SF supervisors may defy mayor on transit funding measure 

click to enlarge San Francisco's vehicle license fee would go from 0.65 percent of a vehicle's value to 2 percent under a proposal designed to raise funds for Muni and other transportation programs. - S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • S.F. Examiner file photo
  • San Francisco's vehicle license fee would go from 0.65 percent of a vehicle's value to 2 percent under a proposal designed to raise funds for Muni and other transportation programs.

San Francisco likes to bill itself as a transit-first city, and it could have the chance to invest $1 billion over the next 15 years in road resurfacing, public-transit capital needs and bicycle safety-focused street projects.

To do that, The City would need to go to the November ballot with a vehicle license fee increase. However, that prospect could be doomed.

With today's deadline to introduce the measure for the fall election, members of the Board of Supervisors remained in discussions Monday about whether to move ahead with the proposal even though Mayor Ed Lee has already come out against such action.

The debate comes not only as Muni is underfunded, but also as fatalities on city streets have increased in recent years -- reaching 21 pedestrian and four bicyclist deaths in 2013.

Supporters acknowledge that the measure, which would increase the vehicle license fee from 0.65 percent of a vehicle's value to 2 percent, would be a challenge to pass. They do, however, note how the mayor's support could help push it to victory. And the increase was recommended by Lee's Transportation Task Force.

Supervisor Scott Wiener, who supports the fee increase, said he is willing to hold off only if Lee commits to placing it on the ballot of another election. Wiener said the funding is essential to address Muni's capital needs amid a growing population.

He said "clearly the [vehicle license fee] is not a slam dunk at the ballot but it is passable, especially when voters understand that this is simply restoring the [fee] to what it was and funds will be largely used for roads and Muni capital needs." The fee was reduced under then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Mayoral spokeswoman Christine Falvey said Monday that the mayor's position remains unchanged. "He's heard from constituents across The City that they're concerned about affordability right now and he's listening to them," Falvey said.

On Friday, pedestrian and bicycle advocates were adamant about the need to place the measure before voters this November, indicating the political tension.

"Our local elected [leaders] committed to find consistent funding for safe, smooth streets," said Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. "We expect them to live up to that promise by putting this measure on the ballot and giving voters the choice."

Nicole Schneider, executive director of Walk San Francisco, a pedestrian advocacy nonprofit, noted the mayor had accepted his Transportation Task Force recommendations last year.

"There's simply no more time to waste when we're talking about the lives of our neighbors, friends and family," Schneider said.

The mayor's Transportation Task Force identified $10.1 billion of needs during the next 15 years and recommended the vehicle license fee hike as one of several funding sources. The mayor is backing another transit-funding proposal in November -- a $500 million general obligation bond, another task force recommendation. Some worry the fee measure could jeopardize the bond's passage.

If introduced today, the board would have about one month to decide whether to vote to place it on the ballot. The mayor could veto, which would take at least eight votes of the 11-member board to overturn.

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