SF's goal of taking its cars off the road hits speed bump 

click to enlarge A 2010 ordinance required The City to cut its citywide fleet by 20 percent by 2015, but a pushback from city agencies has stymied its progress. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • A 2010 ordinance required The City to cut its citywide fleet by 20 percent by 2015, but a pushback from city agencies has stymied its progress.

Enforcement of San Francisco’s 2010 law to reduce city government vehicles was supposed to begin two years ago. Now that it has finally started, the requirement is being put to the test.

Nine city department heads have submitted waivers to protect hundreds of trucks, sedans and other vehicles from elimination.

The total number of vehicles in The City’s fleet is not exact, but an indication comes through a $29 million annual fuel contract for 6,000 vehicles and 700 pieces of equipment, including generators.

The fleet has long faced criticism for abuse and waste, a fact seen as a blemish on San Francisco’s environmentally conscious image. In recent years, city leaders have launched efforts to reduce vehicle dependency, such as by partnering with car-share programs. In 2010, San Francisco adopted the landmark Healthy Air and Clean Transportation Ordinance — commonly referred to as HACTO — that required an annual 5 percent citywide fleet reduction from July 2011 to July 2015.

The Department of the Environment is in charge of enforcing the law, and it has started making departments comply after a two-year delay.

Nine agencies, including the Recreation and Park and Building Inspection departments, have submitted waivers claiming that “the mandated fleet reductions would unduly interfere with [each] department’s ability to discharge its official functions.” The reduction requirement applies to the pool of vehicles not exempted under the waivers; the law does not apply to emergency or public transit vehicles.

The ultimate decision on the waivers is up to City Administrator Naomi Kelly and Department of the Environment Director Melanie Nutter, who will both review them once they are finalized in consultation with Mayor Ed Lee’s budget office.

Environmental agency officials say they have spent the past two years working with city agencies to figure out how best to implement the law and handle the waivers, attempting to be “flexible” to avoid disruption in services.

City departments aren’t being given a pass on the past two years. “We are asking them to show a 10 percent reduction,” said Bob Hayden, the clean air program manager for the Department of the Environment.

While the legislation has the ultimate goal of achieving a 20 percent city vehicle reduction by July 1, 2015, the waivers call that target into question.

“We’re too early to know,” Hayden said.

The challenge is evident in the reasons provided in the waivers. Building Inspection, for example, reported having 99 vehicles and has requested a waiver for 97 of them. That means that to then comply with the ordinance, it simply would have had to reduce its fleet by two-tenths of a vehicle — in other words, none — over the past two years. Inspectors, said the waiver request, need the cars for their daily jobs. Right now, the department has 93 inspectors and plans to hire 26 more.

“Upon filling these positions, we will have 22 fewer cars than inspectors,” the waiver request said.


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