Squabbling Supes send SFMTA board battle to voters

San Francisco voters this November will get to decide if the mayor and the Board of Supervisors should split the responsibility of making appointments onto the City’s transportation agency’s board.

Supervisors on Tuesday voted 6-5 to place the charter amendment onto the ballot, which would allow the mayor to appoint four members of the Municipal Transportation Agency’s Board of Directors while supervisors would get to appoint three members.

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The measure would also change the threshold from seven to six on the number of supervisors it would take to reject the transit agency’s budget.

Supervisors Scott Wiener, Katy Tang, Mark Farrell, Malia Cohen and London Breed voted against the charter amendment.

Currently, the mayor gets to appoint all seven members to the Board of Directors, but appointees still must go through the Board of Supervisor’s Rules Committee. If the committee moves the appointment forward, the full Board of Supervisors can decide whether or not to the confirm the appointment.

The last appointment confirmed by the Board of Supervisor was Lee Hsu who confirmed last month, with supervisors Cohen and Aaron Peskin voting against his appointment.

Supervisor David Campos, who supports the charter amendment, which Supervisor Norman Yee introduced, said he had attempted a similar charter amendment back in 2010, but it never made to the ballot.

This is was at a time when the SFMTA had cut 10 percent of Muni service due to budget constraints.

Former Board of Supervisors President David Chiu and then Mayor Gavin Newsom struck a deal to restore the service and the promise of reforms in return for Chiu to pull the charter amendment.

Campos said:

“I think if you ask the people of the City and County of San Francisco if those reforms have actually been real and become engrained in how this agency operates, I think the most San Franciscans would say that that reform hasn’t happened.”

He said this would give more Muni riders and residents affected by the decisions of the transit agency more say in how the SFMTA operates:

“It’s about making it more accountable, more transparent.”

Wiener said voters back in 1999 had approved Proposition E, which formed the SFMTA and also gave supervisors less control over Muni. He said going back before the SFMTA existed would not be good for The City:

“For many years, the Board of Supervisors had significant control over and meddled with what at the time was Muni and we saw the results of a deteriorating transit system and all sorts of problems.”

Weiner also said Prop. E specifically put in the seven-vote threshold to reject the transit agency’s budget so that supervisors would not interfere:

“This measure, in addition to splitting appointments, will make it much much easier and tempting for the Board of Supervisors to meddle in the MTA’s budget.”

Wiener added:

“I think we would quickly go back to the bad old days where the MTA is not basing transportation decisions on good transportation policy but rather not the political whims of the Board of Supervisors.”

Yee said it was the board’s job to meddle:

“We could use the word meddling as much as we want if you want to call it that. Our responsibility is to meddle and our fiduciary responsibility.”