In a marathon meeting Tuesday night, the Board of Supervisors voted 8-2 to reject an appeal that would have put the brakes on the city's plan to allow commuter shuttles at Muni stops for a small $1 per bus, per stop fee.
The appeal, filed by housing and labor activists from SEIU, the League of Pissed Off Voters and the Harvey Milk Democratic Club, argued that the city failed to first examine the environmental impact of the 18-month pilot program the SFMTA approved in January. Critics of the program claimed it was being rushed into action after being exempted from the standard review required by the California Environmental Quality Act (the dreaded CEQA). According to CEQA, residential displacement can also be considered an environmental impact.
"Before we write those rules, we should know what we're writing," appellant attorney Richard Drury told the board. "That's what CEQA tells us. When SFMTA wants to reroute its Muni buses, it does a CEQA and figures out where its route should be."
When Supervisor Scott Wiener called out the appeal for unfairly targeting technology workers as "not real San Franciscans," Drury responded that a CEQA review was not meant to stop the project, but to force tech companies to pay for their local impact. "Here we're busing wealthy, predominantly white adults in low income neighborhoods in San Francisco where they in turn displace low and moderate income people," Drury explained. "These are pirate shuttles. They are illegal."
On the other hand, Board president David Chiu warned of the adverse impacts that would hit the city's streets if the pilot program was delayed and shuttles were banished for the year or more it would take to finish the review. “If the shuttles we’re kicked off the streets of San Francisco," Chiu explained, "about half the folks currently on the shuttles would drive."
One interesting statistic did come out of the lengthy period of debate with SFMTA project manager Carli Paine, the planning department's Environmental Review Officer Sarah Jones and SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin: out of the more than 13,000 citations issued for vehicles illegally stopped in Muni stops between January 2011 and February of this year, only 45 of those went to shuttle providers. According to the SFMTA, the agency never made a conscious decision to not cite shuttles, but in practice they do not cite shuttles that are "actively loading or unloading passengers."
The meeting was adjourned by 11 p.m. Tuesday, following a stream of public commenters from both the tech industry and S.F.'s usual suspects. The 8-2 vote saw progressive Supes David Campos and John Avalos voting against moving forward without an environmental review. Supervisor Eric Mar missed the vote due to a spring break trip to Southern California. Opponents of the buses will most likely make their next move in court, before the pilot program begins in July.