One of three transportation measures on the November ballot, Proposition A would allow San Francisco to borrow up to $500 million by issuing general-obligation bonds to go toward improving its transit infrastructure and aging roads.
The City has a whopping $10 billion in transit improvement needs, according to the Mayor's 2030 Transportation Task Force, and the bond measure would help address that by making money available for projects such as transit-only lanes and separated bikeways, new boarding islands and platforms, new Muni and BART stop escalators, new traffic and pedestrian signals and an upgrade to Muni maintenance facilities.
Mayor Ed Lee called the proposition, which was placed on the ballot with the unanimous support from the Board of Supervisors and which needs two-thirds to pass, an opportunity for voters “to make a smart investment.”
“This bond will improve the speed and reliability of Muni and will also contribute $300 million in street safety upgrades that improve pedestrian safety and will move us toward Vision Zero,” The City's goal to eliminate traffic fatalities by 2024, Lee said in a statement.
Prop. A permits a property-tax increase to pay for the bonds if necessary, and landlords could pass up to 50 percent of the tax increase to tenants. According to projections from City Controller Ben Rosenfield, the highest estimated annual property tax for a homeowner with an assessed value of $500,000 would be about $91.02.
Groups including Save Muni, the San Francisco Taxpayers Association and Libertarian Party of San Francisco allege the proposition will raise property taxes and rent. Save Muni founding member Howard Wong said the proposition would incur $1 billion in new debt over a few decades with no guarantee of making Muni more reliable.
“A $500 million bond is infrequent and one would expect to see dramatic results and improvements to Muni service,” Wong said. “But Proposition A tells us that most of the money isn't even going to Muni. It's going to roads, traffic signals and other things.”
Retired Judge Quentin Kopp, also a former supervisor, added that the proposition's language makes no commitment on how the funds will be allocated.
“It's a blank check and there's no protection from the Citizens' General Obligation Bond Oversight Committee,” Kopp said.
But proponents said the proposition will not raise taxes because the bonds would only be issued as previous bond debt is retired, keeping the rates the same.
“San Francisco has one of the most responsible bond programs in the country and we have a very, very high credit rating and we actually have a very low interest rate as a result,” Supervisor Scott Wiener said.
Among organizations backing the proposition are the San Francisco Transit Riders Union, Senior and Disability Action, San Francisco Housing Action Coalition, San Francisco Labor Council, Chamber of Commerce and think tank SPUR.
“Muni has been underfunded forever,” said Peter Straus, a member of the San Francisco Transit Riders board, “And this starts to redress the need.”
SFMTA funding, parking fees are on ballot with Props. B, L
Joining Proposition A, which transit officials and advocates are counting on for a reliable source of funding for infrastructure work, two more transit measures are on the November ballot. These, propositions B and L, seek to take The City's transportation system in different directions.
A transit-funding measure like Prop. A, Proposition B would amend the City Charter to allocate a greater amount of the general fund toward the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency each year, based on population growth.
Proposition L, on the other hand, calls for The City to eliminate parking meters on Sundays, freeze increases for city parking fees and direct funds toward constructing more parking garages.
Prop. B was born out of the failure of a vehicle license fee to make it onto the November ballot. Supervisor Scott Wiener came up with the idea before the Mayor's 2030 Transportation Task Force, which recommended the vehicle license fee, and proposed it once the license fee did not get on the ballot.
“The City's been growing … and we have not done what we need to do to make sure our public transportation system keeps up with the growth,” Wiener said.
Opponents argue Prop. B would take general fund money away from other programs.
Prop. L was sparked in April from a dozen San Francisco residents who wanted to reboot transit policies back to 2009, before Sunday parking meters and demand responsive meter pricing went into effect and meters got installed in certain neighborhoods.
“It's simply getting back on a balanced course in San Francisco which we have had for 50 years in The City until then,” said Chris Bowman, 68, a Twin Peaks resident and one of the original proponents of the proposition.