The Board of Supervisors confirmed two new members to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors on Tuesday, filling the last two vacant seats of the governing body but leaving it without any representation of the Latino community.
Supervisor Sandra Fewer used her final meeting in office to urge Mayor London Breed, who appoints nominees, and her fellow supervisors to ensure San Francisco’s Latino residents, many of whom regularly ride Muni, have a direct advocate on the transit agency’s board.
“It is really important that we let people of their own culture represent themselves,” Fewer said.
Fiona Hinze, a San Francisco native and long-time mobility advocate who herself lives with cerebral palsy, was approved unanimously, bringing her firsthand experience working with advocates and policymakers on accessibility reform to SFMTA.
During her confirmation hearing at the Rules Committee on Dec. 14, Hinze promised to make the board accountable and transparent. She committed to “ask the challenging questions” rather than rubber stamping proposals and pledged to ensure every mode of transportation is “as accessible as possible.”
Supervisors were more conflicted about the nomination of Manny Yekutiel. An experienced community organizer and owner of a brick-and-mortar small business on Valencia Street, Yekutiel also largely lacks experience with traditional public transportation, a chief charge of the SFMTA.
“On one hand, Manny is exactly the kind of person we want on commissions,” Supervisor Dean Preston said. “On the other hand, right now, in this unprecedented moment, it is hard for me to understand an appointment to the governing body of our transportation agency who has no meaningful experience on transportation issues, and particularly Muni.”
Though Yekutiel’s nomination ultimately passed with a vote of 9-2, winning out by dint of his numerous other qualifications, deep connections with San Francisco’s small business community and his relationships with labor, the board collectively struggled on whether he should take an open seat that could otherwise be used to directly represent The City’s more than 121,000 Latino residents.
Supervisor Hillary Ronen, whose district includes the Mission, supported Yekutiel’s nomination but conceded that “we have not had that representation for a long time, and it is sorely lacking” and committed to fighting for the next appointment to be directly representative of The City’s Latino community.
The San Francisco Latinx Democratic Club wrote a letter to the Board of Supervisors on Dec. 31 asking them to demand a nominee from the community instead, and pointed to an SFMTA organization chart showing that only one of 20 agency leadership roles, including directors, pending directors and executive staff, are occupied by someone who identifies as Latino.
Signatories of the letter included members of other affinity groups from the SFMTA.
“Latinx have to be more qualified than other candidates just to be considered,” the letter said. “At some point, how can we not take this personally? Latinx voices in public transportation must stop being ignored and shut out.”
Authors of the letter acknowledged Yekutiel’s many donations to local Latino-owned non-profits, his support of Latino business owners, and his “considerable” allyship.
“Manny’s patronage is nearly unmatched compared to most in our Latinx community. But we respectfully request consideration whether allyship and patronage most directly serves our community at the SFMTA, or does it perpetuate the disparities in question.”
Anabel Ibañez, co-president of the San Francisco Latinx Democratic Club, called Tuesday’s decision by the board “disappointing,” especially in a time when the community has been disproportionately burdened by the COVID-19 public health crisis.
“Our voices have to be taken seriously,” she said, adding her organization would continue to work with the Latinx Affinity Group at the SFMTA to identify future qualified candidates for nominations, advocate for more leadership positions and fight for equity within the agency.