San Francisco ponders participatory budgeting

Michael Levitin, SF Public Press — Aug 10 2011 - 2:21pm

Can process designed to engage community result in smarter spending?

This story appeared in the fall print edition and was part of the Building a Better Budget package of stories.

When Mayor Ed Lee ventured across San Francisco’s 11 districts this spring talking with residents about what to cut and what to save from the budget, he won praise for opening what some called a new era in fiscal discourse: giving people a more direct say about where their money is spent. But what if, rather than the mayor in the driver’s seat, it was the community itself that presented, weighed and voted on district budgets?

US will recover from home loan disaster: Bank of America’s Barbara Desoer

Rick Jurgens, SF Public Press — Aug 5 2011 - 2:27pm

The market slump that vaporized $6 trillion of homeowners’ equity, and left one in four owing more on their mortgage than their house was worth, will continue through 2012. But this too shall pass, said Barbara Desoer, president of Bank of America’s home loans unit, at the Commonwealth Club Thursday. “We have weathered, and we have overcome, cycles like this before,” she said. The calm atmosphere of the talk contrasted with the turmoil that has roiled housing markets in the Bay Area, and throughout California and the nation, since 2007.

N-Judah rush hour express bus service trimming trip times, overcrowding

Jerold Chinn, SF Public Press — Aug 1 2011 - 2:40pm

The apparent success of Muni's Nx-Judah express bus service could offer hope to riders on other crowded streetcar lines. Municipal Transportation Agency spokesman Paul Rose said other express buses could be possible, but the agency will look at community needs before adding buses to other lines. For now, riders seem to be enjoying the added service to the N-Judah line. Ridership on the express bus, which started in June, has grown from 938 passengers to 1,282 a day during the first four weeks, according to the transit agency. Muni projected an average daily ridership of 1,000 to 1,500 passengers. Riders have asked Muni to extend the hours during the evening and to add express buses for other rail lines.

Challenges await new Muni chief Ed Reiskin

Jerold Chinn, SF Public Press — Jul 21 2011 - 5:01pm

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board of directors announced Thursday that the Department of Public Works Director Ed Reiskin will become the next agency’s executive director. Reiskin arrives at a crucial time in the agency where Muni’s on-time performance fell slightly to 71 percent and the relationship between the agency and its drivers is increasingly strained. 

War of words over Fair Shelter Initiative

T.J. Johnston, SF Public Press — Jul 20 2011 - 8:47am

From the moment a measure to amend San Francisco’s Care Not Cash law was placed on the November ballot last month, the proposition has come under fire from politicians. Now the proposal has become a hot issue in the lead-up to this fall's mayoral race. The measure, known as the Fair Shelter Initiative, alters the definition of housing for administering county welfare benefits. Specifically, it would remove beds at city-funded homeless shelters from the definition of "housing." 

San Francisco catches on to bulk solar purchasing by using Groupon model

Alex Zielinski, Way Out West — Jul 18 2011 - 4:48pm

In an effort to boost the city’s solar energy use, San Francisco officials have launched a pioneering program keying in on a simple model: group discounts.

Solar@Work, developed by the city’s Department of the Environment and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, encourages commercial business owners to join together to create one solar purchasing group. The larger the group, the cheaper each owner’s cost. 

San Francisco shifting tree care onto property owners

Alex Zielinski, Way Out West — Jul 14 2011 - 12:43pm

Mayor Ed Lee recently produced a budget package for the new fiscal year that cut $300,000 from the already tight street tree care allowance. The proposal would shift the city’s responsibility for 24,000 trees in front of private property onto the property owners over the next seven years.

They would have to hire arborists to keep their trees healthy and pruned, an expense that can run up to $400 per visit. Property owners who neglect their new duties face city fines reaching $500 per citation. The city would keep maintaining trees on public property.

Global warming urban landscapes too real for U.S. officials

Eric Klein and Justin Beck, ”Radio Chronicles” on KPFA — Jul 11 2011 - 6:56pm

RADIO DOCUMENTARY / SLIDESHOW: Artist Anthony Holdsworth, who painted a series of urban landscapes that depicted a future San Francisco flooded by rising seas, was invited to show his work last year inside the new “green” San Francisco Federal Building at Seventh and Mission streets. But before the opening reception, the show was ordered taken down. He said the image in one of his paintings, of oil burning on a flooded sidewalk in front of the building was too similar to the news footage of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for federal authorities to bear. Undeterred, Holdsworth is mounting a new art show at the cafe at SFMOMA.

Supervisor wants to see results of new Muni contract

Jerold Chinn, SF Public Press — Jul 1 2011 - 3:48pm

 An arbitrator-imposed labor contract for the city's Muni operators went into effect on Friday and is expected to save the city $41 million over the next three years. City Supervisor Scott Weiner wants the transit agency to show where those savings are coming from.

Weiner introduced a resolution at Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting calling upon the transit agency's governing board to give periodic updates on how the agency is saving money from the deal.

Microfinance comes under intense scrutiny for high interest rates, profits

Ambika Kandasamy, SF Public Press — Jun 15 2011 - 10:46am

LENDING: Bay Area firms call for greater transparency and education in small-scale loan sector

A spate of suicides and scandals that rocked the microfinance community in South Asia has prompted Bay Area-based microfinance groups to join a growing movement calling for better transparency and education involving small loan distributions.  Kristin Houk, president of San Francisco microcredit group NamasteDirect, said her organization is well aware of the negative press and scrutiny surrounding the microcredit industry. “Unfortunately, there’s a lot of money to be made in microfinance because interest rates can be quite high,” she said, “so people often see it as an opportunity to get in the game.”

New San Francisco biodiversity push could come too late for golf course critters

Erica Reder, SF Public Press — Jun 14 2011 - 10:00am

Public debate about the plight of protected species on a San Francisco-owned golf course in Pacifica has refocused attention on the city’s commitment to safeguarding natural diversity. In late May, the San Francisco Department of the Environment adopted its first biodiversity plan, which would make it city policy to protect rare plants and animals. The idea that San Francisco could do more to protect biodiversity is gaining momentum among city officials, a movement that could change debates on land use. A proposal that Supervisor John Avalos floated last month would turn the Sharp Park golf course over to the National Park Service. His plan was a reaction to environmentalists’ sustained push to aid federally protected species that live there, the San Francisco garter snake and the California red-legged frog.

Mayor: Social services agencies must plan for years of cuts

Kevin Stark, SF Public Press — Jun 10 2011 - 1:46pm

City Budget: Lee recommends 5-year planning for nonprofits

In a clear departure from his predecessor, Ed Lee, the city’s caretaker mayor, stumped across San Francisco’s 11 districts this spring criticizing ingrained budget balancing techniques as “an incredible act of disrespect.” His big new idea: to encourage nonprofit service agencies to plan their budgets on five-year cycles rather than groping year by year for funds to keep their doors open. That would go hand in hand with the city’s first ever five-year plan, released May 3, which projected a whopping $828 million shortfall five years from now.

Muni to start express bus to ease crowding on N-Judah

Jerold Chinn, Jun 9 2011 - 11:19am

Muni N-Judah streetcar riders may soon get some relief during their packed morning and evening commute home. A six-month pilot project to run an express bus between Ocean Beach and the Financial District will begin on Monday. With 38,000 daily boardings, the Municipal Transportation Agency says the N-Judah is the most used and crowded of all the rail lines. Complaints have been coming in to the transit agency from passengers who are not able to board the N-Judah during peak hours, according to the agency. The six-month pilot project will operate on weekdays during peak morning and evening hours making stops between Ocean Beach and 19th Avenue and Judah Street in the morning before heading to Montgomery and Bush streets.

‘Bliss’ sculpture, a Burning Man icon, returns to Treasure Island birthplace

Monica Jensen, SF Public Press — Jun 8 2011 - 12:27pm

 Marco Cochrane began production of his sculpture, Bliss Dance, on Treasure Island, starting with a foot-tall prototype. The 40-foot-tall structure took over a year to complete and was unveiled for the first time at Burning Man 2010 in Black Rock City. Cochrane used two geodesic layers to build the 7,000 pound sculpture. It has been returned it to Treasure Island where it is currently on display until at least October.

City gave up $3.5 million in community benefits before passing Twitter tax deal

Nina Frazier, SF Public Press — Jun 7 2011 - 12:17pm

The April tax break for social media giant Twitter was supposed to include sweeteners to help community organizations, small businesses and the arts in the blighted mid-Market neighborhood. But just before the Board of Supervisors approved a tax exemption, which is projected to save Twitter $70 million, it abandoned a draft community benefits agreement worth at least $3.5 million, plus 1 percent of the company’s pre-tax income and myriad other community service projects. These included improvements to public parks, the opening of a neighborhood grocery store, a local hiring provision and free Wi-Fi for neighbors, the Public Press has learned. The board now has a chance to retroactively approve a committee to come up with such an agreement, but neighborhood activists say the city is in a worse bargaining position now that Twitter has its tax break.

 

Harder to Chronicle: fewer reporters cover more territory as Hearst, Media News reduce coverage overlap

Angela Hart, SF Public Press — Jun 2 2011 - 12:02pm

BYGONE BUREAUS: 8 of 9 local offices of the San Francisco Chronicle shuttered in last decade

This story appeared in the spring print edition as part of the Public Press’ media package of stories.

The days of the major daily newspapers in the Bay Area battling on each others’ home turf for domination is over, as consolidation and staff reductions forced them to slash bureaus and zoned editions. The San Francisco Chronicle, which a decade ago had nine news bureaus scattered across the entire Bay Area,  now just has one, in Oakland. And in San Mateo County, where the pressroom used to be packed with reporters from radio, TV and newspapers, most days there is only a single reporter from a regional wire service.

Story of a survivor: coastal paper maintains civic coverage despite cuts

Tom Honig, SF Public Press — Jun 2 2011 - 11:31am

This article appeared in the spring print edition as part of the Public Press’ media package of stories.  

When the Santa Cruz Sentinel was sold by Ottaway Newspapers to the ever-expanding MediaNews Group, editor Tom Honig didn’t like what he was seeing. The printing plant was shuttered, layoffs were orders and the newspaper moved out of Santa Cruz itself to nearby Scotts Valley. He made himself one of the layoff victims. But looking back, he now sees that civic journalism has survived thanks to the hard work of the smaller staff.

Editors’ note: reporting on ourselves

Editors, SF Public Press — May 31 2011 - 5:52pm

ON THE MEDIA REPORTING PROJECT: Traditionally, news organizations have drawn clear distinctions between opinion and factual reporting. And in the event of even the appearance of a conflict of interest, the reporter is reassigned. The problem is, the media are powerful. What journalists write and say can make the difference in clarifying complex public policies, helping consumers make wise decisions and preventing social and even criminal injustice. The Public Press commissioned a team of experienced journalists to report — and in some cases reflect on — the rapidly changing media landscape. All have conflicts of interest in that they make their living, as best they can, in what remains of the news industry. Nonetheless, we thought that this was an important story to tell.

I.F. Stone’s radical idea

Michael Levitin, SF Public Press — May 26 2011 - 1:00pm

ESSAY: He believed that solid reporting could overcome the financial turmoil that plagued newspapers

In January of 1953, writing in the first edition of I.F. Stone’s Weekly, the Washington investigative journalist Isadore Feinstein — universally known as I.F. Stone — declared: “This weekly represents an attempt to keep alive through a difficult period the kind of independent radical journalism represented in various ways by PM, the New York Star and the Daily Compass,” three esteemed publications that for financial reasons had recently shut down. “This new enterprise,” he wrote, “embodies the hope that by beginning on a rock-bottom basis it will prove possible to survive and expand. The bald economics of daily newspaper publishing is enough to make the stoutest heart quail.” And for 19 years, week after week, Stone delivered audiences across North America and around the world a four-page newspaper pumped with meticulously documented research and witty analyses on the thorniest political subjects of his time, from McCarthyism to Vietnam. Nobody has rivaled his effort since.

New survey reveals age and number of new homeless rising in SF

T.J. Johnston, SF Public Press — May 25 2011 - 5:34pm

The biannual study of San Francisco's homeless population showed that while the amount of shelter dwellers actually dropped, the number of people aged 50 or greater nearly doubled and the percentage of people experiencing their first homeless episode grew by 8 percent.