Justin Phillips, The San Francisco Chronicle, July 31, 2022

During an in-person meeting with San Francisco County Transportation Authority staff last week, Treasure Island residents hammered home a point they’ve been making for years about a controversial toll proposal: The toll would upend the lives of low-income residents and city leaders seem to be ignoring those concerns.

The battle over whether to create a toll to enter and leave the island starting in 2024 may prove to be the first political test for recently appointed Supervisor Matt Dorsey, whose district includes Treasure Island. Residents have spent nearly a decade calling for the proposed toll to be killed. They’re hoping Dorsey will be the island’s first supervisor to try.

At Monday’s meeting, Dorsey introduced himself and said he wanted to learn more about the proposal and residents’ concerns. Over the next hour, residents aired their frustrations with city leadership, while one warned that Dorsey’s political future rests on whether he proves to be an ally of a community that has often felt overlooked.

The resident who issued the harsh warning was Hope Williams. She spent the days leading up to the meeting telling island other residents to attend.

“We have four months to see if you’re going to be permanent or not,” she said, in reference to Dorsey having to run for election in November. “We are tired of being secondhand citizens. … You want this seat, you earn this seat.”

Williams’ comment drew applause inside the crowded room. This happened several times as more than a dozen speakers slammed the idea of charging drivers $5 to get on and off the island during peak workday hours, and $2.50 during nonpeak and weekend hours.

The toll is tied to a Treasure Island redevelopment plan that includes hotels, parks, commercial space, 8,000 new homes and 20,000 new residents moving to the island over the next two decades. The island is home to roughly 2,300 people.

City officials believe the new travel fee could ease congestion on the Bay Bridge and help fund transportation alternatives for the island, including a ferry service, which developers have also packaged as an amenity to sell luxury condos.

Jim Mirowski, a Treasure Island business owner, told Dorsey that the Treasure Island Mobility Management Agency, which is leading the effort behind the toll proposal, is in need of oversight. As District Six supervisor, Dorsey is chair of the agency’s governing board.

A few other residents spoke to the downstream economic impacts of the toll. One described how low-income kids who come to the island to skateboard, play soccer or take sailing classes at the Treasure Island Sailing Center wouldn’t be able to afford a toll fee. And for the sailing center, which offers discounted classes to low-income youth, the toll would force the organization to raise an extra $119,600 per year to offset the transportation costs of its current staff, according to Carisa Harris Adamson, who chairs the the center’s board of directors.

Then there were several longtime residents who said the mobile services they rely on because of isolation — food delivery, ride services, mechanics willing to travel, house calls by doctors — could be jeopardized if a commute to the island becomes more expensive.

“Treasure Island is supposed to be for people to make memories, to have experiences … to have (access) to resources,” said Myrai Mills, who grew up on the island and works as an instructor at the sailing center. “By putting this toll in … you’re killing Treasure Island.”

These aren’t new concerns. In fact, residents were voicing them three years ago, in the same Ship Shape Community Center where Dorsey met many Treasure Island residents for the first time on Monday. Back then, the residents were conveying their concerns to Dorsey’s predecessor, then-newly elected Supervisor Matt Haney, who was holding his first town hall on the island.

Haney didn’t stop the proposal as residents hoped he would. But during the three-plus years he was supervisor, the Mobility Management Agency’s governing board he chaired approved discounts and exceptions to the proposed toll. In 2019, the board voted to exempt all current Treasure Island residents from the toll. This past January, the board adopted a 50% discount on all tolls for any moderate- and low-income drivers, and a full exemption for very-low-income drivers.

Three months later, Haney won a special election to the state Assembly.

One resident told Dorsey that Haney used the toll issue as a “steppingstone to get to state office.” But if Dorsey succeeded where Haney failed in killing the proposal, “every single one” of the island’s residents would make sure Dorsey won election in November.

Dorsey, a former Police Department spokesperson appointed by Mayor London Breed in May, told the crowd he had “no political aspirations” outside of “being a good supervisor” for Treasure Island.

The meeting concluded with Transportation Authority officials thanking island residents for their input. Now it’s on Dorsey to show just how much that input matters.