Note: This post also appears at the SFGate.com's Bay Area Transit Blog, which I'm trying out to see if it helps boost traffic and expand the ongoing discussion of Muni and San Francisco city life. If you're new to the N Judah Chronicles, consider checking out the archives, as I've been covering these issues for over five years.
Ah, "reforming Muni." The new hot topic everyone's talking about. Whereas just a few years ago, you couldn't get a local official or activist group to even say the word "Muni," now, as the Muni Death Spiral gets faster and faster, suddenly everyone wants to get on board the Muni Reform Bus.
Which is wonderful, if local politicals and activist groups want to spend the time to carefully look at Muni and make the kinds of long term decisions that benefit everyone - even those of you who don't ride Muni every day and drive a car or ride a bike or walk.
Unfortunately, while fixing Muni is like curing cancer (if there was only one cause, it'd be easy to cure, but it doesn't have one single cause), trying to cure cancer in a politicized environment where the loudest screams get the most response isn't likely to happen.
Back in May, "progressive" Supervisors introduced a proposed amendment to the San Francisco City Charter that included a myriad of changes to Muni, some of which were clear (set aside money for the agency) and some which were not. As of July 26th, not only is there no finalized amendment - it may never appear on the ballot anyway.
Frankly, I'm not surprised. From the beginning, this had the look and feel of a bargaining chip as part of the back and forth of the legislative process, and as such wasn't worth taking too seriously. That's too bad because Muni isn't an "issue" that belongs to one faction or another - it's a system we Muni Owners rely on to get around town that needs to work.
Likewise, there was a lot of shouting about the proposal to give Supervisors direct appointments to the SF MTA board. Currently whoever is Mayor appoints the MTA, and the Supervisors approve the choice. The proposal was to give Supervisors 3 direct appointments and one joint appointment with the Mayor to the MTA Board - effectively giving them majority control over the agency.
Since at the time I was researching this post this was a Really Big Deal, I decided to email the four supervisors who proposed this change (Chiu, Campos, Mirkarimi and Mar) and ask them just who they'd appoint to the MTA Board, why they'd do a better job, and how these new folks would be free of political interference.
Now, sure, they're busy folks, but when I waited for almost a week for a response and got nothing, it became clear to me that this was either some political barb to poke Mayor Newsom in the eye with, or just a bargaining chip to get something else. Fine, but this kind of gamesmanship with a multimillion dollar transit system doesn't serve you, the Muni Owner, at all.
On the other hand, I recently attended an event for the Fix Muni Now campaign. I've discussed the merits of this in the past, but the one thing that continues to strike as I talked to people at the event was how they weren't there to bust unions - they really wanted a better Muni - and came from all sides of the political spectrum. It's not an overnight fix to Muni that will magically turn the agency around, but over the long term it's something we will probably be glad we passed.
I think it is time we challenge "progressives," and everyone on all sides, to take Muni seriously. That means taking a deep breath, avoiding the urge for political games, and contribute reasonable, well thought out solutions.
Stupid soundbites like "Chop from the Top!", "Tax Downtown More!" and the like from the left are useless. Likewise, expecting that the only thing causing Muni financial pain is "driver pay" and "waste" at Muni is overly simplistic as well. They are great at making people feel better, but they're just as cloudy and full of meatballs as anything politicians come up with.
Fixing Muni isn't easy or especially fun. But the benefits to everyone in the long run would be rather nice, though.
UPDATE: All the hoopla for nothing - they pulled their toys off the table. I guess that means whenever you hear David Chiu talk about Muni, expect him to talk. And talk. And talk.