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Muni forced to cut funding for accelerated train purchase in favor of solar power, merchant bailout fund

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A new M-Ocean View Muni LRV train arrives behind an older train at Civic Center Station on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

While city leaders play tug-of-war over $181 million in windfall tax dollars, one city department slated to net some of that money is already feeling rope burn:


The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is set to receive $38 million in windfall dollars from the Educational Revenue Augmentation Fund, a legally protected “set-aside” that cannot be used for other city departments.

Though that money can not be taken away, exactly how it will be spent is another story. The SFMTA wanted to use all $38 million to speed up the purchase of 150 new trains to speed up Muni Metro service.

But now roughly $18 million of that funding for new trains will be used for other purchases, as part of larger negotiations between the Board of Supervisors and The Mayor’s Office.

The SFMTA Board of Directors were largely furious when they heard the news, during their regular board meeting on Tuesday.

Though she and her colleagues eventually approved the funding request for the windfall money that the supervisors wanted, Cheryl Brinkman, a director on the SFMTA board, said they had little choice since the supervisors threatened to withdraw other funding otherwise.

“They sort of have us over the barrel,” Brinkman said.

“I hope in the future when (light rail vehicles) break down they won’t yell at us about why trains aren’t going through the tunnel,” she added. “I think we’re here to look out for the riders, and someone at the Board of Supervisors is pulling the rug out from under our feet.”

SFMTA Board of Directors Chair Malcolm Heinicke said if this truly imperiled the accelerated train purchase, he would “make a big stink.”

The reality is, he said, this will simply force SFMTA to make cuts to its budget elsewhere — but where those cuts will come from, he doesn’t know.

Under the new proposal, only $19 million in ERAF windfall funds will go to speeding up the new purchase of Muni trains, SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin announced to the SFMTA Board of Directors on Tuesday.

Reiskin said he hopes to have the new trains on their tracks by 2025 with the accelerated purchase, instead of 2027, to help the more than 150,000 daily riders who depend on the J, K, L, M, N and T lines.

About $13.4 million of the pot will now instead go to evaluating which Muni bus yards could purchase solar panels and energy infrastructure to become independent from PG&E, and, in a bit of good news for local businesses, $5 million will be used for a construction mitigation fund.

Two Muni facilities already have some energy independence, but the agency owns more than a dozen sites that will be reviewed.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin hotly fought for San Francisco to cut ties with PG&E with the ERAF windfall funds, and also called for the construction mitigation funds.

“How we expend these funds is an expression of The City’s values,” he told the San Francisco Examiner. “We are united in taking care of our struggling small businesses that are being impacted by The City’s Public Works projects and becoming energy independent from PG&E.”

He also noted that the energy projects that would be funded by the ERAF windfall money are from SFMTA’s own capital budget plan, a wish-list of projects.

Members of the Board of Supervisors called for a construction mitigation fund last week during their regular Transportation Authority meeting. The fund is intended to help merchants in areas such as Van Ness Avenue and in Chinatown who have been hurt by construction delays related to municipal construction projects like the Central Subway and Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit.


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