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Muni and state commission close to settlement on alleged safety violations

By Jerold Chinn
SF Public Press  

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation and the California Public Utilities Commission say they have settled 90 percent of the items in the commission’s investigation of safety issues regarding Muni’s Metro light-rail system. There were no specific details revealed as to what the transit agency and commission agreed upon.

The state panel released a report in February faulting the transit agency for not complying with safety issues brought up by the commission staff. Some of those safety issues included worn-out tracks and Muni’s automated train control system.

The city attorney’s office and an attorney from the commission’s Consumer Protection & Safety Division have been meeting to resolve the allegations. Both parties are trying to resolve the remaining issues by Friday so that the settlement can be presented the transit agency’s board of directors at their meeting on Tuesday.

Both the city attorney’s office and the commission are set to file a second status report on November 16. The transit agency’s board of directors though could approve the settlement as early as the November 14 meeting.

Muni switchbacks on the decline but riders still waiting a long time for next train to arrive

By Jerold Chinn
SF Public Press  

Switchbacks on Muni trains have been a common complaint from Muni riders as the San Francisco Public Press has previously reported. Muni trains occasionally turn around and have passengers leave the vehicle before arriving at the end terminal in order to get the transit system back on schedule.

Muni officials told a San Francisco Board of Supervisors committee on Monday that switchbacks have decreased over the pass two months. In September, Muni recorded a little over 250 switchback incidents compared to over 400 in June.

“More scheduled and reliable service contributed to the decline of the switchbacks,” said John Haley, transit director of operations.

In April and July, Muni operated 90 percent of scheduled light-rail service, which is below its 98.5 percent goal. As of August, Muni was at 95 percent of the scheduled service.

Haley said vehicle malfunctions and operator shortages contributed to Muni’s light-rail system performance problems in the spring. The number one cause of vehicle delays came from the malfunction of the doors and steps.

A number of programs are currently in the works to improve Muni Metro service including overhauling several light-rail vehicles that have been out of service and additional staff on hand to help resolve delays on the surface and in the subway.

“We should see some improvements when some of those vehicles go back on the street,” said Muni chief Ed Reiskin. The out of service vehicles are slated to return in spring 2013.

Although switchbacks have decreased, Supervisor Carmen Chu said she is still receiving complaints from residents that after a train makes a switchback, riders are waiting a long time for the next train arrive. Muni's stated policy is to not have trains switch back unless another train is five minutes or less away.

Muni officials provided no data on whether the trains had come within five minutes after a train made a switch back, but said would provide that information in a future meeting with supervisors.

Part-time drivers to begin 

About 25 part-time Muni drivers will begin work on Wednesday at the transit agency’s Kirkland Yard, which houses the most express lines, said John Haley, director of transit operations.

Voters approved last years’ Proposition G, which gave the transit agency more leverage in changing work rules and the hiring of part-time drivers in a new labor contract agreement that took effect on July 1.

Muni operators voted against the labor contract agreement and an independent arbitrator stepped in and forced the contract upon the drivers.

Youth environment prize winner feeds Richmond, employs neighbors

By Maureen Nandini Mitra
From Public Press news partner Earth Island Journal
Tania Pulido was a troubled teen back in high school. Her teachers labeled her an “at-risk” youth.
But there was something about her that drew people. A local Richmond nonprofit called Urban Tilth, that works to build healthy and just food systems in communities, noticed this trait in her and figured that she had leadership potential. So they hired Pulido, right after high school two years ago, as a site coordinator for the neglected Berryland garden on the Richmond Greenway.
Having no gardening experience, Pulido began with basic watering and weeding as  the group taught her about community organizing and urban agriculture. Today Pulido is a certified permaculturalist who teaches hundreds of other youth in her community about urban agriculture.
In a city plagued by high crime, industrial pollution and malnutrition, Pulido has helped Berryland has become more than just a place to grow food. Local youth can learn about urban agriculture and crucial global issues — like climate change and environmental racism.
Last summer Pulido employed 25 local youth through a summer apprenticeship program teaching basic gardening. Food from the garden helps feed local families and the teens themselves. She is now working to open a free organic food stand.
Pulido is also involved a campaign against the local Chevron oil refinery. She has worked with and trained more than 100 youth in Richmond and has built a core of 20 youth leaders. She also organized dozens of local events on the Greenway — a feat for a teen working in a community with many “troubled” youth (last summer, the brother of one of her apprentices was shot and killed just two blocks from Berryland garden).
This work earned the 21-year-oldPulido the prestigious 2011 Brower Youth Award this week from Earth Island Institute. Pulido is one of seven winners chosen from nearlyc 100 candidates from across the country. Judges included author and eco-activist Paul Hawken, global human rights activist Vandana Shiva and founder of Newman’s Own Organics Nell Newman.
The other six awardees are between the ages of 15 and 21, and include fellow urban farmers and activists, a surfer turned environmental educator and youth fighting to protect endangered species.
Pulido said she would use the prize money from the award to help build community pride. “Oftentimes, Richmond is portrayed negatively in the media,” she said. “I would use new resources to buy video equipment to better highlight the positive projects and activities in my community.”
Other prize recipients:
  • Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva, 15 and 16, of Michigan, who got the Girl Scouts to limit destructive palm oil in their iconic cookies, and have been covered by The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC and many others
  • Victor Davila, 17, of New York, who is teaching environmental and health education through skateboarding
  • Alexander Epstein, 20, of Pennsylvania, for empowering communities in New Orleans and Philadelphia to develop sustainably from the ground up
  • Junior Walk, 21, of West Virginia, for challenging the coal industry in his community
  • Kyle Thiermann, 21, of California, whose surf videos have created millions of dollars in environmentally responsible investments
The awards ceremony was Wednesday at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco. More information about all of the 2011 Award recipients, including biographies, project summaries, videos and photographs is available at

Most San Francisco mayor candidates answer detailed U.C. / Public Press / Newsdesk survey

The majority of the results are in for a questionnaire San Francisco Public Press distributed to all of this year’s candidates in San Francisco’s mayoral election.

The Public Press worked in collaboration with U.C. Hastings College of the Law and U.C. Davis political science professors to create a survey asking candidates to answer questions on potential or current city policies as a means to specify their ideologies.

Candidates answered questions referring to a number of debated issues that have gone, or are set to go, before the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. For example, eight of the responding candidates said they supported delaying the Central Subway Project while John Avalos, David Chiu, Bevan Dufty, Joanna Rees and Leland Yee encouraged the project to move forward.

As of this time, candidates Dennis Herrera, Ed Lee and Cesar Ascarrunz have not yet turned in their responses.

Results of the questionnaire are being put to use at noon on today as the basis for questioning at a mayoral candidate forum in the Louis B. Mayer Lounge of U.C. Hastings. Survey answers will also be used in future Public Press stories, as the basis for a nonpartisan voter guide and as part of an academic study of issue-based voting in municipal elections with ranked-choice voting.

The answers to the survey so far are availabile in PDF form in a 38-page document. Updates will be posted as answers from remaining candidates are available.  

Friday S.F. mayoral forum at U.C. Hastings to probe candidates' ideologies

To candidates of the 2011 San Francisco race for mayor, part of campaigning means answering countless public interest groups’ surveys and attending numerous debates so voters can determine their positions in the political spectrum.

But candidates are typically asked such general questions that they can mold their answers to better appeal to whatever group is hosting such questionnaires and events, say University of California politics researchers who are seeking a succinct way to categorize the candidates more consistently by their ideologies.

The San Francisco Public Press is collaborating with, U.C. Hastings College of the Law and U.C. Davis political science professors on a study to identify the views and priorities each candidate has on current or potential city policies. The Public Press recently distributed an issue-based questionnaire to the mayoral hopefuls that asked for specific responses to policy proposals that have or are likely to go before the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Results of the questionnaire will be put to use at noon on Friday as the basis for questioning at a mayoral candidate forum in the Louis B. Mayer Lounge of U.C. Hastings.

Survey answers will also be used in future Public Press stories, as the basis for a nonpartisan voter guide and as part of an academic study of issue-based voting in municipal elections with ranked-choice voting.

Safety concerns near settlement in case against San Francisco transit agency

The California Public Utilities Commission and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency are working on an agreement to settle the commission’s allegations that the transit agency violated several safety regulations on its light-rail system.

In February, the commission released a scathing report on Muni’s Metro system, which included safety issues with worn-out tracks and Muni’s automated train control system.
Officials from the transit agency fired back with claims that the system was safe and that the agency had been communicating with the commission on a biweekly basis.
According to Terrie Proposer, commission spokesman, both parties met on Thursday in a pre-hearing in front of an administrative law judge to get a status report on the dispute. Proposer said both parties could reach a settlement by the end of November.
Had this investigation gone further, the transit agency could have faced fines of up $20,000 a day.
Prosper said that both parties will file status reports on the agreement on Oct. 17 and Nov. 14.

Push for free Muni rides for children despite transit agency's deficit

By Jerrold Chinn, SF Public Press

Youth advocates, parents and San Francisco Supervisor David Campos are calling for free Muni fast passes for youth between the ages of 5 to 17. Currently they have to pay 75 cents for a single fare and $21 for a monthly pass.

Campos said free passes would help San Francisco families struggling during this tough economy. “We've heard from many parents the difficulties they are facing in paying for a monthly pass for Muni for their children,” said Campos at Tuesday's San Francisco Board of Supervisors meeting.

Campos introduced a resolution to explore the possibility of giving out free fast passes to all youth. Before the board meeting, advocates from the activist group People Organized to Win Employment Rights appeared before the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's board of directors and held a rally outside the steps of City Hall calling for the free fast passes.

Muni Chief Reiskin said he and staff have been discussing the proposal with Campos, the school district and mayor's office.

Reiskin said the free fast passes for all youth would roughly cost the agency $7 million annually. The figure was from budget analyst Harvey Rose. The agency is currently facing a $23 million deficit.

The agency has $1.4 million in funds for reduced youth fares, which has been put on hold because of the free fast pass discussion. Reiskin said the money from there could go into the funding of free passes.

“The city of New York has already led the way in and is providing transportation to its youth. The city of Portland is doing that as well. And why shouldn't we here in the City and County of San Francisco, a city that knows how make things happen take this effort as a challenge,” said Campos.

The transit agency's board of directors will discuss free youth fast passes at its Oct. 18 meeting at 1 p.m. at City Hall, Room 400.

State bill would make open carry of handguns a misdemeanor

By Kristine Magnuson, SF Public Press
A bill to prohibit people from openly carrying unloaded handguns in California, AB 144, heads for a vote in the state Senate soon, following its passage in May by the state Assembly and approval by the Senate Public Safety Committee. The bill, co-authored by assemblymen Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada, Flintridge) and Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) is again going before the Senate for a vote.
The bill would make it a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a steep fine, to openly carry an unloaded handgun “on one’s person or in a vehicle.”
The California Police Chiefs Association, the Police Officers Research Association of California and other advocates for AB 144 contend that a loophole in the current concealed gun law creates a nuisance for the public and for police.
To protest restrictions on carrying a concealed firearm, a number of gun proponents identifying with the national “open carry” movement publicly carry or display unloaded handguns on their belts and sometimes display ammunition.
“Existing law prohibits carrying a concealed weapon, loaded or unloaded, unless granted a permit to do so,” according to the California Police Chiefs Association. But existing law doesn’t prohibit carrying an unconcealed weapon — the source of the conflict.
Portantino said police regularly receive calls from alarmed residents who see guns carried in plain sight in public venues. Responding to these complaints slows down reaction to other calls or threats.
Portantino introduced the bill to close the so-called loophole by making it a crime to carry an unloaded weapon without a permit, except under limited circumstances. It would also be a misdemeanor for someone to knowingly allow a passenger in his or her car to carry an unloaded handgun without a permit.
AB 144 is similar to a failed 2010 bill by Assemblywoman Lori Saldana (D-San Diego).
Not everyone agrees that this is a matter of public safety. Some argue that it is a demonstration of personal rights protected by the Constitution. According to Yih-Chau Chang of Responsible Citizens of California, “Not all cops in California are against every common, law-abiding citizen’s Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.”
Responsible Citizens of California and Open Carry California both provide Web forums for gun-rights proponents to debate restrictive gun laws.
Some restaurant chains are weighing in with gun bans on their premises; others have announced that they won’t ban guns at theirs.
* * * 
Assembly member Anthony Portantino gives his rationale for the bill and the danger to police and families

S.F. transportation agency picks temporary chief

 The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has named Debra Johnson, the city’s director of administration and taxis, to temporarily replace outgoing Executive Director Nathaniel P. Ford.

The agency's board of directors will be interviewing candidates for a permanent replacement next month. Johnson could potentially be one of those candidates.

Johnson has been with the agency for about four years. She was the one of the lead negotiators during the labor talks with agency's Muni operators. Before working for the city's transit agency, she worked at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority in Washington, D.C.

Ford announced that he was leaving the agency two weeks ago after the agency wrapped up labor talks with its Muni operators. The board of directors last week agreed to give Ford a $384,000 severance package.

Ballot item would end Care Not Cash shelter preference, boost benefits to homeless

T.J. Johnston, SF Public Press — Jun 22 2011 - 6:09 pm
A proposition on the November ballot in San Francisco would restore general assistance benefits to hundreds of people currently living in city shelters — undoing a key part of Gavin Newsom’s signature 2002 Care Not Cash initiative.