Examiner Editorial: Hands-on program The City needs to keep

In its first five weeks, the San Francisco Community Ambassadors pilot program has shown signs of being a solid success in making Muni transit safer for some of its most vulnerable riders. Unfortunately, the ambassadors will be gone as of Sept. 29 if no funding can be found.

Since July 23, a dozen community ambassadors have been riding the 9-San Bruno and the T-Third Street lines in The City’s southeastern neighborhoods. Easily identifiable in their neon-yellow vests and speaking a total of seven languages, they are on duty Mondays through Fridays during morning and evening peak commute shifts, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The ambassadors have been reporting crimes to the San Francisco Police Department, using cell phones donated by AT&T. The majority of observed problems are after-school fights among middle school students, with the runner-up offenses being drunken and disruptive behavior. They have reported a man threatening a woman with a broken bottle.

As of Aug. 24, the ambassadors interacted with more than 2,000 Muni riders, logged hundreds of daily requests and observations, and conducted a survey of 250 residents on their feelings about The City’s public safety. On request, they will escort Bayview district and Visitacion Valley residents home from public transit hubs where violent crimes have occurred.

The City launched the community ambassadors pilot program in response to a number of attacks on Asian and senior citizen riders in southeastern neighborhoods earlier this year. The violence prompted members of the Asian community to pack a Board of Supervisors meeting and demand that city officials enhance public transit protection.

The ambassador test was organized by community groups, the Police Department and the Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs, a division of the City Administrator’s Office. Private donors contributed. But, the primary funding came from JobsNow, a federal stimulus program that distributes money to create employment locally.

However, as reported in The San Francisco Examiner on Tuesday, if San Francisco’s JobsNow grant does not receive an extension past the end of September, no less than 2,500 city residents — divided approximately 50-50 between public and private employment — will be out of work. According to the Mayor’s Office, The City is trying to find alternate funding sources to keep JobsNow employees working.

It’s easy to understand that in today’s troubled budgetary climate, there simply isn’t enough money to keep doing all the public services worth doing. But, it would be truly sad to lose a program as promising as the community ambassadors if $500,000 cannot be obtained from private and foundation donors to retain the Muni “eyes and ears” as an ongoing service that expands into other troubled transit routes.

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