This past Friday morning (April 10) the SANDAG Board of Director’s meeting had an agenda item for a special Transit Operations Funding workshop. Thirty public speakers presented testimony for and against additional fiscal support for MTS. (SANDAG is the San Diego Association of Governments – and is governed by a Board of Directors composed of mayors, councilmembers, and county supervisors from each of the San Diego’s 19 local governments.)
As you may recall, the MTS (Metropolitan Transit System) budget is in the toilet. It is going to stay there for a long time. Services will be reduced and some bus lines will be eliminated. Fare increases will be discussed in next week’s meetings.
Many of us believe that our public transit system should not and must not die and that SANDAG has the ability and responsibility to provide two years of bridge funding while a sustainable income stream is found. North County Transit (NCTD) is in the same state as MTS.
Here’s the other part of the story. Public testimony is pretty fascinating- how we identify ourselves, the metaphors we use- how we ascertain or imply our power. All of this takes place in 2 minutes. Here’s my take on the voice of the people.
THE MTS HOME TEAM:
Citizens, mostly women, spoke about their reliance on transit because they have no other alternative. This group includes the young, the old, the poor and people with disabilities.
Welfare to work and workforce agency staff spoke on behalf of the working poor who rely on transit because they can’t afford a car.
Citizens who own cars and have made a conscious choice to take public transit because it is preferable to long commutes on congested freeways spoke.
Architectural students supported public transit as an integral part of good long range architectural planning.
Citizens spoke about public transit as an integral part of our planning process and as a legal requirement of a voter approved tax measure.
Midcity community groups with the highest transit ridership spoke.
The HOME TEAM had representatives from throughout the County of San Diego.
THE HIGHWAY IS MY WAY VISITING TEAM:
A citizen questioned high salaries- operating a trolley should be a minimum wage job (Note: minimum wage= $8/hr.) He admitted that bus drivers probably deserve more.
The Builders Association representative urged the board to Build (highways) Baby, Build.
The Taxpayers Association representative urged the board to Build Baby Build. And reduce the high pensions and salaries of MTS transit employees.
The Angry Taxpayer/Voter who defined her relationship with elected representatives on this issue as a marriage urged the board to BUILD BABY BUILD (or there will be a messy divorce)
A citizen spoke who felt that it was terrible on Good Friday for the board to be considering moving funds from highway projects to public transit. (WWJD? Build, Baby, Build?)
But the best part folks- Richard Rider, San Diego’s One and Only Official Taxpayer, said that the board really needs….”an asshole.” At which point he raised his hand. “For free.” He once again raised his hand. (1. I did a quick assessment to see if mine had gone AWOL. and 2. doesn’t a free asshole smack of socialism?)
While the Visiting Team invoked marriage, Christianity, their interpretation of the law, and provided their own perspective on class issues, none of them addressed the obvious truth by saying “I drive a car and quite frankly don’t give a damn about public transit. I don’t need it and I don’t use it.”
There was a great deal to absorb, needless to say. And although our advocacy group which included transit powerhouse Theresa Quiroz was there at 9:15 in preparation for the 10:00 am start time, we spoke last, at 12:00 pm and were not afforded a full five minutes to address the board.
By the time I was called upon to speak, it was obvious that the Visiting Team had clearly defined itself as The Taxpayer and The Voter. This is of course sheer bull pucky. Everyone in that room paid taxes. I would bet that everyone in that room voted.
So does this mean that there are taxpayers and REAL TAXPAYERS? Does this mean that there are voters and REAL VOTERS?
Where do you see yourself in all of this?