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With or Without Mayor Lee, Wiener and Advocates Push to Keep VLF Alive

Just because Mayor Ed Lee withdrew his support for restoring the vehicle license fee doesn't mean it's dead. Sustainable transportation advocates are building a campaign to get the measure approved at the ballot this November with the help of Supervisor Scott Wiener, who may introduce the measure at the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, which is the legislative deadline to do so.

Supervisor Scott Wiener. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Wiener said he's not officially throwing his support behind a VLF measure on the November ballot just yet, but that he wants to keep the dialogue open with Mayor Lee on a timeline for a campaign that he's willing to back.

"It will allow us to continue the conversation with the mayor about how we're going to move forward with this critical revenue," he said. "If the mayor's position is that November 2014 is not the right time, and that it should be a different election, then we can have that conversation. But it's not adequate to not have the VLF move forward in November and not have any indication of when it might move forward."

Given Tuesday's legislative deadline, Wiener and advocates say the discussion is quickly evolving. Wiener said he may decide not to introduce the measure if "we can come up with some sort of consensus about a different timetable in 2015 or 2016, when people think we can move forward with unity and get it passed."

"I would prefer to do it in November 2014 and get it passed, and get funding for our roads and transit quickly, but the problem is we've not even had that conversation," said Wiener. "The message we've gotten is that the mayor does not want to move forward and is not committing to any particular timetable after that."

The mayor's office hasn't responded to a request for comment yet. If introduced Tuesday, Wiener's proposal would have to be approved by eight supervisors to be put on the ballot.

Supervisors Eric Mar and Jane Kim said they'd throw their support behind the measure, though Mar hopes to include "language that ensures the VLF is used equitably."

"The bottom line is that the transportation system needs funding for improvements beyond the street repaving funds the Mayor has put forward," said Mar. “The VLF has to move forward or everything that has been said in City Hall about transit improvements and pedestrian safety over the past year are just empty words.”

Walk SF, the SF Transit Riders Union, and the SF Bicycle Coalition are rallying support for the VLF in case a campaign does move ahead this year. Advocates and city officials are relying on the measure, along with a $500 million general obligation bond that will also be on the ballot, to fund city plans for crucial pedestrian safety projects, Muni upgrades, and protected bike lanes.

Thea Selby of SFTRU said the organization is "thrilled" that Wiener is looking to bring the measure to the Board of Supervisors, and that the group is confident that a robust education campaign could increase support at the ballot. "It's nice to see leadership somewhere," she said.

"The VLF will be critical if the city is to fulfill its commitment to Vision Zero -- zero traffic fatalities in ten years," said Walk SF Executive Director Nicole Schneider, who noted that the VLF would pay for fixes to two-thirds of the city's most dangerous intersections -- "just 6 percent of streets where 60 percent of all severe and fatal injuries occur."

"There are simple solutions that have been proven to save lives, but we've neglected these improvements due to funding constraints, which became more severe after the VLF was reduced by Schwarzenegger in 2004," said Schneider.

"Our local electeds committed to find consistent funding for safe, smooth streets," said SFBC Executive Director Leah Shahum. "We expect them to live up to that promise by putting this measure on the ballot and giving voters the choice."

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