The San Francisco/California/US Budget Crisis: SFMTA Edition

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is in trouble and anyone who rides Muni, tries to park in San Francisco, or visits the city on weekends should know as much.

Tonight, yours truly attended SFMTA's FY 2011 - 2012 Town Hall Budget Meeting at SFMTA HQ on South Van Ness and Market Streets and holy fuck have I been missing an opportunity.

I was overwhelmed by the number of senior citizens at the meeting; I offered to give one a ride home on my back for $1.50 ($0.50 less than Muni charges) but he politely declined. SFMTA media spokesperson Judson True implied that his old ass should get a bike or a car and "diversify" his transportation options in the city. It gets worse. First, check SFMTA media homie looking fabulously SF ironic in a bizarre Muni Fast Pass costume. Hawtness.

I digress, let's get into the nerd shit. My first concern with SFMTA - obviously - is that they are on government accounting, not GAAP. The one speaker at the Town Hall who suggested Muni be privatized was met with sparse applause (um, JDA +2?) and some boos but surely the CPAs can get behind me on this one. Let's remember a huge chunk of SFMTA's "budget" comes from the assumption that they will receive a "subsidy" (for all intents and purposes we can rebrand this a bailout, to use terminology you in America should be more than familiar with by now) from the California state legislature. That's totally cool but they forgot California is broke. California, meanwhile, is waiting for a federal handout. Naturally I pointed this out when it was my turn to rail on Muni.

"Since 2007, over $257 million of State Transit Assistance funding has been diverted away from the SFMTA" they tell us. SFMTA even draws up a handy chart of "Amount Owed vs. Amount Received" but I'm a little confused on what "owed" means. "Payments were halted in Fiscal Year 2010" a big bubble says. What do they mean halted? Like they stood there with their hands out and suddenly the state didn't have it? Was it an actual bill that they mailed to Sacramento or is there just an accountant in charge of the dr made up money cr you wish account?

Still, says SFMTA's True, $400 million in "possible" legislative funding "in the works" could provide $7.2 million in FY 2010 and $28.8 million in FY 11. Yeah, I'm not sure where those numbers come from. It's also counting on $78.3 million in FY 2011 under voter-approved measures. You fucking Californians make me ashamed to be one sometimes but whatever.

True also gave us some valuable insight into government accounting admitting "budgets are only balanced for one day." That's funny, we're talking about how deep the hole will be 2 years from now and can't even figure out this fiscal year's budget and the year is almost through. Wow, that fund/expenditure bullshit wears out quickly, doesn't it?

The SFMTA insists that hard choices must be made and inefficiencies must be addressed but when JDA offered to take my own personal time to transcribe questions and answers from Muni riders to SFMTA officials (as requested by one town hall speaker), True seemed stunned at the very concept. Free? They can't do that. I volunteered my fellow Muni riders in the audience, some even held their hands up. See? Fire your bloated Board, SFMTA, and put a diverse, varied group of San Franciscans in there who would gladly do it for free.

Speaking of which, ANSWER's Forrest Schmidt gave the town hall JDA's personal favorite metaphor, the old polishing a turd (you can catch the whole thing on the SFGTV in a few days if you missed the live stream, I'm sure) and later accused True of lying when he said "most" SFMTA Board positions are volunteer, with Board members receiving a small fee for each meeting.


SFMTA CFO Nat Ford (who showed up to the meeting long enough to be seen and then snuck out before True gave the podium to speakers) makes $308,000 a year. Tell me again why I have to put up with this shit? The theft in this city was obvious when Willie Brown was running the show but at least then we had the dot com cow to milk; True even used that as a defense when I mentioned I'd been here for 11 years and Muni has always been inefficient, dirty, excruciatingly slow, unsafe, etc. He's only been here 1 year longer than me so surely he remembers those days. He wistfully drifted back to the dot com days and challenged my memory of our public transit system. Whatever. He's also quitting SFMTA, did I mention that? Best of luck to him, I hope he's 67% less full of shit in his next media adventure, surely fronting for the SFMTA must be a rough gig.

Some other ideas for fixing the budget problem (besides improving efficiency, of course):

A city sales tax of 1/2% - that would bring us up to 10% in San Francisco. Fuck you.

Sunday parking meters - yup. But who comes to the city anymore anyway, Sunday or not?

Adding 1,000 new metered spaces - fun fact: San Francisco is 49 square miles of hills and landfill prone to earthquakes. I'm not sure where exactly SFMTA thinks they are going to put these but this particular scheme seems a tad suspect.

Window advertising wraps on Muni buses - They tried it once and apparently people don't like not being able to see their stop, especially when Muni's broken "voice" systems don't necessarily announce them and one can't expect a driver to actually tell you when you're there. One woman at the town hall seemed extra offended by this and insisted we were not cattle. I had to bite my tongue to keep from saying "you mean whores."

Automatic indexing - this one is especially interesting. Muni would adopt a CPI increase policy on fares based on CPI-U forecast. It expects 2.7% in FY 2011 and 2.8% in FY 2012. This would work out in SFMTA's favor if Zimbabwe Ben keeps up his antics and would totally protect their asses from having to hike fares $200,000 overnight. Look how pissed we got about $15.

You can watch the whole thing go down on the SFMTA website. They want you to think your opinion counts but really, even if you volunteer your time to help save part of your city out of gratitude for being able to call one of the most beautiful cities in the entire world home, they won't do anything with your suggestions. They can't. There are charters and unions and stupid fucking red tape in Sacramento keeping their hands bound even if the Board theoretically wanted to solve their budget issues.

Their own metrics tell them the system cannot handle an additional 5% cut in service and yet that's once again one of their only options. Like I told them tonight, we've reached the breaking point where the price to ride is no longer worth the bullshit we put up with. And we put up with a lot.

Get off your asses, San Francisco, there should have been way more than 75 of you out there tonight. Old people none-the-less. Who had to ride Muni to get there. Shameful. (WC Varones will like to hear there were plenty of bike helmets in the room too and SFMTA's own media hack is a biker. And a driver. And a Muni rider? Does this guy even live in the city?)

For additional reading on SFMTA's WTFs, I recommend the N Judah Chronicles' Mind Boggling Legislative WTF... and Mission Local's Save Muni Groups Look to Meters and Accountability. We're not playing around over here, you never see San Francisco unite like this. No one at the meeting, even foaming-at-the-mouth-liberals, seemed to mind that I was San Francisco's last conservative. I resisted the urge to wear my Reagan for President t-shirt, that would have been pushing it and this is about unity, damnit, not frivolous politics (nor dead politicians that were last in office when I was 8).

Seriously, I'm moving, fuck this.

The next FY11 - 12 meeting is March 30th, it's a Saturday and you bastards are unemployed anyway so get down there.

p.s. SFMTA, that's Adrienne, A-d-r-i-e-n-n-e and you can email me any time about getting that transparency on your website for the greater good of the city.

Jr Deputy Accountant

Some say he’s half man half fish, others say he’s more of a seventy/thirty split. Either way he’s a fishy bastard.


taxpayer said...

Muni generates plenty of value; it's just a matter of collecting it. SF land is expensive. How much of this value would be lost if Muni went away? (How much has already been lost because Muni service is poor?)

You just need a land value tax. Prosper California initiative would be a big step in the right direction.

Of course this assumes Muni is run in a more or less efficient manner, and I grant that is questionnable.

Regarding meters on Sundays - I moved to the East Bay about 5 years ago from Boston and I treat SF the same way I did when I lived in Boston. It's a great place to visit every 4 or 5 years. It absolutely sucks to come in. And forget visiting friends with 2 kids. Parking is impossible, I don't know how you people have dinner parties in your residential neighborhoods. Seriously do you all find spots and take cabs from there?

But seriously SF is a beautiful place to visit just like Moscow was an interesting place to visit in the 80's right? As long as you don't have to live there.

SF - filled with cool people that I can't afford to hang out with.


This is certainly not the city I moved to 11 years ago from the frozen Midwestern tundra. The city has been looted and there's nothing left.


I fucking live here and am not quite sure how I pull it off. I don't know how much longer I can do it...

malus Diaz said...

If your looking for an out of the way city, with a real local organic ecconomy (you can sign up with a farm for fresh veggies every week), Eugene, Oregon.

Anyways, hope it works out for you, I wouldn't be within 100 miles when the SHTF.

Don't try and stop a Freight Train with a lawn chair, duct tape & a toothpick.

planetdancer said...

Eugene, OR isn't going to cut it in the public transportation dept. Routes are being eliminated and service cut from a system that already shuts down at 11:00 pm


I feel bad bitching about Muni because we have such a comprehensive, 24-hour transit system but it has reached its breaking point and SF will no longer pay so much to receive so little.

I remember my days living in Pacifica - I would have to leave work at 5:45p just to catch the 6:50p bus to the apartment otherwise I'd be waiting an hour for the next one at Daly City BART. Last I heard, SamTrans eliminated that line completely (it only ran until 10p on weeknights)... Lame. Oh well, Pacifica is falling into the ocean anyway right?

Anonymous said...

The City's Non-corrupt, non-kool-aid-serving professionals, need to band together.

On our way out of town, let's show the farse of these City agency budgets-- not just SFMTA's.

Incompetence, corruption, and most likely both.

It could be good theater in front of the BOS.