If ever there was a “no news here” news story, this would be it. Fare increases are still happening, bus route closures are still happening, everything that was true yesterday is still true today regarding Muni: the MTA’s budget will not be rejected by the Board of Supervisors; the Transit Justice package proposed by Supervisor John Avalos will be “considered” but is not binding; and more closures could in fact happen depending on what Mayor Gavin Newsom chooses to do with the city’s budget.
Hi and good afternoon. Are you back from Memorial Day holiday-going? The Board of Supervisors is: back early for a special meeting with one and only one item on the agenda: rejecting the MTA’s budget.
But wait, you say — we’ve been here before, you say. We say yes, you are right — and yet here we are again.
A quick recap: the Board needs seven votes in order to send the MTA budget straight into the recycle bin (or compost, if it’s printed on organic material). Last week, Supervisor John Avalos offered a plan with $15 million in revenue reallocations: shifting the burden of cost onto drivers — with higher parking fines, longer operations of parking meters — that would restore some lost bus services.
The gavel’s dropped, and folks are declaiming. So here we go!
12:17 p.m. Down goes the gavel, up goes everyone in Board Chamber for Pledge of Allegiance — bonus if you can see who goes silent for the “Under God” bit — and up stands Supervisor John Avalos for opening remarks, in which he name-drops both global warming and the military’s “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” policy towards gay servicepeople. In short: rejecting the Muni budget is a very big deal and must be done.
12:22 p.m. Muni Chief Nat Ford is proud to say that all is not unwell with the MTA — recent budget-shiftings and budget-savings (the fruit of the last-minute dealmaking of some two weeks ago, also chronicled on these Web pages at length) have allowed the MTA to increase service on some major bus lines: the 44-O’Shaughnessy, the 38-Geary, 14-Mission and the 49- and 47- Van Ness buses. That will make for a “more robust” bus system, Ford says, but “there’s more funding needs” than are included in the budget currently. Which is to say: if there’s a huge pot of money sitting around somewhere that we don’t know about, please give it to Nat Ford and Muni so’s they can right their ship. Or bus, or train, or what have you.
“We will move forward with a budget that minimizes impact currently impacted by transit riders… at this time, at this juncture, we feel like we tried to balance out the impacts [of the budget] across the board, in a balanced fashion,” Ford said.
So will the budget be turned down? As has been said many times before, it will if Supervisor Sophie Maxwell votes against it. She is the key seventh vote, the woman in the middle between progressives on one side and the moderate crew on the other.
12:27 p.m. We’re going to be in this exact same boat — ok, last time we use that metaphor, we swear — two to four years from now unless major drastic changes are made, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi tells us. This “schizophrenic response” isn’t cutting it, and is making taking the bus “cost-prohibitive.”
“This conversation is not finished,” he said, “and this budget could still be reworked.”
12:31 p.m. Supervisor David Campos has a question for you, Mr. Ford. Don’t you know, Mr. Ford, that folks have to transfer buses just to go grocery shopping? These folks being those who reside in the Alemany Boulevard housing projects. And what’s worse, Mr. Ford, you held no meetings with said residents to tell them of it. To be fair, we wouldn’t hold a meeting to perform that function ourselves — e-mail or smoke signals would work fine, we think.
Anyone a soccer fan? Barcelona’s still up 1-0 on Manchester United in the Champions League final.
12:36 p.m. While some progress has been made, “the issues around service cuts are issues that have yet to be fully addressed by the MTA,” Campos said. That being said, “very, very little has changed from last week to this week.” Somewhere — namely, on the right side of the chamber — Supervisor Sean Elsbernd is saying, “I told you so!”
12:40 p.m. Campos and Supervisor Eric Mar have both committed to rejecting this bad bad budget. Avalos has dropped the biggest news thus far regarding “this crappy budget”: that an MTA commissioner told him the MTA will go back to the drawing board if the budget is rejecting.
12:42 p.m. Ok, here we go! Sophie Maxwell has risen to speak. This could be big… or she could just say that there’s a big gray area, there’s other ways to “hold [the MTA’s] feet to the fire” other than standoffs like this, and then sit down before she says how she’ll vote.
12:45 p.m. It’s over, game over, game over. Supervisor David Chiu, who wrote the rejection measure has just said he’s not going to vote to reject the budget, ending the game prematurely. That makes six votes, tops, and they need seven to tango. He’s justifying his position thusly: “I’m the only member of this board who doesn’t have a car. I take Muni more often than anyone else in this board…” Granted, he could just as easily walk from his Polk Street home, but whatever. We feel you, David.
12:47 p.m. Chiu says he’s putting the MTA on notice nonetheless — there’s too many work orders, there needs to be more cost-sharings between riders and drivers, but the big show is the city’s budget, which comes in three business days. “This [the MTA] is going to seem like child’s play compared to that.” Well-said — the $500 million or so hole in the city’s budget is rather big. The Board should focus its energies on that, not the MTA’s small potatoes.
12:52 p.m. And so be it: the measure to reject the budget is shot down by a vote of 6-5, with David Chiu and Sophie Maxwell voting it down.
That’s that — now, of course, the real fun, as soon as Mayor Gavin Newsom introduces the city’s budget.
1:16 p.m. FINAL UPDATE: Chiu was quick to say that, thanks to pressure from the Board, the MTA’s budget did improve by some $30 million — $15 million was saved in work-orders across the board, including nearly $5 million from police work orders alone; $10.3 million in budget-savings were brokered during the first meeting two weeks ago; and another $5 million is “expected” to be garnered through parking revenue increases. “And that’s been lost during all the reporting on this,” he said. “Those are very significant.”
BUT — all those “savings” could go up in smoke, depending what has happened with the Mayor’s budget. That document’s going to the printer today, we are told (even though as of yesterday the Controller himself (!!) didn’t know what was in it), and in that are some $500 million worth of… well, we don’t know. Cuts? Money-generating ideas? Gifts from the Gettys?
Time will tell. Until then — see you and David Chiu at the bus stop.