Democratizing the streets - Page 3

Streets of San Francisco: An unprecedented political consensus on rethinking roadways is belied by nasty clashes over how to pay for it

The number of SF cyclists has doubled in recent years even as a court injunction has prevented the creation of new bike lanes

The Budget and Finance Committee will begin taking up the MTA budget May 12. And progressive supervisors, frustrated at having to replay this fight for a second year in a row, are pursuing a variety of MTA reforms for the November ballot, which must be submitted by May 18.

"We're going to have a very serious discussion about MTA reform," Chiu said, adding, "I expect there to be a very robust discussion about the MTA and balancing that budget on the backs of transit riders."

Among the reforms being discussed are shared appointments between the mayor and board, greater ability for the board to reject individual initiatives rather than just the whole budget, changes to Muni work rules and compensation, and revenue measures like a local surcharge on vehicle license fees or a downtown transit assessment district.

Last week Chiu met with Newsom on the MTA budget issue and didn't come away hopeful that there will be a collaborative solution such as last year's compromise. But Chiu said he and other supervisors were committed to holding the line on Muni service cuts.

"I think the MTA needs to get more creative. We have to make sure the MTA isn't being used as an ATM with these work orders," Chiu said, referring to the $65 million the MTA pays to the Police Department and other agencies every year, a figure that steeply increased after 2007. "My hope is that the MTA board does the right thing and rolls back some of these service reductions."

Transit riders have been universal in condemning the MTA budget. "The budget is irresponsible and dishonest," said San Francisco Transit Riders Union project director Dave Snyder. "It reveals the hypocrisy in the mayor's stated environmental commitments. This action will cut public transit permanently and that's irresponsible."

But the Mayor's Office blames declining state funding and says the MTA had no choice. "It's an economic reality. None of us want service reductions, but show us the money," Winnicker said.

That's precisely what the progressive supervisors are trying to do by exploring several revenue measures for the November ballot. But they say Newsom's lack of leadership on the issue has made that difficult, particularly given the two-third vote requirement.

"There's been a real failure of leadership by Gavin Newsom," Mirkarimi said.

Newsom addressed the issue in December as he, Mirkarimi, and other city officials and bicycle advocates helped create the city's first green "bike box" and honor the partial lifting of the bike injunction, sounding a message of unity on the issue.

"I can say this is the best relationship we've had for years with the advocacy community, with the Bicycle Coalition. We've begun to strike a nice balance where this is not about cars versus bikes. This is about cars and bikes and pedestrians cohabitating in a different mindset," Newsom said.

Yet afterward, during an impromptu press conference, Newsom spoke with disdain about those who argued that improving the streets and maintaining Muni service during hard economic times requires money, and Newsom has been the biggest impediment to finding new revenue sources.

"Everyone is just so aggressive on trying to raise revenue. We've been increasing the cost of going on Muni the last few years. I think people need to consider that," Newsom said. "We've increased the cost of parking tickets, increased the cost of using a parking meter, and we've raised the fares. It's important to remind people of that. The first answer to every question shouldn't be, OK, we're going to tax people more or increase their costs.