Opinion: Fixing Bay Area transit requires better building practices

By Marc Joffe : mercurynews – excerpt

Change construction methods after setbacks of Salesforce Center, Bay Bridge, BART to San Jose, high-speed rail

In the Bay Area, we’re witnessing one transportation infrastructure setback after another. Too many projects are late, over budget and provide limited benefits, leaving travelers stuck in traffic.

Local leaders should consider policies to make infrastructure projects less costly and more reliable. Shifting risk onto the private sector and using more standard technologies are two such policies.

The latest setback is the closure of the $2.2 billion Salesforce Transit Center due to construction defects. Besides a rooftop park and an unused high-speed rail terminal, the elaborate structure includes overpasses spanning Fremont and First streets.

The structural integrity of these two overpasses is now in doubt. Since the terminal will only handle about 20,000 riders per day, it could have occupied a much smaller footprint, obviating the need for overpasses…

Whatever technology officials choose for intercity rail and other transportation projects, they should award projects on a Build Operate Transfer (BOT) basis. Under BOT, a private contractor has responsibility to complete the project and establish service for a predetermined cost, eventually turning it over to the government. The contractor gets the opportunity to make extra profits, but the company takes on the risk of losses when construction costs exceeds budget or revenue service is delayed.

While for many Bay Area progressives, public-private partnerships may be a dirty word, the fact is that all our major infrastructure projects involve private contractors. The operative question is not whether companies have a role, but whether they have incentives to get projects done on time and within budget.

Marc Joffe, a Bay Area resident, is a senior policy analyst at the libertarian Reason Foundation... (more)

Proposed Condos At Pagoda Theater Site Could Stymie Central Subway Extension Plan

BY CALEB PERSHAN : sfist – excerpt

With the goal of expanding the Central Subway project from Chinatown to Fisherman’s Wharf, an oft-cited item on the SFMTA’s future project “wish list,” Supervisor Julie Christensen is pushing the City of San Francisco to purchase land at the intersection of Columbus and Powell in her district. The former home of the now-razed Pagoda Theater, the site was used as an exit point for the Subway project’s tunnel boring machines, but as Hoodline first reported, plans are in motion to break ground on the site for luxury condos as soon as November. Now things are heating up, the Examiner reports, with Christensen redoubling her efforts to claim the property for the City, a move she cites as important to the subway’s expansion. She’s now asked city government’s Real Estate Division to re-assess the property.

“We are lighting bonfires under their fannies,” Christensen said. “I’ve finally gotten a lot of people to share my sense of urgency.” Christensen is joined by vocal “let’s always be building a Subway” advocate Supervisor Scott Wiener, who writes to Facebook “I’m proud to join my colleague Supervisor Julie Christensen to co-sponsor her initiation of the process to purchase a critical site in North Beach to preserve it for a future North Beach subway station for the extension of the Central Subway…We can’t afford to lose this site to condo development.”… (more)

Supervisor takes steps to purchase key site for Central Subway expansion

SF Crews work to repair sinkhole above Central Subway

abc7news – excerpt

Workers noticed the sink hole developing Friday night at 4th and Mission. Below ground is where tunnels have been dug for the $1.6 billion Central Subway Project. The twin tunnels are complete but crews are now building what’s called a cross passage for passengers to get from one side to the other in an emergency.

“This cross passage, the technique used for the excavation was ground freeze and the ground was frozen properly,” John Funghi, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s point man for the project, said.

Ground freezing is a process using pipes to freeze the earth, making it stable enough for underground construction.

Somehow muddy water and sand seeped into the site, causing the street to sink.

When asked why there was water leaking if the pipes were frozen, Funghi replied, “Well, good question. We’re investigating. It’s a little premature to say that the ground thawed and allowed the water to infiltrate. What we suspect is that water found its way through a fissure in the frozen ground.”

Funghi says it’s not uncommon for water to get into an underground construction site, particularly one below sea level, but acknowledges this was not normal. Critics of the project believe nearby buildings will now need constant monitoring...

The entire 1.7 mile subway route will now be inspected.

“At this point, we still have to do an investigation to determine what happened here. Right now, we’re focused on repairing the utilities and the road,” Paul Rose from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency said… (more)


Large Sinkhole On Fourth Street, Caused By Central Subway Construction, May Take Weeks To Fix

: sfist – excerpt

A pretty significant sinkhole that appeared at Fourth and Jessie Streets over the weekend, which the SFMTA is euphemistically referring to as a “void in the street,” may take two weeks or more to fix, and definitely freaked out the employees and owner of Cole Hardware, which sits right next to the “void.”

As Cole Hardware owner Paul Shindler told KTVU, “It wasn’t so bad, until they sent an officer in here telling us to shut our front door. So that was nerve-wracking!”

Bay City News reports that the SFMTA is investigating the cause of the sinkhole, which happened right above the path of the Central Subway tunnel, and that they will be inspecting the complete route of the new subway to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Also, apparently, the sinkhole impacted a water main but did not impact any surrounding buildings. Crews have filled in some concrete underneath to stabilize the street, and currently two lanes of Fourth Street are open.

As of today it’s undetermined how long long repairs will take… (more)

This Stretch Of Stockton Street Will Be Closed For The Next Five Years
Roadway Above Central Subway Gives Way in SoMa

HAPPY LABOR DAY! No Bonds Without Accountability: Vote No on A.



Start your own grassroots campaign: Forward this to friends and colleagues.

VOTE NO ON A November 4, 2014 Election, SF

Raising property taxes and rents, without legal language to commit funds only to Muni, is deceptive—especially when Prop A’s TEP (Transit Effectiveness Project) eliminates more Muni service in neighborhoods.

1) Raises property taxes and rents, by a 50% pass-through with no exemption for rent-control units, to pay for General Obligation Bonds of $500 million, with $500 million in interest, for a total debt of $1 billion—without accountability.

2) Non-binding legal language in the Ordinance.

a) “May be allocated” spending language, unlike other state and local bond measures.

b) “May include but not limited to” legal language, unlike any contract or agreement.

The City’s Ballot Simplification Committee acknowledges this failure to commit by noting: “The City could use the funds for the following purposes:”—rather than the usual “shall use.”

3) Lack of binding project definition gives a blank check to the SFMTA—allowing expenditures all on roads, all on non-Muni projects, all on other projects’ cost overruns…


P. 3–5: The Ordinance’s legal language makes no commitment to any specific work: “Projects to be funded under the proposed Bond may include but are not limited to the following:”For eight project types: “A portion of the Bond may be allocated to…” Everywhere else in the Ordinance, “shall” is used.

4) Prop A does not restore past Muni service cuts. Since 2006, Muni has eliminated bus routes, shortened bus lines, decreased frequency, decreased night service, worsened switchbacks/ missed runs/ late buses and decreased connectivity in every neighborhood.

5) Prop A’s TEP cuts more Muni buses in neighborhoods, diverting service to “high-use” corridors and eliminating bus stops—hurting seniors, disabled, youth, low-income families…

6) Oversight provisions are extremely weak, with a citizens’ committee merely empowered to conduct an annual after-the-fact review of spending and to report findings to the Mayor and Board. The committee has no say in the allocation of the funds.

7) Prop A is silent as to who decides on projects that will be funded and on dollar amounts.

8) Muni has already wasted billion of dollars. Muni service levels and ridership numbers have declined—while Muni budgets, staffing and salaries have soared. The only independent audit of Muni projects, by CGR Consultants in 2011, concluded that nearly all of Muni’s large capital projects have large cost overruns.

9) Prop A’s dollars can be taken by other projects’ cost overruns. Before voters give SFMTA more money, SFMTA must show that it can track its capital projects’ schedules and budgets, as well as avoid overruns.

10) A Better Way! Reject this bond measure! From the surging City Budget ($8.6 billion this year), allocate General Fund dollars to Muni’s operating and maintenance budgets. Instead of new bond debt, utilize the $500 million savings in debt interest, to implement 2003 Prop K’s transit-preferential streets—quicker and cheaper. Before unproductive debt, let’s reverse Prop A’s policy of Muni cuts in neighborhoods. Then, SFMTA should work from a carefully-developed plan geared to solving San Francisco’s most critical transportation needs—prior to new bonds. SFMTA should not be doling out $500 million haphazardly in response to pressure from politically-connected groups.


Lee and Pelosi talk middle class jobs in unequal SF

By Rebecca Bowe : sfbg – excerpt

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-SF) joined Mayor Ed Lee at a press conference yesterday [Tue 12] at Yerba Buena across from the construction site of a Central Subway station. It was billed as an event highlighting how “San Francisco has been in the lead” on creating middle-class jobs, investing in transportation, and ensuring fair wages for workers.

But as these words in the press advisory leapt out at us, we at the Bay Guardian responded with raised eyebrows. Really? It has?

The point of this media appearance, we learned upon arrival, was to promote House Democrats’ newly unveiled Middle Class Jumpstart agenda – a legislative package floated to bolster the middle class, in advance of the upcoming midterm election. Pelosi and Lee also sought to highlight the Central Subway as a transportation infrastructure project that’s spurring middle-class job creation (The $1.6 billion Central Subway project has also spurred mystifying questions as to how the money is actually being spent, but that’s a different story).

Creating middle class jobs

The message was clear: San Francisco Democrats are here to support the middle class. But that’s a tough sell. Everyone knows that the middle class is vanishing from San Francisco as skyrocketing property values make it increasingly untenable for middle-income earners to reside here.

Instead, recent studies have shown that what’s really on the rise is income inequality: Even the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out that the city’s own customized Gini Coefficient, a formula used to measure wealth distribution, puts San Francisco on par with Rwanda in terms of its economic inequality.

Earlier this year, a Brookings Institute report found that the income gap between the city’s rich and poor is growing faster than in any other US city.

We asked Lee about that growing income inequality trend at the press conference… (more)

How much does this job creation program cost per job? Exactly how many middle class jobs do they claim were created by the Central Subway project for San Francisco residents and at what cost. That would be an interesting metric to look at. Total cost of the project divided by the number of middle class jobs.
This must be one of the most expensive job creation programs in history.


More time for Muni talks

In regards to Central Subway media events, taxpayers should hold on to their wallets and purses when SFMTA management and politicians congregate. Developers are trying to ramrod the subway into North Beach’s and the Waterfront’s prime real estate.

EXAMINER: “From Readers”, June 17, 2014

Muni drivers deserve better
Net wage cuts would offend anyone, not just Muni operators—especially when The City has copious revenue, proposes the largest San Francisco budget in history and gives tax breaks to rich companies in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Because of the Central Subway’s costly $595 million in matching state and local funds, Muni has cut service, eliminated bus lines, shortened routes, deferred maintenance, increased missed runs, switchbacks, fares, fees, fines and meters—while blaming Muni operators for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s own financial hara-kiri.
With mushrooming SFMTA managers and more than six-figure salaries, only Muni operators are hobbled—even while $10 million is taken from operating reserves for the subway’s unnecessary Pagoda Theater work.
Now, $15 million more is threatened for acquisition of the property.
Worse, huge subway cost overruns loom ahead, unveiled by the Central Subway’s cost engineer, whose whistle-blower’s complaint alleges a cooking of the books.
Bleeding dollars from the Muni system, developers are toying with Muni like a Monopoly game.
Taxpayers should take up torches and pitchforks to end the financial madness.
Howard Wong
San Francisco

SF MTA City Whistle-Blower’s Lament: An Itemized List of How Muni Obscured Its Budget

By Joe Eskenazi : sfweekly – excerpt

LaVonda Atkinson, the cost engineer for the Central Subway project, this year filed a complaint with the city’s whistle-blower program alleging serious lapses in accounting procedures and unethical behavior on the $1.578 billion project. Among her more disturbing charges reported to SF Weekly:

A Muni official, in writing, acknowledges plugging a “make-up #” into a federally reported document in order to maintain the desired total budget: a “make-up #” $30 million off from the data within that very document and $43 million greater than the prior month’s reported total.
Atkinson claims she was instructed to override computer formulas and manually reduce cost variances to zero — obscuring millions of dollars of month-to-month reassignments of budgets and expenditures, often on projects completed as long ago as 2010. As such, budgets are retroactively altered to match actual expenditures, and then the alterations themselves are hidden by zeroing them out.
There is a $40 million gap between the figure Muni reports to the city controller and what it reports to the Federal Transit Administration regarding its spending on preliminary engineering.
A $17.1 million computer program purchased, explicitly, for budgeting the Central Subway project is going unused — in favor of Microsoft Excel…
An overrun delayed is not an overrun denied. The reckoning will come.

It turns out there’s a name for this practice: Transit expert and accountant Tom Rubin dubs it “the William Tell school of budgeting.” Rubin, the former CFO of AC Transit and the Southern California Rapid Transit District and a longtime Central Subway skeptic, scoured documents supplied to SF Weekly by Atkinson and came away with the following assessment of Muni’s financial planning for the massive project: “They fire the arrow at the barn and then draw the bull’s-eye around where it hits.”…

…By March, even the feds were aware that this multi-billion dollar transit endeavor was being budgeted on Microsoft Excel — the same program used to tabulate rent and groceries in apartments throughout San Francisco…

In the world of civic projects, the first budget is really just a down payment…. (more)

This can’t help the reputation of San Francisco’s most controversial agency and disliked agency. This allegations may also affect legal issues winding their way through the courts. Stay tuned…

Covering Their Tracks: The Central Subway Project Buries Millions in a Deep Dark Place Muni Instructs Employees How to Contact Whistle-Blower Program Following SF Weekly Story on Muni Whistle-Blower


Funds For Central Subway Extension Study Recommended

socketsite – excerpt

The San Francisco County Transportation Authority’s Plans and Programs Committee has just recommended that $173,212 in Prop K funds be allocated to a high-level feasibility study for a northern extension of the Central Subway from its current planned terminus in Chinatown to Fisherman’s Wharf, an extension which is being championed by SF NexTstop.

San Francisco’s Transportation Authority Board will decided whether or not to approve the recommended allocation and feasibility study next week. The Authority Board consists of the eleven members of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors sitting as commissioners… (more)

Let you Supervisors know what you think about these ideas:



The SF County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) is hoping to allocate $173,212 for a Phase 3 Study to extend the Central Subway into North Beach and the Waterfront.  But the Central Subway extension is not even on the priority lists of the Mayor’s Transportation Task Force (TTF).
TTF REPORT: http://www.sfcontroller.org/modules/showdocument.aspx?documentid=4912
With many urgent needs, scarce funding should be used to improve Muni now.

TUESDAY, MARCH 18, 10:30AM, City Hall Room 263
On the first big item, speak against the wasteful expenditure of $173,212 for the “study” of the Central Subway’s northern extension.
Let’s set the record straight!  The Central Subway has caused service cuts.  It is illogical to cut Muni service to subsidize expensive projects—when less costly projects can improve and restore Muni service.  Don’t be misled by the media campaign by special interests.

Since 2007, Muni has cut service, eliminated routes, shortened bus lines, deferred maintenance and reduced schedules in order to subsidize the $1.58 billion Central Subway.  Over $595 million of state and local matching funds have been taken from the rest of the Muni system.  With contingency funds falling to 4% of construction cost, the Central Subway faces cost overruns—taking more money from Muni needs.  We shouldn’t study any Phase 3 extension until the true cost of Phase 2 is assessed.

In 2007, the T-Line (Central Subway Phase 1) eliminated the 15-Kearny Bus/ 20 Columbus Bus and cut hours for the 41-Union Bus.  In 2009-10, SFMTA eliminated 6 routes, shortened 16 routes and reduced operating hours on 22 routes.
In FEIR and FTA documents, the Central Subway (Phase 2) will cut 34,000-76,000 bus hours/ year from the 8X, 30, 45 bus lines.  With elimination of the T-Line’s Embarcadero/ Market Street loop, the Central Subway will decrease service to BART and Metro.

Instead of improving public transit, the Central Subway decreases transit—but drives up land values.  For decades, the northeast neighborhoods and waterfront have been targets for developers.  In 2008, the Planning Director and a Planning Commissioner convened a neighborhood meeting to discuss “Rezoning Chinatown”—because of the Central Subway.

“If they build the Subway, it will ensure major, major new development at the stops in Chinatown and North Beach; and in terms of scale, these neighborhoods will never be the same again.”
—Allen B. Jacobs,  Past SF Planning Director & Dean of UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design

“The extension of the Subway tunnels to Washington Square to make a ‘removal pit’ will transform North Beach into something it mustn’t be — and permanently mar its traditional village feeling.  With the extension of the Chinatown Subway into the very heart of historic North Beach, the special ambience of this fragile quarter will be greatly diminished.”
—Lawrence Ferlinghetti & City Lights Books, SF Poet Laureate Emeritus

SPUR made the Central Subway Phase 3 one of its top ten priorities for 2013.  On April 13, 2013, SPUR convened an invitation-only Fisherman’s Wharf Transportation Meeting—led by Central Subway advocates.  From this “community” meeting, SPUR’s conclusion was that the Central Subway was a top priority.  Like 2008 EIR meetings, North Beach is noticeably avoided.
WHAT PEOPLE WANT: A world-class citywide Muni system—not a Central Subway that takes away funds from the rest of Muni.
Regards, SaveMuni.com