SFMTA Director Cristina Rubke is an attorney and disability rights activist. (Courtesy SFMTA)

Supes reject SFMTA board appointment after fare hikes approved against their wishes

A disability activist’s reappointment to serve a third and final four-year term on the body overseeing Muni was rejected Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors.

The board voted 6-5 to reject Mayor London Breed’s reappointment of Cristina Rubke, a trademark attorney, to continue serving on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors.

The rejection comes after Rubke defied the board’s wishes last month in voting unanimously with her colleagues to approve on April 21 a two-year transit budget with fare hikes. The board had called for no fare hikes.

Supervisor Hillary Ronen supported Rubke’s reappointment during the April 27 board Rules Committee, but changed her vote Tuesday. She said “something hasn’t sat well with me over the past few weeks about this appointment.”

Ronen said she just couldn’t get over the fact that the MTA board approved the agency’s two-year budget with fare hikes, despite the fact that the board approved a resolution 10-1 urging no fare hikes.

“I hope it sends a message to the MTA board that when we speak, and we speak overwhelmingly at this Board of Supervisors, we do not want to be ignored,” Ronen said.

A mayoral spokesperson criticized the board’s decision.

“It’s disappointing that the supervisors voted against an extremely qualified member of the disability rights community, who is well-respected for her work on the SFMTA board,” said Andy Lynch, a spokesperson for Breed.

Ronen also noted that in 2019 Rubke voted in opposition to naming the Central Subway after the late Chinatown advocate Rose Pak, despite the board passing a resolution in support of it.

She added that she was worried about the input the supervisors can have in decisions the transit agency is making around service due to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic if the MTA board is ignoring them.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin echoed the sentiment and said that the vote was “sending a message not only to the MTA commission … but to the other commissions that when the duly elected Board of Supervisors … comes up with a policy urgence, that that policy urgence really must be heeded.”

Ronen opposed the reappointment along with supervisors Peskin, Matt Haney, Dean Preston, Shamann Walton and Sandra Fewer.

Board president Norman Yee voted for Rubke, along with supervisors Rafael Mandelman, Gordon Mar, Ahsha Safai and Catherine Stefani.

The vote came after Walton had delayed the vote at the full board on two prior occasions, saying that due to his busy schedule he had yet to have a chance to talk with Rubke.

The late Mayor Ed Lee first appointed Rubke, an attorney with Shartsis Friese LLP and a disability activist, to the MTA board in 2012. MTA board members can serve three consecutive four-year terms. All seven MTA board members are appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the Board of Supervisors.

Ronen had asked for an explanation during the committee hearing for approving fare hikes.

“I was very concerned that the MTA board, including you, voted to increase fares on Clipper Card users during this period when so many San Franciscans have lost their jobs, are struggling to put food on the table, when service cuts on MTA have been extensive,” Ronen had said.

“It’s really concerning to me,” Ronen added.

Rubke said that “I voted for the budget because I really do think it balanced the needs of the agency to move forward in a financially sustainable way to be able to provide transportation service as we come out of this.”

She noted that the fare increases go into effect at the earliest in November 2020.

Cash fares will remain at $3 for the next two years, but single rides paid for on Clipper cards will increase from $2.50 per ride to $2.80 and to $2.90 in mid-2021.

Adult monthly passes that include BART rides within San Francisco will increase from $98 to $103 and $106 in mid-2021. Adult monthly passes without BART access will increase from $81 to $86 later this year, and $88 in mid-2021.

“About 20 percent of our operating budget comes from transit fares and that is not an insignificant amount of money,” Rubke said.

Another issue brought up by the supervisors at the committee was poor communication.

Stefani, who did vote to support Rubke Tuesday, had said there was “a culture of a lack of communication” between the transit agency and the Board of Supervisors.

Stefani said the latest example was when the agency announced a “Slow Streets” program to allow people more space to socially distance during the pandemic. It was done “without any input whatsoever from the supervisors,” she said.

“There were no streets considered in District 2 at all,” Stefani said.

She said when “things are rolling out without our involvement” that leads to opposition.

Rubke agreed the communication was important. “Projects are much more successful when supervisors are engaged,” she said.

At the time of her first appointment, the agency was run by Ed Reiskin. The agency came under new leadership in November with the appointment of Jeffrey Tumlin, a former director of strategy at Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates.

“I have focused on the overall accessibility of our transportation system, including physical, economic and programmatic accessibility,” she told the committee.

Rubke, who came to San Francisco in 2005 and uses a wheelchair, said she relies on public transit and mainly rides the lines T, N, the 47, the 10 and the 82X.

“I hope that we can take this unique opportunity in time to examine our transportation network as a whole and come out of this with a better, more equitable system,” she said. “That would be better prioritizing our transit, pedestrians and cyclists.”

She noted that she has advocated for “expanding the accessibility of emerging mobility options like bike share, scooters and car share.”

“To meet our mode shift goals we need these mobility options to be accessible to as many people as possible including populations who have historically been excluded from such options,” she said.

She also emphasized her focus on pedestrian safety. “I am a huge advocate of automatic speed enforcement,” she said.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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