Advocates Furious about Jane Natoli Rejection

Holding that housing is too expensive in San Francisco and scooters aren't the devil's work apparently disqualifies one from the SFMTA board

Jane Natoli. Photo from SFBC.
Jane Natoli. Photo from SFBC.

At its regular meeting Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors confirmed Sharon Lai, a former city planner, for the SFMTA board. But they rejected Jane Natoli in a six-to-four vote. The San Francisco Chronicle‘s Rachel Swan had a great breakdown of the events leading up to Supervisors Gordon Mar, Sandra Lee Fewer, Aaron Peskin, Dean Preston, Shamann Walton, and Norman Yee voting against her confirmation.

Natoli is, of course, a well-known advocate for safe streets, transit, safer bike lanes, and denser housing around transit. She also supports “for-profit mobility devices” such as scooters and bike-share. The Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, which helped block her appointment, held that against her as part of a long Twitter thread:

As Swan reported: Yee said he voted against Natoli because she is a “bike person,” and he wants the new board members to focus on improving transit service in low-income neighborhoods and areas with many people of color.

“Obviously I’m disappointed in the outcome but it’s odd to be categorized and written off as just a ‘bike person,'” Natoli told Streetsblog. “Yes, I bike lots of places. I also walk, take transit, and even occasionally find myself in a car. We are all multimodal. I hope we expand that mindset and think beyond people as single-mode users, both for future nominees and the sake of building a truly complete transportation system for all of San Francisco.”

Natoli is right. And “bike people,” whatever that means, don’t stand in the way of transit. But Yee does, especially when it’s a choice between those low-income people on transit and the motoring interests of his wealthy constituents in West Portal.

But the real reason Natoli was rejected may be that she touched the third rail of San Francisco politics by being unabashedly for more housing, even in areas currently zoned for single-family homes (as in, most of San Francisco). “As a YIMBY I definitely stand for that. I’d go so far as to say more housing especially in areas that are zoned for exclusionary single-family housing,” she told Streetsblog.

From a YIMBY Action statement on the decision:

Playing politics with transportation is nothing new to the Board of Supervisors. SF YIMBY and Grow the Richmond lead Jane Natoli is the latest casualty of this ongoing power struggle. Jane boasted a strong track record of supporting mobility through the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. She would have been the first trans woman to serve on the SFMTA board. Unfortunately, six Supervisors cared more about obstructing someone who is pro housing (and an ally of Mayor Breed) than all of that.

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition also expressed its strong disagreement with the Supervisors’ decision:

Jane Natoli was a highly qualified nominee for the SFMTA Board whom we were proud to support. As an elected member of the SF Bicycle Coalition’s board of directors, Jane demonstrated an ability to work with disparate voices and viewpoints, strong fiscal oversight, and support for a just and equitable transportation system. We disagree strongly with the six supervisors who voted no on her nomination, placing political considerations above Jane’s qualifications, views, and experience.

Alice B Toklas LGBTQ Democratic Club had this to say:

In the candidacy of Jane Natoli the Board of Supervisors had an opportunity to champion both greater Trans representation and vital oversight for an integral City department facing monumental challenges. Instead it did neither—a big mistake.

And Tyra Fennell, founding director of Imprint City, had this to say on social media:

Yesterday’s SF BoS meeting was scary; it showed [that] during one of the worse crises in San Francisco, there is no letting up on bogus political maneuvers.

And of course Mayor Breed, who nominated Natoli, was furious:

The Board of Supervisors’ decision to reject the nomination of Jane Natoli for the SFMTA Board is a deeply cynical move that represents what is wrong with San Francisco politics. And let’s be clear, this is simply about politics… The Board made her wait for over 100 days just to have a hearing. During this time, the SFMTA Board could barely make a quorum while the SFMTA is having to make countless difficult decisions as a result of COVID-19.

(That particular maneuver, in a bit of poetic justice against political hackery, empowered Cheryl Brinkman to put a stop to Supervisors Walton’s and Peskin’s other recent power play over Caltrain).

“We supported Jane’s appointment. As both a cyclist and a transit rider she understands the balance and trade-offs between the two for accessibility, safety, and sustainability,” said Cat Carter of the San Francisco Transit Riders. “With both her financial background and her grounding in community advocacy, we thought she’d be an asset to the SFMTA.”

How did you interpret the Supervisors’ decision not to confirm Natoli? Comment below.

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