San Francisco supervisors are finally adding a new member to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Board of Directors, but supervisors approved only one of two of Mayor London Breed’s nominations.
Supervisors Tuesday voted 10-0 to approve the appointment for Sharon Lai to the board, but rejected Jane Natoli 6-4. If Natoli had been approved, she would have been the first transgender woman to serve on the board.
Supervisors Aaron Peskin, Dean Preston, Sandra Lee Fewer, Shamann Walton and Gordon Mar voted in dissent.
The SFMTA board has been sitting as four members over the last several months since Director Malcolm Heinicke termed out, Director Art Torres moved on to the UC Regents Board and Director Cristina Rubke was not reappointed by supervisors in June.
Mar, who serves on the Rules Committee and initially approved of the Natoli nomination, said he changed his mind after many bike and pedestrian advocates expressed their opposition. Mar said:
“I can’t ignore the common thread of this opposition: most of these are grassroots, volunteer organizations that represent marginalized communities, including and especially low income residents, seniors and people with disabilities, and communities of color. These are exactly the communities that are most dependent on public transportation, and whose needs should be centered at SFMTA, and on the SFMTA Board of Directors.“
Several organizations sent letters to oppose Natoli, including the Chinatown Transportation Research and Improvement Project, the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club and the Transit Justice Coalition.
Mayor London Breed in statement said the board’s rejection of Natoli was a “cynical move” and that the decision was political.
“When Jane finally received a hearing, the Board did not question her qualifications, in fact she received a unanimously positive recommendation in her committee hearing. Jane is a transit rider, a bicycle rider, and a transportation advocate who is well-respected for her advocacy. She would have been the first trans Director in the history of the SFMTA Board, bringing a unique perspective that the SFMTA Board has never had before.”
The mayor noted that it took over 100 days to hear Natoli’s nomination at the Rules Committee and that the SFMTA board barely made quorum for meetings with only four directors currently serving.
Ronen, who chairs the Rules Committee, said the hearing was delayed due to the number of charter amendments that were making their way through the board’s legislative process.
She added that she too faced difficulty in supporting Natoli’s nomination due to the opposition from groups she has worked with and respects, but ultimately supported Natoli and asked that she work with organizations if appointed.
While there were opposition letters, there are also individual letters of support for Natoli and endorsements from pedestrian and bike safety advocacy groups Walk San Francisco and the San Francisco Bike Coalition.
Lai had an easier time sailing through with unanimous supervisor support.
Adding that it is due time the SFMTA board had a representative that can be a voice for Chinese Muni riders, Fewer said:
“I feel like they have not had a voice and I am sure and positive that Ms. Lai will be that voice for them.”
Lai was a former city planner with 15 years of experience in city planning and land use in private and public sectors. She also serves as a member of the Treasure Island Development Authority’s Board of Directors.
Breed said in a statement on Lai’s appointment:
“It is important that we have a member on the Board who can represent our Chinese community and advocate for a transit system that works well for all of our residents.”
Jerold serves as a reporter and San Francisco Bureau Chief for SFBay covering transportation, City Hall, and the Mayor's Office in San Francisco. His work on transportation has been recognized by the San Francisco Press Club. Born and raised in San Francisco, he graduated from San Francisco State University with a degree in journalism. Jerold previously wrote for the San Francisco Public Press, a nonprofit, noncommercial news organization. When not reporting, you can find Jerold taking Muni to check out new places to eat in the city.