Left-right punch knocks out increased development fees for Muni

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A new and unusual coalition of nonprofit, religious, and corporate interests today killed a legislative effort to get more money for Muni through the Transit Impact Development Fee, which was going through its process of being reauthorized every five years and came to the Board of Supervisors today.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency was hoping to get millions of dollars more per year from the fee to help cover the increasing costs of Muni service, so the city last year commissioned a study establishing a nexus between new development projects and their impact on the public transit system as a way to set the fees developers would pay.

Using that study, Sup. Scott Wiener sponsored legislation that increased the cost per square foot of development for some business types – mostly notably hospitals, big retail and entertainment complexes, and Cultural/Institution/Education facilities – and ended the categorical exemption for nonprofit organizations.

Those who could be impacted by the increased fees banded together into an organization calling itself NOTT (Non-profits Opposed to the Transit Tax), a group that included the city's major health care providers, religious institutions, and influential nonprofits such as Council of Community Housing Organizations and Chinatown Community Development Center.

“We are gravely concerned that elements of the forthcoming Transportation Sustainability Program (TSP), especially elimination of the non-profit fee exemption, have been selectively imbedded in the TIDF update legislation. Elimination of the non-profit exemption has not been considered through a thorough and transparent process and is not good public policy,” SF Chamber of Commerce President Steve Falk wrote in Nov. 27 letter to supervisors on behalf of the organization.

In the face of opposition from both downtown and progressive groups, and hoping to get SFMTA more money for its next budget cycle, Wiener appealed for support to sustainable transportation activists, who had mixed feelings on the legislation for reasons ranging from its exemption of parking garages and development in Mission Bay to its inclusion of organizations serving low-income communities.

So Sup. Sean Elsbernd – who spoke on behalf of Catholic schools and churches – was able to amend the legislation back to the status quo on a 9-2 vote, with only Wiener and Sup. Carmen Chu opposed (Sup. Christina Olague, who co-sponsored the measure with Wiener, even failed to support it in the end).

While that ends this effort for now, it is really only the first round of efforts that are just getting underway to find more funding for Muni, which is underfunded and at capacity on many lines, and implement the TSP when it is unveiled next year.