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- February 18, 2013By Jennifer Warburg
The Bay Area economy has rebounded from the recession. Yet major regional challenges threaten our continued prosperity. These topics were a major focus at the 2013 State of Silicon Valley, the annual event where Silicon Valley and Bay Area leaders gather to discuss the state of our region’s economy. This year the conference organizers, Joint Venture Silicon Valley and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, invited SPUR to write a special analysis about regional governance for presentation at the conference and inclusion in the event’s flagship publication, the Silicon Valley Index.
In the resulting piece, Strengthening the Bay Area’s Regional Governance, SPUR Regional Planning Director Egon Terplan made the case that some of the biggest threats to the Bay Area’s long-term economic competitiveness are challenges best addressed through better regional governance.
Regional decisions are responsible for much of what makes the Bay Area such a great place to live and work, including our large areas of open space and the transit infrastructure that links our cities and suburbs. Regional agencies like BART, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, which SPUR played a major role in establishing, were set up to manage these assets in perpetuity. Yet our regional agencies have changed little since the 1970s, and they are increasingly inadequate to address the issues shaping the Bay Area’s future.
Currently, our regional agencies are single-purpose entities — they lack the power to integrate land use planning, transportation, natural resource protection and climate change adaptation. Cities working to address these issues on their own often inadvertently exacerbate them in another part of the region, thwarting overall regional competitiveness.
SPUR’s report for the Silicon Valley Index focuses on five major regional issues in need of better planning and coordination:
1. Job sprawl. As the regional grows, jobs are being added in a decentralized pattern with few connections to reliable transit. This growth pattern is resulting in unsustainable commutes and increased levels of greenhouse gas emissions. In our thinking about The Future of Work, SPUR has made the case that locating jobs closer to transit — and closer to one another — will be key to the Bay Area’s long-term economic growth.
2. The need for more overall housing production. Local jurisdictions have a greater incentive to add jobs than housing. This dynamic has resulted in a jobs-housing imbalance as well as high housing prices in much of the region. SPUR has encouraged regional agencies to increase regional housing growth totals in their planning scenarios.
3. Competition between cities for tax revenues. The winner-take-all approach to local tax revenues results in fiscal and service disparity among cities. It also undermines regional cooperation and can lead to inefficient land use outcomes. SPUR has explored the promise of regional tax sharing. We've also looked at shifting to a system of more green taxes and fees as possible solutions to this regional problem.
4. The need for better coordination of regional transit services. The Bay Area has a huge transit system, but it is managed by 27 separate and poorly coordinated agencies. This fragmentation results in challenges for users and operators alike. SPUR has many recommendations for saving regional transit — including contemplating a possible merging of BART and Caltrain — and strategies for better funding and governing regional rail.
5. The need to prepare for sea level rise. Climate change is a problem that threatens every jurisdiction in the Bay Area. It demands a coordinated response, yet no regional agency exists with the mandate or the tools to direct an adaptation strategy. SPUR has done some of the leading thinking around how the Bay Area’s response to sea level rise could be better.
Where to begin? At the conference, we highlighted a few of these items for immediate action, including regional transit coordination and pilot tests for tax sharing.
Over the long term, the special analysis argues, we have three broad options for reforming regional governance:
1. Strengthen existing agencies by giving them more power.
2. Establish one or more new regional entities with new powers to respond to specific problems.
To achieve any of these options will require convincing Bay Area residents and politicians to recognize our linked fates.
The truth is that in today’s economy, the region is the scale where we compete globally. We face increasing competition from places that act and work regionally, such as Singapore, Shanghai and Vancouver. Failing to strengthen our own ability to act in concert as a region means risking the Bay Area’s economic standing globally.
Our needs are more interconnected now than ever. Our governance should reflect that.
- February 7, 2013By Shilpi Chhotray
For the past two years, SPUR has led an extensive interagency and public process for the development of the Ocean Beach Master Plan. This work represents the first move SPUR and San Francisco have made to directly address sea level rise. Now we are beginning the first steps to implement the plan, which presents recommendations for the management and protection of San Francisco’s Ocean Beach through the year 2050. The master plan lays out an ambitious and proactive vision to adapt to rising seas, protect infrastructure, restore coastal ecosystems and improve public access. The vision was developed through the participation of a wide range of public agencies, advocates, and citizens over an 18-month period.
Read the complete Master Plan >>
The Ocean Beach Master Plan is already achieving tangible benefits and improved partnership among public agencies. In August and September of 2012, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) partnered with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) to truck 73,000 cubic yards of excess sand from the north end of Ocean Beach to the south, tackling two problems at once: the record accumulation of sand at the north end, and severe erosion at the south end. The results — a “sacrificial” dune protecting the beach and covering unsightly rubble — hint at the potential of large-scale beach nourishment, a key ingredient in the Ocean Beach Master Plan vision.
This year, the San Francisco Department of Public Works (DPW) is repaving the Great Highway from end to end. As key a partner on the master plan, DPW was well aware of the plan’s proposals to improve pedestrian and bicycle access to Ocean Beach. DPW Director Mohammed Nuru directed his staff to add recommended planted medians and improved crossings to the repaving project, which will improve safety and access while improving environmental performance and aesthetics.
SPUR Leads Implementation Studies
The Ocean Beach Master Plan is a vision document. Although it is already shaping actions on the ground, it doesn’t yet have the force of law or policy. SPUR is now engaged in efforts to implement the vision, helping to translate plan recommendations into implementable projects, develop more detailed technical analysis, and prepare for environmental and regulatory review. We have been awarded funds from the California State Coastal Conservancy, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and the National Park Service to conduct implementation studies. These will include a transportation analysis, a coastal management framework and open space planning.
Implementing the Ocean Beach Master Plan vision will require significant reconfiguration of roadways, including the closure of the Great Highway south of Sloat Boulevard, the re-routing of traffic behind the San Francisco Zoo via Sloat and Skyline, and the redesign of Sloat Boulevard into a multi-modal coastal gateway. This project will conduct detailed transportation analysis, including an existing conditions study, the development of roadway configurations based on Ocean Beach Master Plan recommendations, and modeling the effects of the proposed changes on the city’s transportation system.
SPUR is working closely with SF Municipal Transportation Agency and SF Planning Department staff to scope this project and ensure it will meet the city’s technical requirements.
Coastal Management Framework
The Framework will test and further develop the master plan’s approach to coastal management, which includes a combination of managed retreat, beach nourishment and coastal armoring, all designed to protect threatened infrastructure while also supporting coastal access, recreation and ecological functions. This study will include interim protection strategies, as well as defining triggers and actions as sea-level rise sets in. It will lay the foundation of an interagency agreement for adaptive coastal management actions by the three major responsible agencies (SFPUC, GGNRA and the United States Army Corps of Engineers).
SPUR is working closely with SFPUC and GGNRA staff to scope this project and hire a coastal engineering consulting team.
Listen to SPUR's Ben Grant in KQED's piece on managed retreat: "San Francisco: A Test Case for Coping with Rising Seas."
Joint Open Space Planning
This project will coordinate collaboration between local and federal partners in managing Ocean Beach as a recreational and ecological resource. The study will include open space schematic design and programming studies, as well as pilot studies and the installation of temporary amenities. It will lay the foundation of an interagency agreement for open space management actions by the two major responsible agencies, GGNRA and the SF Department of Recreation and Parks).
Stay tuned for more updates on the implementation of the Ocean Beach Master Plan!
- February 4, 2013By Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
The crowd of a few dozen people that spilled off the sidewalk at Lee’s Market on an overcast morning had gathered to celebrate. The occasion: the grand re-opening of the corner store with new offerings of fresh fruit, vegetables and an expanded selection of healthy grocery items.
The January 24 event marked the launch of the Healthy Corner Store project of the Southeast Food Access Working Group (SEFA). The community group’s Food Guardians, three staff members who work on a variety of food issues in the Bayview Hunters Point neighborhood, collaborated with the owners of Lee’s Market and Ford’s Grocery to increase the number of healthy products sold at each store. The initiative was inspired by a 2007 survey showing that residents were taking dollars outside of the community when they frequently traveled to other neighborhoods to buy groceries. SEFA believed that if those items were stocked in neighborhood retail locations, the local businesses would see increased sales and residents would have more convenient access to healthy food.
The change at Lee’s Market was clear and prominent. Limes, oranges and heads of lettuce were visible through the door. Oatmeal, bread and tortillas were on display in the front window. And while ramen noodles, candy bars and alcohol still had significant shelf space, tobacco advertising on the front door had been removed and the difference between the before-and-after photos on display at the launch event was striking.
The participation of the corner store business owners is a credit to their willingness to try out a new set of products, including perishables. In making the change, they received assistance from a coalition of city agencies and community groups. In addition to the outreach by Food Guardians, several city agencies — acting together under the umbrella of the Bayview Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Zone and funded by a large grant from Kaiser Permanente — provided a mix of grants and loans to the two corner markets to cover the costs of technical assistance and equipment purchase. Initial signs indicates that the storeowner’s investment is paying off. One of the most important measures of success is whether customers will buy the new items. In the first week of offering produce, Lee’s Market sold out and placed another order with its produce distributor.
One of the distinguishing features of this initiative is its focus on working with resources already in the community rather than trying to recruit a retailer to move into the neighborhood. As one of the speakers at the launch put it, the project was an example of “change from the inside out.” While SEFA was involved in attracting full-scale grocer Fresh & Easy to the neighborhood, it has also focused significant attention on changing the offerings at existing retailers like Foods Co., Super Save and now corners stores. Other groups in the city are watching closely. Organizers in the Tenderloin have begun their own neighborhood assessment using the Food Guardian’s model and Supervisor Eric Mar has introduced legislation referencing SEFA’s work.
SEFA plans to evaluate the impact of its corner store initiative. While increasing access to fresh, healthy food is a clear improvement in terms of convenience and quality of life, the impact of this initiative, and others like it, in terms of affecting obesity, diabetes and other public health issues is not yet proven. Even so, it is clear that positive change, driven from within the neighborhood, is happening at two corner stores. And that is a milestone worth celebrating.
- January 15, 2013By Gabriel Metcalf, Executive Director
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.
- January 10, 2013By Molly Schremmer
Ever since the SPUR Urban Center opened in 2009, our bike-riding members have asked, “If SPUR supports cycling, why don’t you have bike racks?” It’s a long story, and it finally came to a close in December when the Yerba Buena Community Benefit District (YBCBD) unveiled the first of a new fleet of bike racks in the Yerba Buena district. Today, SPUR is happy to announce that three of these artful bike racks have been installed in front of the Urban Center at 654 Mission Street!
The story begins in 2006, when a court injunction placed a hold on all projects laid out in San Francisco’s formerly approved Bicycle Plan, including bike lane striping and installation of any bike parking. The injunction was the result of a lawsuit by a local blogger who claimed the city ought to have done a full environmental impact report before approving the Bicycle Plan. In August 2010, the San Francisco Superior Court lifted the injunction, declaring that the city had complied with the California Environmental Quality Act and the court’s orders regarding the approval of the Bicycle Plan.
The installation of bike racks is part of the Yerba Buena Street Life Plan, a 10-year plan of 36 proposed improvements for the public space in the Yerba Buena district. The sidewalk in front of the Urban Center was the number one requested spot for bike parking in the district.
The Yerba Buena Street Life Plan calls for bike racks that are consistent and distinctive to the neighborhood, identifying the district’s strong arts and culture identity. Neighborhood residents are funding all the bike racks as part of the YBCBD, before they are turned over to the city for installation. A total of 250 racks have been planned for the district. They are being produced in batches of 30, each batch with a different pattern embedded in the rack form. CMG Landscape Architecture, the firm that authored the Street Life Plan, designed the first two batches.
SPUR is grateful to the YBCBD for working so aggressively to realize this worthwhile project. We look forward to the continued implementation of the Yerba Buena Street Life Plan, including the proposed conversion of a block of Annie Alley into a pedestrian-only zone.
- December 13, 2012By Molly Schremmer
In November, BART released conceptual plans for a multi-billion dollar rejuvenation that would introduce a new wave of service called BART Metro. BART expects vast ridership expansion in the next several years, and these changes would allow 50 percent growth — bringing the number of daily riders to an average of 560,000 — by 2025. The plans hinge on the idea that BART is not only a commuter rail that connects the suburbs to the cities, where most rides happen during rush hour, but also an urban-style metro, where large numbers of people are traveling throughout the day. The project seeks to balance improved service effectiveness (especially during mid-day and evening hours) with the need to enhance capacity on a two-track railroad.
How can BART improve its service to its two different groups of customers? The preliminary BART Metro concepts involve a balance of two approaches. The first approach, Phase I, would be to start running shorter train lines with more frequent service connecting stations in the urban core, primarily the stops between the Richmond and Hayward stations in the inner East Bay and extending through the Transbay Tube southeast to Glen Park in San Francisco. The second approach, Phase II, would be to continue the service to more distant suburban destinations with an eye toward future skip-stop or express service to reduce travel times.
Some Phase I projects are already underway. BART is working on replacing its fleet with the Fleet of the Future, with three doors per car for faster on- and off-boarding; Phase I calls for about 200 more cars than are currently on the tracks. The agency also intends to increase peak service on the Pittsburg/Bay Point-SFO line and the Fremont-Daly City line, and to extend service hours during the nights and weekends on the Richmond-Millbrae and Fremont-Daly City lines. In fall 2012, BART extended Richmond-Millbrae service until 8 p.m.
Longer-term concepts focus on shortening some train lines by adding turnbacks, often created by adding a side track that allows the train to reverse directions. For example, turnbacks could be built adjacent to downtown San Francisco stops and the Bayfair station in the East Bay, in order to shuttle more trains back and forth under the bay. During peak commute hours it could work as follows: Destinations like Richmond would have 10 trains an hour with a gap of six minutes between trains, while West Oakland — the jumping-off point for all trains entering the Transbay Tube — would have as many as 27 trains an hour, with a gap of about 2.2 minutes between trains. In the future, on evenings and weekends, the northern part of the Richmond line would see eight trains an hour, with the urban core dropping down to 16. Downtown Oakland and Berkeley stops would also see an increase in trains; for example MacArthur station in north Oakland would receive 21 trains an hour during peak times and 12 during off-peak times. In this way, BART would be molded to more efficiently serve the urban core while not losing its other identity as a commuter rail.
This model can be compared to public rail transit in Paris, where riders are served by two different rail systems: the RER, or Regional Express Network, for regional commutes and the Paris Métro for shorter trips within the urban core. With the BART Metro plan, BART aims to continue filling both roles while improving service through efficiency. While the BART Metro plan increases the number of trains and cars on BART tracks, it would actually decrease the total number of miles traveled by trains annually.
BART hopes to have the changes in Phase I completed by 2025. Longer-term Phase II planning is ongoing; eventually BART riders could see changes such as skip-stop and express route trains traveling to key commuter destinations, coupling of trains on the Dublin/Pleasanton-Daly City and Fremont-Daly City lines, 100 additional cars and planning for a second transbay tube.
SPUR applauds the development of BART Metro. We have advocated for concepts that increase BART service in the urban core for a number of years, and we recommended several of these ideas our reports A Mid-Life Crisis for Regional Rail and the Future of Downtown San Francisco.
View a presentation on BART Metro >>
- November 19, 2012by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
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.Tags: sustainable development
- November 19, 2012By Corey Marshall, Good Government Policy Director
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.Tags: good government
- November 16, 2012By Tomiquia Moss, Community Planning Policy Director
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.Tags: community planning
- November 15, 2012By Corey Marshall, Good Government Policy Director
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.