San Francisco mayor nominates gay leader Mike Chen to transit board

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday May 30, 2024
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Mike Chen has been nominated by Mayor London Breed to a seat on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's board of directors. Photo: Courtesy the subject
Mike Chen has been nominated by Mayor London Breed to a seat on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's board of directors. Photo: Courtesy the subject

Four years ago, Mike Chen fell short in his bid for a local Democratic Party leadership post. He ran again this year and won a seat on the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee in the March primary.

A month later, Chen was elected by his fellow committee members to be the San Francisco Democratic Party's director of internal operations. Now, the gay data engineer could soon find himself in the hot seat for his decisions on myriad transit issues in the city.

Thursday, May 30, Mayor London Breed nominated Chen to a seat on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors. If confirmed by the Board of Supervisors, Chen would succeed Lydia So, whom Breed this spring named to fill a vacancy on the city's planning commission.

Chen, 33, would return LGBTQ representation to the powerful oversight body following the resignation last year of gay business owner Manny Yekutiel from his seat on the SFMTA board. It would also transition Chen from providing input to the city's transit agency as a current member of its citizens' advisory council to casting votes on policy decisions and other matters as a board member.

"Transportation is deeply linked to public health, quality of life, economic opportunity, and the future of our planet," stated Chen, who resides in the Lower Pacific Heights neighborhood. "I am grateful for the chance to contribute my energy and talents to the challenges and opportunities facing the SFMTA."

In announcing Chen's nomination, Breed's office noted he frequently rides the Muni bus lines 1, 38, and 49. It also pointed to his using his own e-bike and bikeshare to travel around the city, as well as enjoying the Clay Slow Street where vehicle access is limited to allow pedestrians and cyclists use of the roadway.

"Mike brings a deep understanding of San Francisco's transit challenges and opportunities," stated Breed. "With his commitment to safe, efficient, and sustainable transit, I have confidence that he will work with the SFMTA to continue to build a transit system that works for all San Franciscans."

So endorsed Breed's selection of Chen to her former board seat.

"Mike brings valuable experience as a member of the SFMTA Citizens' Advisory Council and as a frequent rider of Muni. I am delighted that the SFMTA board will continue to have representation from the Chinese and AANHPI community," she stated, referring to the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander community.

Chen earned his Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts in mathematics from the University of Pennsylvania. He moved to the Bay Area in 2014 after being hired as a data engineer at Meta. Eight years later he left to work for software company Coda in a similar position.

He joined the SFMTA Citizens' Advisory Council in January 2020 and served as its chair from July 2021 through July 2023. He highlighted his role as a transit advocate during his campaign for a DCCC seat earlier this year.

Another policy area he has focused on is housing, serving as a volunteer lead for YIMBY Action. Gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who has focused on both housing policy reforms and public transit funding in the Legislature, praised Breed's choice of Chen for the SFMTA board seat.

"Tackling significant challenges facing our public transit system will require the best public servants — and Mike Chen is one of the best," stated Wiener. "We're all lucky to have his thoughtfulness and dedication directed at keeping Muni running and our streets in great shape for all users."

His nomination will first be taken up by the supervisors' rules committee before going to the full board for a vote. His tenure could coincide with the selection of a new SFMTA leader, as gay Director of Transportation Jeffrey Tumlin could be out of a job depending on who wins this November's mayoral race, with former mayor and supervisor Mark Farrell saying he would seek new leadership for the transit agency if he returns to Room 200 in City Hall.

Tumlin has come under heated criticism over his handling of controversial transit projects like the bike lanes installed in the middle of Valencia Street and a proposal to alter traffic patterns in West Portal that ended up shelved due to heated opposition from local merchants and residents.

Chen told the Bay Area Reporter Thursday he had no comment regarding the Valencia bike lanes, which business owners on the street have been campaigning for months to see be removed. He has yet to be told when his hearing before the rules committee will be.

Advocacy group KidSafe SF was quick to call for Chen to be confirmed. In a statement released shortly after the mayoral announcement, it said it was "thrilled" with his being nominated.

"Mike's extensive experience and deep passion for sustainable, safe, and efficient transportation have made him a respected voice in the community," stated co-founder Robin Pam. "His experience as chair of the SFMTA Citizens' Advisory Commission has shown that he is well prepared to help Muni tackle the challenges it faces in coming years, and his experience riding the bus, walking and riding a bike in the city gives him a deep understanding of everyday San Franciscans' needs from our transportation system."

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