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    A look at urban issues in the Bay Area and beyond

No Question: California Is in Fiscal Crisis

October 18, 2012 By Corey Marshall, Good Government Policy Director
Three California cities have filed for bankruptcy protection since June. Since 2008, local governments in California have shrunk by nearly 190,000 employees and property values over the same period declined by 21.3 percent. What comes next? The Institute for Government Studies at the University of California at Berkeley convened an impressive panel of experts last month to move that debate forward.

Improving Access to Fresh Food Across San Francisco

October 18, 2012 by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
San Francisco is known internationally for its celebration of food. The city can boast of top restaurants; nationally acclaimed grocers, bakers and butchers; a thriving fleet of food trucks; and bountiful farmers’ markets. But these food retailers are not distributed equally across the city. While San Franciscans in many neighborhoods can take a short walk or ride and find a greengrocer or supermarket, in some parts of the city, food access is more difficult. The Department of Public Health has mapped the distribution of existing food retailers as part of its Sustainable Communities Index program. The results show that a number of neighborhoods — including Treasure Island, the Tenderloin, Hunters Point and Visitacion Valley, among others — have limited to no fresh food retail options. While a full service grocery store is never more than a couple of miles away in a city as dense as San Francisco, the lack...

PARK(ing) Day and the Legacy of Iterative Placemaking

October 10, 2012 By Jennifer Warburg
On September 21 SPUR celebrated PARK(ing) Day with an original form of alchemy: transforming asphalt into mini-golf and pizza. The annual event, celebrated in more than 160 cities, invites the public to reimagine metered parking spots as new types of urban space— a temporary disruption that invites the community to inhabit and new spaces and give shape to the permanent solution.

SPUR Launches San Jose Urban Design Initiative

October 2, 2012 By Benjamin Grant, Public Realm and Urban Design Program Manager
SPUR’s San Jose office is convening a task force of city officials and planning and development thought leaders to tackle a vexing question: How can the nation’s tenth largest city transform its historically suburban built environment into one that supports an active street life, greater use of transit and a stronger urban fabric? San Jose has charted an ambitious course through its new 2040 General Plan ; one of the major goals is to concentrate development in key areas called urban villages. These villages, mostly located along major transit lines, aim to support reductions in solo driving and associated carbon emissions while creating a more engaging, livable city that can compete for the creative workforce that is driving today’s tech economy. As the city initiates a local planning process for these areas, a critical opportunity emerges to get the placemaking details right. SPUR’s initiative will focus on physical planning and...

The Time Is Now for Business Tax Reform

September 28, 2012 By Corey Marshall, Good Government Policy Director
San Francisco’s technology sector is booming once again, the real estate market appears to be in full recovery mode and office vacancies are at record lows. The city’s economy is quick to catch fire, but it’s also prone to downturns. This has benefited the city’s coffers and the public services they support, but it forces difficult decisions when fortunes turn for the worse. These boom and bust cycles have exposed the importance of consistent sources of revenue for the city. Repeated economic fluctuations — as well as the recent recession — have shown the inherent volatility of the city’s business tax. A flat 1.5 percent tax on all payroll expenses above $250,000, the business tax is the city’s second largest source of revenue for the general fund (it brings in approximately $410 million per year), behind only the city’s property tax. But the payroll tax has fluctuated dramatically from year...

Bus Rapid Transit Getting Traction on El Camino Real

September 26, 2012 By Egon Terplan, Regional Planning Director
At a workshop on September 21, the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) Board reaffirmed its support for a bus-rapid transit (BRT) project on El Camino Real in Santa Clara County. The project takes a 17.3-mile route from the HP Pavilion in San Jose through Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos and north to Palo Alto. This corridor already has the highest transit ridership in the county between the 22 local bus and the 522 rapid bus. Over the past year, the cities of Mountain View and Sunnyvale demonstrated their skepticism of BRT by voting against dedicated bus-only lanes on El Camino Real , the “Main Street” of Silicon Valley. Given how such local decisions can negatively impact regional transit service, the VTA board could have elected to slow down or abandon the BRT project altogether. Instead, board members decided to continue with BRT on El Camino Real in a project...

New Superintendent Brings New Energy to School Food in SF

September 14, 2012 by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
Richard Carranza has been an educator for more than twenty years. He has seen firsthand how student learn better when they’re healthy and nourished. And, as a father of two daughters enrolled in the city’s public schools, he’s heard firsthand that students want better food in their cafeteria. Professionally and personally, he understands that school food is integral to the lives of students and the success of the District. And, as the new Superintendent of San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), he is in a position to improve the school meals program. But, as Superintendent Carranza made clear at a September 6 forum at SPUR , he and the District face significant obstacles. Primary among the challenges is funding. The $18 million budget of the school meals program is supported mostly by revenue from the 27,000 breakfast and lunches as well as the 6,000 snacks that Student Nutrition Services serves...

BART’s Balancing Act: Ridership and Bike Access

September 13, 2012 By Jennifer Warburg
This month BART experienced four of its top-ten most crowded days ever. Ridership exceeded 400,000 on three of those days, and the fourth was a day with no special events to boost regular numbers. As this growth continues, how will this crucial transit service balance the need to move more passengers with plans to encourage more cyclists to bring bikes on board?

Planning Action on San Francisco's Waterfront

September 11, 2012 by Sarah Karlinsky, Deputy Director
In recent decades, San Francisco’s waterfront has been home to some of the city’s most transformative projects, including Mission Bay, AT&T Park, China Basin and the South Beach neighborhood. Today the waterfront is once again where many of the city’s largest and most exciting development proposals are taking place. Several new plans along the bay — including Seawall Lot 337/Pier 48 (also known as Mission Rock), Pier 70 and the Warrior’s Stadium — are proposing to make their mark on the city. At the same time, San Francisco is hosting the America’s Cup races in 2012 and 2013 . Throughout the fall, SPUR will be hosting a series of forums exploring planning on the waterfront. Mission Rock Located just south of AT&T Park, Seawall Lot 337/Pier 48 is one of the most interesting development opportunities in the city. Currently home to a large surface parking lot serving AT&T Park, Mission...

North American Cities Produce Bumper Crop of Urban Agriculture Studies

September 5, 2012 by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
There may be a drought in much of North America, but this summer has produced a bumper crop of reports on urban agriculture in cities across the continent. Nonprofit groups in New York, Toronto and Boston have recently published studies examining what their cities can do at the policy level to support city gardeners and farmers. In the Big Apple, the Design Trust for Public Space and Added Value partnered together to produce Five Borough Farm: Seeding the Future of Urban Agriculture in New York City , the most comprehensive of the reports. The study’s snapshot of urban agriculture revealed: More than 700 farms and gardens (including school gardens) are producing food. This, the report pointed out, is more than three times the number of Starbucks in the city. In addition to 390 food-producing community gardens managed by the Department of Parks and Recreation , the New York City Housing...

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