Sunday, January 23, 2011

Transportation: A campaign issue in November

In this morning's Examiner, Ken Garcia writes about an important issue---Muni's policy of extracting ever more money from city drivers through parking tickets:

It was recently announced that the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority is seeking to cover its chronic, annual budget shortfall by issuing more parking citations, even though it does not have enough parking control officers to reach that goal, because it does not have enough money to pay their salaries.

The Examiner's Will Reisman reported early last year about the city's parking ticket quota, not that anyone really doubted that that was the case.

Garcia continues:

This cruel joke has been perpetrated by a succession of mayors, most recently Gavin Newsom, who used to tell me that he did not personally support the expansion of parking meters in town, even while appointing the very people to the SFMTA board that did...

To cater to the city's bike people, Mayor Newsom appointed their leaders to the MTA board: first he appointed the Bicycle Coalition's Leah Shahum, and she showed her gratitude shortly thereafter by insulting him in public; and last year he appointed anti-car cyclist Cheryl Brinkman to that board.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors, which acts as The City’s ultimate transportation czar, has gone along with this ruse for decades, adamantly refusing to raise bus fares to realistic levels under the guise of economic justice for working-class citizens, while trying to tax car drivers with the highest parking-garage fees and traffic ticket bills in the United States.

City drivers are a major source of income for city government. The San Francisco Transportation Fact Sheet of November 2010 provides some specifics on how much a predatory city government extracts from those who drive in the city: $38,868,351 from parking meters; $37,515,348 from city parking lots; $7,905,051 from the residential permit parking program; and $95,727,234 from parking tickets, for a total of $180,015,984. (The city also gets some of the vehicle registration fees from the state, but I can't find that number, which must be large.)

Adding to this ever-mounting bill is the news that Muni needs to find an extra $140 million to cover the cost of a $1.6 billion Central Subway expansion---a little over a mile extension of underground rail lines into Chinatown that may be the biggest boondoggle since the San Francisco 49ers announced plans to move its operations to a new stadium that will never be built.

The State of California has the high-speed rail boondoggle, and, not to be outdone, San Francisco has the Central Subway boondoggle, which is costing the city at least $229,995,250 in Prop. K money. Funny how the city supposedly can't afford to pave our streets but has money for this dumb, costly project, which is the result of a Willie Brown deal with Chinatown's Rose Pak. Is this what the rise of Asian-American political power means for San Francisco?

Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting, who doesn’t share the same high profile as other longtime pols vying for the job, last week posted a petition on Facebook asking people opposed to Muni’s ticket scheme to sign up, saying that it’s unfair to ask tax-paying citizens to burden the cost of Muni’s budget just because the agency can’t solve it. Most of the other candidates have remained mum on the topic---and those courting the so-called progressive vote---namely state Sen. Leland Yee, City Attorney Dennis Herrera and former Supervisor Bevan Dufty, likely won’t touch the subject because the local propaganda sheet, the Bay Guardian, happily preaches higher taxes and fees as a weekly mantra.

We can't blame all this on the Bay Guardian, though they have long been supporters of both high-speed rail and the Central Subway. (Progressives see city government as essentially a jobs program.) And, like all good SF progressives, the Guardian has, with the SF Bicycle Coalition, led the city's anti-car movement.

The way City Attorney Dennis Herrera handled the Bicycle Plan litigation would have resulted in malpractice charges if he had done it to a client in private practice. And Bevan Dufty has been on board for the anti-car Bicycle Plan from the start.

Transportation issues are important to city voters. It would be good for the city if at least one candidate broke from the pack to challenge the anti-car consensus that now dominates the dialogue on city transportation, like the Bicycle Plan, which city voters have never had a chance to vote on. Maybe Phil Ting is that candidate. Gavin Newsom's career is an historical precedent: he was elected mayor after be broke from the pack on the homeless issue with Care Not Cash.

And every candidate should take a position on congestion pricing to let city voters know if they support a program that will charge city voters to drive downtown in their own city.

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