This letter was submitted to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in response to the proposed City Charter amendment relating to the SFMTA budget, introduced by Supervisor Safaí on September 19th, 2023.
October 25, 2023
To the San Francisco Board of Supervisors,
San Francisco Transit Riders has considered the proposed charter amendment that would require the mayor’s approval of certain SFMTA budgets before being sent to the Board of Supervisors.
San Francisco Transit Riders opposes this charter amendment.
SFMTA must maintain isolation from unnecessary political interference
In order to make progress towards the ambitious goals our city has set to reduce climate change, advance equity, and create a world-class transit system, voters know that it is necessary for SFMTA to maintain a degree of isolation from the political battles of City Hall. That is why San Franciscans have strongly supported SFMTA’s independence from the city’s electoral politics in two separate elections over the past several decades, including Prop E in 1999 and Prop A in 2007.
As an enterprise department, the SFMTA has direct control over revenue options to fund the transit service that hundreds of thousands of people rely on every day. In periods of fiscal uncertainty, SFMTA is forced to make the choice to either increase revenue by raising fees or cut transit service.
Currently, SFMTA is facing a fiscal deficit due to the ridership impact of COVID-19 and expiring federal funds. In response, earlier this year SFMTA approved a plan to extend parking meter hours in line with other cities’ modern standards–a responsible decision that will generate enough revenue to sustain several Muni lines. Under the newly-proposed charter amendment, however, funding solutions like this would be at risk–at the expense of thousands of transit-dependent San Franciscans.
Avenues for accountability on parking fee increases already exist
To the degree the amendment’s authors assert there is no accountability between the SFMTA and the voters, the sequence of events that precipitated this amendment suggests otherwise. Through the existing channels of democracy and communication, elected officials can and have engaged with the SFMTA to convey the needs of their constituents and the SFMTA has been responsive to their concerns. A structural change in the form of a City Charter amendment is an overcorrection for a problem that does not exist.
Specifically, in response to the SFMTA’s most recent proposed extension of parking meter hours, many local businesses voiced concerns. A non-binding resolution for a pause to this action was introduced by Board President Peskin. Subsequently, SFMTA Director Tumlin, Mayor Breed, and Board President Peskin agreed to pause this activity and referred it to the City Economist for evaluation. This demonstrates that our City’s current channels of communication and process are effective.
The proposed amendment states that the mayor must explicitly approve any SFMTA budget that includes changes to transit fares, increases in meter hours, or increases the maximum meter fee.
As proposed, the amendment may increase the Mayor’s accountability when it comes to increased fees, but the proposed amendment will fail to hold anyone accountable for the service cuts that will be a direct result of insufficient funding in the absence of fee increases.
By silently withholding approval, the mayor could single-handedly put the SFMTA in a position where service cuts are the only option to balance the budget. This creates a situation where, by the mayor doing nothing, thousands of Muni riders are left waiting at the curb.
Thea Selby & Dominique Monié
San Francisco Transit Riders