An effort to split up San Francisco’s biggest transit agency is being pushed to the backburner in favor of a compromise move providing more oversight.

In the wake of recent controversial decisions by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, two city supervisors introduced a charter amendment in December to split up the agency into two parts — one that manages streets and parking and another that manages Muni buses and trains.

But Supervisors Ahsha Safai and Aaron Peskin’s move met with opposition from the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and other transit-related groups, who said splitting the SFMTA could harm critical transportation projects in The City.

SEE RELATED: Ballot proposal would split SF’s transit agency into Muni, traffic departments

Now, Safai is proposing a new “appeal process” to allow San Franciscans who disagree with SFMTA board decisions to ask the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to have the final say.

The charter amendment to split the SFMTA has been moved from the June ballot to the November ballot, Safai told the San Francisco Examiner, and is now being treated as a contingency plan should the appeal process not work out.

“We reserve the right to put that forward to voters in November,” Safai said. “I wouldn’t say it’s even backburner, it’s there, it’s waiting, and SFMTA knows it’s there.”

The language of Safai’s legislation to change local transportation code, which was introduced Jan. 23, would have allowed possible reversal of past SFMTA Board of Director decisions such as approval of the tech commuter shuttle program, Sunday parking meters or the pilot program to make L-Taraval run safer and faster. Less widely controversial decisions that could have been appealed include the creation of parking meter zones and elimination or creation of parking spaces.

The legislation does carve out the “implementation of a bicycle lane, Bus Rapid Transit project, or other large infrastructure project” as decisions that cannot be appealed — so opponents of projects like Geary Bus Rapid Transit or the Central Subway are out of luck.

“The bottom line is, this is an elegant way for the Board of Supervisors to impose some checks and balances and accountability on SFMTA, and I’m delighted to be a part of it,” said Supervisor Aaron Peskin.

Still, some of the initial critics of the proposal to split the SFMTA were themselves split on this new appeal proposal.

Jim Lazarus, vice president of public policy at the Chamber of Commerce, said “sometimes you’ve got to be careful what you wish for because this could be a huge burden on the calendar of the Board of supervisors,” especially if neighbors across The City decide to appeal curb color changes, which are monthly occurrences.

Brian Wiedenmeier, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, said the organization agrees SFMTA “needs more accountability,” but Safai’s ordinance “accomplishes none of that.”

The appeal’s current threshold of 50 petition signatures “threatens any street safety improvement affecting even a single parking spot,” Wiedenmeier said.

Jodie Medeiros, executive director of the advocacy group Walk SF, said Safai’s measure would imperil street safety changes meant to help The City’s stated goal to reach zero annual traffic deaths by 2024, which is called Vision Zero.

“Every single project will be under a microscope,” she said.

SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said, “We understand this ordinance was born out of frustration with the Agency and we look forward to working with them to resolve those concerns and find the right solutions.”

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez
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Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

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