"To some people $23 may not be much, but to [seniors], every penny counts," Pei Juan Zheng, vice president of the Community Tenants Association, told the board. She spoke in Cantonese, through a interpreter. "I know some senior couples who can only afford one Muni pass and share it, taking turns to go on doctor's visits."
So paid parking meters benefit many diverse constituents, and even SFMTA Executive Director Ed Reiskin publicly favored them. Making Sunday meters free again wasn't Reiskin's idea, he told us back in February.
That order came straight from Mayor Ed Lee.
Lee's statement to the press the day after the meters were repealed said it all.
"Repealing Sunday parking meters is about making San Francisco a little more affordable for our families and residents on Sunday, plain and simple," Lee wrote. "Instead of nickel and diming our residents at the meter on Sunday, let's work together to support comprehensive transportation funding measures this year and in the future that will invest in our City's transportation system for pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders and drivers alike."
Lee's reasoning doesn't address Sunday meters as policy, but as political fallout.
Two initiatives seeking funds for Muni are headed for the November ballot. In public statements, Lee repeatedly expressed fear that keeping in place Sunday meter fees, which generate revenue for Muni, would dissuade car-bound voters from supporting more funding for Muni at the polls.
The SFMTA board didn't even pretend to vote against the measure for its policy merits, instead vocalizing what insiders already knew: Mayor Lee wanted the paid meters killed.
"We need to take a step back and make sure we win in November," said Joel Ramos, an SFMTA director, moments before the vote.
"I know Mayor Lee has some of the best political minds in his office," Cheryl Brinkman, another SFMTA director, chimed in. "Lee is certain this will help us in November and help us with our ballot measures."
It seems these "best political minds" had greater sway in the end than SFMTA's own policy reports on funding and benefits brought by Sunday meters.
VOTING FOR THE MAYOR
The SFMTA Board of Directors is appointed solely by the mayor. Efforts in 2010 to reform the body to be a mix of appointments from the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor's Office went nowhere.
So as things stand, SFMTA directors' chances of reappointment depend upon the will of the mayor.
After the SFMTA board voted on Sunday meters, we phoned Brinkman to ask if Lee's appointment power swayed her vote on paid Sunday meters. She dismissed the idea, saying, "I have really strong confidence in this MTA board."
But Brinkman did say she was told by the Mayor's Office, though not the mayor himself, that Lee wanted to "kind of give people a break."
Past SFMTA directors have run afoul of the mayor's wishes on parking meter issues before. In 2010, StreetsBlog SF wrote how then-SFMTA director Bruce Oka was called into then-Mayor Gavin Newsom's office for a stern scolding after he publicly backed extending paid parking meter hours.
"I don't know if you've heard this about the Mayor's Office, but they tend to be a little aggressive when they want people to be in line with the mayor," Oka told StreetsBlog SF.