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SPUR's 2011 Voter Guide Now Online

October 11, 2011 By Corey Marshall, Good Government Director
Absentee ballots will start to arrive this week, which means it's time for the annual SPUR Voter Guide, our in-depth analysis of all local San Francisco ballot propositions. With only eight measures on the docket, this is a short ballot for our fine city — but it's certainly not short on substance. Voters will weigh in on dueling pension reform plans, bonds for schools and roads, and even a sales tax increase. These measures place billions of dollars at stake, making it more important than ever for San Francisco voters to know the details. Get out and vote on November 8, but first arm yourself with our in-depth analysis. Download the SPUR 2011 Voter Guide >> Brought to you by SPUR. We pore over the mind-numbing details so you don't have to. Support SPUR today >>

Why the MTC's Toll Lane Plan Won't Meet the Goals of Road Pricing

September 27, 2011 By Aaron Bialick
The Bay Area has a lot to gain from pricing its freeways. Two of the major benefits are money for transit and less highway congestion. High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes are a miniature form of road pricing, offering solo drivers the option to buy their way into High-Occupancy Vehicle lanes and bypass the congested, more heavily-subsidized highway lanes. In 2008, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) proposed a plan to expand the region’s network of HOT lanes to 800 miles by 2035. This week , the agency is expected to approve a new plan for submission to the California Transportation Commission (CTC), but it would be scaled back significantly to 570 miles and would fall short of achieving the benefits of road pricing on several levels: Much of the planned network will expand highway lanes rather than converting existing ones to use them more efficiently. SPUR’s analysis shows that this will increase...

A Vision for New Greenspace in Southeastern SF

September 14, 2011 by Gretchen Hilyard
SPUR’s 2011 Piero N. Patri Fellow, Sarah Moos, spent this summer studying San Francisco's unmaintained and underused rights-of-way. The resulting project, Unaccepted Streets: From Paper to Reality, proposes to transform some of San Francisco's overlooked spaces into a network of public pathways that would better link local communities to open spaces and to each other.

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...

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