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Politics & Policy

Mayor Breed tries again to nominate a Chinese American to San Francisco’s transit board

Lydia So is nominated to San Francisco's transit board. | Han Li

The board that governs San Francisco’s public transit agency may soon have a new Chinese American member, nearly a year after the seat was vacated last August.

Mayor London Breed is expected to announce the nomination of Lydia So, a Chinese American immigrant and a licensed architect, to the Board of Directors of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which faces a tremendous budget shortfall due to low ridership and an emptying Downtown

“Public transit connects people to their community,” So told The Standard. “I am honored to have Mayor Breed’s trust to take on this position to improve the public transit system in San Francisco, especially during a time this city is recovering from the pandemic.”

Mayor London Breed | Isaac Ceja/The Standard

So, a Mission District resident who is fluent in Cantonese, said public safety is among her top priorities, as she often takes public transit with her teenage daughter.

“As an Asian American female, I look forward to being the voice for our community as we see the rising public safety concerns and hate incidents,” she said. 

So is not new to city politics: She previously served on the Arts Commission and now serves on the Historic Preservation Commission. She said she worked on Better Market Street, an improvement plan for San Francisco’s main thoroughfare, and will focus on Vision Zero, an ambitious effort to eliminate traffic-related deaths in the city.

“Lydia has an extensive experience in public service,” Mayor London Breed said in a statement. “With her knowledge and commitment to serving our communities, I am confident that she will be able to work closely with the SFMTA on addressing transportation issues and advancing transit priorities that are critical to continue to move our City forward.”

The Board of Supervisors will have the final say on approving So’s nomination.

Vacant for Almost a Year

Sharon Lai poses for a portrait at the Embarcadero Muni Station in San Francisco on Friday, July 1, 2022. | Juliana Yamada/The Standard

So is expected to assume the new position in the coming weeks, filling a seat that’s been vacant for 10 months on the seven-member panel. But one more seat is currently vacant, too, after a former board member resigned in April amid corruption scandals.

It’s a vacancy the mayor attempted to fill once before. Last September, Breed nominated longtime government staffer and nonprofit executive Gloria Li, another bilingual Chinese American female. But the confirmation process was halted for months as Supervisor Connie Chan spoke out against Li.

Eventually, the Mayor's Office withdrew Li’s nomination in December, with Li citing personal reasons.

According to the city’s data, Asian Americans comprise about one-third of riders who use Muni more than five times a week. The lack of Asian representation on the board has also caught the media's attention.

Last August, the seat opened up after Sharon Lai, a bilingual Chinese American woman, resigned to pursue a master's degree at Harvard University. Lai has since finished the program and returned to the city to take a job at the World Economic Forum, focusing on economic development and sustainability.

“I am very glad to see the mayor’s commitment to appoint an API nominee as reflective representation is critical in supporting the diverse needs of the city,” Lai said of her potential successor. 

Han Li can be reached at han@sfstandard.com