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Mayor names trans woman to SFMTA board

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Jane Natoli. Photo: Courtesy Jane Natoli
Jane Natoli. Photo: Courtesy Jane Natoli  

Mayor London Breed on Thursday appointed Jane Natoli to a seat on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board of directors, making her the first out trans person to serve in that capacity.

Natoli, 39, had run for a seat on the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee in March but came up short in that effort.

SFMTA is a city department that's responsible for all ground transportation. It has oversight of Muni, as well as bicycling, paratransit, parking, traffic, walking, and taxis. It is led by Jeffrey Tumlin, a gay man hired by Breed in November.

In a statement to the Bay Area Reporter, the mayor said Natoli would be an effective director.

"I'm proud to appoint Jane Natoli to the SFMTA board of directors," the mayor stated. "As a leading advocate for safer streets and reliable transit, and the first trans person to ever serve in this role, I am confident that her perspective will benefit the city as we work to achieve our Vision Zero goals and create a more equitable transportation system for all of our residents."

In an email, Natoli wrote that she's a former board member of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and is still an active member with the organization.

"My background in transportation is through my advocacy," she added.

Currently, Natoli serves as a commissioner on the Citizens' General Obligation Bond Oversight Committee as a mayoral appointee.

"While I have expressed interest in SFMTA, I did not specifically apply for this position," she wrote. "I learned about the opportunity in my conversations with the mayor's office and was flattered to learn the mayor was considering me for this board."

Natoli added that the coronavirus outbreak has significantly changed the public transportation landscape. Muni is currently only operating core bus lines; its Metro subway system was shuttered due to stay-at-home orders that saw a plunge in its ridership. Several SFMTA employees have tested positive for the virus.

"There's a lot of uncertainty about what public transportation will look like as we deal with coronavirus, but I also think that ties into many opportunities and pressing issues we face in San Francisco," Natoli wrote. "How do we create more safe and equitable ways for people to get around San Francisco? How do we create more car-free spaces that open up more reliable transit and safer biking and make it more realistic to get people out of cars like Better Market Street has? But most importantly, how do we support the staff of SFMTA who are doing all of this work?

"Unfortunately, it's too expensive for many of our operators to live in the city they serve. It's tough to be a transit-first city when we don't have enough operators to ensure robust service, and we need to keep focusing on how we can support them," she added.

As to her being a member of the LGBT community serving on the SFMTA board, Natoli wrote that "visibility matters."

"It's important that we see ourselves reflected in our local government," she wrote. "So it's a huge honor to be considered. I want to bring my experience as an advocate for better public transit and biking and as an out trans woman because my experiences riding the bus or biking around San Francisco are intertwined with who I am."

The SFMTA is governed by a board of directors who are appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. The SFMTA board provides policy oversight, including budgetary approval, and changes of fares, fees, and fines, ensuring representation of the public interest, according to the website.

According to the mayor's office, Natoli is replacing SFMTA board member Malcolm Heineke. Another SFMTA board member, Christina Rubke, is pending reappointment, according to the mayor's office. The mayor has asked SFMTA board member Cheryl Brinkman to stay.

The mayor's spokesman said that Breed will be appointing another person in a couple of months as current SFMTA board member Art Torres, a gay man, was recently named to the UC Board of Regents as an alumni regent. (He graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 1968.)

According to UC Santa Cruz, at any given time, the Board of Regents has two alumni regents, and two alumni regent designates. UC Santa Cruz gets to appoint an alumni regent every eight years.

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