Blog » blog
- October 26, 2011By Sarah Karlinsky, Deputy Director
Question: What’s the best way to revitalize Central Market?
Answer: There isn’t one way, but many — and they all need to be coordinated with one another.
While this sounds like an answer that Yoda might offer, we hope that the folks at the Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OWED) don’t have to rely on the Force alone to help finalize the Central Market Economic Strategy. The objectives of the strategy include creating an arts district, improving public safety, reducing vacancies, encouraging development and improving the public realm. All of these are good ideas — and all will need substantial political support in order to be realized.
The city is well positioned to build on its work in the Central Market District. The passage of the neighborhood’s payroll tax exemption is bringing in big employers like Twitter. Meanwhile several city departments (including Planning, the Department of Public Works and the Municipal Transportation Agency) are in the process of contemplating some major changes for Market Street itself as part of the Better Market Street Plan. All of these positive changes could help form the basis for real improvements in the district.
The Central Market Economic Strategy seeks to build on this work. In doing so, the city will need to find ways of dealing with challenges that have bedeviled planners for decades, such as high storefront-vacancy rates along Market Street. How can the city, given the current fiscal climate, attract and retain businesses in the area? Are there ways of incentivizing temporary uses to enliven the area? How can we get arts uses to thrive?
SPUR is in the process of developing its own position on the latest draft of the Central Market Economic Strategy. We urge you to do the same.
- October 25, 2011By Laura Tam, Sustainable Development Policy Director
Last week, the Bay Area's Business Council on Climate Change — which SPUR is a part of — released the Green Tenant Toolkit, an online resource for improving the sustainable performance of existing commercial buildings in San Francisco. The toolkit is designed to help commercial tenants, building owners and property managers collaborate to improve the energy efficiency and other sustainability metrics of their buildings. It is divided into three sections:
1. Green leases, including sample leases and key negotiation points in the leasing process;
2. Stakeholder engagement, which defines what the roles can be for owners, tenants and occupants in making buildings more green and outlines best practices in how they can interact and set goals;
3. Check lists, which include questions or metrics for understanding the sustainable performance of an existing building and identifying opportunities for the future. (For example, is electricity sub-metered? Does the building have solar panels?)
The toolkit was inspired by the recommendations of the Mayor’s Task Force on Existing Commercial Buildings (PDF), which completed its work and published a report (SPUR was a participant) in 2009. That report found that while San Francisco's green standards for new construction were high, sustainability performance standards and tools were especially needed for existing buildings because they comprise by far the majority of buildings that will be here in the future. Less than 1 percent of the city's buildings are newly constructed each year, which means it would take more than 60 years to “green” even half of San Francisco's building stock through new construction.
The commercial buildings task force proposed a voluntary goal of reducing the energy use in existing commercial buildings 50 percent by 2030, with an average reduction of 2.5 percent per year. The Green Tenant Toolkit is designed to help improve those spaces that are leased and may not be undergoing major renovations in the near future.
SPUR has also examined the challenges of resource efficiency for existing multi-tenant residential buildings, which are responsible for as much of our city's greenhouse gas emissions as commercial buildings. Multi-tenant residential buildings suffer some of the same challenges as multi-tenant office buildings, although leasing terms, capital improvement financing and regulations, among other things, are different.
The Green Tenant Toolkit is intended to evolve based on user feedback, so check it out and provide yours at www.greentenanttoolkit.com.Tags: sustainable development
- October 24, 2011By Sarah Karlinsky, Deputy Director
Many of us in the Bay Area felt a series of sharp tremors on October 20 and 21 — coincidentally the same day that Oakland-based Christian radio broadcaster Harold Camping predicted would bring the Apocalypse. It might not be time for the Rapture just yet, but we do know the Big One is coming, and we want our buildings to be prepared.
Fortunately, so do the smart people in San Francisco City Hall. They’ve taken the good work developed as part of the Community Action Plan for Seismic Safety and created an Earthquake Safety Implementation Program. Last week Mayor Ed Lee released a first draft of the program, a 30-year road map for strengthening San Francisco’s stock of privately owned buildings so that our city can be well situated to withstand a major earthquake.
The program includes 50 objectives that comprehensively address San Francisco’s building stock, but one of the most important is a plan to retrofit San Francisco’s “soft story” apartment buildings — those that have large openings like garage doors or storefront windows on the ground floor. These buildings house a substantial number of San Franciscans and are also very vulnerable to damage. SPUR has long called for a program of mandatory retrofits for soft-story buildings and enthusiastically endorses the Earthquake Safety Implementation Program.
Read San Francisco’s Earthquake Safety Implementation Program >>Tags: disaster planning
- October 12, 2011By Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager, and Jesse Sleamaker
At three in the morning, a four-block stretch of Jerrold Avenue in the Bayview neighborhood is abuzz with business. The San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market, which is busiest during the graveyard shift, is a hidden hub of San Francisco’s fresh food system.
On a recent Friday, fifteen early-rising SPUR members gathered for a walking tour at 8 a.m. — the end of the day for most businesses at the market. Much of the Bay Area excitement around food focuses on either the farms where food is grown or the tables where it is consumed. Our tour of the Wholesale Produce Market gave us an inside look at the infrastructure and people between farm and table. The more than 25 wholesalers and distributors at the market serve as brokers between producers and retailers, balancing the fickle demand of buyers on one hand with a highly variable supply of produce on the other. The businesses that operate at the market provide fresh food throughout the city – to small ethnic restaurants and Michelin-rated ones; to neighborhood grocers like Good Life and Bi-Rite as well as major chains such as Whole Foods, Safeway and Molly Stones. There’s a good chance that the salad you had today passed through the loading docks in Bayview this morning.
And, that’s been true for more than forty years. The Wholesale Produce Market began as an assortment of produce distributors along streets just northwest of the Ferry Building. In the early 1960s, however, the city approved the Golden Gateway Redevelopment Project that includes today’s Embarcadero Centers, forcing the market businesses to move. After years of negotiation, the vendors agreed to move to the market’s current location, which is on city-owned land. Today, the market is in the process of renegotiating its lease with the city so that it can remain and expand in the existing location.
Though the cost of business for the market tenants is higher in San Francisco than in other parts of the Bay Area, many choose to stay in the city. What keeps them in San Francisco? Michael Janis, our guide and the Market’s General Manager, explained that it was a combination of factors. First, the market provides the essential infrastructure of loading docks, warehousing, refrigeration and easy access to highways. But beyond the infrastructure, the market offers added value to its tenants by providing a community of businesses, a mature market with a long-standing customer base and a management structure that works with the businesses.
The Wholesale Produce Market has worked so well as an incubator that some of the businesses have begun to outgrow their space there. Greenleaf, the market’s largest business, is hoping for an expansion. If the market can’t expand to accommodate the growth of businesses like Greenleaf, it may lose them.
The morning’s tour emphasized how infrastructure like the Wholesale Produce Market is essential to the future of our regional food economy. The market provides the region’s farmers with access to buyers while also supporting the growth of food retailers of many sizes. This industrial facility, tucked away in our dense city, is a critical piece of economic infrastructure that would be nearly impossible to recreate in San Francisco today. We’re lucky to have such a thriving market, and we need to ensure that any future food systems policy doesn’t lose sight of the importance of food distribution infrastructure – hidden though it may be.
- October 11, 2011By Corey Marshall, Good Government Director
With only eight measures on the docket, this is a short ballot for our fine city — but it's certainly not short on substance. Voters will weigh in on dueling pension reform plans, bonds for schools and roads, and even a sales tax increase. These measures place billions of dollars at stake, making it more important than ever for San Francisco voters to know the details. Get out and vote on November 8, but first arm yourself with our in-depth analysis.
Brought to you by SPUR. We pore over the mind-numbing details so you don't have to. Support SPUR today >>Tags: good government
- September 27, 2011By Aaron Bialick
The Bay Area has a lot to gain from pricing its freeways. Two of the major benefits are money for transit and less highway congestion. High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes are a miniature form of road pricing, offering solo drivers the option to buy their way into High-Occupancy Vehicle lanes and bypass the congested, more heavily-subsidized highway lanes.
In 2008, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) proposed a plan to expand the region’s network of HOT lanes to 800 miles by 2035. This week, the agency is expected to approve a new plan for submission to the California Transportation Commission (CTC), but it would be scaled back significantly to 570 miles and would fall short of achieving the benefits of road pricing on several levels:
- Much of the planned network will expand highway lanes rather than converting existing ones to use them more efficiently. SPUR’s analysis shows that this will increase vehicle travel demand and CO2 emissions.
- The plan won’t make any money for transit. Regional systems like Caltrain are in dire need of long-term funding solutions, but the cost of building the HOT Lane network, estimated between $1.6 and $6.8 billion, would negate nearly all of the revenue the MTC expects to bring in over the timeline of the plan.
- The plan won’t complete the express lane network for buses that use the highways. Some of the most congested routes, like 280 and 101 leading into the urban core of San Francisco, would be left without HOT lanes at all.
Some sustainable planning advocates like the folks at TransForm fear the MTC is rushing to submit a severely flawed proposal in time for the CTC’s deadline in October, after which final authority over HOT lanes is shifted from the CTC to the more challenging state legislature.
But the MTC is also developing its Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) over the next two years, which is likely to include recommendations more consistent with the region’s sustainable planning goals. Rather than submit a rushed proposal now and go through a more difficult modification process later, the agency should wait to develop a comprehensive plan that provides the Bay Area the kind of road pricing measures it needs to manage travel demand on its highways.Tags: regional planning
- September 14, 2011by Gretchen Hilyard
What are unaccepted streets and paper streets, and how can they help make San Francisco a greener place?
SPUR’s 2011 Piero N. Patri Fellow, Sarah Moos, spent this summer studying the city's unmaintained and underused rights-of-way. The resulting project, Unaccepted Streets: From Paper to Reality, proposes to transform some of the city's overlooked areas into a publicly accesible network that would link communities to open spaces such as the Blue Greenway, as well as to each other.
An “unaccepted street” is any public right-of-way not accepted by the city for maintenance. A “paper street” is an unimproved street that is demarcated on maps and legislated as a public right-of-way but that may not actually exist on the ground. Below are four examples: an uprow, or unimproved utility right-of-way; a pedestrian street, designated for pedestrian-only use; a private parking street, a street being used for parking and under private jurisdiction for maintenance; and Guerrero Park, a Pavement to Parks project.
With the aid of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Moos, a master's candidate in UC Berkeley’s Landscape Architecture and City and Regional Planning program, surveyed 2,224 unaccepted streets and 323 paper streets in San Francisco. She filtered the data through spatial overlays to identify the areas within the city that provide the best opportunity for transforming these not-quite-real streets into useful public spaces.
After investigating the existing conditions of the streets in real life, Moos identified ten typologies of unaccepted streets. She then developed a toolkit of interventions such as stairs, benches and plantings that could be applied to transform these sites, improving their condition, accessibility and connection to a larger network of linked public rights-of-way.
Moos singled out nine areas of targeted study in San Francisco’s southeastern neighborhoods. She then met with neighborhood groups, city officials and others to determine which design interventions might work best for these sites.
Her research is the first step toward connecting these rights-of-way to improve neighborhood access to green space and connect southeastern San Francisco to a broader open-space network.
Stop by the Urban Center to pick up a hard copy of the final project map or download it below.
Download:Tags: community planning
- September 14, 2011by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
As someone who works on urban agricultural policy, I'm often asked, "Is city-grown food safe?" The question comes from aspiring urban gardeners and concerned eaters alike. And it seems to stem from both a fear of the known and a fear of the unknown.
First, the fear of the known: Common urban contaminants include lead, arsenic and other heavy metals leaked into soil from old paint, leaded gasoline, modern car exhaust and industrial land-use. These metals are responsible for a whole host of maladies. Heavy exposure to lead, for example, can harm the nervous system and result in other developmental disabilities, especially in children.
Here in San Francisco, a recent study of garden soils confirmed the presence of residual lead in many parts of the city. Similar studies have taken place or are in the works in Minnesota, Chicago and Indianapolis. They all show considerable evidence of lead in urban soil.
Though we know it's present, we don't know the best way to gauge the risk of this lead-contaminated soil. The San Francisco Department of Public Health recently issued guidelines warning that any garden soil containing lead at more than 80 parts per million poses a risk to children.Young kids have an unfortunate habit of ingesting and inhaling all sorts of things, so oral or nasal exposure to lead-contaminated soil is a very real potential danger to their health. But the guidance included a side note underscoring just how confused regulatory agencies are about this exposure risk:
Which leads to the fear of the unknown: Neither the EPA nor the San Francisco Department of Public Health can provide clear guidelines regarding the danger of eating food grown in soil with elevated levels of lead. Scientists aren't sure about the uptake of toxins in plants, or how much they can transmit to our stomachs. And there's just as much confusion about the risk of other known toxins besides lead: As the EPA's Brownfield program recently noted, even when we analyze identified pollutants with understood health impacts, we end up with more questions than answers. With so many questions, many people react emotionally to this general fear of the unknown. The thought process goes something like this: "Food grows in dirt. Dirt is dirty. So city dirt must be really dirty."
But should we be more concerned about city-grown food than rural-grown food? I don't think so. First of all, the same highways full of car exhaust that run through our cities also run through our rural areas. And while rural areas don't have the polluting legacy of urban manufacturing industries, they have industrial toxins of their own. Pesticides — including previously-approved-but-now-banned varieties — are prime examples. Another area of concern is biosolids: We routinely take treated sewage from cities and apply it on agricultural fields throughout the country, bringing with it many of the chemicals, including pharmaceuticals, that we flush down our toilets, sinks and other city drains. How much that affects the food we eat is not clear.
Considering all those factors, perhaps we shouldn't assume that rural soil is always safer: Within both urban and rural areas there are some sites that are clean and some that are heavily polluted. Baltimore is considering requiring urban farmers to test their soil; should rural farmers be required to do likewise? Or perhaps the fear of soil toxins in our food supply is greater than the actual risk. Certainly the risk to children who eat soil is different than the risk their parents face from eating vegetables grown in that same soil. What tests should we use to gauge those dangers?
Though I don't have the answers to these questions, I'm heartened when someone asks me about the safety of city-grown food because it shows the true promise of urban agriculture. That promise lies not in the potential to feed ourselves wholly from within our cities, but rather in using the small amount that is grown nearby to connect us with our larger food system. We need to ask more questions of our food supply, both urban and rural. We also need to call on our government agencies, universities and others to help us answer these questions. In the meantime, I'll continue eating food grown in the city.
- September 8, 2011By Jennifer Warburg
On Tuesday, Congress returned to Washington with only 11 days to pass essential legislation: the reauthorization of all major national transit and highway projects and the gas tax that funds them. Stalemate or delay will cost billions of dollars and millions of jobs, shutting down highway and transit construction projects nationwide and putting hundreds of thousands of Americans out of work in the midst of an unstable, jobless recovery.
Passage of regular infrastructure spending packages used to be routine in Washington, but in today’s fractious Congress, all bets are off. Already this summer we’ve witnessed costly Congressional standoffs over the raising of the debt ceiling and the funding of the FAA — other spending measures that used to attract bipartisan support.
In less contentious times, a federal surface transportation bill is passed roughly every six years. This regular package uses our current gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon to generate the billions of dollars necessary to maintain our interstate highway network, many transit systems around the country, bicycling and pedestrian facilities, and freight-rail operations.
Even in periods of divided government, infrastructure investment has typically provided an area of consensus. Investment in reliable roads and transit provides immediate construction jobs and lays the foundation necessary for long-term economic growth.
Yet in today’s hyper-partisan environment, the two parties have failed to agree upon a new bill, allowing nearly two years to pass since the last package expired. During this time the nation’s infrastructure has relied on a series of tensely negotiated extensions that provide no new direction or funds for the improvements desperately needed to the country’s decaying bridges, highways and transit networks.
The mounting shortfall in government spending is undermining the economy more and more. The most recent report by the American Society of Civil Engineers states that “glaring deficiencies in America’s surface transportation systems drained households and businesses of nearly $130 billion last year, including about $97 billion of increased costs to operate and repair vehicles and $32 billion of increased travel time because of congestion and delays.”
Investment is sorely needed, but the latest temporary measure authorizing spending on federal infrastructure is about to expire, and the divided Congress is likely to spend the next two weeks bickering over another mere extension.
In fact, what is desperately needed is not another extension, but a new long-term bill — one that raises the gas tax.
In most of the developed world, users pay a duty on gasoline at the pump. The revenue goes directly into investment in the country’s transportation infrastructure. Since 1932, maintenance of the United State’s transportation infrastructure has been largely funded through this kind of user fee. Every president Since Herbert Hoover has raised the federal gas tax to keep apace with the country’s transportation needs. Presidents Reagan and Bush Sr. raised it the most of any. But since 1993 the fee has been stalled at 18.4 cents, a mere 5 percent of the $3.62 that the average American paysfor a gallon of gas and about a tenth of what the average European pays.
Our political leaders’ failure to raise the tax for the last two decades means the Highway Trust Fund faces what the Washington Post calls “a near term insolvency crisis”— just as most of America’s midcentury infrastructure has started to need upgrading. Experts from Gregory Mankiw of the Wall Street Journalto Dan Akerson, the CEO of General Motorshave insisted a gas tax is necessary to maintain safe and functional roads, bridges and transit — and to reduce the economic losses caused by the inadequacy of the country’s transportation network.
Our current gas tax is much too low to support a first-world level of infrastructure. And we will be lucky to see it merely extended this fall. Raising the gas tax is a political non-starter in a Congress cowed by the specter of the Tea Party.
What the United States really, desperately needs is not another temporary extension, arrived at after extended and wasteful posturing. We need real investment in our roads and transit. That means passing a comprehensive new surface transportation bill and raising the gas tax to a level that can support first-world transportation infrastructure for our first-world (last time we checked, anyway) country.
- September 8, 2011By Corey Marshall, SPUR Good Government Director
Walking or biking through the trails of Golden Gate Park, it can be easy to wonder what all the fuss is about. Budget battles and controversies over park concessions are a foreign concept when meandering past the botanical gardens, running in Kezar Stadium or picking up your children at an afterschool program. Honestly? Parks in San Francisco look pretty good.
While much of life within our parks remains serene, the politics of parks funding is unfortunately anything but. Public funding has been dramatically reduced in recent years; labor costs are skyrocketing while staffing is in decline; and earned revenue is increasing as a percentage of the department’s budget — in spite of coordinated opposition. And these trends are not unique to San Francisco: Parks departments across the region, state and country are also cutting costs and reducing services to maintain access to open space.
In our latest report, Seeking Green, SPUR has taken a hard look at the many factors that make funding San Francisco’s parks so difficult: diminishing public funds, political forces that prevent raising new revenues, intense community pressure to provide services and, more recently, a recession of historic proportions. How can the Recreation and Parks Department navigate these competing pressures to maintain services and care for our parks so they can stand the test of time?
Our task force found 11 ways to solve San Francisco’s parks funding crisis, from stabilizing public financing to strengthening philanthropy to expanding opportunities to earn revenue within the parks.Tags: good government