Proposition D is a Charter amendment that would change the process for appointing the Board of Directors that oversees the Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA). Currently all seven members of the MTA Board of Directors are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the Board of Supervisors. Under Proposition D, the mayor would appoint four members, and the Board of Supervisors would appoint the remaining three. If Proposition D passes, the terms of all current MTA Board members would expire next April.
Proposition D was placed on the ballot by a vote of the Board of Supervisors. As a proposed change to the City Charter, it requires a majority vote of the electorate to pass. Proposed Charter amendments can be submitted to the voters either by a majority of the members of the Board of Supervisors, or by citizen petition.
The MTA was created by the voter-approved Proposition E Charter amendment in 1999. Proposition E combined the Municipal Railway and the Department of Parking and Traffic, formerly separate agencies, under the MTA.
One of Proposition E’s goals was to insulate the Muni’s operations and budget from the political interference that contributed to dysfunctional management, and ultimately the infamous “Muni Meltdown” in the mid-1990s. Problems with Muni operations led to a noticeable decline in ridership, as passengers abandoned public transit in favor of more reliable options. As with most City commissions, the mayor was given all seven MTA Board appointments, subject to confirmation by the Board of Supervisors.
This measure is the latest in a series of ballot measures over the last several years to split appointment authority (which for nearly all City boards and commissions lies with the mayor in San Francisco’s “strong mayor” form of government) between the mayor and board of supervisors.
The Planning Commission and Board of Permit Appeals appointment authority was divided under Proposition D in 2002, and the Police Commission under Proposition H in 2003. Advocates of split appointments often argue that there is a need to balance power between branches of government, and that some commissions are unresponsive to the public. Opponents of split appointments argue that the executive branch of government must have the ability to choose its leadership to implement a coherent policy agenda, and that control over appointments allows voters to hold the mayor accountable for the administration’s performance.
Throughout the difficult budgetary times of the past several years, there has been increasing political pressure on Supervisors to intervene in Muni fare and service decisions. Some Supervisors feel powerless to respond to their constituents concerns about Muni. Similarly, advocates who wish to influence MTA management decisions but who have greater access to the Supervisors than to the mayor’s office wish to give the Supervisors additional authority.
Those who support Proposition D state:
- Proposition D will help make appointments more balanced and attentive. Planning and Police Commission appointments, divided in previous ballot measures, demonstrate that split appointments bring more public involvement into the appointment process and increase citizens’ trust in appointed decisionmakers
- Splitting appointments creates checks and balances between branches of government
- Unlike some other political appointees in City government who can be removed at the whim of the appointing authority, MTA Board members can be removed only for cause (i.e. only if they have done something wrong—not as a result of their policy preferences). Thus, the argument that having the authority to appoint commissioners allows the mayor to implement a coherent policy agenda is a weak one
Those who oppose Proposition D state:
- While San Francisco’s transportation system is by no means perfect, it has improved significantly since Proposition E was approved by voters in 1999. Until there is evidence that the system is failing, we should not reverse it
- Supervisors already get to confirm mayoral appointments, and would continue to do so under Proposition D. Being able to make almost half the appointments in addition to confirming the rest throws the balance of power too far toward the legislative branch of government
- A city’s transportation system only functions well if it is operated from a citywide perspective. Giving more power to district-elected supervisors will put pressure on the MTA to make decisions that may be convenient for a small part of the city, to the detriment of all others
- Splitting appointments will create a situation where MTA leadership answers to 12 elected officials—11 supervisors and the mayor— instead of one. This will lead to ambiguity in policy direction, and a lack of clarity in management objectives
SPUR recommends a “No” vote on Proposition D. It’s unclear what Proposition D would actually accomplish and what problem it is attempting to fix.
It might make sense to split appointments to the MTA if it were a truly independent agency. If its operations were completely isolated from politics, a case could be made that each branch of government should have a hand in the appointment process to make sure the leadership of the independent agency included a diversity of perspectives. But that is not the case. As it is, this measure would reintroduce some of the politics that Proposition E was designed to eliminate.
Perhaps more importantly, a transportation system is inherently a citywide entity. It is more about connections between neighborhoods and districts than within them. The mayor is better equipped to manage the system from a citywide perspective. District-centric pressures created by Board of Supervisors’ appointments will make it even harder to make the difficult decisions necessary to make the system functional as a whole.