Another Open Letter to Mayor Ed Lee: Muni Deserves Your Attention, Sir.
February 21, 2011
Mayor Ed Lee
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, Room 200
San Francisco, CA 94102
Dear Mayor Lee:
A little over a month ago, I extended a sincere invitation to you and your staff to join myself and fellow Muni owner/riders on a ride on Muni as a fun way to discuss the challenges ahead for Muni during your interim term in office. Some dismissed it as a joke, but I was being honest, and thought it would be a nice way to get past the politics that cloud Muni, and replace it with some common sense thinking as we move forward.
Needless to say, it was disappointing to hear that during your term in office, you said that Muni's problems simply were not a priority for you, and instead things like a yacht race for billionaires took precedence over something that everyone uses, like Muni.
But rather than hurl political stones, I'd like to simply offer a few suggestions as to why this year Muni needs the full attention of yourself, the Supervisors, and the general public. Maybe you could take a look, and realize that Muni's not on the road to glory, but in fact an agency beset by management problems and long term financial problems not solved with slogans or gimmick fixes:
- Proposition G will allow, over the long term, for changes in work rules that can help make the system more efficient and cost-effective. It is not a cure-all for the agency's woes, as "operator pay" is not the single driving force costing the agency. However, for G to succeed, the SFMTA must be prepared to conduct a collective bargaining session that is successful, and right now we don't know just how prepared the agency is to re-negotiate a contract that hasn't been negotiated in decades against a union leadership that is openly hostile to the agency and Muni's owner/riders. (Note how I said "union leadership", not union members, because the great majority of Muni's operators do a tough job well and deserve a better union leadership than what they have).
- Muni's very well paid CEO, Nathaniel Ford, has been shopping for a new job for the last several years. He is clearly not interested in working here anymore, and the disarray the agency shows now reflects this. It was reported that he's a finalist for a job in Washington DC, and if he leaves, it'll be on the eve of the aforementioned negotiations. We can't have a management vacancy at a time like this, and we need someone at the top who wants the job and is able to do it. To ignore this is to ensure more failure.
- The chair of the MTA Board, Tom Nolan, is clearly out of his depth, as a former suburban politician. The fact that he actually said "Family trumps Transit First" ("family" defined as wealthy people whose nannies need parking permits in already-crowded neighborhoods) shows that he just doesn't seem to understand how different San Francisco is from San Mateo County. (not to mention that his remarks shows clear contempt for families that can't afford "nannies" and need a reliable, affordable system for their families to thrive in the City). Find a way for him to graciously leave the stage and replace him with someone who takes a more balanced view.
- Muni's fiscal woes are no state secret. They are, however, caused primarily by the multi-year looting of the agency by the State of California, and the outrageous looting of Muni funds by the previous Mayor to other departments have been the primary reason the agency is in such trouble. "Gimmick" funding, such as increased parking ticket fines, will not (and should not) fix Muni's woes. Only by creating honest, long term, predictable sources of revenue, will we replace all those state dollars the ex-Governor and Democratic legislature looted over the past 7 years. Without your support, any proposals that might help us for the long term are likely to die.
We cannot put off these problems until the next Mayor takes office in January 2012 and let Muni idle like a bus stuck in traffic, for a year. There are many important issues competing for your attention, but to push Muni's problems aside, like a political football no one wants to touch, just makes the problem worse.
As a world traveler, you've seen plenty of other places, often without the unique benefits our City offers, build mass transit systems that are truly "world class." There is no reason that Muni can't be in that league, it is only because people have chosen to make the system a national joke. That's not good enough for me as one of the hundreds of thousands of owners of Muni, and it shouldn't be good enough for you, as both a Muni Owner/Rider and one of the people in City Hall charged with doing the people's business.
As always, feel free to contact me at the email address listed above. Thanks for listening.
The N Judah Chronicles