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    A look at urban issues in the Bay Area and beyond

Is City Soil Really More Toxic Than Rural Soil?

September 14, 2011 by 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...

Why a Gas Tax Extension Is No Longer Enough to Save Our Roads, Jobs — or Economy

September 8, 2011 By 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...

How to Solve San Francisco’s Parks Funding Crisis

September 8, 2011 By Corey Marshall, SPUR Good Government Director
Our latest SPUR Report, Seeking Green , takes 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 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? Our task force found 11 ways to save San Francisco’s parks, from stabilizing public financing to strengthening philanthropy to expanding revenue opportunities.

How Can We Reclaim Market Street?

September 1, 2011 Gretchen Hilyard
San Francisco’s Market Street has a long and fascinating history: from its ambitious beginnings as an over-scaled boulevard, laid out by Jasper O’Farrell in 1847, to its heyday as the city’s vibrant theater district in the early twentieth century. Market Street rose to prominence after the 1906 Earthquake, survived a series of urban planning experiments in the mid-twentieth century, and absorbed the important yet disruptive insertion of BART beneath its surface in 1972. Today, Market Street displays the varied, accumulated layers of intervention. How can we remedy the vacant storefronts, improve pedestrain and traffic circulation, and reduce crime and other issues that prevent Market Street from being a true civic spine? Several city agencies, including the Mayor’s Office, the Department of Public Works, the Planning Department, the Transportation Authority and the SFMTA, along with residents, merchants and community groups, are trying to answer these questions with the Better Market Street...

BART of the Future

August 31, 2011 By Jennifer Warburg
Forget what your mother told you about "it's what’s on the inside that counts.” In the case of BART trains, it’s all about what’s on the outside. BART’s new fleet of cars is on track to begin service in 2016. This month, BART provided a first look at the concepts for the new train cars , holding a series of forums for the public to weigh in on the design of the interiors of the future. The most important change in the new fleet, however, is one made to the exteriors: the addition of 50 percent more doors for boarding and off-loading. In our recent video “ Crossing the Bay ,” SPUR recommended adding more doors to BART trains as a crucial step to reduce loading delays and make for faster and smoother commutes. BART currently carries more than 750,000 riders between San Francisco and the East Bay each week...

Food Desert No More: New Grocery Store Opens in the Bayview

August 30, 2011 by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
In many neighborhoods in San Francisco, the opening of a new grocery store is notable. But in the Bayview, a new Fresh & Easy store that opened on August 24 filled a full-scale grocery store gap that had persisted for more than 15 years. “It’s all about health, about neighborhood vitality, about jobs, and about fulfilling old promises,” explained Mayor Ed Lee at the opening. “That is what this store represents.” The store opening , planned since late 2007, marked the success of a partnership between Fresh & Easy and a number of city agencies and advisory groups. In 2007, the Southeast Food Access Working Group, which is supported by the Department of Public Health, released a survey showing widespread support for more grocery options in the Bayview. Responding to this desire, staff at the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development (MOEWD) reached out to many established grocery chains...

Election 2011: How Did SF’s Pension Problem Get This Bad?

August 26, 2011 By Corey Marshall, Good Government Policy Director
With two different pension-reform measures on the upcoming ballot, it’s no secret that pension reform will have a significant impact on the November election. But how did the city get to the point of having a problem of this magnitude? Clearly the recession has played a big part, but what about the many negotiated increases in benefits over the course of the last decade? While there has been much discussion here at SPUR about the magnitude of the pension crisis in San Francisco , scant attention has been paid to the many decisions that brought the city to the brink. In a recent article, the Examiner’s Josh Sabatini finally cast a light on the elephant in the room: “Among the factors leading to skyrocketing costs is a political culture that routinely rewards public employee unions with little thought about the future.” These increases have taken many forms, but with little...

High-Speed Rail's Plan B Is A-Okay

August 22, 2011 by Gabriel Metcalf, Executive Director
For the most part, the California High-Speed Rail Authority has done the right thing on the basic question of where its trains will go. But as we move from idea to implementation, things get messier. Residents along the Peninsula are understandably concerned about noise impacts and eminent domain. Last spring the High-Speed Rail Authority actually voted to stop work on this segment until the Bay Area could sort out what it wanted to do. But recently a Plan B has emerged that may even bring down the cost of the project and make it more likely to happen.

SPUR Announces November Ballot Positions

August 22, 2011 By Corey Marshall, Good Government Policy Director
The ballot for the upcoming November 2011 election has finally been set. After five measures dropped off, we’ve ended up with the shortest ballot in a mayoral election in at least 50 years. The remaining measures address some important financial topics in a difficult economy, when voters may not be in the mood to talk about money. Pension reform, bonds to pay for schools and roads, and even a sales tax increase — all on the same ballot. Times are still tough for local government, and that the city is taking on some difficult issues in spite of the state of the economy. For example, there is wide agreement that the city’s pension system requires attention; unfunded retiree healthcare liabilities totaling $4.3 billion need a payment plan; the school district needs bond funding to complete its 10-year capital renovation program; and the city’s roads desperately require investment. To a certain...

How Will 1.7 Million More People Cross the SF Bay?

August 16, 2011 By Jordan Salinger and Egon Terplan, Regional Planning Director
The San Francisco Bay Area is expected to grow by 1.7 million people in the next 25 years. SPUR has a few ideas. Our short animated film illustrates a few simple things we can do today, as well as one big idea for the future. SPUR's first forray into video animation enjoyed coverage from Fast Company and Streetsblog .

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