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Masonic Avenue study favors boulevard design, bike paths

A boulevard design that would eliminate parking and add bike lanes along a 10-block section of Masonic Avenue between Geary Boulevard and Fell Street was favored in a survey of area residents. 

The survey was conducted by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency at a Sept. 30 community meeting, the last of three community meetings about the planned redevelopment of the street. Two options were presented at the second meeting in August: A gateway option, which would consist of four lanes of traffic, bike lanes and parking on the east side of the street, with landscaped medians periodically on the way; and a boulevard option, which eliminates parking in favor of landscaped medians, two-way bike lanes and four lanes of traffic. 

The Masonic traffic calming project, also known as the Masonic Avenue Street Design Study, aims to improve the street and accommodate the needs of motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians and Muni and improve the appearance of the street, according to the Bike NOPA website.

Fix Masonic, a nonprofit group, has endorsed the boulevard option, albeit with some changes, such as repainting crosswalks, painting the 25 mph speed limit on all traffic lanes at several locations, the installation of a red-light camera at the intersection of Fell and Masonic and seeking a double-fine zone along Masonic, according to the Bike NOPA website.

The boulevard option would cost approximately $20 million and would take 12-18 months to complete, according to Streetsblog San Francisco. The gateway option would cost $15 million and take six to 12 months to complete. SFMTA project manager Javad Mirabdal said most of the funds would come from state and federal sources.

The transit agency is expected to complete a final report on the development by the end of the year. Once a design option is finalized, an environmental impact report will be done on the area before the plan goes to the SFMTA Board for public hearings and final approval. Construction might not begin until 2012.

Supervisors OK path for mayoral nomination

San Francisco is a ways away from having a new mayor, but the Board of Supervisors has agreed how that person should be chosen.

After hammering out details in Tuesday’s board meeting, the supervisors approved a process for nominating and appointing a successor to Mayor Gavin Newsom. Nominations could be accepted as soon as Dec. 7. Newsom becomes California’s lieutenant governor on Jan 3.

Supervisor Chris Daly, the author of the proposal, said the nomination process and public comment period empowers residents.

“The process maximizes the participation of and enfranchises San Franciscans,” he said. “It’s a process where an appointment of a successor mayor is more likely.”

According to city law, the president of the board becomes acting mayor when the office becomes vacant. A majority of board members decides on someone to serve the remainder of the term.

Under Daly’s proposal, a supervisor may nominate anyone (other than him or herself) at any time before the board votes. Any nominated supervisor must leave the chamber until the nomination is concluded. The board then discusses the nomination and votes until a nominee gets at least six votes. The mayor-designate is escorted back to the chamber by two board members and sworn into office.

The board is trying to expedite the process before four termed-out members — including Daly — leave office on Jan. 8, when newly elected supervisors assume their duties.

UCSF scientists report breakthrough in AIDS protection

Scientists at UCSF have reported what could be a major discovery in the fight against AIDS.

Truvada, a pill used to treat HIV infections, has turned out to be a key to protecting healthy gay men from contracting the disease, according to a global study reported by CBS San Francisco. Daily doses of Truvada helped cut the risk of infection by 44 percent when used in a regimen with condoms, counseling and other prevention services. Men who dilligently took their pills found they were protected better, up to 73 percent.

The study was conducted by Gladstone Institutes, a private foundation associated with the University of California, San Francisco, and was published in today's edition of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study followed 2,499 men in six countries — including 120 in San Francisco — with half taking Truvada and half taking a placebo, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Researchers thought the pills might give the men a false sense of security and make them less likely to use protection, but the opposite happened as risky sex declined.

Scientists are pleased with the results.

"This is a major advance," said Robert Grant, a UCSF professor and a researcher with the Gladstone Institute for Virology and Immunology and the lead investigator of the clinical trial. "It will only work if people use it consistently, and the real challenge is how do you use it consistently. Condoms are still our first line of defense, but this could potentially be a very good backup."

Since Truvada is already on the market, the Centers for Disease Control is rushing to develop guidelines for doctors using it for HIV prevention. The center is also urging people to wait until those guidelines are ready.

"It's an extremely exciting study," said Grant Colfax, director of HIV prevention at the San Francisco Department of Public Health. "The results are very promising. We need to figure out now if the groundbreaking findings in the study can be used effectively at the community level."

Target gets green light to move into Metreon

San Francisco residents who have dreamed of a Target store in the city are finally getting their wish.

Last week, the San Francisco Redevelopment agency gave the green light for Target to move into the Metreon,  on Mission and Fourth Street.

Target plans to begin construction in late spring or early summer of 2011 and open in 2012, according to a Target spokeswoman, Donna Egan.

“We are thrilled and excited to the serve the citizens of San Francisco,” said Egan. “For the longest time, San Francisco citizens have been asking for a Target store in the city.”

The 85,000-square-foot store store would be much smaller then some of its bigger stores , but will still offer some of the same products, focusing on the the needs of the city's residents.

For example, Egan said, patio furniture may not be heavily stocked, but barbecue grills may get more prominence. A fresh produce section also is in the works.

Target plans to have a pick-up service where residents who purchase large items can leave them at a pick-up window and then take delivery in a loading zone.

Target plans to hire about 250 people. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Target expects to bring in $120,000 in annual payroll taxes, a minimum of $5.4 million in annual sales taxes, and about $1 million in additional parking revenue for the nearby Fifth and Mission Street Garage.

A date has not been set for a second proposed store on Geary Boulevard and Masonic Avenue, but Target officials are continuing to work out final agreements with the city.

San Francisco, Bay Area home prices fall for first time in a year

Bay Area home prices fell in October for the first time since last year, according to a report.

Prices have fallen as unemployment and the end of certain tax incentives have made home purchases decline, according to an MDA DataQuick report

In San Francisco, prices dropped by 5.6 percent to an average of $652,000 and sales fell 21 percent, according to Bloomberg News

For the Bay Area, the median sale price of a home fell 1.8 percent from October 2009 to $383,000, marking the first year-over-year decline in 13 months, according to the San Jose Mercury News. Median prices dropped to $383,000 from $395,000 in September. Sales last month were down nearly 30 percent at 6,100 homes from average October sales of nearly 8,700 homes.

Home prices fell in seven of nine Bay Area counties, with a 15 percent drop in Napa to a median of $307,000. Solano saw a 5.4 percent price gain to $205,500 and Santa Clara County prices rose by 0.5 percent to $502,500.

Statewide, home sales fell 21 percent from last year to 32,669 in October. The median price for a home was $256,000 last month, down 3.4 percent from September with little difference from last year.

Rave music events banned at Cow Palace after deaths

A moratorium has been placed on electronic music events, commonly referred to as raves, at the Cow Palace following drug and alcohol-related incidents that led to two deaths.

The Cow Palace’s board of directors voted Tuesday to bar two events — the Subsonic Spookfest and Pop 2010: The Dream — from taking place in the arena, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Oct. 29 Subsonic Spookfest saw 17 people hospitalized, while two people who attended the Pop 2010 rave in May died of ecstasy overdoses with at least six others needing treatment.

In 2003, two people died of overdoses at a 2003 concert at the arena.

The moratorium does not have a specified length of time, but it doesn’t ban raves from being held at the arena in the future, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

Joe Barkett, chief executive officer for the arena, said the board’s decision wasn’t meant to blame promoters for the problems. He said the Cow Palace is vigilant in screening promoters.

“It wasn’t because there was inadequate security or medical staffing levels — in fact, it was just the opposite,” Barkett said. “And yet, we still had this year, contrary to prior years with these events where we did not have these problems, we still had a number of individuals out of 12,000 to 16,000 people overdose on drugs.”

The Cow Palace, located in Daly City just across Geneva Avenue from San Francisco, is owned by the state Department of Food and Agriculture.

Newsom appointees to T.I. board fast-tracked by supervisors

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors confirmed two picks by outgoing Mayor Gavin Newsom for the Treasure Island Development Authority board of directors.

Larry Del Carlo and Larry Mazzola, Jr. were confirmed 9-2, after a motion to delay the vote, by David Campos, was rejected. Supervisors Chris Daly and John Avalos voted against the confirmations.

Del Carlo, currently president and CEO of the Mission Housing Development Corporation, would replace John Rahaim and would serve until February 2013. Mazzola succeeds Owen Stephens and terms out in April 2014. Last year, the supervisors rejected Mazzola for a post on the board of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District.

Applications to the Treasure Island authority board were reviewed from October until last Monday. Residents of Treasure Island and adjoining Yerba Buena Island voiced concern for more local representation on the authority’s board. Stephens is now the only resident serving on the board.

Daly and others questioned the appointments as Newsom, who was elected as lieutenant governor earlier this month, prepares to leave office for his new post on Jan 3. Redevelopment is scheduled to begin next year.

Mayor shakes up Treasure Island development board, ousts only resident

Cable car driver stabbed in Chinatown

A cable car conductor was stabbed late Sunday afternoon in Chinatown on Mason Street near Jackson Street. Police said  a witness led them to a suspect on Himmelmann Place, where officers discovered fresh blood on a handrail of the building where they arrested George Luong, 32, in his apartment.

Luong was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder. The conductor was sent to San Francisco General Hospital where police decribed his condition as life-threatening.

"We do not know what started the incident," police spokesman Lt. Troy Dangerfield told the San Francisco Examiner.

Three of Luong's family members were also arrrested at the home for interfering with the investigation, according to police officials.

SF Public Press Social Media Editor Sarah Fidelibus reported that Muni recorded 98 assaults on operators for fiscal year 2010, and documented 45 threats on operators.

The conductor's identity and current condition remain unknown.

Downtown subway project faces money worries

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is having difficulty funding a new subway line.

The Central Subway is a $1.6 billion portion of the greater Third Street Lightrail Project. Phase one, which was completed in 2007, saw new lightrail stations and tracks in the Mission Bay and Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhoods. The proposed 1.7-mile subway line would connect the Caltrain depot at 4th and King streets to Chinatown.

The city is three months shy of a deadline to tell Federal Transportation Agency officials how it will come up with at least $137 million for the project, and possibly up to $225 million, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The federal government has committed $492 million to the project and has already delivered $72 million. 

The hunt for the money comes at a bad time for the city. Muni has been forced to cut service and raise fares. Both Congress and San Francisco government  are in transition, which may spell trouble for the project.

"We are extremely concerned that there not be any hiccups that would turn off the FTA," said Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, chairman of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, a partner with Muni on the project. "All trains need to come in on time. Nobody can risk being off track."

Various bond programs have been looked into for funding on the project. The city is hoping to secure money from two state transportation bond measures, including the high-speed rail bond because it provides funds for connecting transportation, as well as other grant and bond programs to make up the $137 million. Some $88 million has been promised by the state, but because of budget problems the money may be delayed, which would force the city to scramble to come up with extra funds.

Despite all the issues facing the project, Randy Rentschler, a spokesman for the transportation commission, said the city will see the project through to completion.

"We are fully committed to this project," Rentschler said. "We've committed money in the past, and we want to make sure this project gets built."

SF may institute tolls on drivers

Driving in San Francisco will get very expensive if a new plan is approved.

City transportation officials are considering charging drivers tolls to drive around downtown and to cross into the city from San Mateo County, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The tolls could cost drivers up to $1,560 per year.

The tolls are designed to ease congestion and raise revenue for increased bus service, pothole repairs and improvements for bikes and pedestrians.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has completed a study on three different congestion pricing options, according to ABC 7. One option would involve charging drivers $3 when coming into or out of the northeast section of the city during morning and evening peak times. A second option would charge a $6 fee only when leaving that same area during the evening commute. The last option would charge drivers $3 in both directions when crossing into the city from San Mateo County during morning and evening commute times.

After the board goes over and approves a plan, the proposal will then need to go to the state legislature for approval. It is unclear whether voters will have a say. If they do, the proposal might face a difficult time at the ballot box, as a two-thirds majority vote will be required after the passage of Proposition 26 last week, according to the San Francisco Examiner.

The earliest the tolls would go into effect would be 2015, as a six-month to one-year experiment to gauge effectiveness and public reaction.