Transit activists swarm City Hall

Upset about proposed hikes, activists gathered en masse at City Hall
Photo by Steven T. Jones

Hundreds of transit supporters, angrily opposed to the package of Muni fare hikes and service cuts proposed to close a $16.9 million mid-year budget deficit, are now packed into City Hall demanding equity and justice.

"I've never seen anything like this," Judson True, spokesperson for the SF Municipal Transportation Agency, told me as he surveyed the huge overflow crowd packed into South Light Court, watching the upstairs budget meeting on closed circuit television. "We should all get on buses and go to Sacramento. It's clear that grassroots organizing is alive and well in San Francisco."

It may be true that budget cuts and lack of political will to raise taxes in Sacramento helped cause this problem, but this crowd was angry and they directed most of that ire at the MTA board and the man who appointed them, Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Even True wasn't spared, as college student Glo Pereira laid into him as we spoke: "I'm a person who doesn't appreciate this," she glowered.
That was the dominant mood among the wide coalition of groups represented here today, including a strong presence by communities of color, those with disabilities, and social justice groups.

MTA spokesperson Judson True is confronted by activist Glo Pereira

"You folks should resign! You aren't doing your job and you haven't done your job," activist Bob Planthold told the board. "This is an agency run by one man, Gavin Newsom, in the interests of one man, Gavin Newsom."

That's a common theme, one of complete exasperperation, with regular calls to tax the rich and lay off the poor, and for more engaged leadership from the Mayor's Office.

As I write, there's still lots of public testimony to go before the board deliberates and votes, so check back to this blog post, which I'll update periodically.

Update: The MTA board seems to have heeded much the public input, voting 6-1 (with Trustee Cameron Beach in dissent) to remove the increases in Fast Pass fares for youth, senior, and the disabled and to approve the rest of the fare increases, which will increase prices for express buses and cable cars. That package was then approved on a 4-3 (with McCray, Lee, and Beach in dissent, although they didn't make clear the reason for their votes).

Similarly, another 4-3 vote by the same trustees approved a package of service reductions that total about a 10 percent overall cut, although there was a consensus direction for the board to try to spare cuts on the busiest lines, including 14, 49, 30, 38, M, and the Owl, as well as ensuring nightime cuts are minimized. Overall, the results of the vote weren't entirely clear and the meeting wasn't formally adjourned, but instead will be recessed until Tuesday when the board will discuss the larger budget picture going into the next fiscal year.

At that time, the board will consider placing a parcel tax or other new revenues measures on the November ballot, something that seemed to have the support of most board members. In addition, Director Malcom Heinicke today outlined his support for a extended parking meter hours, which he would like to see done as a pilot program along five or six selected commercial corridors on Sundays and on a single commercial corridor on weeknights until 10 p.m. Several board members voiced support for the idea.

While today's vote didn't close the $16.9 million deficit that was the purpose of this meeting and the public testimony that went for nearly five hours, MTA executive director Nat Ford noted that "there is some softness" in the revenue picture, including the possibility of getting a $7 million from the Board of Supervisors and using a greater portion of the $17 million windfall that the MTA received after the feds decided to discontinue the Oakland airport connector service on operations rather than maintenance, as staff had proposed. In addition, the MTA board is currently discussing a privatization plan for taxi medallions, which could affect the revenue picture.

I'll try to help sort this out with another post before day's end, including more testimony from the occassionally raucous meeting, but it appears that this meeting essentially ended with a "To Be Continued," and the board will pick up where it left off on Tuesday, when the big new revenue proposals (which Mayor Gavin Newsom has resisted supporting) could be at the very center of the debate.