Disability Perspective: Chron, SPUR, and SFBG – Alliance Based on Bias?

by Bob Planthold on March 8, 2010


An amazing political linkage happened in SF on March 1 — but was unremarked at City Hall and in ALL the media, bloggers, columns, and tweeters. It was not noticed or remarked upon in any but the disability communities.

SPUR released a disability-biased report suggesting ways to financially help MUNI. The Chron unquestioningly endorsed it on March 1st. The SF Bay Guardian’s city editor also reported it in his blog, without question or comment. Both publications were giving SPUR credit for an obviously-biased report — an amazing linkage in SF political circles.

Somehow, the professional responsibility of journalists to ask questions and then compare those facts to other information got lost in the flurry of trying to find victims to blame for MUNI’s financial mess.

SPUR’s report listed 2nd, in its list of 28 suggestions: charge $300/year for use of a blue parking placard. And estimated that would bring in $10 MILLION / year!

Nobody at SPUR bothered to ask any disability-related group or agency or advocate if this made sense. Or, if it were even legal.

And, both the Chron and the SF Bay Guardian swallowed whole this concept, amongst others. A careful reading of the SPUR proposal also shows it DOES mention layoffs [ # 27 ] and “furloughs” [ # 25 ] of supposed “non-essential MTA employees” one day a month. Plus it suggested “schedule realignment”, which often is a code word for service cutbacks. Just another example of how the media’s headlines don’t match the reality of what’s in the report’s list of recommendations.

Much of the above is setting the stage for the two problems the SPUR report reveals:

* disability bias; and
* lack of careful reading and thought about the content.

SPUR recommended that those using a blue parking placard be charged $300.00 / year. SPUR ignored mentioning that this isn’t now legal for any jurisdiction; SPUR also didn’t check whether this was a practical fee, nor whether their suggestion would bring in anywhere near their stated $10 million / year.

And, SPUR didn’t get any legal opinion whether ADA Title II [ about whether the blue placard is an accommodation for people with disabilities ] might apply.

That’s legalistic and process-oriented, for some.

Yet somehow, nobody at SFMTA nor in the Mayor’s Office has disavowed this biased report. Instead, we hear that city government is “considering ” it. That gives credibility to the bias; it sweeps the bias under the rug of “plausibility”.

$300.00 per year to use a blue parking placard?

Where did that figure come from? I am reliably told, by someone involved in the SPUR process, that SFMTA previously made an ESTIMATE for how much money is NOT collected from meters seen to be used for long periods of time by those using a blue placard to park. SPUR used that as a baseline figure for uncollected revenue — and then divided by the number of blue placards in SF.

Certainly there is abuse by some who park all day at a work site. But, why accuse and charge ALL who have a blue placard for the sins of some?

SPUR is targeting people with disabilities to make up money lost due to MTA’s lack of enforcement and lack of proper meter maintenance.

SPUR ignores many facts, in an attempt to cover the sloppiness and bias in what it advocates.

State law, as far back as the mid-1980s [prior to the ADA ], allows those using a blue placard park FREE at meters. Period.

So, state law would need to be amended, if legally allowable under ADA provisions affecting what rules can be applied to use of a disability accommodation.

SPUR ignored that the MTA estimate for lost meter revenue estimate had previously been criticized, by TEP CAC members, as procedurally sloppy. MTA didn’t calculate how many meters are broken and for what lengths of time, nor did MAT calculate how many other vehicles park for a few minutes, free, at a meter and avoid a ticket.

SPUR also mistakenly assumed that blue placards are used only by those who drive. MANY, throughout the state, have a blue placard but do not drive. Those blue placard users are less likely to be using it every day, yet SPUR would have them also pay $300.00 / year.

SPUR ignored that there is a substantial disparity in income, and in income potential, between blue placard users and those who purchase an SF neighborhood parking sticker. SF residents wanting local zoning parking now pay $76 / year and complain about possibly paying $96 / year. Yet, SPUR expects people with disabilities, who are both the MOST UNemployed and the MOST UNDER-employed
of any population cohort in the US to pay 4 times as much to park as people who are employed?

SPUR never bothered to inquire about MTA’s earlier stalled effort to get state law amended to allow blue parking placard users to pay full parking meter rates. When I mentioned MTA’s efforts, members of the boards of directors of statewide disability groups that successfully sued Caltrans over lack of safe sidewalks opposed that idea. SPUR’s is a larger, and worse, version of what MTA proposed.

Does SPUR know or care? Apparently not. But, neither do the Chronicle, the MTA, the Mayor’s Office, the SFBG, or the various bloggers who tout this SPUR report as an example of citizen solutions.

This may be due to a trend I pointed out in an earlier column, how many agencies — whether public, private, non-profit, or ???, fail to recruit for their leadership the full and true diversity of our populations so as to better respond to all. Look at the website listing of the members of the SPUR board of directors and of their advisory groups. You can notice major gaps in what groups and interests are, and aren’t represented. Yet, SPUR feels it perfectly acceptable to advocate about and for groups it doesn’t relate to. That seems to smack of elitism, arrogance, smugness, and maybe a superiority complex regarding people with disabilities.


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