By Pat Murphy
Sentinel Editor & Publisher
Copyright © 2007 San Francisco Sentinel
A ballot measure promising broad reform of Muni ran into opposition Thursday from the San Francisco Labor Council.
The Charter Amendment consolidating power of the Municipal Transportation Authority (MTA) which operates Muni also met serious skepticism from two members of the three-person Rules Committee hearing the proposal.
Supervisor Aaron Peskin authored the proposed City Charter Amendment geared toward voter approval in the November election.
Peskin described the measure as a “broad and sweeping Charter Amendment” while noting he is willing to negotiate several provisions.
The measure “consolidates power and authority within that agency,” reported Peskin.
“It also increases accountability for managers as well as line staff.
“It is a comprehensive, broad sweeping Charter Amendment that, in addition to establishing carbon emission reduction goals, works to increase money to the MTA.
“It also increases accountability for managers by requiring pay to be linked to performance.
“It removes the salary cap for operators to give management leverage at the bargaining table in conjunction with our transit operators.
“It has a series of provisions including but not limited to two-year budgeting, giving the MTA the ability to float their own revenue bonds, and I’m happy to go through it line-by-line,” stated Peskin.
A Labor Council spokesman quickly scored the measure in four areas.
“The total amount of power that is going to be taken out of the hands of the Board of Supervisors and put in the hands of the MTA, which is an appointed body as opposed to an elected body, concerns us,” objected San Francisco Labor Council Executive Director Tim Paulson.
“The proposition… about the 10% of people who would not be working under a collective bargaining agreement is extremely worrisome to us.
“Anything you can think of around (Muni supervisor) favoratism and supervisors picking who they want to get into these types of jobs are at the core of some the trade union values that we all have here.
“The whole idea of all of a sudden… to have that kind of money taken out of the General Fund and just sliced right back into Muni does not seem to be the approach that needs to be taken because, whether it’s $25 million or $30 million or whatever the estimates are, what other programs are going to be suffering based on that type of set-aside,” said Paulson.
Rules Committee Chair Tom Ammiano expressed doubt the measure would make Muni run better. Supervisors Sean Elsbernd and Jake McGoldrick sit as committee members.
“I’m of the mind now that these are a lot of bells and whistles,” observed Committee Chair Tom Ammiano.
“I’m not quite sure how they’re going to land in terms of efficacy or really going to make Muni run better even though I know the intent is there.
“As it exists now the amendment would increase at-will employees from 1.5% to 10%, about 500 people at-will?” Ammiano asked Peskin, concerned with the increase of employees who could be terminated without cause.
Peskin is willing to negotiate the number downward, he responded.
“In discussions with various units of labor I indicated that was the outside of the envelope and and subject to continued discussions — certainly willing to revise that downward.”
Ammiano also expressed concern over ballot proposal removal of the San Francisco Civil Service Commission from oversight of Muni.
“The authority would be transferred to a MTA Commission but I would respectfully say the following which is you look at personal service contracts — I defy anybody to tell me that the Civil Service Commission does not approve 99.9% of them so I don’t know what the difference is — this not a deal killer for me.
“I don’t know that there is any practical difference but I am open to change.”
But, “The Board of Supervisors would lose oversight over Prop J (previous consolidation of Muni oversight)?,” noted Ammiano.
“That would be transferred to the MTA but the Board would retain its powers under Section 9.118 of the Charter and would still be charged with approving any contract in excess of $10 million in cost in ten years in duration or $1 million in revenue,” Peskin answered.
“Well, I could drop the bread crumbs on that one,” retorted the chairman.
Some $25 million in the City’s General Fund would be transferred to the MTA under the proposal as currently written, raising the specter diminished funding for other City services, drawing Ammiano focus.
“I know some senior folks rely on that option (for City service funding),” Ammiano continued.
“It’s definitely a policy call,” stated Peskin, “it’s a policy call about moving additional funds from the General Fund to Muni.
“The current division of money, 40% goes to MTA, 20% goes to aging adult services, 40% to the General Fund — this would transfer that 40% that goes to the General Fund to the Muni where it would be to the benefit of individuals who use our Municipal Railway and they come from every economic strata in San Francisco.
“In the future as revenues grew from the parking fines in time, all of the up-side would inure to the benefit of the agency.
“So that in 2008-2009 you would see a reduction of General Fund revenue in approximately the amount of $26 million.”
“And Muni gets the unilateral authority for parking fines?” inqured Ammiano.
“That is correct,” said Peskin.
“Not only parking fines,” interjected Supervisor Jake McGoldrick,”but indeed parking rates, parking fees — all of that would then be taken away from the Board of Supervisors — is that correct, MTA would take control of all of that?”
“That is the proposal,” Peskin responded.
McGoldrick questioned giving power to appointed officials over elected officials.
“I think the electorate for the elected officials to be able to weigh in as opposed to appointed officials that are appointed through the executive office, that being the Mayor’s Office whether it’s this mayor or any other mayor.
The proposal gives “incredible powers of authorization… to appointed officials who are basically unknown figures to the general public and I think that’s a very, very important matter that’s put before us.”
“My retort to that,” noted Peskin,” through the chair to Supervisor McGoldrick is that this would be a policy position which the voters could elect to adopt or not.
“It certainly bestows great powers on the MTA Commission.”
Sentinel Editor & Publisher
In his youth, Pat Murphy worked as a General Assignment reporter for the Richmond Independent, the Berkeley Daily Gazette, and the San Francisco Chronicle. He served as Managing Editor of the St. Albans (Vermont) Daily Messenger at age 21. Murphy also launched ValPak couponing in San Francisco, as the company’s first San Francisco franchise owner. He walked the bricks, developing ad strategy for a broad range of restaurants and merchants. Pat knows what works and what doesn’t work. His writing skill has been employed by marketing agencies, including Don Solem & Associates. He has covered San Francisco governance for the past ten years. Pat scribes an offbeat view of the human family through Believe It or What.