Online Extra: Supervisors' committee hearing delayed for trans SFMTA board nominee

  • by Cynthia Laird, News Editor
  • Thursday May 14, 2020
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Jane Natoli has been nominated to serve on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's board of directors. Photo: Courtesy Jane Natoli
Jane Natoli has been nominated to serve on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's board of directors. Photo: Courtesy Jane Natoli

The Board of Supervisors Rules Committee has canceled its May 18 meeting, where a transgender woman was supposed to have her hearing for a seat on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's board of directors.

Jane Natoli, who was nominated by Mayor London Breed for a seat on the SFMTA board in April, told the Bay Area Reporter Thursday that it's her understanding she will now appear at the June 8 meeting of the rules committee. The full board would then vote on her appointment.

The delay comes days after the Board of Supervisors, in a 6-5 vote May 12, rejected the reappointment of SFMTA director Cristina Rubke, an attorney and disability rights advocate whom Breed had renominated. The move was widely seen as a rebuke of the SFMTA board's unanimous vote last month to approve a two-year transit budget with fare hikes, the San Francisco Examiner reported. The Board of Supervisors had previously voted 10-1 to approve a resolution calling for no transit fare increases.

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 phone interview, Natoli said that she is looking forward to her hearing before the rules committee. Its members include chair Supervisor Hillary Ronen, and Supervisors Catherine Stefani and Gordon Mar.

"I plan to show up and make the best case for myself," Natoli said.

As for her position on fare hikes, Natoli said the SFMTA board made a "tough decision." (Natoli is not presently on the SFMTA board so did not vote on the issue.)

"Definitely, it caught me by surprise," she said of Rubke's rejection by the supervisors, adding that it was part of the board's vetting process.

"Personally, I'd want to see [SFMTA] exhaust all options before fare increases," Natoli added, "and try to come up with other ways of doing that. The directors were doing their fiduciary duty."

Jeff Cretan, Breed's spokesman, told the B.A.R. May 14 that Natoli is a qualified candidate.

"I don't know why the board is not moving forward with the hearing Monday," he said, referring to the original meeting date. "Jane is qualified and a good representative of the LGBT and urbanist communities. We need to get qualified people on the [SFMTA] board."

Natoli would be the transit oversight body's first transgender member and the lone representative from the LGBT community due to gay SFMTA board member Art Torres' departure May 20 following his appointment by his alma mater UC Santa Cruz as an alumni representative on the University of California Board of Regents.

Cretan noted that with Rubke's reappointment being rejected, the SFMTA board is now short of people serving on it. Once Torres steps down next week, there will be only four board members remaining.

Gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) wrote in a May 13 text to the B.A.R. that he supports Natoli's appointment.

"I can't think of anyone more qualified than Jane Natoli to serve on the MTA board of directors," he stated. "Jane is a longtime and strong advocate for quality transit and safe biking, and she walks the walk in terms of relying on sustainable transportation to get around the city."

As the B.A.R. previously reported, Natoli, 39, is a former board member of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and is still an active member with the organization.

Wiener added that Natoli "sees the big picture of how to ensure a vibrant, sustainable, and equitable city."

Wiener, a former city supervisor himself, urged the supervisors to confirm Natoli's nomination.

Gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who was the lone vote against the board's resolution denouncing SFMTA's fare hike decision, voted for Rubke's reappointment this week. He wrote in a text message that he thinks Natoli "would be a great addition to the MTA board."

Mandelman said that he served with Natoli on the board of directors for the San Francisco LGBT Community Center. Natoli continues to serve on the center's board.

In nominating Natoli, Breed stated April 16 that she "is a leading advocate for safer streets and reliable transit."

"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," the mayor added.

The future of transit

Given the drastic cuts in revenue and service for Muni due to the novel coronavirus pandemic and the stay-at-home orders, Natoli said the path forward for public transportation "will be hard for awhile." She said that mass transit needs to build "ridership trust" when service increases. Right now the Muni Metro subway is closed and many bus lines are not operating.

"On the other hand, I see people riding the bus, and they need it most," Natoli said. "What we need to remember is to center those who ride the bus now."

Other things that likely will come out of the public health crisis, she said, will be budget challenges and thinking about how people get around.

"We don't want cars returning," she said, adding that other options would be walking and biking.

As part of bringing riders back to public transportation, Natoli said that requiring face coverings is likely for the foreseeable future.

"Especially in a situation like public transportation, where people are in a closed space, it's going to be a necessary tool on the path to get the system running again," she explained.

An honor

As for next month's rules committee meeting, Natoli said she looks forward to speaking to the supervisors.

"No matter what happens, it's a huge honor to be nominated," she said.

As with the LGB community, the trans community is not monolithic. Jordan Davis, a trans woman who lives in the Tenderloin, wrote in a May 13 Facebook post that she's opposed to Natoli's nomination.

"Ms. Natoli is a known moderate/YIMBY, has a day job that works collaboratively with law enforcement, and will be a rubber-stamp for inequitable initiatives that have become common on the SFMTA board," Davis wrote.

According to the news release from the mayor's office announcing her nomination, Natoli is a financial crimes analyst at Stripe, where she specializes in anti-money laundering investigations.

Natoli said she had not seen Davis' post and had no comment on it.

On the other hand, the Bay Area Housing Advocacy Coalition is supportive of Natoli's nomination. In an email sent May 14, it urged its members to sign a petition and speak on Natoli's behalf at the rules committee meeting.

"Jane is a pro-housing, urbanist friend of HAC who understands the strong connection between housing and transportation policy," the email stated.

Natoli herself pointed out that visibility as a member of the LGBT community matters on city boards and commissions.

"There are not a ton of trans commissioners," she said. "I want to try to bring that experience of LGBTQ people riding mass transit. I want to try to step up and do that."

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