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    A look at urban issues in the Bay Area and beyond

Silicon Valley Lands One of Four New U.S. Patent Offices

July 9, 2012 By Leah Toeniskoetter, SPUR San Jose Director
Word of a big win for Silicon Valley came July 2 from the U.S. Commerce Department. For the first time in its history, the United States Patent and Trademark Office will open four offices outside of Virginia, and the western region office will be located in Silicon Valley.

Reinvesting in the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market

July 9, 2012 by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
Update: On July 17, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the expansion proposal and new lease for the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market. The San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market, the city’s hub for fresh produce, is looking to modernize and expand. And, this month, the SF Board of Supervisors will be considering a proposal to allow it to do just that. The market is a critical piece of the region’s food system infrastructure . Its loading docks, warehouses and offices allow more than 25 wholesalers and distributors to link farmers from the region — and from around the world — with grocery stores, restaurants and other food retailers. The market infrastructure, however, is getting old. Most of the warehouses were built in the early 1960s, and its earlier generation of technology and design are limiting the growth of many market tenants and making it more difficult to comply with evolving...

San Jose Passes New Incentives for More Active Streets Downtown

June 26, 2012 By Leah Toeniskoetter, SPUR San Jose Director
Many downtown areas have policies in place that restrict ground-floor storefronts for walk-in businesses such as retail, restaurants and entertainment. The idea is to encourage people to continue exploring (and hopefully shopping) on foot. But in an economic downturn, when retail stores may remain vacant for years, dark storefronts can create dead spaces of their own, further challenging the success of surviving retail tenants. With ground-floor retail vacancy rates hovering between 15 and 20 percent for several years in a row, San Jose has adopted a temporary policy change allowing non-retail uses such as banks and business support services to occupy certain ground floor spaces without a special use permit — an investment of time and money that the city says has deterred several companies from locating downtown. The city also argues that ground-floor space occupied during part of the day is better than ground-floor space vacant all day. In...

The Sunol AgPark: Farming City-Owned Land Outside SF

June 20, 2012 by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
Thirty miles east of San Francisco, four farm businesses are growing food for market amidst the hills of Sunol. Though the rows of tomatoes, strawberries, kale, and other crops are typical of the region the land use arrangement at the site, known as the Sunol AgPark , is anything but typical. That’s because the park is on public land owned by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (PUC) directly adjacent to the Sunol Water Temple . In 2006, the PUC began an innovative land stewardship partnership and lease with the non-profit organization Sustainable Agriculture and Education (SAGE) , who, in turn, subleases the 18 acres to local farmers. In other words, for-profit farmers are cultivating publicly owned land managed by a nonprofit. It’s an arrangement that works for the PUC, SAGE and the farmers. From the PUC’s perspective, farming is compatible with this site, as it is with many others...

June Election Results: SF Votes to Save Murals — and Recology

June 19, 2012 By Corey Marshall, Good Government Policy Director
The shortest primary ballot in 16 years and the lowest turnout ever (30.83 percent) for a presidential primary. San Francisco’s ballot is experiencing a lot of interesting firsts in recent elections, but while the number of measures appears to be dwindling, their content is consistent: expensive implications. This election, San Franciscans considered two proposals to change city services. Proposition A, a proposal to require the city to use competitive bidding in the award of contracts for waste collection, was defeated by 76.6 percent of the vote. Proposition B, a nonbinding policy statement to restrict commercial activity in Coit Tower, a popular tourist destination that has degraded with time, passed with 53.5 percent of the vote. SPUR opposed both propositions . The results of Prop. A were very similar to previous attempts to change how waste is collected in the city. Efforts in 1993 and 1994 both went down to similar...

SF Takes Steps Toward New Urban Ag Program

June 14, 2012 by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
San Francisco may soon have a new urban agriculture program. On June 11, the Land Use and Economic Development Committee of the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed legislation introduced earlier by Supervisor David Chiu that seeks to increase the coordination, efficacy and breadth of city support for urban agriculture. Based on recommendations from SPUR's report Public Harvest as well as calls for change from community organizations including the San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance , the ordinance now moves to the full board for two consecutive votes, with the first vote likely on June 19. The version of the legislation that passed the committee included a number of amendments to the original version. Some of the notable changes include: Strategic plan: The strategic plan for implementation of the legislation must be presented to the board for approval Funding : For the coming fiscal year, the urban agriculture program should have funding...

Plan for New Transit Center District Moves Toward Adoption

June 5, 2012 By Tomiquia Moss, Community Planning Policy Director
Update: Mayor Ed Lee signed the Transit Center District Plan into passage on August 8, after unanimous approval by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Things are heating up again for San Francisco's Transit Center District Plan. On May 24, the SF Planning Commission voted 5-1 to certify the final draft of the environment impact report that will move the plan forward to the Board of Supervisors’ Land Use and Economic Development Committee. In addition, the commission voted to approve amendments to the general plan, planning code and zoning code that will be necessary to implement the plan. It will go before the Board of Supervisors for adoption sometime in July. SPUR has long supported this plan, recognizing its potential to transform San Francisco and the region. What Is the Transit Center District Plan? The Transit Center District consists of approximately 145 acres surrounding the new Transbay Transit Center, currently...

Reforming City Support for Urban Agriculture in San Francisco

May 29, 2012 by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
Seven city agencies spent nearly a million dollars supporting urban agriculture projects in San Francisco in 2010-2011. Yet there is no single staff person responsible for coordinating that funding, nor any overarching goals for how the money is used. Urban agriculture legislation introduced on April 24 by Supervisor David Chiu, however, would change that. The proposed ordinance, which implements a number of the recommendations in SPUR’s recent report Public Harvest , would: Set goals, with outcomes and timelines, such as: an audit of city-owned buildings to identify rooftops suitable for urban agriculture; five new resource centers for compost, mulch and tools; a streamlined application process; a reduction in community garden waiting lists to no more than one year wait time; 10 new urban agriculture projects on public land where residents show desire for the projects; Create an urban agriculture program that would coordinate the efforts of city agencies, engage with...

Business Tax Reform Heads to November Ballot

May 21, 2012 By Corey Marshall, Good Government Policy Director
As the deadline approaches to submit measures for the November ballot, the City and County of San Francisco is moving ahead aggressively with its effort to reform the city’s business tax. While the city has made significant progress in recent weeks, there are some signs that the complexity and commitment to reform are being further complicated by increasing calls for a tax that would not just replace revenue from the existing payroll tax but bring the city additional funds.

At Last: Progress on Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit

May 18, 2012 By Egon Terplan, Regional Planning Director
After more than six years of planning, we now have a clearer picture of what bus rapid transit might look like on Van Ness Avenue. This past Tuesday, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency unanimously approved a combination of two out of the four designs under consideration. SPUR has advocated for this blend as the best option for an effective system on Van Ness.

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