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    A look at urban issues in the Bay Area and beyond

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 .

Hackathon! Coders and Civil Servants Unite to Fix SF

August 15, 2011 BY PETER ENZMINGER
A grown man napping on his laptop case. Daily visits from SF mayoral candidates. Keynote addresses from the Wigg Party, MIT's SENSEable Cities Lab, the Rebar Group, and the San Francisco Department of the Environment. Cold pizza after midnight. More than a hundred adults sitting around tables on the 5th floor of a Mid-Market office building on a Friday night. This is what ground zero of the open government movement looks like. From July 22 through 24, the Gray AreaFoundation for the Arts hosted Urban Innovation Weekend 2: Sustainability, Energy and Transportation, the second "hackathon" in its Summer of Smart series, sponsored by SPUR and other local organizations. The hackathons are an open casting call for ideas on how technology and digital information can help government work better. Respondents ranged in age from their 20s to mid 50s, with specialities in everything from architecture to speech software. Think Wikipedia, only...

The Lessons of Carmageddon: Could L.A. Embrace Carlessness?

August 15, 2011 By Micah Hilt
It came and it went, but Los Angeles as we know it did not come to a terrible end. Carmageddon — the 52-hour, 10-mile shutdown of the 405 freeway last month —passed quietly into history, becoming one of L.A.’s lightest traffic days ever. Angelenos stayed off the freeways; bicyclists challenged a Jetblue flight to a race — and won; people used trains and buses to get around or just stayed in their own neighborhoods. The predicted gridlock simply didn't happen. Most Southland residents are no doubt thankful nothing apocalyptic happened and ready to forget about it, possibly writing the whole thing off as hype. But could the lack of a nightmare scenario from a major freeway closure signal Angelenos' willingness to reclaim their city from the automobile? We asked ourselves what it might look like if L.A. adopted some of the solutions that SPUR regularly advocates for the Bay Area...

Market Street Poster Series Celebrates Cycling Culture

August 11, 2011 By Casey Jung
A glimpse into biking through San Francisco debuts this week on Market Street. As part of its Public Arts program , the San Francisco Arts Commission will display its second installment of the popular Market Street poster series, which puts art in select bus shelters. With the aim of providing workers, residents and visitors easy access to contemporary art, this year’s series captures the city of San Francisco from atop a bicycle. Designed by the San Francisco-based artist Ian Huebert, The Golden Spoke features six scenes from across the city that invite the public to experience the everyday joys and difficulties of riding a bike through this small but hilly city. Biking is Huebert's primary mode of transportation, and the posters convey the reality of dealing with all the city's obstacles, from fog to rain to the most infamous of hills. The posters could not be better suited to their...

Mayor Ed Lee Helps Unveil SF's First Parkmobiles

August 10, 2011 By Cole Armstrong and Micah Hilt
The Yerba Buena neighborhood already features museums, parks, an arts center and a convention center (as well as SPUR world headquarters), but starting this week there's something new to see: six new mobile parks, called “parkmobiles.” The first of their kind, the parkmobiles will be a shared resource in the community. Unlike the city's parklets, which are usually paid for by one business and stay in one location, the parkmobiles will rotate among many locations throughout the district. The project was sponsored by the Yerba Buena Community Benefits District (YBCBD), a consortium of local businesses and organizations (of which SPUR is a member), and completed with in-kind donations of materials and labor. Mayor Ed Lee helped unveil the first parkmobiles Tuesday, August 2, at the opening of SPUR’s new exhibition, Street Life | Yerba Buena : A Community Design Initiative : Street Life | Yerba Buena Opening with Ed Lee...

Did the 1966 Market Street Design Report Invent Bus Rapid Transit?

August 9, 2011 By Will Heywood
SPUR’s basement archive is a treasure trove of vintage planning reports and books. To make these documents available in digital format, we are daylighting the more interesting artifacts on our blog. Today’s find: Market Street Design Report Number 4 , published May 9, 1966. This 50-page report (which was probably considered detailed back in those days), written for the City of San Francisco by Mario J. Ciampi & Associates and John Carl Warnecke & Associates, addressed how to accommodate the anticipated rise in pedestrian, public transit, service vehicle and automobile traffic on Market Street after the completion of BART, then under construction. (Interestingly, in 1966 bike circulation was not taken into account when attempting to improve mobility on Market Street.) Just like today, the Market Street of 1966 was not living up to its potential. In fact, the report quotes then-Mayor John Shelley, who asks, “Why cannot we have a...

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