City's Voters To Officials: Take The Bus A Public Revolt Rolls Into High Gear.

Posted: November 25, 1993

SAN FRANCISCO — This is a time for circling the luxury cars at City Hall.

Nearly three weeks ago, the voters here said - emphatically - that they wanted city officials to step out of their Mercedes, Saabs and Ford Crown Victorias and get on the buses with the masses.

A ballot initiative, which passed by nearly 2-to-1, has made it official policy that all 26,000 city employees must travel to and from work via public transportation at least twice a week.

The initiative's backers said the real sting was aimed at high-level managers and elected officials - the people who, if they found themselves pressed thigh-to-thigh on a packed bus, conceivably would have the power to do something about crowding, surly teenagers, muggers and lead-footed bus drivers on the city's Municipal Railway, known as Muni.

Now, with public sentiment against them, car lovers at City Hall are hunkering down like unregenerate cigarette smokers. For the record, the mayor and the 11-member Board of Supervisors say: They'll ride. No one will know for sure if they do, however, because the policy statement does not carry any enforcement clout.

Supervisor Barbara Kaufman was one of the few elected officials in an informal survey who would even admit to ambivalence about the populist measure.

"I am a car owner, I do drive a car," she conceded. Then, in a burst of frankness, she added, "I wish I could get more people out of their cars, so when I drive my car, there'd be less congestion."

That said, she quickly maintained that she does ride public transportation on occasion but believes her energy is best spent power-networking to improve the system rather than cooling her high heels riding around on a bus.

"I feel that because I'm a city employee, I'm being singled out," complained Lorrae Rominger, executive director of the Film and Video Arts

Commission and the possessor of a free City Hall parking space. "I feel I have the same rights as you do. Why should I have to ride the bus?"

At Muni headquarters, general manager Johnny Stein was stewing over the proposition. "It's a vindictive act on the part of the public," he said. Muni already has a policy that managers ride the system twice a week. Forcing people to ride the bus won't change conditions, he maintained. That will take money. "Muni has to be funded," he said.

For his part, Mayor Frank Jordan said he would yield to the wishes of the people and try to take buses to get to meetings around town. "Even though it may be unenforceable and it may be unconstitutional, the public has decided this is what it wants," he said on a recent morning as he searched for $1 to board the 1 California bus en route to a breakfast at the Pacific Union club. ''I'll ride."

The mayor, who hates to be late, wasn't casting his fate entirely with Muni. His driver-bodyguard drove behind the bus in the mayor's blue Crown Victoria.

The public transit policy was the brainchild of four mostly carless, ex- Jerry-Brown-for-President campaigners, who organized more than a year ago when Muni fares were raised and service was cut. "Someone said this wouldn't happen if the mayor had to ride the bus," recalled Caty Powell, one of the group, which called itself Take Back San Francisco.

Gathering 9,964 signatures to put the issue on the ballot was easy, she said. Descending into the Muni underground, the measure's supporters would greet the teeming horde. "We'd hardly get the words out of our mouths and they'd be signing," she said.

She said the group planned to begin haunting public meetings to ask board members and the mayor if they're riding public transit. In the meantime, the reserved parking spaces around City Hall continue to be jammed, including the Board of Supervisors' lot, where two Mercedes, one Saab, one Ford convertible, a Cadillac and a Spider Veloce sports car, among other vehicles, were parked one recent afternoon.

Those city employees without cars are practically cackling at the prospect of sharing their Muni experience with the tasseled-loafer crowd.

But Hector Mero, a deputy Small Claims clerk who was threatened at knifepoint when he cut in line on the 14 Mission bus route, admitted that more than revenge, what he wanted was . . . a car.

"If I could find parking and I could afford a car," he said, "it would be fine with me to drive."

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