A vote by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board to hike fares has spurred a charter amendment to give the Board of Supervisors more control over the transit agency. (Courtesy SFMTA)

Ballot measure would give supes more power over Muni

Supervisors hurry to make deadline for November ballot

Members of the Board of Supervisors submitted a slew of charter amendments Tuesday for the November ballot, including proposals to give them the power to reject Muni fare hikes, create more oversight over the Sheriff’s Department and split Public Works into separate agencies to place more focus on street cleaning.

There even was the revival of a 2016 charter amendment that 52 percent of voters previously rejected to create a new elected Public Advocate to conduct independent investigations, introduced Tuesday by Supervisor Gordon Mar.

Tuesday was the deadline to introduce charter amendments for them to show up on the November ballot. Next, they will undergo committee hearings and at least six members of the board would need to vote to place them on the ballot.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin introduced an amendment with the backing of supervisors Dean Preston and Ahsha Safai to give the board more power over the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency by granting it the power to reject fare hikes.

The measure comes after the SFMTA Board of Directors approved fare hikes in its two-year budget despite supervisors passing a resolution in a 10-1 vote urging them not to. Last week, several supervisors cited the decision to raise fare hikes in their vote to reject Mayor London Breed’s reappointment of disability activist Cristina Rubke to the SFMTA board.

Peskin said the measure will rectify challenges that have arisen from 2007’s Proposition A, which he authored, which gave the agency more independence. He wants to take some of that independence back.

Peskin said the fare hike vote “made me and many of us question whether or not the SFMTA is able to make certain critical values-based decisions that are aligned with its own transit-first principles that the voters adopted.”

“The time is really now to take a look at how The City is holding departments accountable,” Peskin said.

The board currently doesn’t have the power to reject fare hikes, only the ability to vote down the entire budget with seven board votes, which has never happened.

The measure would give the board the power to reject just the fare hikes in the budget with six votes. If the measure is approved, the board could also reject the most current fare hikes that were approved.

“Should the Board of Supervisors reject the fare changes by making written findings, the agency’s budget shall be deemed rejected and the Board of Supervisors shall make additional interim appropriations to the agency from the Municipal Transportation Fund sufficient to permit the agency to maintain all operations,” the proposal said.

The measure also authorizes the City Controller to audit the agency and requires the agency to submit to the board and mayor every two years strategic action plans around climate change, service equity and pedestrian safety, which Peskin said “would create the space for real policy oversight.”

The measure sets a new fare increase policy, including to keep “fares low to encourage maximum patronage, particularly among daytime and nighttime residents who are transit dependent or have limited transportation choices.”

Preston, who led the charge on the board to oppose fare hikes, said, “We have said all along we are not going to sit by and let fares be hiked on Muni riders, especially amidst a pandemic and especially at a time when service is being slashed.”

Safai said that one of the agencies he receives the most complaints about is the transit agency, and he would like more say over how it operates.

“Part of this proposal today is really a revision about the balance of power of an agency that has directors that are appointed by the mayor and ultimately responsible to the executive branch,” Safai said.

Safai also introduced a charter amendment that would create term limits for those who serve on city boards and commissions by allowing members to serve only two four-year terms. It has the support of Peskin along with supervisors Matt Haney and Shamann Walton.

“It is very straightforward,” Safai said, adding that it is “about ensuring that there isn’t an imbalance of power, that there isn’t a concentration of power in one person’s hands.”

The proposal also follows the revelation of a public corruption scandal involving former Public Works’ director Mohammed Nuru. Nuru is accused of trying to bribe a long-serving airport commissioner, who has since resigned, among other allegations.

Also on Tuesday, Haney made good on his promise to introduce a charter amendment to split up Public Works by creating a separate Sanitation and Streets Department to focus exclusively on street conditions and city commissions to oversee both.

“We are going to make it the job of the new Department of Sanitation and Streets to regularly clean our city sidewalks. This will be a huge win for San Francisco,” Haney said in a statement.

Haney also introduced a charter amendment to create requirements around police officers walking foot beats, including requiring Neighborhood Safety Units within each district station focused on deploying foot patrol officers as well as creating “a map outlining the footprint of the foot beats.”

Walton also introduced a charter amendment to increase oversight of the Sheriff’s Department. The cost of the measure is not known, and is awaiting more analysis from the budget analyst. It would establish a seven-member Sheriff’s Department oversight board, which would appoint an Inspector General to evaluate department operations and investigate non-criminal complaints of deputy sheriffs and in-custody deaths.

The public advocate position carried a cost of $600,000 to $800,000 in 2016. It’s not yet known how much Mar’s current proposal would cost.

The Mayor’s Office didn’t comment specifically on the proposals but did raise concerns about costs.

“We’re still reviewing all of the proposals but we currently have a $1.7 billion deficit, the largest in The City’s history,” said Breed’s spokesperson Andy Lynch. “It’s irresponsible for anyone to be introducing measures that require new spending when we know we’re going to have to make a number of incredibly difficult cuts to important city services.”



jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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