Nomination delays, vacancies impair SFMTA board’s ability to vote

Supervisors to consider mayor’s nominees on Aug. 10

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors was supposed to meet Tuesday. But with the board whittled down to just four members, one of whom had a planned vacation, quorum couldn’t be met and the hearing had to be canceled.

A minimum of four directors must be present to conduct business, per the SFMTA charter, and at least that number must vote in favor of a measure for it to pass. That means any measure currently being considered needs unanimous approval.

When the board has its usual seven directors, reaching quorum shouldn’t be hard. But mayoral appointments to the SFMTA Board require approval from the Board of Supervisors, and the Rules Committee has for the past several months failed to put the most recent nominations — Jane Natoli in April and Sharon Lai in June — on the agenda.

“It’s hard to understand why it is taking this long for them to fulfill one of their most basic obligations in their role as supervisors,” said Andy Lynch, spokesperson for Mayor London Breed.

Supervisor and Committee Chair Hillary Ronen has attributed the delay to a schedule packed with ballot initiatives, charter amendments and other nominations that had earlier regulatory deadlines and booted the nominations off the agenda. She told the San Francisco Examiner Monday that the committee has now tentatively scheduled the nomination hearings for Aug. 10, although the agenda is yet to be finalized.

Some have speculated the delay is political.

The hearing for Natoli, a former San Francisco Bicycle Coalition board member, housing organizer and self-proclaimed regular Muni rider, was delayed just days after the Board of Supervisors voted down former board member’s Cristina Rubke’s reappointment back in May. Rubke’s rejection was seen as retaliation for the SFMTA Board’s decision to raise fares in spite of supervisors’ vocal opposition.

Natoli said she’s “trying to be patient” with the process and respect the strains these “unprecedented times” might place on scheduling and priorities.

Though an SFMTA spokesperson said there “were no urgent agenda items” for the scratched Aug. 4 meeting, the board could be hobbled if a director got sick for an extended period of time and was unable to attend meetings, not a far-fetched scenario given the current COVID-19 crisis.

“This is during a time when the SFMTA is facing unprecedented challenges adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic, including having to cut bus lines and halt underground Muni service due to cratering revenues,” Lynch said of how the four-person composition threatens to compromise the SFMTA Board’s ability to navigate the crisis facing San Francisco transportation.

Already, it’s having an impact.

A single ‘no’ vote from Director Cheryl Brinkman on last week’s revised Caltrain sales tax proposal killed the measure.

Ronen said she recognizes the “crucial” role of the SFMTA Board in addressing the “multiple challenges facing our transportation system right now,” and reiterated Aug. 10 was the first available meeting to schedule the nomination hearings.

“I look forward to hearing from them,” she said.

Approval of Lai, a Chinese-American city planner turned private sector development director, and Natoli, a trans woman, would greatly increase the diversity of the board, Natoli noted.

“Diverse groups make better decisions. Bringing together seven people that represent lots of different aspects of The City will help the board make better decisions that are going to account for even more people,” Natoli said.

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