Issue 546 October 2015

Introducing Alicia John-Baptiste, SPUR’s New Deputy Director

Urbanist Article October 19, 2015

SPUR is pleased to announce Alicia John-Baptiste as its new deputy director. Having held positions as chief of staff of the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency (2012-2015) and of the San Francisco Planning Department (2005- 2012), she comes to SPUR with a wealth of experience and understanding about just what makes a city run. 

John-Baptiste first became interested in cities when she started working for the City of San Francisco in 1999. Her first job for the city? Responding to complaint letters submitted to Muni.

Few tasks could have led to a better understanding of the impact of disinvestment in public infrastructure. That first job led her to various roles in public administration given her desire to fix the structural problems that city staff faced in delivering services like Muni. “For me,” John-Baptiste explains, “The backdrop to this was my belief that public transit was — and is — essential to people’s quality of life and the ability of a city to function and to retain a socioeconomically diverse population." 

John-Baptiste joined San Francisco’s planning department in 2005, just as the city was emerging from the dot-com bust, when none of its area plans had yet been adopted. “It was a different era in that the focus was on shaping where growth would occur and ensuring that certain types of services were safeguarded but in many ways I think the challenges then were the same as today, just a bit more theoretical. Then and now, I think the core challenge is figuring out how to allow a city to grow and evolve without losing the diversity of its civic fabric.” 

In 2012, she became chief of staff of the SFMTA. While there, she led a number of major initiatives including Transportation 2030, a task force co-chaired by SPUR. The task force convened over 40 civic leaders to consider what needed to be done to make San Francisco’s transportation system work well today and in the future, especially in light of the tremendous growth San Francisco is experiencing. The task force identified a need to invest $10 billion in San Francisco’s transportation system between 2015 and 2030 and recommended four funding measures requiring voter approval to raise $3 billion of those needed funds. John-Baptiste led the staff team that developed the $500 million 2014 Transportation and Road Improvement General Obligation Bond (which was approved by the voters last November). 

“That experience was incredibly gratifying,” she recalls, “in part because it represented real change to the structural underfunding of transportation infrastructure, and in part because it was my opportunity to finally address in a significant way the results of underinvestment that I’d seen back in 1999 when I was responding to complaint letters.” 

After 16 years working for the City of San Francisco, John-Baptiste comes to SPUR with a deep understanding of what it takes to make change; she also has a deep understanding for the importance of planning at both the local and regional scale. “I live in Oakland and work in San Francisco, so I experience on a daily basis how those two environments are different yet intrinsically connected. SPUR’s understanding that regional policy is de facto being created at the local level really speaks to me. I’m very interested in leveraging SPUR’s strengths so that there is coherence, vision and structure to regional policymaking and implementation.” 

“I’ve always been something of a do-er,” she continues. “And I’m particularly keen to see SPUR’s policy work implemented at the local level more comprehensively. SPUR has a deep understanding of urban issues and does amazing work developing policy; I hope that my contribution will be in building capacity to routinely see that work realized on the ground.”

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