Political Notes: Transit, safety, budget issues top focuses of out Bay Area politicians

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Monday January 30, 2023
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San Francisco's three gay supervisors, Rafael Mandelman, left, Joel Engardio, and Matt Dorsey, will serve on various board committees this year. Photo: Courtesy Alice B. Toklas LGBTQ Democratic Club
San Francisco's three gay supervisors, Rafael Mandelman, left, Joel Engardio, and Matt Dorsey, will serve on various board committees this year. Photo: Courtesy Alice B. Toklas LGBTQ Democratic Club

Budgetary matters, public safety policies, and assisting transit agencies will be top focuses in 2023 for San Francisco's trio of gay supervisors. Out leaders from around the Bay Area will be playing significant roles this year particularly when it comes to public transportation matters.

Gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman was reelected by his Board of Supervisors colleagues as chair of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, which he has led since 2021. Serving this year alongside him as vice chair is District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar, succeeding in the leadership role District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin, elected this month as board president.

Over the past six months Mandelman had attended a number of opening ceremonies for major transit projects in the city, including the new Central Subway line and Van Ness rapid bus lanes for the city's Muni transit system, and the new Tunnel Tops national park site built over the new Doyle Drive approach to the Golden Gate Bridge.

"I went to a lot of ribbon-cuttings last year. There will be fewer ribbon-cuttings this year," Mandelman noted in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter.

Nonetheless, the county transit body will be active this year due to the passage last November of a local ballot measure that will direct $2.6 billion over 30 years toward street and transit projects in the city. The funding is also expected to bolster paratransit services for seniors and persons with disabilities, while also reducing congestion and improving air quality across San Francisco.

"I look forward to working with colleagues, staff, and partners as we collaborate with the public to expand access, advance equity, and improve safety citywide," stated Mandelman in a release issued by the transit body. "All these priorities will require significant investment, much of which will come from the city's newly extended half-cent sales tax for transportation. I want to reiterate my gratitude to the voters of San Francisco for passing Proposition L last November."

Speaking to the B.A.R. Mandelman said a major focus for the transit body this year will be extending the tracks for Caltrain and high speed rail to the Salesforce Transit Center in San Francisco's downtown South of Market neighborhood. A key concern will be funding for the underground tunnels that will be needed to deliver the project, he noted.

"This is the year the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, which I also sit on, needs to get applications in to the feds if we want to make this happen in the next decade," said Mandelman, who has been serving as vice chair of the oversight body for the intermodal transit terminal. "Now is do or die for that, or at least this round of funding, so that is a big thing."

Across the bay gay Emeryville City Councilmember John J. Bauters was unanimously reelected this month as chair of the Alameda County Transportation Commission. Currently serving another term as the East Bay city's mayor, Bauter is a leading voice for bicycle and pedestrian safety improvements along with public transit and housing development.

"I am grateful to my peers for the privilege of serving as chair of the commission. Alameda CTC has a strong track record of planning, funding and delivering on its promises to voters. I look forward to continuing to advance transportation projects and programs that serve communities throughout Alameda County," noted Bauters, who will serve alongside newly elected vice chair Alameda County District 1 Supervisor David Haubert.

Meanwhile, lesbian at-large Oakland City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan was elected January 27 as board chair of the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority. With the departures of the Golden State Warriors basketball team for San Francisco and the Raiders football team for Las Vegas, and the Oakland A's baseball team wanting to build a new ballpark at a bayside terminal site by the Port of Oakland, the oversight body is tasked with redeveloping the complex of sports stadiums and its vast parking lot adjacent to Interstate 880.

It includes a station for BART and Amtrak Capitol Corridor trains, as well as BART's elevated subway connection to the Oakland International Airport. Kaplan has been a vocal supporter for luring a women's professional basketball team to the coliseum complex.

"I am very thankful for the vote and support of the Coliseum Authority Board, in choosing me to serve as chair," stated Kaplan. "I am committed to making sure this large and important public resource continues to strengthen our efforts for revitalization, revenue, jobs, and other opportunities for our community, in East Oakland and beyond."

Also serving in a high-profile transit leadership role this year is queer BART board president Janice Li, who represents the westside of San Francisco on the regional transit agency's body. As the B.A.R. noted when she was elected in December, Li is the first queer woman of color to serve in the board presidency.

Other SF supes' roles

Gay District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey is now serving on the Board of Directors of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District. He took his oath of office for the transit board seat Friday, as did District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safaí.

Gay District 4 Supervisor Joel Engardio is expected to soon join them on the bridge board, on which the B.A.R.'s late founding publisher Bob Ross had long served. His appointment to the transit body is to be taken up Monday morning by the supervisors' Rules Committee.

The freshman supervisor will also be serving as vice chair of the board's Public Safety & Neighborhood Services Committee this year. Engardio has also been given a seat on the Youth, Young Adults & Families Committee.

Peskin, as board president, assigns the committee slots. Announced last week, the assignments take effect this Wednesday, February 1.

"I appreciate President Peskin assigning me to the committees focused on public safety and education because those are the issues Sunset residents care about most," Engardio told the B.A.R. "It's also an honor to serve on the Golden Gate Bridge board and be a steward of San Francisco's greatest icon."

As for Dorsey, he will be taking over for Peskin as chair of the Rules Committee, which oversees appointments to various oversight boards and commissions in the city and county. He will also serve as a member on the public safety committee, being chaired this year by District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani, meaning it will have three moderates on it.

"I am grateful for the opportunity to be on rules and public safety," said Dorsey. "I am looking forward to getting to work and already am doing my homework on rules."

He noted to the B.A.R. that when he served as chief spokesperson at the City Attorney's office, he would regularly share with new reporters assigned to cover the office a memo on mayoral appointments that served as a roadmap for San Francisco's "labyrinthine local government."

"It explained the appointment process for every little board, task force, commission, anything you could think of in local government," recalled Dorsey. "It was as nerdy as nerdy local government can get. I know this stuff cold, and Aaron Peskin does too. I think Aaron thought I was a good fit for Rules because of my 14 years of experience at the City Attorney's office."

When Mandelman earlier this month dropped out of the running to be board president after a number of deadlocked votes by the supervisors and threw his support to Peskin, some had speculated he would be made a chair of a supervisor committee. Yet, the only committee assignment Mandelman received was vice chair of the Budget Committee, which is being chaired by District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan.

It comes as the city is projecting a $728 million budget deficit over the next two fiscal years, with city leaders needing to cut $200 million in order to balance the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Thus, Mandelman told the B.A.R. having an out member on budget for the first time since 2020, when he last served on it, is significant.

"The thinking is I am chairing the transportation authority, which is an important committee — it is the whole Board of Supervisors — and I am also on budget, which I think is important. I think it is important to have queer representation on budget, as there hasn't been in two years," said Mandelman.

There is the chance that Mandelman will be assigned to the supervisors' Homelessness & Behavioral Health Select Committee. District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen is chairing it, while Peskin has yet to assign a vice chair and member for it.

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Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

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