You Can’t Always Fight City Hall, But You Can Sure Slow It Down

munipiece2.jpgA transit activist’s move to exploit state environmental law in order to halt Muni’s scheduled May 1 service cuts failed on Tuesday, but worked like a charm in irritating city elected officials.

David Pilpel is a familiar sight to folks who attend Municipal Transportation Agency hearings, and he’s also well-known to the Planning Department — it was Planning who allowed Muni to roll back its service by 10 percent beginning on May 1 without spending millions of dollars and months of time on a costly environmental report. In turn, it was Pilpel’s appeal of Planning’s decision that led to a two-hour hearing at the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday (yes kids, it is that easy to de-grease the wheels of municipal governance).

Usually, changes in service like Muni’s require an environmental review because of CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act (readers may recall that it was lack of just such an EIR which derailed the Bicycle Plan).

But in dire circumstances, such as the fiscal emergency declared by Muni last year, local agencies can bypass CEQA in order to balance their accounts. That’s bullshit and a violation of state law besides, Pilpel alleged, in a five-part argument (one of said parts is an allegation that Muni is not a publicly-owned agency, and all of which has been already handily summarized by other news outlets).

The Board voted against Pilpel’s argument, 7-4, after a two-hour hearing in which Muni’s ongoing fiscal emergency was compared to a “bottomless cup of coffee” (they are apparently endless, fiscal emergencies, but sadly uncaffeinated), and in which Supervisors David Campos and Sean Elsbernd, both lawyers, treated onlookers to a case study in narrow vs broad interpretation of the law. Essay is due tomorrow, everyone.

Campos argued that the original fiscal emergency didn’t mention the service cuts, and that therefore the EIR was needed. That’s too narrow, said Elsbernd, who argued that state law allowing for bypasses of lengthy and costly EIRs was written for cases just like this.

“Does it make sense for a city and county to spend 6-8 months doing a full-blown EIR every time we need to make service cuts? No, it does not make sense,” Elsbernd said.

That, dear readers, is how the Appeal spent its evening. Check Streetsblog or maybe the Chron for a more measured summation of the proceedings, perhaps with quotes from Pilpel, for we could not muster the energy.

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