Trolley Maven Defends Muni's $1.9M Restoration of City's Oldest Streetcar — To a Point

The news that Muni is shelling out just shy of $2 million to restore its historic trolley car No. 1 while struggling to make up a $129 million shortfall (and being systematically looted by other city departments) could be read as a case of fixing up the doilies and sconces — while your cracked foundation sags and the neighbors brazenly steal from the pantry.

None too surprisingly, trolley aficionados and Muni don't see things that way. Rick Laubscher, the president of the Market Street Railway — the good folks who brought you the F-Line — handily backs up Muni's choice to spend the money. But he isn't entirely thrilled with every last detail, and wasn't shy to let us know.

Incidentally, today's Chronicle story on Muni Car No. 1 — a 97-year-old workhorse that is actually the nation's first publicly owned streetcar — astoundingly did not mention what every Muni rider literate in English, Spanish, or Chinese sees right when he steps onto the bus: The system is vastly in the red and vital services are on the chopping block. The juxtaposition of expensive repairs to one special vehicle and overall burgeoning deficits makes an obvious impact on readers, and is reflected in the story's reader comments (which probably found a way to pin this on sanctuary city policies to boot).

Muni, however, doesn't simply keep all its money in a jar and divvy it up on an impromptu basis. Without bringing up Muni's operating deficit, a journalist has no reason to mention that the restoration funds hail from a variety of capital campaigns, local sales tax dollars, and state and federal grants — in other words, money that was always earmarked for fleet restoration and could never be applied to Muni's current shortfall.

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