Lee panders to motorists and undermines SFMTA with Sunday metering repeal

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First Mayor Ed Lee ignores the rising cost of living in San Francisco (fueled partly by his own corporate welfare for the tech industry and commercial landlords), and now he’s using his sudden concern about gentrification as an excuse to make parking meters free again on Sundays, a blatant bit of political pandering that blows a $6 million annual hole in Muni’s budget.

Maybe it’s understandable that a politician worried about his reelection prospects with restive voters would take a page from the playbook of former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who slashed the state’s vehicle license fee to win that office. But what makes this move stink even more is it’s being supported by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, a supposedly independent (yet mayoral appointed) body whose top officials methodically and courageously have made a strong case for Sunday metering.

“We’re just willing to partner with the mayor to address affordability,” SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose told us, admitting the agency hasn’t yet identified a funding source to fill that gap if Sunday metering is repealed on July 1 as proposed. Sunday meters were budgeted for $1 million in revenue, but they actually brought in $6 million in the last year because of more tickets than expected, feeding the outrage of motorists who feel entitled to use public roads for free. 

We’re waiting for calls back from SFMTA Executive Director Ed Reiskin and Chairman Tom Nolan to find out whether they no longer stand by the arguments they’ve been making for Sunday metering, claiming it helps the local economy by making parking spaces available in neighborhood commercial districts and that it’s consistent with the city’s official transit-first policy.

“What does this say about the city’s commitment to the policy of promoting transit first?” San Francisco Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Leah Shahum said, saying she was shocked by the announcement given how underfunded the SFMTA’s transit, bicycle, and pedestrian improvement programs all are. “Why in the world are we even talking about this?”

Lee claims this is about affordability, telling the Chronicle “it was just nickel-and-diming people to death,” yet his own plans call for asking voters to approve more than $6.3 billion in taxes to fund Muni’s needs over the next 15 years, including a proposal to increase the sales tax in 2016, a regressive tax that will hit those already struggling harder than Sunday metering does to the 70 percent of San Francisco households that have an automobile.

Lee has also proposed ballot measures for this November that would increase the vehicle license fee and issue a $500 million general obligation bond, paid for on the property taxes of all city households. His own polls show the measures could be difficult sells to voters, and it’s not clear why he won’t wait for those results before ending Sunday metering.

When we asked mayoral Press Secretary Christine Falvey about all this, she selectively answered our questions with the following response: “The mayor believes a comprehensive funding strategy to not just maintain, but improve Muni performance, pedestrian and bike safety and the condition of our roads is what will finally turn the corner on improving San Francisco’s Transportation System. That’s why he has spent the better part of a year with the Transportation 2030 Taskforce, that recommended several ways to support these goals, including a $500 million general obligation bond, which the mayor supports. Because of a strong economy, the mayor believes it’s time to eliminate parking fees for six hours on Sundays and permanently fund Free Muni for low income youth to help working families in San Francisco and ease the affordability issues he hears about from families across the City.”

But at this point, that’s just political rhetoric, and Lee’s “comprehensive funding strategy” remains a vague and distant dream — one that will soon be $6 million a year tougher to make a reality.