The consequences of a transit strike -- people stranded and unable to get to their jobs, queues of drivers clogging streets, and dangerous conflicts between impatient drivers and people who are walking and biking alongside -- are just a more extreme example of the everyday reality caused by the city's lack of investment in real transport alternatives.

Mayor Lee at the Bike to Work Day press conference on May 8. Photo: Aaron Bialick
Mayor Lee at the Bike to Work Day press conference on May 8. Photo: Aaron Bialick

None of that seems to concern Mayor Ed Lee, though, who withdrew his support for the November ballot initiative to restore the vehicle license fee, the SF Chronicle reported yesterday. The measure would provide crucial funding for safer streets and a more reliable Muni. The Chronicle reports:

Increasing the fee, which had been cut when Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor, from 0.65 percent to 2 percent of a car's value, was projected to raise about $1 billion as the city tries to address $10.1 billion in transportation infrastructure needs through 2030. That includes repairing streets, improving the bike network and upgrading Muni's fleet of streetcars and buses.

Lee upped the amount of tax money going to roadwork and other capital needs by about $40 million in the next fiscal year and is supporting a separate recommendation from his task force: a November ballot measure for a $500 million general obligation bond for transportation. But he is backing off the vehicle license fee for now after it appeared deeply unpopular, said Falvey.

"He heard that loud and clear," Falvey said. "He's committed to the recommendation, but now is not the time."

What's also loud and clear is that the mayor isn't willing to take any risks when it comes to even the least imposing measures to fund safer streets and better transit.

As we wrote last week, Mayor Lee's political support for restoring the VLF is crucial if it's to succeed on the ballot. Yet even after Lee pushed through the repeal of Sunday parking meters, claiming it would help sway motorists to support the ballot measures, he abandoned the only measure that specifically asks drivers to pay more. The VLF increase would only ask car owners to pay the same rate they paid for over 50 years, and represents a meager step towards recouping the costs they disproportionately incur to the street network.

A poll released a month ago showed that 44 percent of respondents supported the VLF increase. Mayor Lee says that means it's "not the time" to leverage his influence to put the measure over the top.

We know that it is far past time for SF to create a redundant network of safe, quality transportation options: a navigable network of comfortable and protected bike lanes, a web of efficient bus routes adapted to the city's changing trip patterns, and hazard-free streets and sidewalks. Such a reliable transportation system needs to be backed by a funding source as reliable as the VLF. And behind that, SF needs reliable leadership from the mayor to champion smart proposals from his own task force. Unfortunately, SF can't rely on Mayor Lee.

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