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Prop. L would divide City Hall influence over Muni and streets

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A T Third Street MUNI train approaches the platform on 3rd and Mariposa streets in San Francisco, Calif. Tuesday, March 8, 2016. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Some city supervisors want more say over Muni and San Francisco’s streets.

To that end, Proposition L on the November ballot would split the appointments on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which runs Muni, between the Mayor’s Office and the Board of Supervisors.

Currently the mayor makes all seven appointments. If voters approve Prop. L, three of those appointments would go to the supervisors.

Also under Prop. L, the Board of Supervisors would need only a simple majority of six members to approve or veto SFMTA’s budget; now it needs seven.

The measure was authored by Supervisor Norman Yee, and is seen as one of a suite of other measures that would chip away at the power of the Mayor’s Office.

SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin told the Examiner at an editorial board meeting that the measure seemingly runs counter to the formation of the SFMTA in 1999, when voters mandated it to be independent of city politics.

“We had hours of Board of Supervisors meetings arguing over stop signs and bus stops” back then, Reiskin said. “I think that’s how the transit system was in the state it was by the 1990s. It was a very deliberate move to insulate [transit] from the Board of Supervisors.”

Reiskin serves at the pleasure of the board, which hires the head of SFMTA.

Still, many controversial proposals have passed unanimously under the current SFMTA board — including changes to Taraval Street to speed up the L-Taraval train — leading some critics to call the board a “rubber stamp.”

Addressing that critique, Reiskin said he thinks the board mostly votes unanimously because, “I’m not bringing things to the board that I think don’t reflect the perspectives of the people who have been nominated by the mayor and approved by the Board of Supervisors.”

Board members have gone on record in citing influence from the Mayor’s Office to sway votes over some other controversial measures, like Sunday parking meters.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin recently critiqued the SFMTA for its decision to replace historic street lamps — dating back to the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition — for its new Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit project.

He said the raging debate over preserving the street lamps is a perfect example for the need of Prop. L’s passage.

“You would’ve had three members of the MTA [board] who would’ve spoken up,” with split appointments, Peskin said. “Instead, you have seven members who blindly pushed it forward.”

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