Thursday, May 20, 2010


The Board of Supervisors would gain considerably more control over the city's besieged transit system, and Muni operators no longer would be guaranteed the second-highest wage in the transit industry, under a proposed charter amendment revealed Tuesday.

The proposal also would set aside tens of millions of dollars more for Muni, which due to hemorrhaging revenue has been forced to cut service and raise transit fares, parking fees, and fines to stay afloat.

In addition, the plan calls for hiring an inspector general to keep watch over Municipal Transportation Agency finances.

If approved in November, it would be the third time in the past dozen years that voters approved plans to overhaul Muni, the Bay Area's busiest transit system with nearly 700,000 boardings a day.

The latest version comes less than two weeks after Muni imposed 10 percent service cuts to save an estimated $29 million a year.

"Today, Muni is in crisis again - not just because of the Great Recession but because of the decisions that have been made or not made by the MTA management, the MTA Board and by elected officials.

"I think we all understand that Muni riders and San Franciscans all deserve better," said Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who with Supervisors David Campos, Eric Mar and Ross Mirkarimi are co-sponsoring the proposal.

Tuesday's introduction is just the first step in a long process. Between now and mid-July, the legislation will be subject to closed-door negotiations and public hearings, and there's no guarantee that the Board of Supervisors will vote to place a measure on the fall ballot.

The proposal comes as Supervisor Sean Elsbernd is moving forward with a separate November ballot initiative that's focused on undoing the automatic pay guarantee for Muni operators. His measure would force drivers to negotiate over pay so that management could have more leverage to secure cost-saving changes to overtime and scheduling rules.

The proposal submitted by Chiu and his three colleagues goes far beyond the labor component. While it also requires operators to negotiate pay, it would:

-- Change the appointing authority for the Municipal Transportation Agency Board. Currently, the mayor nominates all seven members, though supervisors have veto power.

Under the proposal, the mayor would get three picks, supervisors would get three and the mayor and the president of the Board of Supervisors would select one member jointly. The supervisors would retain the right to reject any nomination.

-- Give the Board of Supervisors more say over the transportation agency's budget and proposed service changes.

-- Hire an MTA inspector general, who would report directly to the governing board. The watchdog would investigate complaints of fraud, waste and abuse, perform audits and oversee agreements between the agency and other city departments.

-- Set aside more property tax revenue, calculated at 2 1/2 cents for every $100 of assessed valuation for Muni.

That could generate as much as $37 million extra a year for the transportation agency, which next year will have an operating budget nearing $750 million. The additional revenue, however, could mean less money for other city services, such as health care, social services, parks and police.

The Muni proposal was one of several proposed charter amendments introduced by supervisors designed to blunt the mayor's control over city operations.

Campos unveiled a proposal that would give the Board of Supervisors more authority over appointments to the Rent Board, and Mirkarimi offered a plan to give the board more say over the Recreation and Park Commission.

Tony Winnicker, spokesman for Mayor Gavin Newsom, called the efforts "a naked grab for power" that will "shred the city charter's traditional separation of power."

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