Central subway becomes issue in mayor's race

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The central subway -- for years, one of those San Francisco projects that almost everyone in local politics supported -- has suddenly become a major issue in the mayor's race.

After a blistering civil grand jury report (PDF) saying that the project has become too expensive and will take cash away from Muni's other priorities, some city officials and transit activists, including those who once were backers of the subway, are now saying it's time to call the whole thing off.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera was the first major candidate out of the box to denounce the project, telling the Chronicle that the subway has "ceased to be a prudent investment" and that it's time to pull the plug. It's likely that Herrera will continue to push Mayor Ed Lee on the cost of the project and its transit value, and the other candidates will have to figure out where to go.

There's no question -- this is an expensive proposition, $1.6 billion for a 1.7-mile line. Most of the financing is also federal and state money, meaning San Francisco's only on the hook for a little more than $100 million -- as long as the construction comes in at or under budget.

And powerful players like AECOM stand to make huge amounts of money off the deal.

At the same time, almost all of Chinatown is united behind it. "The community has been working on this for a long time. It's the first thing we've all worked on together," Rev. Norman Fong, who is about to take over as director of the Chinatown Community Development Center, told me. Supporters of the subway started some 20 years ago, and collected 20,000 signatures supporting a new transit option in a community where the vast majority of residents are transit-reliant. A delegation of seniors and tenant leaders went to Washington, D.C. to lobby for it. "And everyone in town signed off on it in 2008, when the cost was $1.2 billion," Fong said.

It makes for strange politics -- most of the same people who are really pushing the central subway are trying to stop state Sen. Leland Yee from becoming mayor -- but Yee is also a strong proponent of the subway. David Chiu is, also, telling me that the grand jury just "rehashed arguments that we've heard before" and that there's "enormous funding from the federal government."

I have yet to hear from John Avalos, but this one is not going away.  

 

Comments

and not like regular juries who are carefully selected using vois dire techniques. They are volunteers.

So, guess what? They tend to be people with a lot of time on their hands who want to play at politics. Most will have an anti-establishment grudge. IOW, baised.

So the fact that they don't like a prestige transit project is predictable, but tells us very little about how good the investment will eventually turn out to be.

Posted by Bob on Sep. 06, 2011 @ 6:30 pm

These are folks who volunteer their time -sometimes for as long as two years- and don't ask for one nickel. Yes, they tend to be retired folks- what do you have against seniors?

You actually think our bought and paid for elected officials have more crediblity than the CGJ?? Wow.

I recall when the CGJ first reported on the City's pension crisis folks like Gavin Newsom laughed at them. Where are we now- City officials falling all over themselves trying to come up with a pension reform plan and Newson lives in Marin.

Thank Gawd we even have a CGJ...

Posted by Guest on Sep. 06, 2011 @ 8:41 pm

make good reading. Although it's true they are self selected, they seem to be self selected towards people who have some expertise around finance and such things.

Thus your point around the pension and benefits time bomb.

Posted by meatlock on Sep. 06, 2011 @ 9:40 pm

There are the middle-aged, angry, laid off or fired types. And the younger unemployable, permanent "student" types. You see them at any City Hall meeting, most of which ordinary working people can't attend. They are biased against the establishment.

We should assess CS by it's long-term potential. Would these same people have had the same objections to BART? To the Market St. Muni streetcars?

I'm sorry, but I think the CGJ is a self-selecting group of whiney wannabees, and major infrastructure decisions should be made by professionals and elected officials.

Posted by Bob on Sep. 07, 2011 @ 7:34 am

Oddly enough at various times you can find the pro government Bay Guardian touting Grand Jury points.

Have you actually read any of them?

Posted by matlock on Sep. 07, 2011 @ 3:25 pm

I am getting the distinct impression you have never met a Civil Grand juror.

..."and major infrastructure decisions should be made by professionals and elected officials."

You mean the same professionals and elected officials who have burdened this City with an escalating $35,000 per household in pension and health care debt; and who can't seem to fill a pothole with a $6.8 billion budget but can devise a new pothole tax? I'll welcome a second opinion thank you...

Posted by Guest on Sep. 07, 2011 @ 3:32 pm

"as long as the construction comes in at or under budget."

Were you laughing when you typed that?

Posted by Guest on Sep. 06, 2011 @ 9:12 pm

Not us citizens.

That attitude kills me.

Posted by meatlock on Sep. 06, 2011 @ 9:43 pm

although it's expensive, it's mostly not the City's money. And that investment would simply go to another city if we churlishly refuse it. So even if we think it's not the most cost-effective design possible, let's still do it and give the City a new transit link on the dime of those who don't live here. After all, they'll no doubt come here as tourists and benefit from it.

Posted by Bob on Sep. 07, 2011 @ 11:07 am

"federal government is paying" & "that would be a terrible idea"=meatlock bs

Posted by vigilante on Sep. 06, 2011 @ 10:32 pm

The project was Willie Brown's scheme to toss a bone to his Chinatown allies.

Stockton St. is the issue here. It is gridlocked.

If you prohibited traffic on Stockton (buses and delivery trucks exempt), outlawed left turns off of that street, and outlawed parking on Stockton...

...problem solved, $1.8 billion saved.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 08, 2011 @ 7:00 am

Which Muni stop do I get off at for Burning Man?

Posted by Chromefields on Sep. 08, 2011 @ 11:17 am

If we're going to waste this money anyway, why not extend the line all the way to the Bay? It doesn't make any sense to have a line that only goes halfway across the city.

Posted by quahog on Sep. 08, 2011 @ 11:38 am

quahog, I think the Central Subway is just the first leg of a line that will extend to Fisherman's Wharf, Fort Mason/Marina and the Presidio. It would link people in all these neighborhoods to Bart, downtown, and Caltrain too. So, yes, at its first stage it appears to offer only congestion relief for Chinatown, but in the longer term it should be part of a city-wide underground or dedicated transit route network. This could revolutionize public transit in the city, linking all neighborhoods to employment or transit hubs. And it would be fast, no matter what the traffic in the city.

Posted by voltairesmistress on Sep. 08, 2011 @ 6:44 pm

quahog, I think the Central Subway is just the first leg of a line that will extend to Fisherman's Wharf, Fort Mason/Marina and the Presidio. It would link people in all these neighborhoods to Bart, downtown, and Caltrain too. So, yes, at its first stage it appears to offer only congestion relief for Chinatown, but in the longer term it should be part of a city-wide underground or dedicated transit route network. This could revolutionize public transit in the city, linking all neighborhoods to employment or transit hubs. And it would be fast, no matter what the traffic in the city.

Posted by voltairesmistress on Sep. 08, 2011 @ 6:45 pm

The tunnel from nowhere to nowhere.

Posted by Pat Monk.RN. on Sep. 11, 2011 @ 12:16 pm

The single most overused piece of hyperbole in the SF NIMBY lexicon. 98% of anything proposed in SF in the last 10 years has been described as a "boondoggle"

Posted by Guest on Sep. 11, 2011 @ 12:56 pm

@Hagfish 'guest'.
Lennar Urban Renewal.
49'ers Stadium Scam
Care Not Cash.
Park Merced.
Newsom.
Tunnel to Nowhere.
...............................?
...............................?
...............................?

Posted by Pat Monk.RN. on Sep. 11, 2011 @ 2:58 pm