Cost of new Muni training facility questioned

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is seeking a new training facility in South San Francisco for its Muni operators, but will have to prove to The City’s Board of Supervisors that it actually needs one.

On Wednesday, the board’s Budget and Finance Committee voted to continue the discussion of a nine-year lease agreement between the SFMTA and Tanforan Industrial Park, LLC for the property of 30 Tanforan Avenue in South San Francisco. The transit agency plans to use the 7.3-acre property as a training facility for Muni operators over the next nine years.

The contract includes an annual base rent for the first year of $2.5 million with annual 2 percent increases, and include options to extend the lease, purchase the property and right of refusal. The transit agency would eventually pay a total of $25 million in rent.

SFMTA’s Director of Transit John Haley, said the transit agency currently has short-term license agreements with the Cow Palace to use its parking lot, and with a former U.S. Navy airstrip in Alameda to train motor coach and trolley operators. The transit agency also uses the space for the Alemany Farmers’ Market. All of the sites have different availability dates.

Haley said that with the recent increase in Muni service and hiring, the transit agency will need a more stable facility to train operators or else delaying operator classes:

“We risk missing a class, which will put us below our service goals again.”

He said the new training facility would provide some consistency for the transit agency so that those training new operators would not have to constantly look for available spaces.

Haley said a permanent site has been sought since at least since Mayor Willie Brown’s second term, but have not been able to to find a location to meet Muni’s needs:

“The only real alternative would be to maintain the status quo, which again for the heaviest-traveled agency in the region, to have the depend on the good graces of others to control our own destiny, is not where we want to be.”

Supervisor Katy Tang said the rent was a significant jump from what the transit agency currently pays in license agreements. A report from the board’s Budget and Legislative Analyst Harvey Rose said the SFMTA pays $155,000 annually in license agreements to places like the Cow Palace to use its parking lot for training purposes.

Rose said the first initial base rent of the new facility would represent a 1,500 percent increase in costs over what the SFMTA currently pays annually in license agreements.

He also said that there was no guarantee that the transit agency would be able to continue to use the facility after the nine-year lease, and then the transit agency would then be back to where it is today.

Supervisor Norman Yee also had questions about the contract and wanted more justification for a new training facility. Yes requested more information from the transit agency on how many classes the transit agency was unable to conduct at least within the last year and the cost effectiveness of having a new facility.

Transport Workers Union Local 250-A President Eric D. Williams said Muni operators need this new training facility and that the current training facilities are joke:

“This agency is so far behind the curve when it comes to transportation issues and the things other transportation agencies across the country have already done, been doing for years. Our sisters and brothers across the Bay at AC Transit, SamTrans, all have their own facilities.”

The supervisors committee will delay the vote for two weeks so that the SFMTA can get the information requested by Supervisor Yee.