Bridging the Gaps in Funding Transit and Housing: Recap from Steven T. Jones at the Bay Guardian

On October 9th, the Bay Guardian and SF Transit Riders held a joint community forum titled Bridging the Gaps in Funding Transit and Housing. On Friday, October 10th, the event moderator and Guardian editor Steven T. Jones posted the following write-up of the event on their website at this URL: 

On Tuesday, October 15th, the San Francisco Media Company pulled its funding from the Bay Guardian and shut down its website, cutting off access to 48 years of progressive journalistic history. The former Bay Guardian staff is working to have these archives put back up online. In the meantime, we are posting his write-up here. 

Forum begins to bridge the housing-transportation divide

By Steven T. Jones

Advocates for sustainable transportation and affordable housing in San Francisco — who have been pitted against each other in this election — discussed their differences and found some common ground for a post-election agenda during a community forum last night [October 9th] hosted by the Bay Guardian and San Francisco Transit Riders Union.

We intended for the forum, “Bridging the Gaps in Funding Transit and Housing,” to begin to heal the rift that has developed over the last couple years and played out strongly this year in the creation of and campaigns for Propositions A, B, G, K, and L, with each camp not supporting the other’s priorities.

But there was broad agreement that both sides should work together on an affordabilty agenda that combats rising housing and transportation costs, the need to incorporate equity and social justice studies into the solutions this coalition should pursue, and even some specific funding mechanisms to meet both needs, including charging transportation impact fees to residential developers and uniting in a campaign to increase the local vehicle license fee in 2016.

“If you looking at what kind of city this is going to be, it really is about housing and transportation. They are two sides of the same coin,” Sup. Scott Wiener said after he arrived late in the forum, explaining how he has filled a critical void in transportation advocacy at City Hall. “The problem has been that over time, everytime there’s a budget fight, Muni loses.”

But Wiener has been a political lightning rod, particularly with renters and affordable housing activists who blame him for the division and for moving forward with Prop. B, which increases funding for Muni, without building a broader coalition first.

“I think the VLF could have had a chance [this year], but what it was lacking was a solid coalition to pull it off,” Peter Cohen, co-director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations, said at the forum.

Cohen and his allies were left out of the Mayor’s 2013 Transportation Task Force, and they were critical of it for setting priorities and identifying funding options before undertaking a broad study of equity and social justice considerations, a study that the SFMTA is now working on with support from transportation activists.

Cohen didn’t accept the framing that helping Muni necessarily helps low-income households — 53 percent of Muni riders don’t have access to a car and 51 percent live in low-income households, according to an SFMTA ridership survey presented at the forum by the agency’s Jonathan Rewers — saying many system improvements are aimed at wealthier parts of town.

“The question is what parts of the system are actually being improved,” Cohen said, adding, “When you get down to the fine grain scale, it’s a lot more complicated.”

But Wiener and transit activists didn’t agree, noting that most Muni lines connect rich and poor neighborhoods, and that when you consider that low-income people disproportionately ride public transit, giving money to Muni necessarily helps the poor.

“There are very few [Muni] lines that only serve low-income people or high-income people,” Wiener said, arguing the public transit funding helps the entire city, and disproportionately the low-income people who rely on Muni.

“Helping Muni intrinsically helps low-income folks,” Amandeep Jawa, president of the League of Conservation Voters, said. “Fixing Muni is intrinsically a equity issue.”

That was also how SFTRU’s Thea Selby framed the issue: “We have a customer base that is low income and we have to take that into account.”

But because affordable housing and the transportation system each have funding needs running into the billions of dollars, there is tension.

“It’s a limited pile of funds, so we all feel like we’re fighting in a zero sum game,” Jawa said, blaming elected officials for unnecessarily creating that divisive paradigm and failing to identify new funding sources. “There is a lack of political leadership in this town, and not on the activist side.”

But when Jawa made an exception of Wiener (who hadn’t yet arrived at the forum), praising Wiener’s leadership on transportation issues, Cohen reacted angrily and blamed Wiener for sowing the divisions between transportation and housing activists.

“We see very intentional wedging,” Cohen said, criticizing Wiener for placing Prop. B on the ballot (which Cohen and his group opposes) and for opposing Prop. G, the anti-speculation tax that is a top priority for affordable housing advocates this election. “We have had a very difficult time working together because we have been pitted against each other.”

Yet Jawa criticized how Cohen and affordable housing activists have tried to frame the discussion around Prop. B, which increases General Fund contributions to Muni as the city’s population increases: “I don’t believe the notion that we’re stealing from affordable housing. We’re not.”

Eventually, those tense moments in which the divisions were sharply on display yielded to more civility and pledges to work together after this election.

“From my perspective, we need to not be at each other’s throats, but we have to work at all those priorities,” said Peter Strauss of the SFTRU.

“Talking, we can begin to understand each other’s priorities,” said Chema Hernández Gil of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, pledging to work with Cohen and other affordable housing and social justice activists to strength that coalition.

Hernández Gil cited studies showing that housing is the biggest expenditure for San Franciscans, followed by transportation costs. A worker making minimum wage pay about half of his or her income on housing and a quarter on transportation, leaving very little left for other expenses.

“If you need a car, how much it costs to live here gets so much more expensive,” Jawa said, citing the importance of transit-first policies to an affordability agenda. So he said the pro-car Prop. L would make San Francisco more expensive. “Prop. L is all about transportation affordability in the end,” Jawa said, urging voters to reject the measure.

Cohen noted that he’s supporting the Prop. A general obligation transportation bond and will continue to supporting the creation of a sustainable transportation system as well.

“Right now, residential development doesn’t pay a nickel for transportation infrastructure,” Cohen said, with his call for a residential transportation impact fee winning support from most of the activists in the room.

Cohen asked the transportation activists for their support on housing issues.

“What we have in San Francisco is a dramatic shortage of affordable housing,” Cohen said, calling for a broad coalition to support more public funding to build affordable housing. “It’s going to take a lot of work and a lot you coming back to support funding measures on the ballot.”

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PUBlic Transit CRAWL #1 Recap

On August 14th, 2014, we had our first ever PUBlic Transit CRAWL. Instead of crawling on our knees from bar to bar, we crawled on the bus! 50 people came throughout the night, riding Muni to 4 bars across 4 miles in 4 hours. 

PUBlic Transit CRAWL 1 Invitation

A FUNdraiser for SFTRU, we sold special $40 packages that included a year-long membership and 4 drink/raffle tickets. A philanthropic steal!

A new member signs up for SFTRU! PUBlic Transit CRAWL

We kicked it off at 5PM at Mr. Smith’s in Civic Center, where a crowd from SFMTA showed up! We chatted and got into the swing of things, and almost too soon 40 minutes were up and it was time to switch locations.

We boarded the 6 Parnassus at Market St and 7th. There was enough room for us party passengers at 5:50PM, banners and all. A Muni Miracle.

Smiles on Muni, SFTRU PUBlic Transit CRAWL


Of course, most other passengers couldn’t be bothered.

Unamused Bystander. SFTRU PUBlic Transit CRAWL 

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Success at City Hall: Population-Based Muni Funding on November Ballot

Yesterday evening the Board of Supervisors voted to place Scott Wiener’s Charter Amendment assigning increased population-based funding to Muni—including for service needs—on the 2014 ballot.  If passed, this will generate $22 million in additional funds in 2015-16, and $2-3 million more in 2016-17, with funding beyond that tied to whether a Vehicle License Fee is approved in the future.

There were 6 votes in favor: Supervisors Breed, Campos, Chiu, Cohen, Kim, and of course Wiener. Supervisors Mar, Tang, Yee, and Farrell voted against, with Avalos absent.  Scott Weiner cited support on the issue from SFTRU, Sierra Club, Walk SF, and San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.

Getting this on the ballot is a huge win for SF Transit Riders. Your emails, phone calls, and even tweets helped to put us one huge step closer to more funding for increased frequency, capacity, and reliability on Muni. Thank you for your support and action!

Of course, now the real work begins. We helped to convince five supervisors, but we still need to convince a majority of San Francisco voters. Between this and the $500 million General Obligation Bond, the 2014 Ballot is a doozy for transit (not to mention the infuriating Restore Transportation Balance initiative).

Along with other transportation advocates, we will fight hard for both this Charter Amendment AND for the General Obligation Bond, since they have very different but complementary purposes. The G.O. Bond goes towards long-term capital improvements for transportation in general, while the Charter Amendment funds would go toward fleet acquisition and improvements for Muni, as well as service costs of increased capacity and enhanced frequencies, plus a portion for street safety improvements. All of us riders know that SF transit needs this funding and more to become the world-class system we all envision.

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Tell BoS to Support Population-based Muni Funding

We’ve watched Muni funding get jerked around in the last few months. First the mayor suspended Sunday Metering, ostensibly to garner support for the Vehicle License Fee. Then in a classic bait and switch, he dropped VLF too. Muni needs alternative funding, and it needs it now.

This is why we are excited about Supervisor Scott Wiener's proposed Charter Amendment for population-based Muni funding. It would “adjust the required annual appropriation from the General Fund to the Transportation Fund annually to reflect increases in the population of San Francisco,” making sure that as the city grows, funds for Muni will grow with it.

On Tuesday, July 22nd, the Board of Supervisors will vote whether or not to put this Charter Amendment on the November ballot. We the transit riders need to tell them to we support a stronger Muni today. 

Their meeting is closed to public comment, which makes it crucial for the Supervisors to know what their constituents think. Some of them are wary of this Charter Amendment, citing potential funding from other ballot initiatives like the upcoming G.O. Bond. Muni needs both! This Charter Amendment funds Muni explicitly and would give it $22 million off the bat. The funds are directly slated "to improve the system’s reliability, frequency of service, capacity, and state of good repair," as well as "to improve street safety for all users." 

Tell the Board of Supervisors that we can’t keep putting off funding for Muni, especially as the city grows! Here's how:

  • Send an email to the Board of Supervisors. Below is a draft email you can use and edit. Just cut and paste the email addresses into the address field of your own email.
  • Call your Supervisor. Find their phone number here and tell them to support population-based funding for Muni!
  • Make a donation to support our advocacy or become a member.
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Parking Forum Recap

On June 12th, SF Transit Riders put on a forum with SPUR and TransformCA called: Parking, A Temporary Problem? We had five experts present “tools” for making parking better, and then asked people to break up into groups. Over 75 people came to listen and to participate. Each person who came put on a sticker for each mode of transit they used, making for a colorful and inclusive way to tie people together.

What modes of transit do you use?

 Here are a few highlights of the forum:

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