City ignores public on bus plan

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EDITORIAL San Francisco's tech bus saga has proven to be a source of fascination to national and international media outlets. Blockades of Google, Apple, and Facebook shuttles have fueled the narrative that the city is gripped by class warfare, with evictees and low-income renters raging against well-heeled private shuttle passengers and the taxpayer-subsidized tech industry.

There's truth in that, to be sure — but another reason for this mounting tension has less to do with the passengers inside the shuttles and more to do with tone-deaf administrators and politicians inside City Hall.

At the Jan. 21 San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency meeting where the plan to regulate the Google buses was adopted, people filled a hearing room and an overflow room to capacity and sounded off for hours with their concerns. Some voiced support, but opponents felt the city wasn't demanding enough from the shuttle-sponsoring corporations in exchange for this privilege, and for the headaches they've already caused.

Yet the board of that supposedly independent agency just unanimously rubber-stamped the plan that had been crafted behind closed doors, without even bothering to conduct a broad-based study about the impacts the shuttles are actually having on the city.

There's a lot of anger in San Francisco right now. And no, it isn't rooted in envy over tech workers' generous salaries. Much of it is driven by a growing sense that city government routinely freezes out the public while doing the bidding of a small number of elite stakeholders with undue influence.

Despite dozens of protests, a media blitzkrieg, and passionate speeches urging the MTA board to come up with a better plan, the directors chose to endorse something that had been formulated without public input. That simply is not how government is supposed to work, particularly here in San Francisco.

Yet this episode is all too typical of how the people's business is being conducted these days. Important decisions are getting made behind closed doors and presented to the public as done deals, including the decisions by Mayor Ed Lee and his appointees to repeal Sunday metering, block CleanPowerSF, speed up housing development, and build a Warriors arena on the waterfront.

How would this have gone differently if city administrators took their commitment to big ideas like "civic engagement" seriously, and actually solicited ideas from the public from the start instead of treating the broader community as an afterthought?

As long as City Hall continues to be perceived as out of touch with city residents, and beholden to corporate interests alone, expect the tales of San Francisco's class war to continue dominating headlines.

 

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