Data driven downsizing for SFMTA?


12-6-2016 – Update: See letter from “someone@SFMTA” correcting me on several points at end of post:

The party is over San Francisco. It was awesome. Years of hiring and pay raises. departments of The City filling up like hotels during a convention. City employees flying the globe on junkets of every imaginable sort.

And it just ended much like the Titanic hitting that glacier. Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States and the fat tit of federal tax dollars is going to be about as hard to find in SF as nipples on Facebook.

Mayor Lee is freaking out. The latest local transit tax measure couldn’t even attract 50.1% of the San Francisco electorate to vote for it. So we’re seriously up the proverbial creek with no paddles. And it’s not like we can tread water. SF government workers absolutely must receive their annual cost of living adjustments and promised compensation targets. Renegotiating employment contracts is a Pandora’s Box.

So we are looking at downsizing across the board. It is going to be loud, messy, and hyper-politicized. In light of this I humbly suggest an analytical framework is needed to guide these necessary reductions in the number of city employees. For guidance I point to SFMTA’s data driven approach towards improving the bike routes: Don’t fix anything until hospital data confirms that the problem is generating piles of broken bones.

Let the data direct the downsizing in San Francisco’s county government. We have a $9.6 billion dollar annual budget paying somewhere close to 30,000 employees with raises every year. The problem is that many of these people really work hard for every penny they earn and if we cut them loose we lose great personnel and show poor judgement as an employer and a body politic.

Some of these county workers have worked their way up the pay scale through decades of devoted service to the people of the City and County of San Francisco. Their comparatively high pay reflects years of relatively small annual raises and compensation adjustments. Unfortunately this makes them easy targets for budget balancing politicians.

Instead of the worker bees (the bus drivers, sewer diggers, crossing guards) I suggest we fire the hacks, the political appointees who get huge pay raises for loyalty and successfully carrying out the wishes of the politicians who put them on the pay role. A simple survey of departmental compensation data can readily differentiate between long term employees whose high pay level took years to attain and those hired at party rates over the past several years.

SFMTA has been ground zero for political manipulation of federal tax dollars for a decade running. So let’s start with them. A quick look at Transparency California gives us the big picture of recent SFMTA hiring which seems to have matched their ability to attract tax dollars.

SFMTA — 2012


SFMTA — 2015


Data Driven Downsizing to Target Nonessential Personnel

As we noted above, in a group this size you need to have additional criteria to sort the long term workers from short term political hacks. During the French Revolution they used the presence of callouses and blisters to separate the lords and ladies from the workers. Today we can just look at the rate of increase in compensation to see who’s who in the House of the SFMTA.

The rule is simple. Worker bees get an annual pay raise of a few percentage points to compensate for cost of living increases, inflation etc. Politically connected insiders get their salaries doubled or even tripled after a year or two on the books. It is hard to miss the pattern. (And coworkers seeing this learn fast to go along and shut up!)

For a concrete example of this policy look no further than the genius who foisted the Dolores Street Median Parking policies on the Mission Dolores Park neighborhood. We get hundreds of cars drawn to free parking on our residential streets (conveniently located adjacent to a “transit oriented development” zoned area) with all the negative impacts of that while the architect of this policy is massively rewarded with a huge salary increase.

Let’s look closer.


Now, to be fair, this data is blind to a lot of stuff. This man might be the Einstein of transportation and perhaps he is worth far more than he is paid. For the record, I believe we should all be very well paid for our work.

As we mentioned above, this pay raise pattern is a strong sign of political connections. And we are looking for politicians and their lackeys on the SFMTA pay role. So let’s see if we found one.

Bingo! We just rooted out a Transportation Commissioner and a Member of the Planning Board from Alameda. This guy really is superman. His political acumen has been the stuff of legend in the East Bay and he played the Mission District Castro Area locals like a master. We never saw him coming!

Manipulating the local community with that “Parking for Jesus” rap at the same time as The City games the Transit Oriented Development rules adopted by the federal government to encourage local transit. [I know! Nobody would do such a thing. Not even a developer building a market rate rental high rise on Market Street with huge government transit subsidies. But let’s suspend disbelief in this case.]

A few links to illustrate the Political Career of SFMTA Planner III John Knox-White

S.F. Transportation Officials to Vote on ‘Parking for God’ Pilot Program

Controversial transit chief shrugs off constant criticism

City of Alameda Planning Board

Letters to the Editor: Point traffic figures flawed    @JKWAlameda (Twitter acct)

This is from John Knox-White’s LinkedIn Account. Serco, Inc. deserves it’s own link.

On a good day when the money is flowing one would not consider downsizing anyone. But when Prop K (Transit sales tax) didn’t pass & the soda tax is being diverted to the Central Subway instead of the promised health programs and we’re backtracking on providing free access to City College of San Francisco then maybe we should get these hacks off the SFMTA pay role so we can at least afford to pay the bus drivers and actual laborers.

‘Nuff said.

Update: December 5, 2016 — I received an email from “Someone” at SFMTA which, while correcting some of my claims also provides some well thought out insight into this topic. Specifically the role of Union Rules on compensation. This person also points out that Mr. Knox-White may have only worked a part of the first year so his lower first year salary is not an indicator of a pay raise.

I stand corrected and thank our anonymous friend at SFMTA for taking the time to write and explain how things work at the House of the SFMTA. [That said, we still got played hard by this guy and next time we should look more closely at these con artists on the SFMTA payrole.]

Here is the letter:

Hi Mr. Entwhistle,
I appreciate the exposure you are trying to give to this issue. I wanted to let you know that the example you’ve chosen doesn’t quite illustrate your point and shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how raises work with the union. For most unionized positions at the SFMTA, there are 5 “steps” – for your first 5 years in a position, you get a “step” increase in your salary; after 5 years you stay at the top of that salary range and get inflation-adjusted increases depending on what the union negotiates, or unless you apply for a promotion and switch to a different job classification.

The three data points you used for JKW do not show any promotions, his job classification was “Transit Planner III” in all instances. The first year at 47K is likely showing that he only worked part of the year, since the minimum salary for a TPIII is around 90k.

If you go to the city compensation database – – you can search for transportation planner III and see the step increases.

I’m not saying this is a reasonable way to do it – it’s a lot of pay increase over those first 5 years! But JKW received those pay increases without any political haggling: that is the union-negotiated salary growth for anyone in a TPIII job classification.

Hope this helps!


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