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    A look at urban issues in the Bay Area and beyond

Big Wins, Big Questions as High-Speed Rail Moves Ahead

April 24, 2012 By Egon Terplan, Regional Planning Director
Earlier this spring, high-speed rail in California took two very significant steps. First Bay Area leaders announced a plan to electrify Caltrain, which would make it possible for Caltrain and high-speed rail to share the same tracks between San Jose and San Francisco. Second the California High-Speed Rail Authority released an updated business plan that cuts the cost of the train system by a third. While these important steps will move the project forward, there are major unresolved questions about how we will extend Caltrain to San Francisco's Transbay Transit Center and conntect the Bay Area to the high-speed rail trunk like in the Central Valley.

SF Works to Reform Its Business Tax

April 24, 2012 By Corey Marshall, Good Government Policy Director
For the last decade, businesses in San Francisco have been adamant that the city’s payroll tax is holding back job growth. First, companies must pay the tax when they reach $250,000 in payroll, which discourages new hiring. Second, they must pay it when employees exercise their stock options — a strong incentive for any company considering an IPO to leave the city. SPUR, along with much of the business community, has argued that we should restructure the city’s tax system to remove these disincentives to hiring. Following payroll tax exemptions in 2011 for stock compensation and for businesses locating in the Mid-Market neighborhood, the call for payroll tax reform has sounded again. The city is finally responding, but will this effort lead to real reform? City Controller Ben Rosenfield and Chief Economist Ted Egan have for the last three months been hard at work designing a replacement for San Francisco’s...

Rethinking Oakland's School Food Program

April 10, 2012 by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
Meals cooked from scratch. At least a quarter of the ingredients locally sourced. Fresh produce from the 1.5-acre farm adjacent to the new central kitchen. These are just a few of the goals in a new vision for Oakland’s school food program detailed in a recently released report.

Creating a Community Vision for Stockton Street

April 9, 2012 By Noah Christman, Deland Chan, Vivian Chang and Cindy Wu
The Stockton Street Enhancement Project, spearheaded by Chinatown Community Development Center (CCDC) and SPUR, brought Chinatown and SPUR stakeholders together to discuss ways to preserve the economic and cultural vitality of Stockton Street while offering opportunity areas for improvement through the next decade. The project, made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, included a walking tour and two workshops designed to address issues with the highly trafficked corridor. Stockton Street has evolved over the years to become an example of true urbanization, replete with a strong transit network, multigenerational families living in tightly knit spaces, hundreds of mom-and-pop stores and a bustling streetlife. It has a dense immigrant population and plays an important role as a regional hub for both Asian Americans and tourists from around the world. Its success lies in its strong history of grassroots organizing to protect Chinatown’s affordability, culture and urban...

SF Approves First "Neighborhood Urban Agriculture" Permit

April 5, 2012 by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
On March 9, 2012, San Francisco issued its first zoning permit for “neighborhood urban agriculture.” The change of use permit, given to Little City Gardens , allows the small urban farming business to grow produce for sale at its three-quarter-acre market garden in the Mission Terrace neighborhood. It is the first permit issued under San Francisco’s pioneering urban agriculture zoning guidelines , which Mayor Lee signed into law in April 2011. The permit is both a victory for Little City Gardens and the culmination of a multi-year effort to legalize commercial urban farming in residential neighborhoods in San Francisco. The permit, is, at its core, a simple recognition that the previously vacant lot is now being used to grow food according to basic guidelines. Securing the permit, however, was not simple. The process involved: four visits to the permitting office plan review by the Planning Department, Department of Building Inspection,...

Selling What You Cook at Home

April 3, 2012 by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
Let’s say you’ve got a great jam recipe. Or perhaps you make some mean pickles. Your friends keep telling you that you should quit your day job and follow your culinary passion. But unless you’ve got quite a bit of savings or other access to capital, following your friends’ advice is a pricey proposition. That’s because in California, you can’t sell any food prepared in a home kitchen. And access to a licensed commercial kitchen costs money — usually starting at around $30 per hour in the Bay Area. Add your ingredient and labor costs, and it becomes a decent investment to test your business idea. A proposed piece of state legislation, the California Homemade Food Act , would change all that. Called the “cottage food bill,” the legislation would allow Californians to sell certain items produced from their home kitchen. Similar to legislation already enacted in more than 30...

SPUR Announces June 2012 Ballot Positions

April 2, 2012 By Corey Marshall, Good Government Policy Director
This June’s primary election will bear little resemblance to the contentious ballot San Franciscans considered last November. Gone are the competing pension reform measures, sales taxes and bonds. We’re left with two measures, both placed on the ballot by voter petition. While the June slate may be lean, voters should take the time to fully research the measures on the ballot this spring. They’re important not just to how the city operates but also to how we choose to fund city services. Prop. A addresses how the city contracts for garbage-collection and recycling services; this measure would require the city to own all supporting facilities (it currently does not) and competitively bid the service. Prop. B limits how the Recreation and Parks Department funds Coit Tower, which could create a precedent for similar limitations at other facilities throughout the parks system. These measures could both have potentially expensive implications. After...

SPUR Honors Ed Harrington with Life Achievement Award

March 22, 2012
This year at our 32nd annual Good Government Awards, SPUR honored Ed Harrington with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his service to the City and County of San Francisco, including unparalleled fiscal leadership and managerial excellence through five mayoral administrations.

Good Government Awards: How Harlan Kelly Led the Next Generation of SF Utilities

March 22, 2012
SPUR's 32nd annual Good Government Awards , held March 19, honored City of San Francisco employees who have performed exceptionally, becoming models for other agencies and cities around the country. Harlan L. Kelly, Jr. was honored for his outstanding leadership in the delivery and implementation of the SF Public Utilities Commission’s 10-year capital improvement program for water, sewer and power, and his specific innovation on the Construction Management Information System (CMIS) to address inefficiencies in large, complex capital projects. By streamlining and coordinating tasks, and enhancing transparency and accountability with a cloud-based system, the new CMIS allows project managers throughout dispersed project areas to make faster and more informed decisions. The system has already contributed to an overall Water System Improvement Program cost savings of $167.6 million. Watch our video on Harlan’s work:

Good Government Awards: How SF’s Tax Automation Team Took the City Paperless

March 22, 2012
SPUR's 32nd annual Good Government Awards , held March 19, honored City of San Francisco employees who have performed exceptionally, becoming models for other agencies and cities around the country. The Municipal Tax Automation Team — Darrell Ascano, Tajel Shah and Rebecca Villareal-Mayer — was honored for its outstanding teamwork and achievement in upgrading the technology used to collect and process the majority of the city’s General Fund revenue. By choosing an aggressive, non-incremental approach — upgrading the entire system over eight months — the team executed a complex project that has changed the way tax information is collected and funds are received. This has resulted in increased taxpayer compliance and expense savings. Watch our video on the tax team’s work:

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