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The $400M muni bond is going to lose. Now what?

Commuters wait for the Muni streetcar next to the Sunset Tunnel on Duboce at Noe streets on Thursday, January 22, 2015. | Getty Images

With just 65% support as the final thousand or so eligible ballots trickle in, Proposition A, a muni bond that sought $400 million in funding for transportation infrastructure, is headed toward failure. 

In addition to the hundreds of millions in bond proceeds, the agency stands to lose nearly a billion in matching state and federal grants that were contingent on the muni bond passing. Now, the city’s transit agency is further tightening its belt and planning to delay and reprioritize major infrastructure projects. That includes a planned update to train-control systems that still run on floppy disks, according to Gwyneth Borden, board chair of San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency.

“Unfortunately, it means it will have a cascading effect on our transportation projects,” Borden said. “We can’t undertake any major capital initiative without these sort of funds.”

The agency plans to try again with voters in a future election, and Borden said the agency is regrouping now to decide when it will propose another bond, be it 2023 or later. In the meantime, the agency will likely prioritize street improvements only on the city’s most dangerous corridors and may delay major projects, such as planned updates to the 100-year-old Potrero Yard bus facility, which the agency plans to rebuild into a mixed-use development that would include affordable housing. 

Borden said SFMTA chose to put Prop. A, which would have renewed an existing property tax, on the June ballot so as to not confuse voters; a half-cent sales tax that would benefit Muni could also appear on the November ballot. The bond did get a healthy majority from San Francisco voters, but required a two-thirds majority under state law. The biggest swath of “no” votes were in the Sunset District, with just over 50% of District 4 residents voting for the bond.

According to a data analysis compiled by Chris Arvin, who serves on the SFMTA Citizens’ Advisory Council, there was a strong correlation between precincts that voted for the recall of District Attorney Chesa Boudin and voted against Proposition A. Precincts with majority-renters and people who usually bike to work tended to vote yes, while those with mostly homeowners and people who usually drive to work voted no. 

Maggie Muir, a consultant for KMM Strategies who ran the campaigns in favor of both measures, said she sees the results as a statement on voters’ dissatisfaction with the way the city is run and the decisions the city’s transit agency has made, particularly in the Sunset District. Sunset voters’ dissatisfaction over changes to the L Taraval or the SFMTA’s stance on the closures of JFK Drive and the Great Highway, Muir said, were deep-seated and “not something a door knock could take care of.”

“People in those precincts were definitely unhappy with the state of the city,” Muir said. 

Borden agreed that SFMTA has had some communication mishaps in the Sunset, and has work to do to rebuild trust in light of delays to major infrastructure projects like the Central Subway and Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit.

Moving forward, she said, there’s no option but to start delivering on projects to rebuild trust so the agency can serve residents who rely on the system every day. 

“Ultimately, we only have one transit system that operates in all of San Francisco, and that’s Muni,” Borden said. “We don’t have any other choice but to reinvest in it.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the aim of the November sales tax measure. The tax would benefit Muni and other transportation initiatives.