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Jeffrey Tumlin

The Central Subway Boondoggle

•••••••••• December 6, 2022 ••••••••••


As San Francisco – after spirited Nov. 8 local, state and national elections – begins to celebrate Chanukah on Dec. 18 (for eight nights) and Christmas on Dec. 25, nothing destroys the holiday spirit faster than not finding a place to park. You know how holiday gift packages say: “Open Here”? What should you do if the package says “Open Somewhere Else”?  I hereby cease and desist my strident ripostes.

After digesting the pap from “The City Family” (MTA version) about the opening of the Central Subway in all its 1.6 miles, two-car glory on Nov. 19, I feel like San Francisco and federal taxpayers have been fleeced again! Joe Eskenazi, in the Sept. 12 Mission Local, observed the Central Subway “will cripple Muni for years to come.”

We all know the project is over budget and was misrepresented to San Franciscans as a “money maker.” We were told it would open in 2018 and cost $1.578 billion. In January, 2023, it will open for serious business. You can ride it for nothing while door hardware and some information signs must be installed. Thereafter, you’ll pay a fare.

The estimated cost is now more than $1.95 billion, and may reach $2 billion for a project which began in 2010 – 12 years ago.

At the time, the late Rose Pak, a Chinatown fixer, and then-Mayor Willie Brown predicted the Central Subway would reduce (can you imagine?) Muni’s operating costs by $23.9 million annually. Muni’s operating costs will now increase by more than $25 million per year. 

Muni ridership has declined precipitously; it’s farebox recovery ratio hasn’t been publicized in three years. Station platforms have been shortened to save money and construction time. Capacity (two subway cars only) was reduced. Moving “sidewalks,” like those at SFO, to connect the Union Square and Powell Street stations, were deleted. Thus, riders will be forced to walk 1,018 feet – more than the length of three football fields – to transfer, plus an 85-foot ascent. That will take an estimated 7 minutes, 6 seconds. Suppose you’re disabled and must use a walker or wheelchair.


At the time, the late Rose Pak, a Chinatown fixer, and then-Mayor Willie Brown predicted the Central Subway would reduce (can you imagine?) Muni’s operating costs by $23.9 million annually. Muni’s operating costs will now increase by more than $25 million per year.”

All that was pointed out publicly to Muni and the Board of Supervisors in 2012 – to no avail. As the wasteful Central Subway project cripples Muni (in Eskenazi’s words), Muni bureaucrats, already confronted by ridership limited by subway platforms only large enough to accommodate two cars, have the audacity to spend time and money now on extending it to North Beach, Fisherman’s Wharf and the Marina. 

Reporter Alex Mullaney for the San Francisco Standard published a reprise of this fiasco on Nov. 17, noting: “American rail projects are famous for costing more per mile than European and Asian projects.”

Meanwhile, Muni boss Jeffrey Tumlin, a Hall of Fame tax eater, proclaims the sales tax we pay for public transit in our City and County won’t be used to defray the Central Subway’s predicted operating losses after representing to the public and somnolent Board of Supervisors that the Central Subway wouldn’t increase Muni’s operating and maintenance expenses. And the MTA governing board blissfully allows another boondoggle from some safe perch in Civic Center.

Four days before the Central Subway’s “opening,” City Hall announced its “Guaranteed Income for Transgender People (GIFT)” program which will give $1,200 per month for 18 months to 55 residents who earn less than $600 per month and are transgender, nonbinary, gender non-conforming or intersex. Some of the recipients City Hall will reward may include illegal aliens, prostitutes, non-English speakers, disabled people and homeless. Recipients will receive the money via Visa gift cards which are automatically reloaded each month, according to Daly Caller News Foundation, an online newspaper. Recipients needn’t report their spending and simply complete a survey on the program’s effect every three months. City Hall grants applicants 130 gender, sexual orientation and pronoun options to identify themselves. (I’m dizzy already.)

On Dec. 20, 2018, outgoing Gov. Edmund G. (“Jerry”) Brown informed the Sacramento Press Club: “Politics is a difficult business. You need to raise massive sums of money from people who all want something. And if you give it to them directly, you’ll go to jail. But, if you don’t give it to them in some form, you won’t be elected to the next office.”

Lest I leave beloved readers depressed, I herewith convey heartfelt wishes for a Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas and healthy and wonderful New Year.

Quentin Kopp is a former San Francisco supervisor, state senator, member of the SF Ethics Commission and retired judge. 

December 2022

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