Wednesday, March 16, 2011

City income from parking meters, parking tickets, parking lots: $180 million

As a candidate for mayor, Supervisor David Chiu at least stands forthrightly for something: He wants to be the candidate of the city's bike people. Unlike other city politicians who have filled that role---Gavin Newsom and Ross Mirkarimi come to mind---Chiu is a serious bike guy.

But this pitch to the bike people at Bike Nopa is a bit disingenuous:

The condition of city streets rounds out Chiu’s concerns for transportation policy. He said he looked forward to further consideration of a streets bond measure to secure funds to repair and maintain city streets. Several district supervisors initially backed a streets repair bond measure for the November 2009 ballot before determining that the recession and public sentiment made passage unlikely. City planners are now looking to November 2012 for a similar streets measure, although Chiu said it might appear in the current election cycle instead.

And I might ride in the Tour de France! Putting a bond measure on the ballot to repair city streets is not going to happen, and Chiu probably knows that [Later: Wrong! The bond is on the November ballot]. He mentioned this to Bike Nopa because he knows that the Bicycle Coalition and city cyclists in general are rightly concerned about the condition of city streets. To a motorist, a pothole is a nuisance and maybe a repair bill, but to a cyclist a pothole can mean serious injury.

Let's look at the numbers. How much does the city now extract from the city's motorists? The San Francisco Transportation Fact Sheet of November, 2010, provides the answer: for fiscal year 2009/2010 the city collected $180,015,984 from city drivers! Hard to believe that the city can't keep city streets paved with all that money.

A breakdown: parking meters, $38,868,351; from the city's parking lots, $37,515,348; from residential permits, $7,905,051; and from parking tickets, $95,727,234 for a total of $180,015,984.

And the city collects money from the DMV in vehicle license fees, though I don't know what that number is or where to find it.

My impression is that city drivers are already annoyed with the escalation by the city in handing out parking tickets. The idea that they would vote for a bond to fix city streets in light of the numbers above seems fanciful.

Where does all that money now go? As I explained the other day, a lot of it is going into the Rose Pak Central Subway to Chinatown and the new transbay terminal (where high-speed rail will never arrive or depart). The city also gets a pot of money from the Prop. K sales tax for transportation, a lot of which is also going into these projects. Why does Muni have a deficit with all this transportation money sloshing around?

Chiu does some more campaigning for the anti-car vote by endorsing the city's plan to screw up traffic on Masonic Avenue:

Chiu said his transit-first vision for the city includes a safer Masonic Avenue, and he strongly endorsed the Boulevard design developed by city planners with support from several neighborhood groups. “We should make Masonic one of the great streets of this city,” Chiu said. He recognized that “creative financing” will be required to pay for the traffic calming changes proposed for the corridor.

The aforementioned Prop. K money is administered by the SFCTA, whose board of governors is the Board of Supervisors. Prop. K money can't be used for Muni's operational expenses, but it can be used for almost everything else that has to do with transportation in the city, including paving city streets.

If you can find out from the SFCTA's website exactly how much the city gets every year in Prop. K sales taxes, you're a better man than I. But I did find this: $2.35 billion over a 30-year period in this document, which seems like enough to pay for both screwing up Masonic Avenue and paving our streets. In fact on page 16 we learn that paving the streets is part of Prop. K's mandate: "Repaving and reconstruction of city streets to prevent deterioration of the roadway system, based on an industry-standard pavement management system designed to inform cost effective roadway maintenance."

All of this tends to make city government in San Francisco look a lot like a conspiracy against its citizens and taxpayers. The idea that City Hall would ask city residents for more money to pave their streets is outrageous.

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The map is not the territory, the menu is not the meal

Reading the story in today's Chronicle about how Bechtel Corporation has built more than half the country's nuclear power plants took me back to the days of yore, when I was a clerk at that San Francisco-based company during the 1970s. The safety of nuclear power was a controversial issue in California long before Three Mile Island, which scared the shit out of the whole country.

I asked an engineer who worked in the division that designed the power plants, Are they safe? After a long, not-very-reassuring pause, he answered something like this: We design power plants that are perfectly safe, but they might be built by contractors who cut corners, use sub-standard materials, or fail to follow our specifications. And after they are built, the people who operate the plants might be incompetent, drunk on the job, etc. All we can vouch for is the quality of our design.

It was an important point with wide application. Semanticists were telling us something similar: The map is not the territory, the menu is not the meal, and fail-safe specifications for nuclear power plants are not the same as fail-safe nuclear power plants. (And then there's Mother Nature, who can be an awful bitch.)

The moral of story: While the human species can be brilliant and charming, it's not good at constructing perfect systems. We shouldn't even try to do that if the danger from the failure of those systems is as great as it is with nuclear power.

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