Monday, November 19, 2007

The great "transit-justice coalition"

SF progressives are evidently desperate for something to celebrate. In the current edition of the Bay Guardian, Tim Redmond and Steve Jones indulge in an extended high-five session over the recent election results:

Indeed, the big story of this election was the improbable triumph of environmentalists over car culture and grassroots activism over downtown's money. The battleground was Muni reform measure Proposition A, which won handily, and the pro-parking Proposition H, which went down to resounding defeat. It was, in some ways, exactly the sort of broad-based coalition building and community organizing that the progressives will need to help set the city's agenda going into a year when control of the Board of Supervisors is up for grabs.

This is standard SF leftist rhetoric: a broad coalition of activists, environmentalists and labor is always supposedly poised to do something or other. The notion that passing Prop. A and defeating Prop. H was a big victory for the left is unconvincing, since only Supervisors McGoldrick and Sandoval among city progs---joining the city's Republican Party---opposed Prop. A, and their dissent was only about giving an unelected MTA board too much power. 

Lined up in support of Prop. A was every liberal group and remotely progressive political figure in the city, including SPUR, the SF Labor Council and other unions, the SF Democratic Party, the Sierra Club, the SF Bicycle Coalition, DA Kamala Harris, and Sheriff Mike Hennessey.

It was more or less the same story on Prop. H, which was opposed by many of the same folks who supported Prop. A, including the Sierra Club, the Bicycle Coalition, and Rescue Muni. But city lefties can hardly take much credit for defeating a measure that was also opposed by the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association's Board of Directors, the Noe Valley Merchants and Professional Association, the Hayes Valley Senior Care group, the Western Office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Senior Action Network, and that well-known radical, State Senator Leland Yee. If Prop. H's opponents didn't have Don Fisher as a bogeyman, one suspects it might have passed.

Even so, according to Redmond and Jones, the A and H campaigns were "a watershed moment," because the labor unions were involved. Supervisor Peskin is quoted: "This would not have happened if it were not for our incredible brothers and sisters in the house of labor...This is the first time in the seven years that I've been on the Board of Supervisors where I've seen a true coaltion between labor and the environmental community." 

But the city's labor unions wouldn't have lifted a finger if Prop. A hadn't included more money for the Muni unions, even though labor and benefits already suck up 3/4 of Muni's $700 million budget. And of course there was nothing in Prop. A about reforming Muni's work rules.

Redmond and Jones do some comical contortions to interpret the Prop. A and Prop. H campaigns as a serious political challenge for Mayor Newsom:

Will Newsom continue to pay fealty to the biggest losers of this election, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and Fisher, who funded No on A–Yes on H and became this year's antienvironmentalism poster child? Or will Newsom — who has said little of substance about his plans for 2008 — step to the front of the transit-first parade and try to drive a wedge in the labor-environmentalist-progressive coalition that achieved this election's biggest come-from-behind victory?

In fact Mayor Newsom supported Prop. A and opposed Prop. H; his name was all over the campaign literature I got in the mail. And his relationship with labor is not antagonistic, especially after he walked the picket line with hotel workers early in his administration. Though one gets the impression that city progs wish it were otherwise, Mayor Newsom has also given the Bicycle Coalition and the bike nut community everything they have asked for in their ongoing campaign against cars, aka "death monsters," as Steve Jones calls them.

But what about the future? What will the great "transit-justice" coalition do with all this alleged political power?

Some of the ideas floated by the group include banning cars on a portion of Market Street, having voters endorse bus rapid-transit plans and other mechanisms for moving transit quicker, levying taxes on parking and other auto-related activities to better fund Muni, and exempting bike, transit, and pedestrian projects from detailed and costly environmental studies (known as level of service, or LOS, reform to transportation planners). 

"There's a lot of potential to move this forward," Haaland said later. "We can talk about creating a real transit-justice coalition." There's also a downside to the low turnout: downtown can more easily place measures on the ballot or launch recall drives against sitting supervisors, which would force progressives to spend time and money playing defense. But overall, for an election that could have been a total train wreck for progressives, the high-profile victory and the new coalitions suggest that the movement is alive and well, despite Newsom's reelection.

Note that only at the end of this pep talk disguised as political analysis do Redmond/Jones even mention the low turnout or Newsom's easy re-election.

Even more noticeable by its absence is any mention of the defeat of Prop. E, Chris Daly's question time brainchild that would have required Mayor Newsom to attend a monthly dog-and-pony show at the Board of Supervisors. City voters were willing to try that idea last year but rejected it this year when progressives tried to make it mandatory.

More revealing still is the list of "ideas floated" by these Big Thinkers here in Progressive Land, which are nothing but more anti-car measures to make it as expensive and difficult as possible to drive in the city: banning cars on Market Street, bus rapid transit (BRT), raising taxes on parking, and, most important of all, level of service (LOS) "reform," which means eliminating the present requirement to study how long it takes traffic to get through intersections (aka "traffic jams"). 

A LOS study must now be done to measure a proposed project's potential effects on city traffic. The city's progressives want to "reform" LOS to death, so that they can then put bicycle lanes wherever they want regardless of how much that will screw up city traffic. City progressives who like to think they are environmentalists want to get rid of any environmental review when it comes to traffic in the city.

The agenda of the city's left is reduced to nothing but extending the city's current jihad against those who drive in the city to make it unnecessarily difficult and expensive.

The city's chronic affordable housing crisis is unmentioned, as is homelessness and the associated squalor on city streets.

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BRT on Telegraph Ave? First try an experiment

Editors, Daily Planet:

I was sad to see that rather than advance the discussion on Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in Berkeley/Oakland, Charles Siegel chose to attack my intelligence, or lack thereof. Sad yes, but not surprised. This seems to be standard operating procedure these days in the Bay Area; attacking the person rather than just agreeing to disagree.

For those readers who are bit more open-minded, my bona fides are as follows: I have worked 15 years in the transit industry. I’ve been a conductor at Amtrak, and a bus operator at VTA and AC Transit. I’ve been in the trenches working with the public, not behind a computer screen. Does Mr. Siegel have more experience than I? As much? Any?

My observations were based on operating a bus on the routes of the proposed BRT, having seen the traffic when a small portion is blocked by road work or something as simple as a delivery truck. My dislike of transit experts stems from the simple fact that neither I, nor any of my coworkers I’ve spoken with, have ever had any of these experts actually ride the bus with us and ask our opinions. No “study” or computer simulation can match actually being in the bus. Those readers who ride the bus regularly should ask their operators if they’ve ever been consulted as to route changes, traffic patterns etc.

I am a believer in mass transit, and not just because I earn my living in it. But I also believe that the overriding goal of any mass transit project should be to move the greatest number of people at the lowest possible cost, and to not cause such pain to people who must drive (and yes there are people who must drive), business owners , etc. that there is a backlash against future transit projects.

I think that this issue could be put to rest with very little cost. Take some moveable barriers and block off the two center lanes from say Telegraph and Ashby to Telegraph and 40th Street and International and Fruitvale to International and High Street. Then actually observe the traffic in real time before hundreds of millions of dollars are spent.

Dean Lekas

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