Ken Garcia: Residents pretty happy about state of The City, but not Muni 

A majority of city residents believe San Francisco is headed in the right direction — but at the same time, an increasing number say they believe Muni is getting off track. They appear more than willing to support a huge bond for public schools — but they don’t want to keep increasing taxes on parking and business.

And the members of the Board of Supervisors? All in all, they are generally perceived as a highly mediocre bunch.

As we crawl toward another election in a few weeks, it’s interesting to note that San Franciscans feel better about their town than they did three years ago, even if they have some serious concerns about key quality-of-life issues. Those findings are contained in a recent poll commissioned by the Chamber of Commerce, which asked the same questions of residents three years ago, during the last few months of Mayor Willie Brown’s administration.

A few numbers clearly jump out and resonate well beyond this November to next year’s mayoral race. For starters, Mayor Gavin Newsom, new hairstyle or not, has definitely gelled with residents. His approval rating has remained steady at 80 percent, a remarkable showing in a town where at least one-third of the populace is always against something. And even if it turns out to be the softest 80 percent rating in history, his standing against a host of theoretical opponents is so overwhelming that those considering a run against him next year would appear to be wasting a lot of money for nothing.

Butone issue did emerge in the survey that should serve notice on any mayoral aspirant — the impression of Muni’s service has declined significantly, a warning light chugging down the tunnel. Muni’s woes during Brown’s first term became the 800-pound gorilla in his re-election bid, and the poll of 600 residents citywide by David Binder Research showed that the favorable view of the transit system has gone from 64 percent in 2003 to 53 percent today.

Yet the increasing dissatisfaction with transportation service hasn’t affected the overall view of the direction of The City, where a whopping 60 percent of respondents said they believed San Francisco was on the right track compared with just 33 percent three years ago.

"The Muni response is certainly a warning sign for city officials," Binder said. "It’s things like public transit and potholes and the cleanliness of the streets on which people judge how government performs. Even people who don’t take Muni that often still care about it."

And they apparently care about the state of public schools, even though most residents don’t have children in them. When asked if they supported the $450 million school bond on the November ballot, 68 percent of those surveyed said yes, with only 22 percent opposed and 10 percent were undecided.

The last-minute plan to increase the tax on parking garage operators that Chris Daly threw on the ballot appears to be about as popular as the intemperate supervisor himself, with nearly 60 percent of those surveyed saying they oppose a tax increase from 25 percent to 35 percent.

That finding is also reflected in the response of nearly 70 percent of those polled, who believe that businesses shouldn’t be taxed any higher. And 30 percent of those already believe that businesses are taxed too much — which is why a majority of people think San Francisco is a hard place to do business.

Newsom told me that the results of the poll couldn’t be clearer in terms of his own perception of the state of The City. He said he was actually surprised that the satisfaction rating on Muni hadn’t dropped more — which is why the transit agency is going through the most comprehensive review in its history.

"We’ve had four years of substantial cuts at Muni, and that disinvestment is definitely being felt," he said. "But we’re being proactive — we’re not waiting for Muni to derail."

He also said he was pleased with the overall marks given about the direction of The City: "I’m so pleased that people are focused on what’s right about San Francisco and not what’s wrong. I realize that we’ve got to do a better job in several areas — education, housing, homelessness, the quality of the streets — and we’re working hard to address all that. But I think everybody realizes that we have do do more to encourage people and businesses to come to The City."

The poll was just completed a few weeks ago, so it will be interesting to see if the results are mirrored on Election Day. But I’d side with the feelings of 600 residents over four stray supervisors any day, since as a newspaperman, I’ve found that readers, like respondents, are rarely wrong.

Ken Garcia’s column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and weekends in The Examiner. E-mail him at kgarcia@examiner.com or call him at (415) 359-2663.

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