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    A look at urban issues in the Bay Area and beyond

California's Latest Experiment in Democracy: Deliberative Polling

December 19, 2011 By Corey Marshall, Good Government Policy Director
Ever the pioneer in the political process, California is once again experimenting with its democracy, this time with new approach to helping the public understand reform proposals. Conducted earlier this year, the What’s Next California Project is California’s first state-wide deliberative poll, in which a random sample of the population is polled on important public-policy issues, then gathers to discuss them and is polled again. Is this the future of polling?

Should We Change the Structure of the Bay Area’s Regional Government?

December 15, 2011 By Egon Terplan, Regional Planning Director
This is a time of significant flux in the Bay Area’s regional planning landscape. There is a serious proposal in the California State Legislature to change the way the Metropolitan Transportation Commission is governed and increasing talk about whether it and other regional agencies can play a stronger role in economic development.

The Chickens and Goats Next Door: an Oakland Snapshot

December 5, 2011 by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
Urban animal husbandry, though nothing new, is a cause for concern for many people – especially planners. Chickens, rabbits, bees and goats conjure up nightmares of odors, noises and animal cruelty. When Oakland’s planning department held a meeting to discuss changes to urban agriculture regulations, nearly 300 people showed. Like many other jurisdictions nationwide, the city is proceeding cautiously as it updates its animal regulations.

Letting San Francisco's Streets Go Both Ways

December 1, 2011 By Aaron Bialick
In San Francisco, traffic planners are reversing the outdated, 20th-century strategy of engineering downtown streets into multi-lane, one-way motorways. Last month, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) converted a one-way commercial stretch of eastern Hayes Street to a calmer two-way traffic configuration. It’s just one project in a larger move toward making streets less focused on whisking cars through town and returning them to places for walking, bicycling, efficient transit and civic life. In August, the SFMTA also converted McAllister Street for two-way traffic, and it is developing similar plans for the east end of Haight Street and several streets in the Tenderloin and SoMa districts. The paradigm of multi-lane, one-way streets dominated urban transportation planning in the United States after World War II, resulting in the widespread conversion of downtown streets into one-way thoroughfares. The sounds, smells and sense of danger from fast-moving car traffic have driven pedestrians,...

Public Utilities: Water, Power, Sewer … Food?

November 28, 2011 by Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission took two steps in support of urban agriculture at a recent meeting. The first step was making it easier for community gardeners and urban farmers to install new water hookups at their sites. Currently, the price of a new water meter installation is approximately $8,500. That high cost barrier has led many garden projects to source their water from a neighboring property rather than build their own connection with the water system, resulting in a losing situation for both gardeners and the PUC. For the gardeners, hooking into an existing water meter means they pay for water as if they were a water customer in a building. That rate includes the standard wastewater charge, even though water that irrigates a garden (and trickles into the soil) doesn’t add to the load on the wastewater and sewer system. For the PUC, any project piggy-backing on...

Inventing a New Kind of American Dream

November 21, 2011
At this year's Silver SPUR Awards Luncheon, SPUR Executive Director Gabriel Metcalf reflected on the contrasts between what he called "the totally dysfunctional state of our country right now and the remarkably functional state of our city and region." We are at a moment in history, he says, where solutions to the big problems are not coming out of Washington — they’re coming out of action at the local and regional level. Watch the speech: Find Gabriel's message inspiring? Give a year end gift to SPUR >>

New Blueprint of a City: San Jose's 2040 General Plan

November 18, 2011 by Leah Toeniskoetter, SPUR San Jose Director
In January 2012, we will launch a SPUR office in San Jose. Our San Jose Director, Leah Toeniskoetter, reports on the city's new Envision San Jose 2040 General Plan. The big idea in the plan is to create urban villages, specific areas that will provide active, walkable, bicycle-friendly, transit-oriented, mixed-use urban settings for new housing and job growth.

The 2011 Election's Real Winner? Getting Back to Basics

November 17, 2011 by Corey Marshall, Good Government Policy Director
Outside of the much-discussed mayor’s race, there were some important items on the ballot this year, and voters appear to have ignored the noise and focused on the business at hand. Here's our take on the election results, and an analysis of how SPUR's recommendations fared in the final count.

Big Plans to Fix Big Problems at Ocean Beach

November 16, 2011 by Ben Grant, Public Realm and Urban Design Program Manager
In late October, SPUR shared with the public a set of draft recommendations for the Ocean Beach Master Plan, a long-range vision for managing coastal erosion, infrastructure, access and ecology on San Francisco’s western coast. Of the six big ideas in the draft, here are two that propose the most significant — and most exciting — changes to streets, public spaces and coastal management at Ocean Beach.

What San Franciscans Need to Know About Ranked-Choice Voting

November 3, 2011 By Corey Cook, University of San Francisco
In the weeks leading up to the November 8 election, San Franciscans find themselves up to their necks in news articles (from the Chronicle , the Mercury News and even The Economist ) about our ranked-choice voting (RCV) system and how the tallying of voters’ first, second, and third preferences might affect the outcome of the mayoral election. In principle, ranked-choice voting is simple: If no candidate receives an outright majority of the first place votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and his or her votes are redistributed according to those voters’ next choice. The votes are re-tallied, the lowest vote-getter is eliminated, and so on. In what amounts to an instant run-off, this process of redistributing ballots continues until a winner is declared. As someone who studies voting systems (and spends free time poring over data from recent elections), I find the level of interest in...

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