Supervisors Threaten to Reject SFMTA’s Budget Amid Rising Frustration

The Board of Supervisors have little say in SFMTA's policies, except during budget season.

Supervisors on Monday threatened to wield the only substantial authority they have over the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority: rejecting its budget.

At the Land Use and Transporation Committee meeting on Monday, Supervisors Ahsha Safaí and Aaron Peskin ramped up talk of turning down the agency’s budget. The tactic isn’t unheard of but comes amid rising frustration over SFMTA’s actions. This time, it was over cuts to parking attendants in the 39 city-owned garages. 

SFMTA put up $32 million for a machine system and central security feed for its garages, reducing human staff from 233 in 2016 to 195 today. Since then, public commenters said the garages have gone from clean and guarded by friendly faces to filthy, unsafe, and a magnet for car break-ins while the long-standing attendants lose their livelihood. Supervisors agreed at Monday’s hearing, saying a human element is necessary to maintain the garages.

“There’s a growing frustration by a supermajority of the board,” Peskin said to the parking director about SFMTA. “This could be the one that could break the camel’s back.”

Peskin and Safaí sought answers about future cuts to parking attendant staff that were largely rebuffed, and now promise to take a close look at the issue as they approve, or disapprove SFTMA’s roughly $1 billion budget

On the face of it, threatening to dismiss the SFMTA’s budget and throw the city’s transportation system into chaos over parking attendants may seem drastic. But it comes out of building dissatisfaction from the agency’s actions, which the Board of Supervisors has little control over. 

That’s thanks to 2007’s Proposition A, which Peskin authored to consolidate Muni and the city’s parking department into a near-independent SFMTA. (It also gave the agency newfound power over the taxi industry, including charging $250,000 for previously-free driving permits the same year Uber launched.)

Tensions over the SFMTA’s management have risen ever since the 2018 summer Muni meltdown, which was propelled by tunnel repairs and an operator shortage from low wages. Faulty train doors that dragged a woman on a platform, defective trains, stalled subway service, and sexual harassment allegations followed, leading to SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin to step down in April

Peskin offered to facilitate conversations for this latest issues of preserving parking attendant posts to prevent seedy garages, particularly downtown, and appeared optimistic it would be resolved. Still, he and Safaí made it clear that SFMTA needs to adjust its priorities.

“This is a situation where an agency that has little, if any oversight…we have the thumbs up or down,” Safaí said about the budget. “More and more, it’s becoming apparent that we’re going to have to exercise that authority.”

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