Mayoral hopefuls had best keep Muni on their minds

At the tennis courts where I play in The City, a well-guarded secret, I used to hit with a guy named Wayne who was known much more for his character than his forehand, which wasn’t half-bad.

Wayne, you see, started his weekend at 7:30 a.m. with a Michelob and a Sherman cigarette, the latter of which he held while he was gripping his Wilson Pro Staff racket for four or five hours between beers.

Needless to say, I admired Wayne greatly, and I was truly sad when I heard he died of a heart attack about two years ago — another city native who went down swinging.

I tell you this as a way of showing the inevitability of things in San Francisco, which provides great energy and compassion for hipsters and the homeless, but much less civility and care toward its residents, particularly those who actually pay taxes here.

It was recently announced that the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority is seeking to cover its chronic, annual budget shortfall by issuing more parking citations, even though it does not have enough parking control officers to reach that goal, because it does not have enough money to pay their salaries.

This cruel joke has been perpetrated by a succession of mayors, most recently Gavin Newsom, who used to tell me that he did not personally support the expansion of parking meters in town, even while appointing the very people to the SFMTA board that did.

Now, until the day Earth spins off its axis, there are two certainties we can hold true. The Muni will never reach its mandated on-time guidelines nor meet its own budget, which means that the officials who work there will seek to reach into our pocketbooks by any means necessary, deeper each year.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors, which acts as The City’s ultimate transportation czar, has gone along with this ruse for decades, adamantly refusing to raise bus fares to realistic levels under the guise of economic justice for working-class citizens, while trying to tax car drivers with the highest parking-garage fees and traffic ticket bills in the United States.

Adding to this ever-mounting bill is the news that Muni needs to find an extra $140 million to cover the cost of a $1.6 billion Central Subway expansion — a little over a mile extension of underground rail lines into Chinatown that may be the biggest boondoggle since the San Francisco 49ers announced plans to move its operations to a new stadium that will never be built.

I tell you this because Muni’s gnawing budget problems may be a pivotal issue in the mayor’s race this year — for those willing to tackle it and those who want to duck from it.

Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting, who doesn’t share the same high profile as other longtime pols vying for the job, last week posted a petition on Facebook asking people opposed to Muni’s ticket scheme to sign up, saying that it’s unfair to ask tax-paying citizens to burden the cost of Muni’s budget just because the agency can’t solve it.

Most of the other candidates have remained mum on the topic — and those courting the so-called progressive vote — namely state Sen. Leland Yee, City Attorney Dennis Herrera and former Supervisor Bevan Dufty, likely won’t touch the subject because the local propaganda sheet, the Bay Guardian, happily preaches higher taxes and fees as a weekly mantra.

The same goes for board President David Chiu, a rumored candidate who will be in the touchy position this year of voting on Muni’s budget while The City figures out a way to deal with its own treasury shortfall.

Ting is way ahead of the curve on this one because Muni is at the center of most people’s existence here and people remember how Willie Brown’s promise to fix the system in 100 days almost proved his undoing during his second run for mayor.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that an assessor would be in touch with the mood of average taxpayers, and Ting is proving to be a true Facebook friend.

I used to see Wayne all the time on Muni, and now I’ll be carrying the traffic ticket pledge in his name.

Bay Area NewsCity HallMuniNews ColumnistsSan Francisco

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