Skip to Content
Streetsblog San Francisco home
Streetsblog San Francisco home
Log In
West Portal

Emails Confirm West Portal ‘Welcoming’ Committee Was Stacked from the Start

Diego Cardoso de Oliveira and Matilde Ramos Pinto weren't from West Portal. If they'd survived last March's crash, even they would have been barred from the 'West Portal Welcoming Committee,' according to the selection 'criteria'

Part of a shrine made for the dead family in West Portal. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

Only West Portal residents and workers from the area were permitted to serve on the "West Portal Welcoming Committee," according to emails obtained via a Sunshine Ordinance request. The request, which includes emails to and from District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar, was made by Steven Sedlmayr, a nearby resident, and shared with Streetsblog.

That means Diego Cardoso de Oliveira and Matilde Ramos Pinto, the two parents in a family of four killed by a driver while they were waiting in West Portal for a bus to the zoo last March, would not have been permitted on the committee, as they weren't from the area. The committee, meanwhile, was formed by West Portal Merchants Association president Deidre Von Rock, with the collaboration of District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar, who objected to proposed changes to make the street safer in the wake of the deadly crash.

"We have already agreed on the basic criteria that committee members need to work or live in West Portal [emphasis added], which all the people below meet," wrote Melgar in an exchange with Von Rock in one of the emails obtained through the Sunshine request.

"I don't live in West Portal," said Sedlmayr, although he shops there frequently. "What does your proximity to infrastructure have to do with the public safety of the infrastructure?"

But not only did Von Rock insist that everyone on the committee be from West Portal, she apparently tried to ban certain individuals, including Janelle Wong (who does live in West Portal) because she used to be director of the Bicycle Coalition. Here's part of one of the emails from Von Rock to Melgar:

It is nearly universally believed that the initial April 18 rushed plan was done to appease radical anti-car advocates, the Bicycle Coalition in particular. As they (especially [advocate Luke] Bornheimer) have been the primary antagonist of the merchants far and wide across the media since that day, this has essentially been confirmed. If you put the ex ED [Wong] on this committee, the response from the neighbors and businesses is going to be swift and extremely adverse.

As we are essentially making up this process as we go, I have no apparent veto power over your selection. But at the end of the day, an adversary like that is not going to be respected by the rest of the committee, and is going to encourage an outpouring of complaints from the community.  Despite the antagonists’ agenda, the tragedy, the intersection and the plans to be made going forward have nothing to do with bikes. 

Melgar, to her credit, insisted that Wong stay and Von Rock deferred. Von Rock, however, was still able to select and approve most of the other committee members.

Either way, the emails shine a light on the way the nature and purpose of the committee has been misrepresented. First of all, the April 18 plan wasn't at all rushed, nor was it made "to appease radical anti-car advocates," whatever that means. It was an old plan to improve transit reliability by keeping private vehicles off the tracks (cars were physically unable to drive down the tracks in West Portal decades ago, just as they are to this day a bit further south on Junípero Serra).

A train full of 100 people or more waiting behind private vehicles on West Portal Avenue. SFMTA's proposal would still allow drivers to use the street, they'd just be barred from the tracks. Photo: SFMTA

SFMTA's plan was to stop forcing thousands of transit riders to suffer delays for the convenience of a handful of drivers, by keeping cars off the tracks (see above photo). That would also create a safer street because there would no longer be cars speeding across the intersection where many people alight and transfer between trains and buses. To make it even safer, SFMTA proposed to add bollards and/or planters to stop any out-of-control driver from smashing through the pedestrian spaces and bus stops.

There's nothing remotely "radical" or "rushed" about it. Philadelphia, which also has a portal station for its western suburbs, barred traffic from crossing in front of its tunnel entrance 1983, as seen in the image below. Gardens were added later to beautify the area:

A family wasn't run over by a driver here in Philadelphia, because the station area is closed to cars and physically protected by giant planters. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

Also, Von Rock objects to Wong serving on the committee because her expertise is about bikes and, according to her, bikes are not relevant. Wait, what? What exactly is the traffic-safety expertise and relevance of the West Portal bar keeper and the hardware store owner that Von Rock selected for the committee? And what about Von Rock herself, who's a probate lawyer? Wong, who is currently the Interim Executive Director of the San Francisco Transit Riders, knows more about street safety than Von Rock and the majority of the committee members combined.

Moreover, Von Rock has proven that she isn't even familiar with the SFMTA proposal she's opposed to. In a post on the merchants association web page, she leads with: "Merchants on San Francisco’s West Portal Avenue were shocked to hear news of a proposed shutdown [emphasis added] of their street." SFMTA never proposed a shutdown of the street. They released an update of an old plan, for everyone to see (embedded below), that isn't a "shutdown" by any definition of the word. Under the plan, drivers can still access all stores along the corridor; they simply won't be able to drive on or across the tracks anymore (which was always a terrible idea).

SFMTA's proposed plan. Note private cars can still access every shop they could before, they're simply restricted from making certain turns or driving on the tracks. Image: SFMTA

"Going by the emails, Von Rock was allowed to choose six members on behalf of the West Portal Merchants Association, with Myrna Melgar's office choosing only five, and one of theirs was also a West Portal merchant, effectively stacking the committee with seven anti-transit merchants," wrote Sedlmayr in a post on social media.

The Simple Sabotage Field Manual, a once-classified guide used by the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency to train agents, recommends: "When possible, refer all matters to committees for 'further study and consideration.' Attempt to make the committees as large and bureaucratic as possible."

In Streetsblog's view, the "Welcoming Committee" is just that: an attempt at sabotage by a handful of unqualified, utterly self-centered drivers who just don't want to be inconvenienced by the SFMTA plan's turning restrictions. It's clearly got nothing to do with safety or "welcoming" anybody to West Portal. But because of Melgar, these people are successfully wasting the city's time and resources.

The mayor needs to step up, make good on her commitments, knock some heads together, and get the SFMTA West Portal plan passed and constructed without further delay.

 

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog San Francisco

Weekend Roundup: Twin Peaks Weekend Tunnel Closure, BART Closure too

...and BART Director Rebecca Saltzman running for El Cerrito City Council

June 21, 2024

Full-Time Great Highway Park to go on November Ballot

Seems politicians are paying attention to the polling on how popular safe-streets issues are with the San Francisco electorate

June 20, 2024
See all posts