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    A look at urban issues in the Bay Area and beyond

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...

SPUR San Jose Takes to the Streets on Two Wheels

September 4, 2012
A cadre of 45 urbanists gathered downtown on a recent Sunday morning to join SPUR San Jose Director Leah Toeniskoetter for a bike tour. Beginning in the urban plaza fronting Philz Coffee, our mighty bike train easily navigated its way along the brand new buffered bike lanes of Third Street, en route to Japantown. A project of the City of San Jose, the extra-wide bike lanes are a product of recent “road diets” on certain streets, where three lanes of auto traffic were reduced to two in order to add the buffered bike lane. The new lanes easily accommodated the group as it cruised past St. James Park and through the Historic Hensley District , known for having the highest concentration of Victorian homes in the city’s central core. San Jose Director of Transportation Hans Larsen noted that the district really came to life in 2005 when road diets were...

California's Water Wars: Three Decades, Same Issues

September 4, 2012 By Michael S. McGill*
California water policy is endlessly fascinating. It addresses the single most important resource problem facing the state. It is complex. And it changes with glacial slowness. This year, San Franciscans face two issues that reprise what occurred three decades ago: What should the city do regarding the long-term fate of the Tuolumne River? And what should the state do about moving fresh water through the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta for shipment to the south? Indeed, these two issues were the first water policy questions SPUR ever addressed. In 1982, the Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission were proposing to build three dams and two powerhouses along the 20-mile stretch of the Tuolumne River between O’Shaughnessy Dam and New Don Pedro Reservoir. Also in 1982, Governor Jerry Brown was proposing to build a Peripheral Canal around the delta to move Sacramento River water directly to the...

Top SPUR Priorities Head to the Ballot

August 23, 2012 By 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...

Recycled Water Study Shows SF Will Still Need Hetch Hetchy

August 23, 2012 By 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...

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