The Year Ahead: SPUR's Agenda for 2013

By Gabriel Metcalf, Executive Director
January 15, 2013

A new day on the bay.  Photo credit Flickr user David Yu.

2012 was a big year for SPUR and for the urbanist agenda. Years of work culminated in dramatic victories on the November ballot: San Francisco voters created a Housing Trust Fund, passed a parks bond and reformed the business tax. San Francisco also adopted the Transit Center District Plan for the part of downtown surrounding the new Transbay Transit Center. The Central Subway and the electrification of Caltrain were fully funded. State legislators gave the green light to begin building the initial segment of California’s high-speed rail system. And SPUR completed the Ocean Bean Master Plan and began its implementation.

It was also the year we launched SPUR San Jose, marking a major expansion of our work to support the urbanist agenda in the Bay Area’s largest city.

Can we top this in 2013? We’ll sure try. Here is a sneak preview of some of the big projects we’ll be working on at SPUR:

Climate change. If you're tired of hearing about this we’re sorry, but this is — truly — the biggest issue facing us. There are two parts to SPUR’s climate work – reducing greenhouse gas emissions and beginning to adapt to the climate changes that are now inevitable – and we are determined to make progress on both fronts in 2013. Eventually, we are going to have to get to the point where our cities are carbon-neutral, meaning, we do not generate more carbon each year than can be absorbed by our share of the earth. The sooner we make this transition, the better we will all fare. To us it seems clear that we should be world leaders in this region. Given our wealth and our environmental consciousness, we have the best chance of any place to figure this out.

Caltrain and Transbay. The most important infrastructure project for us right now is actually a set of four inter-related projects: construction of the Transbay Transit Center; Caltrain electrification; the extension of Caltrain to the Transbay Transit Center; and finally, the connection of the Caltrain line to the state high-speed rail system. This has been a focus of SPUR’s for more than a decade, and it will remain so for at least another decade. Two out of the four are now fully funded. Now our job is to get the rest of the funding and make sure we work out a long list of design and planning issues.

The Central Corridor Plan. Right now, the largest plan area in San Francisco undergoing comprehensive rezoning is the Central Corridor, roughly the area within easy walking distance of the new Central Subway in the South of Market neighborhood. It represents one of the last major opportunities in San Francisco for adding high densities of employment within walking distance of regional rail transit. It’s important to get this plan right, building on the lessons of the very successful 1985 Downtown Plan.

The San Francisco Waterfront. A lot of activity is focused on the waterfront right now, from the Giants’ proposed Mission Rock development to a proposal for a Golden State Warriors stadium to redevelopment plans for Pier 70. We will work to make sure these proposals are thoroughly vetted and that the city considers the full spectrum of planning issues — from urban design to transportation infrastructure.

The Sewer System Improvement Program. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is preparing to spend between $3 billion and $8 billion retrofitting and upgrading the city’s sewer system. As the rebuilding of the agency’s Hetch Hetchy water supply system heads toward completion, the SSIP will be the the next big phase in modernizing San Francisco’s water system. The magnitude of this project represents a major opportunity to design the system in a more environmentally sensitive way while providing economic opportunity for thousands of people.

The Resilient City. Our resolution for the year: Make some progress on a seismic retrofit ordinance for San Francisco’s soft-story structures — buildings of a certain age that lack strength in the ground floor because of garage doors or storefronts. This has been identified as a class of buildings that places residents in significant danger from a major earthquake. We have all the information we need to take action now.

San Jose. We will be working on major policy studies on: new planning approaches to downtown San Jose that can add vitality and investment without the tools of redevelopment; a new vision for the Valley Transportation Authority; and a big urban design study intended to help the city implement its 2040 General Plan.

Regional projects. In 2013, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Association of Bay Area Governments will complete and adopt the first ever Sustainable Communities Strategy, a project we’ve been working on for several years. We will also push to solve some longstanding and intractable transit issues, such as the need to better coordinate fares, funding, schedules and others aspects of regional transit systems like BART and Caltrain. We will release a paper on reforming regional governance and another on managing our long-term water supply. We will conduct a major study on the Bay Area food system. And we will also be leading a major project to produce an economic development plan for the Bay Area that focuses on social equity.

As this year gets underway, it’s clear that urbanists in the Bay Area have some major problems to confront. But looking at all we’ve accomplished in the last year, we face these challenges with a sense of optimism and momentum. 2013 is a good time to be an urbanist. If you’re not already a member of SPUR, we hope you’ll join us.