Blog: August, 2012
Get SPUR's Guide to Public Spaces on Your Smart Phone
SPUR is proud to announce our first smart phone app!
Our guide to downtown San Francisco’s privately owned public open spaces (POPOS) is now available for the iPhone. This landmark guide maps the rich network of more than 50 plazas, gardens, rooftop terraces and other little-known oases tucked throughout downtown San Francisco.
As our report Secrets of San Francisco explains, the 1985 Downtown Plan requires developers to build one square foot of open space for every 50 square feet of office space. But these open areas are often unmarked or tucked away on rooftops or inside buildings, making them hard for the public to find. Our report calls for improvements such as better signage. In the meantime, our app — affordably priced at $1.99 — is here to help you find them all. Proceeds from each purchase help support SPUR’s policy work and programming.
Top SPUR Priorities Head to the Ballot
It’s not often that the SPUR agenda features so prominently on the ballot in San Francisco. But the November 2012 election hits on three significant issues at the forefront of our work: affordable housing, business taxes and funding for parks. Our policy work has helped shape three important measures on the upcoming ballot, all of which we will support this fall.
Housing Trust Fund (Prop. C)
In the shadow of the governor’s elimination of redevelopment agencies, Prop. C is a Charter Amendment that would create a dedicated source of local funding for affordable housing for the next 30 years. SPUR and other housing advocates spent many months crafting this proposal to create a Housing Trust Fund for San Francisco. The measure would take advantage of the loss of redevelopment to recapture a portion of the local property tax receipts and dedicate up to $50 million annually toward the construction of affordable housing. But the measure goes even further; it would also provide down payment assistance to moderate-income families and it could provide an incentive for building more overall housing in San Francisco by lowering developer requirements for on-site affordable units, a move that could stimulate the production of both market rate and affordable housing.
Business Tax Reform (Prop. E)
Ever since a 2001 legal settlement eliminated a gross receipts tax and left the city’s business tax entirely dependent on a payroll tax, SPUR has advocated to either revise or replace the payroll tax altogether. While the revenue from the payroll tax funds important local priorities, taxing job creation through a payroll tax sends the wrong message and compromises San Francisco’s competitiveness as a city. There are many different ways to incentivize the creation of jobs and attract businesses, and Prop. E is a step in the right direction. Prop. E would transition San Francisco from a payroll-based tax to a gross receipts tax, a structure currently used in Los Angeles and other major cities in California. While retaining any local tax on business may not be ideal (SPUR has long been interested in whether or not environmental taxes could replace the payroll tax), this gross receipts tax proposal will actually result in less volatile revenues than the payroll tax — a key component to stable growth. This reform of the business tax was not put together quickly. It is the result of a process involving literally hundreds of businesses and hours of meetings: exactly the type of collaboration and consensus the city needs for a major transition such as this.
Parks Bond (Prop. B)
Funding for our city’s parks and open spaces has long been an important part of the SPUR agenda. The focus of our Seeking Green report was on finding operating funds to keep the doors (and park gates) open to the public and to properly maintain facilities built or renovated with bond funds. This year’s parks bond is the third in a series to help the department rectify years of deferred maintenance driven by budget reductions. The department has done a lot of work to improve planning and project delivery of bond projects, but much work remains. While we support this one-time bond, our hope is that the department’s next effort will address a more permanent solution to its $30 million annual operating deficit.
While these three propositions are quite distinct, they are in many ways interconnected. We need a healthy business community to provide employment opportunities for our residents and a source of revenue for important local priorities. People flock to San Francisco not simply for its jobs, but also for its quality of life and amazing recreational and cultural amenities. And without adequate affordable housing, too many people will be left out and the entire ecosystem could ultimately crumble. Now we must turn our attention to the November election and ensure that San Francisco voters also understand the importance of the complex ecosystem supported by the measures before them.
Look for the full SPUR voter guide with our in-depth analysis of all San Francisco measures this fall at www.spur.org/voterguide.
Recycled Water Study Shows SF Will Still Need Hetch Hetchy
This November, San Francisco’s Prop. F asks voters to approve an $8 million planning process to find a way to drain Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, the city’s most important water system asset. SPUR believes that this is a bad idea for many reasons, and we strongly oppose Prop F (stay tuned at www.spur.org/voterguide for our full ballot analysis in early October).
The measure also calls for a task force to develop a long-term plan to improve water quality and reliability, and to identify new local water sources to supplement water currently diverted from the Tuolumne River into the Hetch Hetchy system. As we have said before, it is so obviously a good idea to plan for alternative supplies that such endeavors are already well underway in San Francisco (and we certainly don’t need a ballot measure to compel us to do planning that is already being done). The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) is working to site recycled water facilities in the city, develop groundwater supplies on the west side and make deep gains in conservation — no small feat in the most water-efficient city in California. By agreement with its wholesale customers, who use two-thirds of the water from the Hetch Hetchy system, the SFPUC must develop 10 million gallons a day of these additional supplies in San Francisco by 2018. This represents about 13 percent of the city’s current daily water use.
Not all of these alternative water supplies are created equal. Regulations — and common sense — currently prohibit us from drinking recycled water (i.e. treated sewage water), graywater (used kitchen, laundry or bath water) or seepage water (water that seeps into basements and needs to be pumped out), none of which are treated to drinking water standards. But these water sources are perfectly fine for uses such as flushing toilets, filling cooling towers or irrigating parks and can be used to offset our potable water demand. This way, we can save the very best Hetch Hetchy water for drinking.
To support this idea of matching supplies to appropriate uses — which is more efficient, sustainable and drought-resilient than using the same source for every use — the SFPUC recently evaluated the feasibility of “onsite” supplies to meet nonpotable demands.These are water supplies such as rainwater, graywater, blackwater (sewage) and seepage water that are generated, partially treated and reused on the same property. The SFPUC studied how much Hetch Hetchy water could be saved by aggressively encouraging the use of onsite supplies to meet nonpotable demands for residential, commercial and municipal open space uses. The study looked at the theoretical maximum available supply from sources such as rainwater or graywater and then looked at maximum feasible onsite demands for such sources. It concluded that in 2035, with 100 percent participation in these programs, San Francisco could save 3.4 million gallons a day.
Let’s put 3.4 million gallons a day in perspective. This savings is significant for a conservation program. It’s more than we will get from any one recycled water facility. It would add a significant extra and drought-resilient supply of local water, over and above the 10-million-gallon-a-day alternative supply portfolio San Francisco is developing from recycled water, groundwater and conservation. It would be a huge boon to the Tuolumne River and its ecosystems if we could put that extra water back into the river. We should pursue this new supply with gusto, first by making it easier to do onsite nonpotable reuse (which SPUR has strongly supported), then by creating greater incentives to do so.
But it will never replace the 74 million gallons a day that Hetch Hetchy delivers to San Francisco. We can’t reduce reuse, and recycle our way out of needing our region’s most important water system.
Realizing the Potential of Bay Area Boulevards
Los Angeles is in the midst of discarding its stereotype of exclusive auto-mobility and reshaping itself as a transit metropolis. (See the August/September issue of The Urbanist for more on the expansion of transit in L.A.). Pedestrian plazas, food trucks, CicLAvia (L.A.’s version of Sunday Streets), planned bike sharing, 1,600 miles of planned new bike lanes, and $40 billion for transit over the next 30 years all indicate this change. Metro, the region’s transit agency, has an estimated 1.4 million riders a day. (In comparison, the Bay Area’s seven largest transit agencies have a combined average of 1.5 million weekday riders.) Iconic boulevards, such as Sunset and Atlantic, are becoming places for people rather than just cars.
Can the Bay Area follow in Los Angeles’ footsteps in re-envisioning its boulevards and arterials?
Our region has an abundance of boulevards connecting multiple destinations and different land uses. Streets like Geary in San Francisco, San Pablo and International in the East Bay and El Camino Real, Bascom and Stevens Creek in the South Bay are all “boulevards” in this sense. These streets are natural corridors for transit, as they can form a grid network. Transit systems that focus on connecting multiple destinations have been found to have high ridership and low cost per rider, even when riders must transfer buses for transit trips. Multiple destinations along corridors can encourage two-way travel for transit routes. Instead of running express routes, where buses often run full in one direction and empty in the other, having many destinations along a corridor can keep buses productively full (as it does in decentralized Los Angeles). This allows transit corridors on boulevards to become places for people and activity.
Downtown Los Angeles Metro Service
While the Bay Area is not as decentralized as the Los Angeles region, boulevards and arterials in the Bay Area do provide similar opportunities for infill development that could create destinations and form a network for future growth in employment and housing. This is especially important as the Bay Area embarks on a regional planning effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by linking transportation and land use. Many arterials already have transit service and low-density, auto-centric development, making them ideal for infill and revisioning as places for people. Corridor planning efforts, such as the Grand Boulevard Initiative for El Camino Real in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, are important steps for revitalizing boulevards and arterials.
Boulevards Connecting South Bay Bus Rapid Transit Lines
However, there are many challenges to recreating boulevards:
- The high volume and speed of traffic make boulevards less livable
- Street design guidelines prioritize congestion mitigation
- Outdated zoning and parking requirements prevent infill development
- Multiple jurisdictions can have authority over one boulevard, making change difficult
The fear of congestion that could result from removing travel lanes, dedicating lanes to transit only and calming traffic is one argument against changing arterial streets. But cities need to look beyond increasing mobility and mitigating congestion. Congestion is a byproduct of economic prosperity, and eliminating it can remove urban vitality. Cities also need to develop strategies to overcome barriers to infill development, such as updating zoning codes, reducing parking requirements, incentivizing transit-oriented development, streamlining approval processes, and investing in street design and open space. Transit agencies need to increase transit frequency and service on arterials and connect feeder routes to serve growing areas of activity.
The Bay Area is fortunate to have arterials that form a network of potential infill destinations. What remains is for the region to encourage denser infill development and create high-frequency transit corridors on existing boulevards.
A Farmers’ Market in the Heart of the City
For more than three decades, San Francisco's Heart of the City Farmers’ Market has been operating at UN Plaza, along Market Street and within sight of City Hall. The market is unique not only for its central location but also for its dedication to offering fresh produce to low-income customers living in the nearby Tenderloin neighborhood while also supporting the livelihood of California farmers.
Since its start in 1981 as a joint project of the American Friends Service Committee and Market Street Association, Heart of the City Farmers’ Market has been governed by its farmer-vendors. As a result, the farmers have worked to keep stall fees – what they pay for space at the market – low. Currently the fees are $30 per day, per 10 foot by 10 foot stall, which may be the lowest rate in the city. The low stall fees are a prime reason this farmers' market is known not only for its variety but also for its affordability.
The market is also known for its size. With more than 50 farm stands and nearly 20 prepared-food vendors selling fruits, vegetables, flowers, fish, eggs, bread, tamales, rotisserie chicken and more, the market is bigger than most other markets in the city except the Ferry Building and Alemany Markets. According to Kate Creps, Heart of the City market manager, most of the farmers travel 1.5 to 3 hours to reach the market, though some travel further, including Dates by Davall, who drives more than 8 hours one way to bring his produce from the Coachella Valley, east of Los Angeles.
The market also distinguishes itself by its commitment to support the use of food stamps at farmers’ markets. More than 75 percent of all CalFresh electronic benefits used at farmers’ markets in San Francisco are redeemed at Heart of the City.
The organization just reached a new milestone this month with the addition of a Friday market, complementing its existing Wednesday and Sunday gatherings. While it’s still to be seen whether demand is sufficient to sustain the Friday market, it's an exciting development in a neighborhood with no full-service grocery store. Starting a new farmers’ market is difficult in general, but that’s especially true in low-income areas, with the close of the Bayview farmers’ market providing an example.
Describing the Heart of the City Farmers’ Market, though, doesn’t do it justice. So stop reading and mark your calendar for a Wednesday, Friday or Sunday starting as early as 7 a.m. Bring a shopping bag, appetite or both, and enjoy this special market yourself.
New Challenges to Funding Affordable Housing in San Jose
In January 2010, San Jose passed an inclusionary housing law to help do three things: address the city’s affordable housing needs, meet the state’s requirement for regional fair share housing and promote economic integration. But now a successful legal suit has thrown the future of this law into question. To understand what’s at stake, this post takes a look at how the 2010 ordinance was designed to work and what the lawsuit could mean for San Jose and other California cities.
Before 2010, San Jose’s inclusionary housing policy applied only to redevelopment areas, but the 2010 ordinance expanded the requirements citywide. The ordinance applies to residential developments of 20 units or more and requires that 15 percent of units in for-sale housing developments be made available for purchase by income-restricted households at below market rates. Additionally, 9 percent of the dwelling units in rental developments must be priced for moderate-income households and 6 percent for very low income households. (“Moderate income” is defined as $53,000 for a 1-person household and $75,700 for a 4-person household, and “very low income” is $36,750 for a 1-person household and $52,500 for a 4-person household.)
The ordinance creates an incentive for developers to build the inclusionary units on-site, but it also provides them with other options to fulfill their affordable housing obligations. For example, developers can pay an in-lieu fee that helps to fund future affordable housing initiatives in the city, build affordable units at a separate location or dedicate land for future affordable housing developments. Additionally, the ordinance places deed restrictions to ensure that the inclusionary units remain affordable well into the future. In the event that an owner of an inclusionary unit were to sell the home to a buyer who does not meet the income requirements, the city would capture a portion of the appreciated value of the home. Those proceeds, similar to the developer in-lieu fee, would pay for future affordable housing.
The ordinance is meant to help San Jose reach its housing goal of providing more than 19,000 affordable housing units between 2007 and 2014, as determined by the Association of Bay Area Governments and in accordance with the state-required regional housing needs allocation (RHNA) process. The city had already implemented precedents for this concept in large-scale development plans, including the redevelopment of the former Hitachi industrial campus and North San Jose’s Specific Plan, where a portion of the new homes built would be affordable as a way of ensuring a diverse community.
San Jose’s inclusionary housing ordinance was slated to go into effect in January 2013, but following its adoption the California Building Industry Association (CBIA), with assistance from the BIA Bay Area, filed a lawsuit to overturn it. The plaintiffs argued that the city did not show proof that market rate housing adversely affected the community or created the need for affordable housing. Proving evidence of a relationship between the impacts of a development and the requirements put on the developer, called a “nexus,” has been established as a constitutional standard in previous land use lawsuits. In certain cases cities will undertake a nexus study to prove the relationship before proposing fees or requirements. However, it is very unusual for jurisdictions to do nexus studies to justify their inclusionary housing ordinances. Normally, cities can rely on the “police powers” afforded them under state and federal law in order to enact inclusionary housing laws for the purposes of regulating land use or protecting the health and well-being of their citizens. This is nothing new in California cities: The California Coalition for Rural Housing compiled a database that indexes 145 inclusionary policies in different jurisdictions statewide, nearly half of which are enacted in other Bay Area cities.
In May 2012, the lawsuit against San Jose’s inclusionary housing ordinance prevailed and Santa Clara County Superior Court overturned it. San Jose is in the process of appealing this decision, and the outcome could have implications for any California city that passed similar measures without a nexus study.
Until the appeal is heard, no part of the law can be enforced, and San Jose cannot rely on its inclusionary ordinance to provide affordable housing. Meanwhile, it and other California cities can no longer rely on redevelopment funding that came from tax increment financing, 20 percent of which (and in San Jose’s case, up to 40 percent) was used to fund affordable housing. Since 1988, these funds have helped finance 175 developments in San Jose, providing 13,920 affordable units. The economic meltdown, coupled with these cuts to funding, has left the city significantly behind in meeting its RHNA goals for the 2007-2014 period. (These goals are mandated by state housing law as a way to quantify the need for housing within each city during specific planning periods,) And there is no new source of funds on the horizon.
Meanwhile, the need for housing that is affordable to the local workforce, across the spectrum of incomes in San Jose, remains as high as ever. Affordable housing developers are still trying to pursue projects in San Jose, and the city’s housing department plans on continuing to support affordable housing. Their goal is to provide funding for affordable housing units currently in the pipeline, despite limited funding.
SPUR believes it is important to increase thesupply of housing at all income levels; when designed and located well, housing can become a tool for strengthening neighborhoods and local economies. We also believe that one type of housing need not be built at the expense of another. Instead, we must work collaboratively to obtain the necessary financial resources and regulatory tools to build it all.We hope the city’s inclusionary housing ordinance will be reinstated, and that San Jose will be able to find new resources to help construct badly needed affordable housing.
A New Season for San Francisco’s Support of Urban Agriculture
San Francisco will soon have a new urban agriculture program. On July 17, the Board of Supervisors passed legislation — introduced by Supervisor David Chiu and co-sponsored by Supervisors Avalos, Cohen, Mar and Olague — that sets clear goals and timelines for how the city government can better support urban farmers and gardeners.
The following week, the board put funding behind the program when it included $120,000 for the initiative in the 2012-2013 city budget.
The supervisors made two amendments to the version of the legislation that passed out of committee before giving it the final nod:
1. The goal of reducing wait times for a garden plot at community gardens to less than 1 year by 2014 was changed to a goal of developing a strategy to reach that same target by the end of this year.
2. The language regarding creating resource centers was altered slightly to prioritize that the resource centers should be hosted at existing sites rather than opening new facilities.
Now that the ordinance is law, the following timelines and goals go into effect:
· To complete and publish, by January 1, 2013, an audit of city-owned buildings with rooftops potentially suitable for both commercial and non-commercial urban agriculture;
· To develop, by January 1, 2013, incentives for property owners to allow temporary urban agriculture projects, particularly on vacant and blighted property awaiting development;
· To develop, by January 1, 2013, a streamlined application process for urban agriculture projects on public land, with clear evaluation guidelines that are consistent across agencies;
· To create, by July 1, 2013, a “one-stop shop” for urban agriculture that would provide information, programming and technical assistance to all San Francisco residents, businesses and organizations wishing to engage in urban agriculture;
· To develop new urban agriculture projects on public land where residents demonstrate desire for the projects, with at least 10 new locations for urban agriculture completed by July 1, 2014;
· To provide garden resource locations in neighborhoods across the city, at existing sites where possible, that provide residents with resources such as compost, seeds and tools, with at least 5 completed by January 1, 2014; and,
· To analyze and develop, by January 1, 2013, a strategy to reduce the wait list for San Francisco residents seeking access to a community garden plot to one year.
While the above timelines and goals set an overall vision for what the new program must do, another crucial deadline in the legislation is December 31, 2012. By that date, the city administrator and mayor must present to the board a strategic plan for how the new program should meet its goals and a recommendation regarding who – meaning which agency or non-profit – should manage the program.
SPUR’s focus on urban agriculture will now shift from the legislation to its implementation. Many questions remain to be answered between now and the end of the year, and we will be working to ensure that the new urban agriculture program is as effective as possible.
Status Report: Bus Rapid Transit Around the Bay
Oakland and San Leandro have voted to approve a 9.5-mile bus rapid transit (BRT) line in the East Bay. The $150 to $175 million project will include dedicated center lanes for rapid buses on International Boulevard between downtown Oakland and San Leandro. Although the project will only have dedicated lanes for two blocks in San Leandro and excludes a direct rapid connection to Berkeley, the project is now closer to final approval from AC Transit’s board of directors. With this approval, AC Transit can begin preliminary engineering and design work, with construction to begin in 2014 and service to start in 2016.
BRT projects are in the works around the Bay Area, but progress has been intermittent. After a delay, San Francisco recently approved a preferred design for Van Ness BRT and has conceptual designs for Geary BRT. The Van Ness project is expected to open in 2017, and the Geary project in 2019.
Meanwhile, the South Bay's plan to implement BRT on El Camino Real hit a hurdle when the Sunnyvale City Council voted not to study dedicated lanes for the project’s environmental impact report. The cities of Palo Alto, Mountain View and Los Altos have not yet decided on a preferred street configuration, but Mountain View and Los Altos have indicated a preference for buses to mix with cars and trucks in the far right lane, next to curb parking. This has prompted Vally Transportation Authority staff to recommend continuing the project with dedicated transit lanes only in Santa Clara, as the revised project would still provide benefits of faster travel and increased ridership with lower operational and construction costs.
Status of Bus Rapid Transit Projects in the Bay Area
The mash-up of dedicated, curb-side and mixed-flow lanes for BRT lines is indicative of the difficulty in gaining consensus on a transit corridor that spans multiple neighborhoods and cities. However, dedicated median bus lanes are the standard for BRT, as they minimize conflicts with other vehicles and increases reliability, thereby increasing transit speeds and saving transit agencies money. While we recognize the need to consider local conditions and concerns, we hope cities will keep in mind the regional benefits of providing a rapid transit corridor. BRT with dedicated lanes could form the backbone of a regional bus network that would connect and complement existing and future transit and land use investments.