December 3, 2020

Mayor Breed nominates small-business owner to SFMTA board after previous pick’s rejection

San Francisco Mayor London Breed nominated small-business owner Manny Yekutiel on Monday to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s board.

Yekutiel, owner of restaurant, bookstore and political event space Manny’s in the Mission, is also a member of the city’s Small Business Commission and board member of the Valencia Corridor Merchants Association.

The nomination, which requires Board of Supervisors approval, would fill the sixth of the seven SFMTA board positions. In August, the Board of Supervisors rejected Breed’s nomination of transit advocate Jane Natoli and approved nominee Sharon Lai, a former city planner. Breed called the board’s rejection of Natoli’s appointment a “deeply cynical move that represents what is wrong with San Francisco politics.”

Natoli would have been the first transgender woman to serve on the board that oversees a huge swath of the city’s transportation and transit infrastructure, including Muni’s budget, parking and safe bike lanes.

The SFMTA board now has five members, still short of the full seven. The mayor nominates all members.

Yekutiel, who is gay and a regular public transit rider, has a small-business and political background, in contrast to other board members, who have mostly planning and transit backgrounds. SFMTA Chair Gwyneth Borden is also a restaurant consultant.

“I’m excited and proud to nominate Manny to serve on the SFMTA Board of Directors,” Breed said in a statement. “I am confident in his ability to bring a fresh perspective to the Board and represent the needs of San Francisco small businesses and residents alike.”

The nomination comes as Muni is facing a financial crisis and could permanently cut the majority of its bus lines due to a budget deficit sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.

Yekutiel said in a statement that transit and small business are entwined, and decisions like SFMTA’s temporary Shared Spaces street closures to cars to allow outdoor dining, such as on Valencia Street, have “given small businesses a fighting chance to survive this crisis.”

“If given the opportunity to serve, I promise to be a fierce advocate for all San Franciscans and will bring my perspective and my passion as a small-business owner to the board,” he said.

Yekutiel said in an interview that he supports expanding street closures for outdoor dining in the near term in areas where merchants support it. He plans to meet with riders, advocates and SFMTA staff before adopting other policy positions, such as how to address Muni’s deficit.

Manny’s has also faced challenges during the pandemic, shifting from in-person gatherings to online debates and events, including one with state Sen. Scott Wiener and challenger Jackie Fielder on Oct. 3. The space previously hosted SFMTA Director Jeff Tumlin and events around transit such as biking and congestion pricing conversations.

Yekutiel had to lay off 11 of his 14 employees, but Manny’s has opened for outdoor dining in booths where customers also do election phone banking and write letters to swing states.

Yekutiel was born in Los Angeles and worked for President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign during 2015. He opened Manny’s on Nov. 6, 2018, the day of the midterm elections.

“I consider myself an activist turned small-business owner,” he said. “I’d like to think of myself as a bridge builder.”

Roland Li is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @rolandlisf

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