Chiu talks MTA reform as agency fails to support Muni

Board President David Chiu brings in new talent as he prepares to push back on Mayor Gavin Newsom.
Evie Pitts

With the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors poised to approve a truly terrible two-year budget today (4/20) – one that locks in Muni service cuts, subsidizes the police and other city departments, and fails to seek new revenue sources – there is talk about reforming an agency run exclusively by appointees of Mayor Gavin Newsom.

The most significant figure sounding that call is Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who told the Guardian that he plans to hold hearings this year on the MTA board failures to support transit service, with the goal of placing reform measures on the November ballot. Helping that effort will be his newest board aide, Judson True, who comes from a fire-tested stint as the MTA’s spokesperson and before that was a board aide to then-Sup. Gerardo Sandoval.

“We’re going to have a very serious discussion about MTA reform,” Chiu told the Guardian. “I’ve got some real questions and for the next six months, that will be front and center...I expect there to be a very robust discussion about the MTA and balancing that budget on the backs of transit riders.”

Those discussions will be wrapped into city budget season, a realm in which Chiu is also adding firepower right now by hiring Cat Rauschuber as his other new board aide. Rauschuber has her masters in public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, most recently worked for city Budget Analyst Harvey Rose, and earlier worked in the city’s Legislative Analyst’s Office.

“It’s important that we hire folks who have experience in city government, particularly solid policy experience,” Chiu said, adding that his third board aide, Victor Lim, came from the Asian Law Caucus and has experience in immigration reform, another valuable asset given the ongoing standoff between the board and Newsom over sanctuary city policies. 

True and Rauschuber are also master networkers with strong and extensive connections in the progressive community, as well as more mainstream arts, culture, and political communities (Full disclosure: They’re also friends of mine). Those connections and social skills could help unite the varied critics of the current MTA budget, which range from the downtown-oriented SPUR to the new San Francisco Transit Riders Union (SFTRU) to the radical ANSWER Coalition, all of whom have areas of policy disagreement over the best way forward.

All are expected to weigh in today (4/20) at 2 p.m. when the SFMTA convenes in City Hall Room 400 to discuss and vote on the agency’s two-year budget. And while the groups may differ over partial solutions like extended parking meter hours, they all agree this a truly terrible budget that disproportionately punishes low-income people who rely on Muni.

“The budget is irresponsible and dishonest,” SFTRU 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.”

Mayoral press secretary Tony Winnicker has not yet responded to the accusations or to Chiu’s calls for MTA reform, but I’ll post his response in the comments section if I hear back.