Blog: November, 2012
A Future for Farming in the Coyote Valley?
Southern Santa Clara County used to have a widespread and thriving agricultural sector, helping the area earn the name “Valley of the Heart’s Delight.” Today, much of that famed farmland has been replaced with homes and offices. One exception is the Coyote Valley, a narrow, 5-mile-long area between southern San Jose and Morgan Hill. Before the recent economic downturn, much of Coyote Valley was slated for development, and intense land speculation had driven up property prices. After 2008, however, local open-space and agriculture advocates saw a sharp drop in the development pressure and wondered whether it would be economically feasible for Coyote Valley to retain its agricultural character.
That question led Sustainable Agriculture Education (SAGE) to conduct an in-depth feasibility study over the past eighteen months. In its report, Coyote Valley: Sustaining Agriculture and Conservation, SAGE concludes that an agricultural economy is feasible for the area if significant investments in land, infrastructure and policy are made in the next 25 years. The report outlines a three-phase strategy that would split a $50 million investment between: 1) agricultural land preservation, mainly through purchasing conservation easements on existing farms; 2) infrastructure, including updating and expanding irrigation in the valley; and 3) program coordination and marketing. The report envisions that a new entity, the Coyote Valley Agricultural Enterprise and Conservation Program, would work to implement the strategy using funds from both public and private sources.
In addition to presenting an ambitious vision, the study is notable for recommending an agricultural preservation strategy that anticipates integrating farming into a “mosaic” of other land uses. Rather than propose the creation of one large contiguous block of farmland, the study recommends the preservation of at least 50 percent of the existing farmland throughout the north, middle and southern sections of Coyote Valley, interspersed with clusters of residential and commercial development. The study also presents an incredibly detailed assessment of current opportunities and challenges such as: vast acreage in the valley currently owned by developers who currently have little interest in leasing long-term to farmers; the potential to increase the value of production by 300 percent by changing what crops are planted; and initial indications that policy and overall trends in the real estate market are easing development pressure in the area.
SAGE’s report on the Coyote Valley is a fantastic case study of urban-edge agriculture. It shows that the opportunity to retain and expand a self-sustaining agricultural economy that provides food and livelihoods in Southern Santa Clara still exists. But the report also makes clear that, as in many parts of the Bay Area, the opportunity will slip away unless policymakers, farmers and food-system advocates focus their energy on shifting the Coyote Valley in a new direction.
SPUR Ballot Endorsements Sweep Election 2012
While the majority of voters were lost in a sea of presidential fervor, San Francisco was busy having a historic local election. And after four years of significant cuts to education and public services, Governor Brown’s elimination of redevelopment agencies and a flagging local economy, the city had some serious business to address. On the ballot were a number of important issues — from education to parks, housing to taxation. Voters universally supported SPUR’s ballot recommendations. And San Franciscans turned out in record numbers to cast their votes. Here’s how the verdicts came down on four important measures:
City College (Prop. A)
City College is one of the largest English as a second language (ESL) providers in the city and an invaluable workforce development partner of the City and County of San Francisco. With the combination of repeated state reductions and a looming accreditation crisis haunting the school, San Franciscans clearly voted to support City College. Prop. A will provide approximately $14 million per year to support operations at the college, which — in combination with funding from the approval of California Prop. 30 — should give City College some breathing room to navigate the accreditation process.
This measure required approval of two-thirds of San Francisco voters.
Verdict: Passed with 72.4 percent of the vote
Housing Trust Fund (Prop. C)
With the demise of redevelopment agencies, cities across the state have been deprived of one of their main sources of financing for affordable housing. Prop. C is a direct response to this issue.
The result of unprecedented cooperation between diverse interests, Prop. C provides up to $50 million in funding per year for affordable housing construction and down-payment assistance, while making it less costly for developers to provide on-site inclusionary housing units. Make no mistake: this is a big deal. The housing trust fund will change how affordable housing gets built in San Francisco, and it provides $1.2 billion of housing funds to get it done over the next 30 years.
Verdict: Passed with 64.8 percent of the vote
Election Reform (Prop. D)
One of the least-noticed measures on the ballot will actually result in $1 million annual savings to the city. Prop. D will consolidate elections and coordinate the election of citywide offices, eliminating an election every four years. With the cost of elections at roughly $4.2 million per election, Prop. D savings will add up quickly.
Verdict: Highest voter approval. Passed with 83.5 percent of the vote
Business Tax Reform (Prop. E)
In 2001, a legal settlement over business taxes left San Francisco wondering what to do. The business tax at the time required companies to pay the greater of either the city’s gross receipts tax or its payroll tax. After a lawsuit found the requirement to pay the higher of the two options to be unconstitutional, San Francisco went with payroll tax only.A similar structure in Los Angeles was also struck down following a legal challenge, but L.A. went the opposite direction — gross receipts tax only — with better results. While much easier to administer, San Francisco’s payroll tax had the unfortunate effect of taxing job creation. Prop. E ends more than a decade of attempts to devise a more reasonable alternative, and it is the result of more than six months of outreach and negotiations with businesses of all shapes and sizes.
Verdict: Passed with 71.1 percent of the vote
Now that the dust has cleared, what do these results mean? It has become increasingly clear in recent years that ballot reforms championed by SPUR have helped narrow the focus of ballot measures and reduce the number of measures. In fact, this year had the lowest number of local measures for a presidential election since 1964.
There is one lesson here that may seem obvious but has just been proven: Consensus can work, even in San Francisco. These major reforms had very broad support across the political spectrum, and that in itself is remarkable in a city that is often divided.
Can San Francisco maintain this level of civility and consensus? That might be overly optimistic, but for now, it’s time to celebrate progress on some important issues that the city has faced for a long time.
City Trip to Oakland: SPUR Explores the Sunny Side of the Bay
Last month, SPUR organized a two-day study trip to Oakland for our board and staff members to get a glimpse of what is happening in this great city. While recent media reports have focused on corporate protests and vandalism, Mayor Jean Quan describes Oakland as a “city on the rise” — and from what we saw, we strongly agree. We met with city and community leaders to better understand Oakland’s opportunities and challenges and how SPUR might get involved in the Bay Area’s third-largest city.
Why Study Oakland?
With 56 square miles and a population of 400,000, Oakland has far fewer people per square mile than San Francisco, with 47 square miles and a population of roughly 800,000. It’s slightly denser than San Jose, which has 177 square miles and 950,000 people. These three central cities of the Bay Area are projected to absorb more than a third of the population growth expected for the region over the next 30 years. As SPUR works to direct this growth to existing urban areas, we know that San Francisco cannot absorb it all, and we see a real opportunity in other major cities that have good transit and the room to house more people and jobs. As part of our central-city strategy, we opened an office in San Jose last year, and we are now exploring how we might help to support existing efforts in Oakland.
What We Learned
The New York Timesnamed Oakland the No. 5 place to visit on its list of “45 Places to Go in 2012.” Walkscore has touted it as the 10th most walkable city in the nation. Its transit infrastructure and cultural and ethnic diversity are the envy of many American cities. But Oakland still grapples with the kinds of major challenges that face many cities today, namely public safety and budgetary constraints. In 2011, Mayor Quan brought on City Administrator Deanna Santana, former deputy city manager of San Jose,to tackle Oakland’s budgetary issues. After the dissolution of California’s redevelopment agencies, Oakland had to restrict all spending to an operating budget of $1.2 billion, which includes operating the Port of Oakland. Under Santana’s leadership, the City Administrator’s Office has worked hard to address Oakland’s budget challenges and to improve internal operations. Oakland has now balanced its budget and begun a program to maintain healthy reserves for the future. Throughout this process, the city has maintained a strong credit rating. Housing, jobs and public safety are the primary focus for Oakland’s leaders, and they explain that everyone has a role to play in addressing these persistent issues. City leaders, community advocates, faith-based leaders and residents alike have to work together to meet the city’s goals.
To learn about the affordable housing picture in Oakland, we visited with the Oakland Housing Authority, the largest landlord in the city. Between its Section 8 program and public housing units, the authority accounts for more than 15,000 households, representing approximately 10 percent of Oakland’s low-income families. The organization is currently working to understand some interesting trends in the Oakland housing market For example, the need for larger units is dropping, while 1- and 2-bedroom units are on the rise. They will be evaluating this new data to better understand the needs for low-income residents in Oakland and how the Housing Authority can be most responsive.
The Housing Authority has worked hard on how to make a quality product for low-income families. We saw a great example of this when we visited architect David Baker’s project Tassafaronga Village. Completed in 2010, the East Oakland development features a range of beautiful homes surrounded by green pathways, pocket parks and open spaces — and it’s conveniently located to transit. The project replaced 87 deteriorated public housing units with 60 affordable apartments in a new, three-story building; added 77 more units in new two- and three-story townhouses; and put 20 more, along with a medical clinic, in an adapted building that formerly housed a pasta factory.
While the city is seeing innovation in new low-income housing, mixed-income housing is more challenging to develop in Oakland, due to the city's lower home prices (which have the benefit of giving residents more housing options). Oakland does not have an inclusionary requirement like the one in San Francisco, which requires developers to build a percentage of their units as below-market-rate housing.
City leaders are working to create a diversified economic development strategy that maximizes Oakland’s assets and makes the city more attractive for potential employers. They have started by creating a workforce and economic development program within the City Administrator’s Office. Assistant City Administrator Fred Blackwell, a long-time Oakland resident and former SPUR board member, told us he hopes that this change will help improve the skills of the workforce so that matching employees with potential businesses is more seamless. Attracting and retaining business investment in Oakland continues to be a struggle, and one that will require a multi-pronged approach.
One of Oakland’s economic strengths right now is a strong micro-entrepreneurial sector and a growing creative class of workers willing to invest in the city. Leaders described Oakland as a city of many neighborhoods, suggesting the need for an economic development strategy that diversifies and broadens the city’s economic base. Manufacturing and the Port of Oakland are still strong economic assets for Oakland. As the fifth-largest port in the nation, and with ongoing investments like renovation of the Oakland Army Base currently underway, the port will continue to provide jobs for Oakland residents.
Fred Blackwell described Oakland as “a tale of two cities.” There is a visible demarcation in geography between the Oakland Hills and the flatlands, and residents in the two areas can have a very different experience living in the city. The Superintendent of Oakland Unified School District, Dr. Tony Smith, illustrated this point when he described the biggest challenge facing the district as safety. Some communities are suffering loss of life and the on-going threat of violence, and educational goals cannot move forward as long as this remains true. Many children and families don’t have adequate resources, he explained, sharing the example of an African-American child born in West Oakland compared to a white child born in the Oakland Hills. The black child is 1.5 times more likely to be born premature; 7 times more likely to be born into poverty; 2.5 times more likely to be behind in vaccinations; 4 times less likely to read at grade level by 4th grade and more than 5.5 times more likely to drop out or be pushed out of school. As an adult, he is 5 times more likely to be hospitalized for diabetes; 2 times as likely to die of heart disease and 3 times more likely to die of cancer. In short, an African American child in Oakland can expect to die 15 years earlier than a white child born a few miles away.
Smith matches this stark reality with great optimism and a plan to address Oakland’s challenges head on. He is approaching the challenges with a collaborative spirit, including parents and other community leaders who are working to reverse these trends. Under his leadership, there has been visible improvement in test scores in the district. Smith has also reduced the district’s structural deficit from $40 million in 2009 to $1.1 million in 2012.
The Oakland study trip was SPUR’s first step to better understand what is happening in the city and how SPUR’s resources might be useful to support existing efforts. We have been meeting with city and community leaders over the last several months, and we will continue this work to ensure that we are well versed in the opportunities and challenges that exist in Oakland. SPUR believes that developing a strong urban agenda for the three central cities — San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland — will be an effective strategy to benefit the entire Bay Area region.
Prop. A Alone Won’t Save City College
City College of San Francisco (CCSF) Interim chancellor Pamila Fisher offered a blunt assessment of the state of the college at a SPUR breakfast on October 17, just two days after the school released an action plan to address deficiencies identified by the Accreditation Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. “Our commitment to San Francisco values has sometimes gotten in the way of making good decisions,” she told the audience.
The words were striking given CCSF’s recent trajectory.
With nine campuses, 100 instructional sites and just shy of 90,000 students, City College of San Francisco is the largest two-year community college in California. It is also a valued workforce development partner for the city and one of the largest providers of English as a second language (ESL) instruction in San Francisco.
The days since submission of the action plan have revealed just how painful changes are going to be at CCSF. The college’s board of trustees has appointed a special trustee to manage accreditation-related issues. The board is also considering a range of different options to restore the institution’s financial viability, including closure of college-run childcare facilities, which provide child development training opportunities. Forcing students to pay all enrollment fees (a practice found to be only sporadically enforced) could yield as much as $400,000 per year. In combination with other related proposals, the college has taken steps to save as much as $2.5 million per year. Unfortunately, this will only begin to address the school’s financial woes.
The accreditation threat is only the latest in a series of challenges faced by CCSF. The college has lost significant state funding in recent years: Recessionary pressures and California’s structural budget deficit have combined to reduce state funding by $57 million since 2007, about 17 percent of the school’s state funding allocation. CCSF is not alone; community colleges throughout California have experienced significant funding reductions in recent years. But City College may be alone in failing to adapt to those pressures.
Although the college is experiencing administrative challenges, voters acknowledged the importance of funding on Election Day. The passage of both California Proposition 30, Governor Jerry Brown’s temporary increase of both sales tax and income taxes for those earning above $250,000, and San Francisco Proposition A, a local parcel tax, mean that City College can not only forgo additional budget cuts in the current year, but will have an additional $14 million per year in each of the next eight years. Without the passage of both measures the college might have gone bankrupt.
What remains for now is a modicum of financial stability and yet another leadership transition for City College. Fisher’s six-month contract expired November 1. In her place will be another interim chancellor — Thelma Scott-Skinner, the retired president of Folsom Lake College — and the special trustee appointed by the board, Bob Agrella, retired head of the Sonoma County Junior College District. The action plan submitted in October explains how the commission’s recommendations will be addressed. The next impending deadline is March 15, when the college must submit a report explaining how and why CCSF should remain accredited.
Cap and Trade Is Here at Last
This week, one of the most important pieces of the 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act (Assembly Bill 32) goes live: the first-ever quarterly auction of carbon permits under California’s Cap and Trade program is set for Wednesday, November 14. California’s cap and trade program for greenhouse gases is designed to help achieve an 80 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2050. To learn more about the opportunities and challenges of cap and trade implementation, we hosted a forum at SPUR last week featuring Kate Gordon, director of the energy program at the Center for the Next Generation, Alex Jackson, energy program attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Brad Neff, cap and trade implementation manager at PG&E. Here are some of the insights they shared about what we can expect from cap and trade.
Gordon explained how California’s efforts to implement market mechanisms that would control greenhouse gases fit into a larger regulatory program, which includes not only cap and trade but a low-carbon fuel standard for vehicle fuels and a renewable energy standard for electric utilities. Taken together, she said, California’s approach to greenhouse gas controls is more economy-wide, more far-reaching, more integrated and more visionary than other regional greenhouse gas programs, such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) in the northeast United States, the Western Climate Initiative and trading programs in the EU, China and Australia.
Carbon trading programs are hard to implement, according to Gordon, because putting a price on carbon affects the economy, and a thoughtful transition is necessary to prevent the loss of jobs, especially if firms move out of state to save the costs of carbon compliance. Some of this week’s auction credits are actually reserved to help prevent this problem in California.
Gordon also discussed how Hurricane Sandy is kick-starting the national conversation about climate change, on both mitigation and adaptation. A price on carbon is even being discussed in Washington, D.C., as a potential part of the national deficit compromise. Some groups are talking about it as a way to raise revenue, others are talking about it being revenue-neutral (an opportunity SPUR discussed years ago in our 2008 paper on green taxes.)
Alex Jackson from NRDC began his portion of the presentation with an overview of how California’s cap and trade program is structured. Although the 13-page-long AB 32 did not describe how the state should achieve the emission reductions it called for, it did authorize market mechanisms and delegate program implementation to the California Air Resources Board (ARB). In 2008, the ARB released a scoping plan identifying the sectors of the economy that contribute to global warming and what policies should be targeted to those sectors to achieve them. Although cap and trade only covers about 20 percent of total emissions at first, Jackson said it was a critical piece of the carbon tool kit for four main reasons:
1. It is one of the only policies that sets a fixed limit on emissions at the source, and by 2018 will cover 85 percent of economy-wide emissions (the program covers only large industrial emitters and the electricity sector at first, but transportation fuels are included in the program later).
2. It is enforceable on individual emitters.
3. It puts a price on carbon, correcting the externality and creating a positive incentive for compliance (saving money).
4. It provides a backstop for the whole scoping plan if other policies and programs underperform.
Jackson commented that in terms of challenges for the program, we might expect to see some lawsuits from those who have a vested interest in seeing lack of success in California as a bellwether for climate policy. It is also a political challenge: Since AB 32 passed seven years ago, we have to undertake renewed efforts to explain to today’s lawmakers why the program is important. He expects renewed opposition from the forces of the status quo as we reach the finish line.
Brad Neff, who manages cap and trade for PG&E, described how the company is preparing for cap and trade, emphasizing that it has always supported such a program. Electricity rates are “decoupled” in California, meaning electric utilities earn a set rate of return, which the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) bases on the utility’s assets that deliver energy — not on how much electricity and gas it sells. For this reason, PG&E believes it is fortunate to operate in a regulated structure that enables the company to be very pro-environment. At 60 percent carbon-free, PG&E’s current electricity mix is one of the cleanest in the nation.
PG&E is covered by several AB 32 programs and regulations, including cap and trade and the Renewable Portfolio Standard. The utility views AB 32 as a positive step forward but wants market stability: PG&E expects its assets to last 20 or 30 years, so it wants clarity into the future about new potential rules and carbon costs. PG&E will get some free allowances under cap and trade, and it wants to give any revenue it earns back to ratepayers, but the CPUC has not made clear yet how this will be done.
In response to questions from SPUR’s audience, we learned that the revenue from the carbon allowance auction is only partially allocated. This is because it’s not clear how much revenue will come in. It is certain that this pool of funding will increase over the years, especially when transportation fuels are included under the cap. It is also certain that all of the revenue goes into ARB’s Air Pollution Control Fund initially and must be spent on implementing AB 32 or reducing air pollution (including greenhouse gases). As well, the California legislature has decided that 25 percent of the revenue must go to providing benefits to disadvantaged communities. For the balance, as directed by the legislature, ARB is going to work with the Department of Finance to come up with three-year investment plans.
I asked if there would be anything exciting to watch for in the media on Wednesday when the auction commences at 10 a.m. Our panelists all agreed: they hope not. Let’s all hope for some evidence of success, and a smooth process, as this critical tool to reducing global warming emissions launches.
2012 Silver SPUR: How Dr. Edward Chow Champions Healthcare for All
Edward A. Chow, M.D., a native San Franciscan, has been addressing health needs, access and disparities for more than four decades. Working with the Chinese Hospital and its physicians, he helped create the Chinese Community Health Plan, the nation’s first culturally competent health plan dedicated to the needs of an Asian community. He has served under five mayors on the San Francisco Health Commission, where he advocated for the rebuilding of its two public hospitals and established neighborhood primary care clinics. He is a founder and leader of numerous organizations, including most recently the National Council of Asian and Pacific Islander Physicians.
2012 Silver SPUR Awards: How Mildred Howard Creates Community With Art
Mildred Howard is an acclaimed mixed-media installation artist, activist, teacher, mother and grandmother, born and raised in the Bay Area. The Oakland Museum of California, the de Young Museum, SFMOMA, the San Jose Museum of Art and the Museum of the African Diaspora have all exhibited her work. She has received prestigious grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Joan Mitchell Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. Local works includeThree Shades of Blue on Fillmore Street and The Music of Language on Glide Memorial’s family housing building. With an eye toward the built environment and its impact on daily life, Mildred has shaped how we experience the public realm.
Learn about our other 2012 Silver SPUR honorees:
2012 Silver SPUR: How Rabbi Stephen Pearce's Interfaith Collaboration Builds a Better City
Stephen S. Pearce, D.D., Ph.D., is senior rabbi of Congregation Emanu-El of San Francisco. During his tenure, he started the temple’s hunger justice initiative and founded a long-standing collaboration with San Francisco’s Third Baptist Church. Rabbi Pearce is an active member in the city’s interfaith community, coauthoring Building Wisdom’s House: A Book of Values for Our Time with Bishop William E. Swing and Father John P. Schlegel. Before coming to Congregation Emanu-El, Rabbi Pearce was on faculty for 20 years at Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City. While on faculty at St. John’s University he earned his Ph.D. in counselor psychology.
2012 Silver SPUR: How John K. Stewart Brings Equity to the Housing Market
John K. Stewart is a pillar in the real estate development and affordable housing communities of the Bay Area. A longtime SPUR board member, he is founder of The John Stewart Company, which has a management portfolio of more than 30,000 units in 400 properties. A key ally of Mayor Newsom in launching HOPE SF, he has been the creative force behind some of the Bay Area’s most complex affordable housing deals, including a transit-oriented mixed-use project adjacent to the El Cerrito Del Norte BART station and North Beach Place, a 341-unit mixed-use HOPE VI project. He has been instrumental in facilitating unique project ownership structures and is committed to the creation and preservation of sound, long-term affordable housing.
Learn about our other 2012 Silver SPUR honorees:
Financing the Urban Forest
Besides making our streets prettier, what does our urban forest of street, park and backyard trees do for us? Trees are good for cities in lots of ways. They significantly increase property values. They provide shade, keeping energy demand in check on hot days and cooling the pedestrian realm. They clean the air, sequester carbon (slowly reducing global warming), provide habitat for birds, make streets more walkable and reduce urban flooding by retaining stormwater: A single tree may intercept and absorb up to 2,400 gallons a year. A recent SPUR report discussed the future climate-adaptive benefits of trees in helping to mitigate urban heat-island effect, the phenomenon where heavily urbanized areas become significantly warmer than nearby areas due to heat-retaining materials like concrete and asphalt. We recommended that cities conduct a tree-canopy census and identify opportunities for better shade-tree coverage in underserved and intensely urbanized areas. (A crowd-sourced map of such trees in San Francisco, calculating their benefits to the city, can be found — and expanded — at urbanforestmap.org. Register your own tree!)
With just 12 percent canopy coverage — the area of ground covered by trees, from a bird’s-eye view — San Francisco is one of the least tree-endowed cities in California and in the United States. San Jose maintains 15 percent canopy coverage, Los Angeles and Oakland have 21 percent coverage, and New York has 23 percent coverage, just above the national average of 22 percent. Green-minded San Franciscans would probably be surprised to learn that our city ranks 21 out of 22 major cities with regard to tree canopy.
Historically of course, San Francisco was almost completely devoid of trees — home to sand dunes and brackish marshes. As the city grew, trees were planted on streets, in backyards and in parks. Today, we have about 670,000 trees in San Francisco on public and private land, of which 109,000 are street trees in the public right of way. These trees are planted, established and maintained by both private property owners and the Department of Public Works (DPW). Generally, larger streets and streets with planted medians are maintained by DPW; others are cared for by adjacent property owners. But our numbers decline every year. Why? Because the mortality rate of urban trees is 3 to 4 percent each year. In San Francisco, this means we lose about 4,000 trees a year. Between the efforts of DPW, which plants about 400 trees a year, Friends of the Urban Forest (FUF), a nonprofit dedicated to tree-planting, which plants about 1,200 trees a year, and homeowners and commercial property owners acting on their own, at most we are planting 2,000 new trees in the city every year. This means we are not even keeping up with the death rate: Our canopy is in decline. Recent budget cuts at DPW have made matters worse. About 24,000 trees currently cared for by DPW are in the process of being relinquished to their adjacent property owners. This means that some property owners will be forced to take on both the maintenance and the liability of having a tree they didn’t plant and might not want.
This puts our urban forest at great risk.
To address this problem, FUF, the San Francisco Planning Department, and DPW recently hired AECOM to study options for a permanent source of funding for tree maintenance. (The financing study and the Planning Department’s initiation of an Urban Forest Plan were recently featured at a SPUR forum.) The study considered what policy and management changes would be needed to reverse the decline of the city’s canopy and recommended a few potential sources for financing even broader public management of street trees, such as a landscape and lighting assessment district or a parcel tax. The study found that a more comprehensive municipal program would provide net benefits to San Francisco residents and that tree-owning property owners would save money annually with a municipal program (since they wouldn’t have to pay for pruning/maintenance, sidewalk repair and legal claims associated with sidewalk falls). Today, DPW spends a significant amount of its time on one-off emergency tree-care requests. A more comprehensive municipal program would enable the city to employ best practices in tree maintenance and pruning, which would save costs by as much as 50 percent through improved efficiencies. A comprehensive municipal program could also expand the city’s urban forest by at least 50 percent, adding thousands of new trees each year.
Supervisor Scott Wiener, long a champion of the urban forest, recently held a hearing at a committee of the Board of Supervisors to begin the conversation around what could be done to sustain our street and park trees in light of the fact that they are not successfully competing for the city’s general fund dollars. I testified on behalf of SPUR that a more sustainable solution is needed, and that we hope to continue the conversation around how to maintain both our street trees and our park trees for the next generation.
Many people at the hearing — representing a broad geographic distribution around the city — mentioned that trees were important to their neighborhood and that they would be willing to tax themselves to pay for trees, as they are a benefit that everyone shares in, not just property owners. Several people urged that we plant lowest-canopied areas first, if we can ramp up planting. One of the most memorable lines was, “Trees are the only urban infrastructure that grows in value over time.”
In 2013, we look forward to participating in more conversations and hearings and advocating to change the trajectory on maintenance to ultimately expand San Francisco’s urban forest in the future.