Central Subway opponents seeking ballot initiative to nix project

Mike Koozmin/The S.F. ExaminerLoud and clear: Quentin Kopp

On a day when lawmakers celebrated a $942 million grant approval for the Central Subway, opponents of the project announced plans Thursday to put a ballot initiative before voters that would give the electorate a chance to nix the massive undertaking.

The Fix Muni First Initiative would stop the $1.6 billion Central Subway project dead in its tracks if approved by more than 50 percent of The City’s voters in the November 2013 ballot, according to Quentin Kopp, a backer of the measure.

Kopp, a former Superior Court judge and San Francisco supervisor, said the measure would be an ordinance initiative, meaning its authorizations would overrule all the numerous approvals that the Central Subway project has secured at the local, state and federal levels.

“An ordinance has the force of law,” said Kopp, who cited two dozen other ordinance initiatives that have been passed by voters. “That supersedes all resolutions or decisions related to this project.”

So far, the SFMTA has invested $242 million in the project, but Kopp said the short-term losses would pale in comparison to the long-term gains for The City if the Central Subway project were canceled.

Jon Golinger, a North Beach resident who has led community opposition efforts to the project, said the initiative would finally give local residents a voice in the matter.

“Every level of government has weighed in on this,” Golinger said, “but the people have not.”

Golinger said the initiative would be submitted to the Department of Elections next month. After that, its backers would have six months to collect the 9,702 signatures necessary to qualify it for the November 2013 ballot.

Ed Reiskin, director of transportation at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, said his agency hasn’t looked into the proposed ballot measure. He questioned whether the initiative would even qualify for the election. If it did, he said, he thinks voters would back the Central Subway.

“I’m confident that we’ve done everything we’ve needed to do to make this a great project that people support,” Reiskin said. “We’re going to build this and it’s going to be great for the future of San Francisco.”

Golinger and Kopp revealed their ballot initiative plans on the same day the federal government announced plans to approve a $942 million grant application for the Central Subway. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and other lawmakers attended a ceremony on Stockton Street to celebrate the achievement.

The 1.7-mile project would expand underground Muni Metro service from South of Market to Chinatown with four new stations. The project will help alleviate pressure on Muni’s chronically slow and overcrowded buses on the Stockton Street corridor.

“Great cities don’t regret building subways,” said Board of Supervisors President David Chiu. “They regret not building them.”

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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