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- April 25, 2013By Ratna Amin, Transportation Policy Director
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee has selected SPUR Executive Director Gabriel Metcalf and Monique Zmuda of the SF Office of the Controller to co-chair his 2030 Transportation Task Force. While the mayor has made it clear that fixing Muni one of his top priorities, the group will look broadly at both local and regional transportation needs. Like other task forces the mayor has convened, this one will tackle a seemingly intractable problem: transportation funding.
The group’s goal is to “identify transportation capital priorities for the city and connect these plans and priorities to existing and new funding sources.” This will include evaluating existing capital plans, proposed capital plans and visioning for other potential plans. By the task force’s final meeting in October, the body is expected to present recommendations to the mayor. The group will meet eight times, not including scheduled site visits to bus and trolley facilities and a light rail site tour.
San Francisco’s local and regional transportation infrastructure is largely deteriorating. This includes streets, transit vehicles, rails and numerous other facilities, all of which have enormous funding needs just to maintain current conditions. And that doesn’t even address the capacity increases needed to accommodate the 2 million new people expected in the Bay Area by 2030.
While local funding sources can be cultivated to address some of these needs, it will be nearly impossible to fund them all. At the most recent task force meeting, city staff detailed a number of competing priorities:
- The Department of Public Works (DPW) explained what happens to streets if you don’t “fix it first.” A street block costs $240,600 over 75 years to maintain at excellent condition on average. However, allowing it to deteriorate until it reaches poor condition, then maintaining it at only fair condition on average, would cost $872,800 over 75 years. Street quality affects all travel modes: walking, cycling, transit, autos and trucks. DPW has more than $1 billion in deferred capital renewal needs, i.e. investments that preserve or extend the useful life of facilities or infrastructure.
- The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority (SFMTA) explained that its network, fleets and facilities are in urgent need of upgrading in order to meet the city’s ambitious goals to increase transit ridership. SFMTA delivers $828 million in services annually but needs $50 million more per year just to deliver its current transit service plan — and it will need another $20 million to deliver other key services like “complete streets,” i.e. amenities that accommodate pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders. At the same time, SFMTA needs $510 million per year to maintain its assets in a “state of good repair” but is currently funded at $260 million per year. As with streets, delaying maintenance on assets like trolley buses, or waiting for them to fail before repairing them, results in far greater lifetime costs.
- SFMTA’s Transit Effectiveness Project (TEP), if funded, would create 13 rapid and 10 frequent Muni bus routes. Meanwhile Muni provides services that may not be cost effective: 70 percent of Muni’s stops exceed the agency’s stop-spacing standards. (All of the rapid and frequent routes will meet those standards.)
- SFMTA showed that the city’s significant mode shift to bicycle use (a more than 71 percent increase in the number of people biking between 2006 and 2011) has come at a very low capital and operating cost. But a $170 million gap remains to fund the bicycle network scenario in the agency’s strategic plan. SFMTA also explained its process challenges: inter-agency coordination and capital project delivery continue to be slow, particularly for pedestrian projects. A task force member suggested that a pedestrian bulbout that costs the SFMTA $260,000 to construct costs half as much in New York City due to more efficient process.
The competing priorities are not limited to San Francisco: Future meetings will investigate how county capital needs are impacted by high-speed rail, the plan to modernize Caltrain and extend it to the new Transbay Transit Center, and other large transportation projects. We will report back on the recommendations that the task force develops.
- April 24, 2013By Sarah Karlinsky, Deputy Director
Last Thursday, on the 107th anniversary of the 1906 Earthquake, SF Mayor Ed Lee signed the mandatory soft-story retrofit program into law. SPUR has long advocated for this legislation, which will help make San Francisco more resilient in a major earthquake.
Soft-story buildings are those with large openings for storefront windows or garages, which cause the ground floor to be weak, leaving it vulnerable to damage or even collapse in an earthquake. The legislation focuses on wood-frame apartment buildings with three or more stories and five or more units that were built before modern code changes adopted in 1978. San Francisco’s Community Action Plan for Seismic Safety (CAPSS) estimates that at least 2,800 of these buildings have a soft-story condition. Combined they are home to roughly 58,000 people and 2,000 businesses.
Currently, these buildings pose a significant threat to San Francisco’s ability to recover from a disaster. The city estimates that between 43 and 85 percent of the 2,800 soft-story buildings would be tagged as “unsafe” after a magnitude 7.2 earthquake on the San Andreas fault, and a quarter of those would be expected to collapse. If these buildings are retrofitted, however, the people living in them will be much less likely to risk being killed, injured or displaced by a disaster.
The new law requires that buildings with potential soft-story conditions be screened and evaluated. Those determined to have soft-story conditions will then need to complete upgrades over a period of several years.
SPUR has written several reports about the role that the existing housing stock can play in enhancing or undermining the city’s resilience. Resilience — the ability to respond to an earthquake emergency and to recover without lasting disruption — can be measured by the speed and completeness with which essential functions, and eventually routine operations, are restored. We identified a goal that 95 percent of San Francisco’s housing should be strong enough that people can stay in their homes after a magnitude 7.2 earthquake. One of our key recommendations to achieve this goal was the development of a mandatory soft-story retrofit program for wood-frame multifamily housing.
Estimates show that only 75 percent of the city’s current housing stock will provide adequate shelter for residents after a major earthquake. This means that San Francisco is at risk of losing its most important asset — its people. This new law helps to greatly increase the amount of housing that will be safe enough for people to inhabit after the next earthquake.
We thank the mayor and the SF Board of Supervisors, as well as the earthquake safety implementation team including Patrick Otellini, Laurence Kornfield and Micah Hilt, for their leadership on this important issue.
- August 23, 2012By Corey Marshall, Good Government Policy Director
It’s not often that the SPUR agenda features so prominently on the ballot in San Francisco. But the November 2012 election hits on three significant issues at the forefront of our work: affordable housing, business taxes and funding for parks. Our policy work has helped shape three important measures on the upcoming ballot, all of which we will support this fall.
Housing Trust Fund (Prop. C)
In the shadow of the governor’s elimination of redevelopment agencies, Prop. C is a Charter Amendment that would create a dedicated source of local funding for affordable housing for the next 30 years. SPUR and other housing advocates spent many months crafting this proposal to create a Housing Trust Fund for San Francisco. The measure would take advantage of the loss of redevelopment to recapture a portion of the local property tax receipts and dedicate up to $50 million annually toward the construction of affordable housing. But the measure goes even further; it would also provide down payment assistance to moderate-income families and it could provide an incentive for building more overall housing in San Francisco by lowering developer requirements for on-site affordable units, a move that could stimulate the production of both market rate and affordable housing.
Business Tax Reform (Prop. E)
Ever since a 2001 legal settlement eliminated a gross receipts tax and left the city’s business tax entirely dependent on a payroll tax, SPUR has advocated to either revise or replace the payroll tax altogether. While the revenue from the payroll tax funds important local priorities, taxing job creation through a payroll tax sends the wrong message and compromises San Francisco’s competitiveness as a city. There are many different ways to incentivize the creation of jobs and attract businesses, and Prop. E is a step in the right direction. Prop. E would transition San Francisco from a payroll-based tax to a gross receipts tax, a structure currently used in Los Angeles and other major cities in California. While retaining any local tax on business may not be ideal (SPUR has long been interested in whether or not environmental taxes could replace the payroll tax), this gross receipts tax proposal will actually result in less volatile revenues than the payroll tax — a key component to stable growth. This reform of the business tax was not put together quickly. It is the result of a process involving literally hundreds of businesses and hours of meetings: exactly the type of collaboration and consensus the city needs for a major transition such as this.
Parks Bond (Prop. B)
Funding for our city’s parks and open spaces has long been an important part of the SPUR agenda. The focus of our Seeking Green report was on finding operating funds to keep the doors (and park gates) open to the public and to properly maintain facilities built or renovated with bond funds. This year’s parks bond is the third in a series to help the department rectify years of deferred maintenance driven by budget reductions. The department has done a lot of work to improve planning and project delivery of bond projects, but much work remains. While we support this one-time bond, our hope is that the department’s next effort will address a more permanent solution to its $30 million annual operating deficit.
While these three propositions are quite distinct, they are in many ways interconnected. We need a healthy business community to provide employment opportunities for our residents and a source of revenue for important local priorities. People flock to San Francisco not simply for its jobs, but also for its quality of life and amazing recreational and cultural amenities. And without adequate affordable housing, too many people will be left out and the entire ecosystem could ultimately crumble. Now we must turn our attention to the November election and ensure that San Francisco voters also understand the importance of the complex ecosystem supported by the measures before them.
Look for the full SPUR voter guide with our in-depth analysis of all San Francisco measures this fall at www.spur.org/voterguide.
- August 23, 2012By Laura Tam, Sustainable Development Policy Director
This November, San Francisco’s Prop. F asks voters to approve an $8 million planning process to find a way to drain Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, the city’s most important water system asset. SPUR believes that this is a bad idea for many reasons, and we strongly oppose Prop F (stay tuned at www.spur.org/voterguide for our full ballot analysis in early October).
The measure also calls for a task force to develop a long-term plan to improve water quality and reliability, and to identify new local water sources to supplement water currently diverted from the Tuolumne River into the Hetch Hetchy system. As we have said before, it is so obviously a good idea to plan for alternative supplies that such endeavors are already well underway in San Francisco (and we certainly don’t need a ballot measure to compel us to do planning that is already being done). The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) is working to site recycled water facilities in the city, develop groundwater supplies on the west side and make deep gains in conservation — no small feat in the most water-efficient city in California. By agreement with its wholesale customers, who use two-thirds of the water from the Hetch Hetchy system, the SFPUC must develop 10 million gallons a day of these additional supplies in San Francisco by 2018. This represents about 13 percent of the city’s current daily water use.
Not all of these alternative water supplies are created equal. Regulations — and common sense — currently prohibit us from drinking recycled water (i.e. treated sewage water), graywater (used kitchen, laundry or bath water) or seepage water (water that seeps into basements and needs to be pumped out), none of which are treated to drinking water standards. But these water sources are perfectly fine for uses such as flushing toilets, filling cooling towers or irrigating parks and can be used to offset our potable water demand. This way, we can save the very best Hetch Hetchy water for drinking.
To support this idea of matching supplies to appropriate uses — which is more efficient, sustainable and drought-resilient than using the same source for every use — the SFPUC recently evaluated the feasibility of “onsite” supplies to meet nonpotable demands.These are water supplies such as rainwater, graywater, blackwater (sewage) and seepage water that are generated, partially treated and reused on the same property. The SFPUC studied how much Hetch Hetchy water could be saved by aggressively encouraging the use of onsite supplies to meet nonpotable demands for residential, commercial and municipal open space uses. The study looked at the theoretical maximum available supply from sources such as rainwater or graywater and then looked at maximum feasible onsite demands for such sources. It concluded that in 2035, with 100 percent participation in these programs, San Francisco could save 3.4 million gallons a day.
Let’s put 3.4 million gallons a day in perspective. This savings is significant for a conservation program. It’s more than we will get from any one recycled water facility. It would add a significant extra and drought-resilient supply of local water, over and above the 10-million-gallon-a-day alternative supply portfolio San Francisco is developing from recycled water, groundwater and conservation. It would be a huge boon to the Tuolumne River and its ecosystems if we could put that extra water back into the river. We should pursue this new supply with gusto, first by making it easier to do onsite nonpotable reuse (which SPUR has strongly supported), then by creating greater incentives to do so.
But it will never replace the 74 million gallons a day that Hetch Hetchy delivers to San Francisco. We can’t reduce reuse, and recycle our way out of needing our region’s most important water system.