Free Muni for all, car-free streets, a crackdown on scofflaw Uber drivers, and even a new tax to raise money for transit service citywide — all of these ideas and more were on the table at a District 5 supervisor candidate forum Monday night at the Park branch library.
The candidates are vying to represent the Haight, Fillmore, Inner Sunset and other neighborhoods on this November’s ballot. At Monday’s event, candidates Vallie Brown, Dean Preston, Ryan Lam, and Nomvula O’Meara laid out their visions on transportation for District 5 residents.
Brown is the incumbent, an appointee of Mayor London Breed. Preston is a tenants advocate who ran for the District 5 supervisor seat against Breed in 2016 and lost. Lam and O’Meara are political newcomers who have yet to raise significant campaign funds.
Advocacy groups Walk SF, Transit Riders, Our Bikes and San Francisco Bicycle Coalition sponsored the event, and perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the candidates’ messages mirrored the concerns of pedestrians and cyclists in San Francisco.
Both candidates considered leaders by City Hall insiders, Brown and Preston, voiced support for e-bikes and other bikeshare models.
When asked what type of bikes they own, Brown said she owns a PUBLIC urban bike, and Preston a Bianchi touring bike. O’Meara rides a “Dutch-style bike” and Lam’s bike was recently stolen.
Sitting before the audience of transit-enthusiasts, Brown touted a need to redesign city streets to benefit pedestrians and people on bikes with safety in mind.
“When you think of a bike and pedestrian-friendly street, you also think of a street that’s vibrant,” Brown told attendees. “Fundamentally this city is designed for cars. We have to change that mentality, we have to reverse it.”
Among other ideas, Brown suggested a “big” state transit bond to fund Muni, increasing fees to developers to pay for transit improvements near new housing, and supporting the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s plan to revamp curb space in San Francisco.
That effort may prevent delivery trucks and ride-hail vehicles from double-parking in bike lanes.
Preston, on the other hand, hammered against one transportation mode in particular — Uber, Uber, Uber.
“Let’s get out there and ticket the hell out of them to bring them to their knees at City Hall and negotiate” so they don’t congest San Francisco streets and clog bike lanes, Preston said.
Brown countered that only California regulators and legislature can make fundamental changes to how Uber and Lyft are regulated. County and city legislators cannot pass laws regarding ride-hail use, she pointed out.
Improving Muni service is the way to truly combat ride-hailing, Brown said. “If we don’t have reliable Muni, we can’t get people out of their Ubers.”
But Preston pressed on, and said “I’m not sympathetic to the arguments that we can’t regulate them.” Supervisors should “go to the state level” and advocate for change, he said.
Preston also said he’d author a “Prop. C for transit,” referring to the 2018 ballot measure that would tax San Francisco’s wealthiest businesses to fund homeless services. He said such a measure would generate $300 million annually for transit across The City.
He said San Francisco needs a supervisor who will “stand up to the corporate interests like Uber and Lyft” and make Muni free, and create more car-free streets.
He also said “the number one thing you can do” to reduce pedestrian and bike deaths is to reduce the speed of vehicles on city streets. That’s something “we can do immediately,” he said.
Changing speed limits is also a legal mechanism only state lawmakers can pull, not city or county supervisors, a problem that has stymied other Board of Supervisors who desired to limit vehicle speeds in the past, like Supervisor Norman Yee.
Lam’s transit positions were perhaps less specific, but he said he would try to make Fell Street near an Arco gas station safer if he won office.
During his opening statements, he abruptly stopped his speech and announced “I need to go pee,” got up, and went to the bathroom.
O’Meara, another candidate, called Muni’s recent fare increases “problematic” and “racist.” She said the best way to plan transit improvements is to increase outreach efforts in neighborhoods.
She also asked other candidates who leads SFMTA and how its governance is structured, and if supervisors had authority over the agency. Brown answered O’Meara that SFMTA is an independent agency that the supervisors have no authority over.
At the event, Brown admitted she had recently been in a bicycle accident. She hit her brakes hard after encountering a yellow light, sending her flying to the pavement.
“Yes, those are my crutches behind me,” Brown said. “It was an accident, it was my fault.”
The candidates were also asked to rate Mayor London Breed’s efforts to enhance District 5 transit during her time as supervisor and mayor.
Preston, a long-time opponent of Breed’s, said “It was clear transportation was not a top priority issue for London Breed as supervisor of this district.”
Brown on the other hand, who was appointed by Breed and worked previously as her legislative aide, seemed to choose her words carefully.
“My rating for Mayor Breed, I think when she was a supervisor, because I worked for her for awhile, I would rate her as a five,” said Brown. “I think she had a very large learning curve, especially with bike safety. We did push things through on Masonic and a lot of the protected bike lanes on Fell Street.”
“As a mayor though I see her growing,” Brown said. “I see her coming out and saying we need protected bike lanes, we need 20 miles.”
Preston took the opportunity to press, “I’m curious if the five rating for the supervisor was out of ten,” to which Brown replied “Yes, Dean,” she meant out of ten.
“It sounds like her former legislative aide just gave her a failing grade,” Preston said.
The crowd laughed, and Brown replied “Isn’t it a ‘C?’”