San Francisco’s transit arm is hiring a director from its politically appointed board to lead a new community outreach team.
Joel Ramos, a seven-year member of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors, was hired near the end of May to lead the agency’s new Community Response Team, which is aimed at reaching out to neighbors about new stop signs and other small-scale street changes.
“It’s effectively to try to better respond to the needs residents are clamoring for, or have, around engineering issues,” Ramos said. “What we call bread and butter issues.”
The Board of Supervisors has disagreed with the SFMTA board’s decisions on some of those issues in the past, leading Supervisor Ahsha Safai last month to introduce changes to local law to allow citizens to appeal SFMTA street changes to the supervisors. Those changes mostly include small tweaks to city curb spaces, like new red zones or the installation of new stop signs, that some neighbors oppose.
With that in mind, Ramos knows what his first task will be when he begins work June 18.
“My first step is to visit all the supervisors,” he told the San Francisco Examiner. “To go to them, hear from them all the projects that need addressing with concerns and urgency.”
The SFMTA estimates there were around 575 such decisions in 2017, all subject to potential appeal with the Board of Supervisors.
Ramos’ departure from the SFMTA Board of Directors leaves a vacancy on the seven-member body, all of whom are appointed by the mayor. The body approves projects both great and small, from the $1.6 billion Central Subway project to the recent red painted transit-only lanes throughout The City. He recalled the approval for the Central Subway as a particularly heated moment in his board career.
“A lot of people thought it was a done deal,” he said, but pressure against it from advocacy groups Save Muni and the Telegraph Hill Dwellers made it “pretty contentious.”
Ramos was appointed in 2011 by the late Mayor Ed Lee. At the time, Ramos was serving on a citizen advisory committee overseeing the Geary Bus Rapid Transit project. He never found out why Lee tapped him for the job.
“I got a call and it was Mayor Ed Lee. I said ‘what the heck?’” Ramos said. “I think they appointed me because I was effectively a middle of the road kind of person. The phrase I heard was because I wasn’t going to ‘gore anybody’s ox.’”
Ramos’ qualifications include a background in community engagement. Ramos worked as a community organizer for the Center on Policy Initiatives in San Diego, where his work with labor and social justice advocates resulted in the construction of hundreds of affordable housing units, according to the Mayor’s Office. He became a community planner at the transportation advocacy group TransForm in 2006, where he remained until his recent move to join SFMTA staff. He’s lived in San Francisco for 12 years, he said.
Though Mayor Mark Farrell could potentially tap a replacement for Ramos on the Board of Directors, he encountered strong push-back from the Board of Supervisors in May, when they declined to approve his appointments to the Police Commission.
Farrell, who will be replaced by a newly elected mayor by mid-July, said he will decline to appoint a new member to the SFMTA Board of Directors in his remaining few weeks in office.
“As mayor, I am focusing on appointments to boards and commissions that lack quorum, require key appointments or have ongoing searches for a director,” Farrell said in a statement.
That leaves the task of appointing a new SFMTA board member to the next mayor — whoever that may be.