Political Notebook: Wiener seeks hearing on late night transit
by Matthew S. Bajko
Late night transportation options in San Francisco will receive closer scrutiny this year as District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener is calling for a hearing on the matter at City Hall.
Wiener, a gay man who has made entertainment issues a top priority since joining the board, told the Bay Area Reporter in a recent interview that he is concerned about a lack of public transit options available for people when they leave clubs and bars after midnight.
"We shouldn't pretend transportation systems can shut down in the middle of the night and everyone is in bed at home," said Wiener. "We know a lot of people are going out and working in the middle of the night and we need to make sure we are giving those people good transportation options."
Yet many of the city's public bus routes, particularly those in the nightlife rich gay Castro district, end their runs before midnight, noted Wiener.
"We need to be making sure we are not encouraging people to drive drunk by making cars their only real option," said Wiener. "For late night workers, particularly in the restaurant and entertainment industries, they also need to be able to get home at one, two, three, or four in the morning."
A study on late night transit the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency conducted in the Polk Street corridor one Friday night last fall found that 67 percent of the comments received were requests for either expanded late night bus or BART services. Wiener would like the city agency to conduct a similar survey in the Castro.
One idea he is pursuing is increasing the number of bus routes that run past midnight.
"It would be good to get more later service on some of these lines," said Wiener.
The few 24-hour Muni routes, known as Owls, that do exist are not well publicized, he noted.
"The MTA doesn't do a great job of promoting what the 24-hour lines are," he said. "We need to promote the 24-hour lines more."
The issue of having BART run 24-hour service will likely also be addressed, though the Bay Area-wide system has repeatedly said it needs to shut down its tracks in the middle of the night in order for its crews to conduct maintenance.
Nonetheless, Wiener said, "We have significant issues around people getting back to the East Bay without drunk driving. In the long term it would be great if we could see 24-hour BART service."
AC Transit, which services Alameda County, does provide 24-hour service from downtown San Francisco, but Wiener noted that, "the buses are very infrequent so it makes it challenging for people to rely on those buses."
One recent development that has been helpful, said Wiener, is seeing ride-sharing services like Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar offer 24-hour service.
"It has been a big issue in the past for people at 2 a.m. with all the bars closing simultaneously in the city trying to get cabs to get home," said Wiener. "It is very difficult, especially in some parts of the city."
The informational hearing is expected to take place in late February or early March before the Board of Supervisors' land use and economic development committee.
Castro projects ready to break ground
Two major redevelopment projects in the city's gay Castro district are preparing to break ground in the coming weeks.
Sometime on or after Monday, February 24 crews will begin widening the sidewalks along Castro Street between Market and 19th streets. And on Saturday, March 1 city officials will officially kick off the upgrades to Mission Dolores Park.
"It is exciting. Within a few days of each other they are going to start," Wiener said. "It is incredibly exciting for the neighborhood to get this beautiful park renovation and almost double the width of the Castro sidewalks."
The long awaited streetscape improvements in the heart of the city's LGBT business district will not only include expanded pedestrian space but also new street trees, improved lighting and an upgrade to Jane Warner Plaza. In December, Marin County-based Ghilotti Brothers submitted the lowest bid for the project; on January 24 the city issued a 30-day Notice To Construct letter.
Therefore, work is expected to begin the last week of February and a groundbreaking ceremony is being planned. The project is slated for completion prior to the Castro Street Fair the first weekend of October.
"We'll know more once the contractor is given formal Notice To Proceed, expected sometime in February," John Dennis , the project manager with the city's Department of Public Works, told the B.A.R. this week when asked about the start date for the work.
According to DPW the total construction costs are $6,738,800. The streetscape portion is $3,607,825, while the SFMTA bill to relocate the overhead electric wires for Muni buses is $2,059,125 and the city's public utilities commission is paying $1,071,850 to replace a water main.
Dennis said the bid did not come in low enough to provide funding for a number of decorative elements that had been proposed. The Castro Upper Market Community Benefit District may step in to pay for decorative crosswalks, programmable colored LED streetlights, and historical facts accents on the sidewalk paving.
Dennis told the B.A.R. that the CBD "has tentatively agreed" to pay for the items at a "cost not to exceed $175,000."
The CBD had already set aside $28,000 for special crosswalk paving and will discuss allocating more money for the street project at its February 13 board meeting.
CBD Executive Director Andrea Aiello told the B.A.R. this week that "the price tag is really big and we are now researching the impact."
Last week the city's Recreation and Parks Department announced a $12.4 million contract was awarded to Alten Construction for the Mission Dolores Park project. The park will be closed in phases over the next year with completion expected in the spring of 2015.
The park upgrades will include the repair and renovation of the tennis courts and adjacent field; restoration of existing roads and pathways; new irrigation systems and lighting; and the removal of the existing restroom building and the two storage containers to be replaced by three new buildings providing expanded bathroom facilities.
The groundbreaking for the Dolores Park project has been scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday, March 1, according to Wiener's office.
Out lawyers back Stewart for CA appeals court
A Bay Area professional group for LGBT lawyers has endorsed seeing chief deputy San Francisco City Attorney Therese Stewart be named to a seat on the California Courts of Appeal.
Stewart has applied for a seat on the California Courts of Appeal, First District based in San Francisco. If nominated and confirmed she would be the first out lesbian judge to serve on a state appellate court.
As the B.A.R. noted in October, Governor Jerry Brown is reportedly considering her for the appellate court bench. Sunday, January 26 the board of the Bay Area Lawyers for Individual Freedom announced it had endorsed seeing Stewart, a former BALIF board member who played a key role in the city's same-sex marriage lawsuits, join the appeals court.
"Therese Stewart is an ideal candidate for the California judiciary, and we are pleased and honored to deliver BALIF's endorsement," stated Elizabeth Pritzker, partner at Pritzker Law in San Francisco and BALIF judiciary committee co-chair. "Therese will bring to the Courts of Appeal a multitude of strengths: a brilliant legal mind, an exceptional aptitude for solving difficult legal questions, and a great judicial temperament. If successful, her appointment to the appellate court will be a significant legacy for the LGBT community."
Stewart would be the second out person named to the appellate court in the Golden State. The first was in 2012 when San Francisco resident Jim Humes became an associate justice of the state's First District Court of Appeal's Division Four.
Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings at noon for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on the San Francisco Young Democrats' endorsement of gay Supervisor David Campos's Assembly bid.
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Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 861-5019 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.