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San Francisco Plan Would Earthquake-Proof Thousands of Soft-Story Buildings by 2020

Noah Arroyo, SF Public Press — Feb 1 2013 - 4:41pm

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is planning to take up a proposal to force owners of soft-story buildings to retrofit them by 2020, said a city official in charge of earthquake safety. Supervisors Scott Wiener and David Chiu plan to sponsor the ordinance and other supervisors might co-sponsor it by Tuesday. The legislation would apply only to wood-frame buildings built before 1978, with at least three stories. Unlike previous proposals, the new law would come without direct financial aid from the city. Financing questions, one official said, were “a major reason for the delay.”

Homeless People of San Francisco Speak Out

T.J. Johnston, SF Public Press — Jan 28 2013 - 1:10pm

The San Francisco Public Press interviewed people living in the city without housing as they gathered at the Mission Resource Center and the S.F. Night Ministry open cathedral Sunday service at United Nations Plaza. They shared their experiences about lacking a permanent place to live.

As Long Lines Form Daily Outside Homeless Shelters, City to Eject Disorderly Clients

T.J. Johnston, SF Public Press — Jan 25 2013 - 11:23am

Frequent calls to the police to respond to disturbances outside a South of Market homeless shelter have prompted the city to crack down on misbehavior and make it easier for shelters to summarily reject clients seeking a bed. Practically every day at the Multi-Service Center South shelter, the police are called to break up a fight or quell acts of violence. But the problem isn’t just inside the shelter. Homeless activists say the long lines people must wait in for hours makes the space outside the building a conflict zone.

Tech Boom Will Spin Off Thousands of S.F. Jobs: Q&A With Supervisor David Chiu

Aaron Tilley, SF Public Press — Jan 23 2013 - 4:53pm

When it comes to jobs, San Francisco Board of Supervisors President David Chiu is putting his political stock in high tech. Until he and Mayor Ed Lee teamed up to keep Twitter and other information companies in the city, he said, “San Francisco was the least inviting city for tech innovation.”

San Francisco’s Most Urgently Needed Retrofits

Noah Arroyo, SF Public Press — Jan 22 2013 - 1:43pm

There are three types of construction in San Francisco that pose hazards to occupants during a major earthquake. Here is a composite look at the present state of efforts to correct the problem around the city.

Potentially Earthquake-Unsafe Residential Buildings — a (Very Rough) List

Noah Arroyo, SF Public Press — Jan 14 2013 - 1:51pm

This story appeared in the Winter 2012-2013 print edition of the San Francisco Public Press.

San Francisco’s Department of Building Inspection has kept a preliminary list of potentially dangerous soft-story buildings since 2009, but inspectors say it has not been verified by actual building inspections, and was never intended for public consumption. Some of the addresses the city generated might be wrong. The Public Press is publishing the list so that residents who might possibly be at risk in their homes can participate in the debate over how best to retrofit thousands of properties in coming years.

No One Wants to Go First: S.F.'s Retrofit Timeline

Noah Arroyo, SF Public Press — Jan 10 2013 - 12:08pm

This story appeared in the Winter 2012-2013 print edition of the San Francisco Public Press.

A plan to require seismic retrofits on as many as 3,000 “soft-story” buildings in San Francisco can’t be executed all at once, experts say, because there aren’t enough engineers and contractors who know how to do the work. So city officials are developing a system of triage: Deal with the most dangerous buildings with the most people in them first. 

Earthquake Retrofit Delays Leave Thousands at Risk

Noah Arroyo and Barbara Grady, SF Public Press — Jan 7 2013 - 6:38pm

It will take at least 7 years to secure older wood buildings dangerously perched above windows or garages

This story appeared in the Winter 2012-2013 print edition of the San Francisco Public Press.

One in 14 San Franciscans lives in an old building with a first floor that city inspectors say could be vulnerable to collapse if not retrofitted soon to withstand a major earthquake.While officials have had a preliminary list of nearly 3,000 suspect properties for more than three years, they have not told landlords, leaving the estimated 58,000 residents who live there ignorant that their buildings could be unstable.

Dirtytech: They Obsessively Sort and Recycle What You Dump

Hannah Miller, SF Public Press — Dec 20 2012 - 12:54pm

If you think of Recology as a set of blue, green and black bins that hang out in the alley of your house that you roll out to the curb weekly — you have no idea. Over the last 10 years, what San Franciscans have been thinking of “garbage collection” has been transformed into something vastly different and much more industrial. Last month the 91-year-old worker-owned company announced that 80 percent of what San Franciscans put in the bins is going somewhere other than the landfill, a vast improvement on the 34 percent national average. The 650 tons a day of recyclables hauled by Recology is divided up almost entirely by hand, by a vast army of sorters.

'Homeless Bill of Rights' Seeks Legal Protections for Those on the Streets

Dec 12 2012 - 5:32pm

A new push for a statewide “Homeless Bill of Rights” could lead to free legal representation for anyone citied under laws such as San Francisco’s sit-lie law or anti-panhandling ordinance.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, introduced Assembly Bill 5, as a response to what he said was a national trend of enforcing laws on public behaviors related to homelessness.

If it becomes law, California’s homeless residents would have the same anti-discrimination protections for their housing status as others do for race, sexual orientation and other personal characteristics.

“We need to stop criminalizing the behavior of people who have nowhere else to turn,” Ammiano said. “People who are in need of mental health services or who have lost jobs and their homes are being told, ‘Move along or go to jail.’”

The bill would bar discriminating against homeless people while they seek or maintain tax-funded benefits. It also asserts a right to be in public places, personal property, use of public facilities, confidentiality of medical records and legal representation in low-level criminal proceedings — infractions, as opposed to misdemeanors. Rhode Island enacted a similar law in June.

But the thrust of the state legislation is to challenge local ordinances making infractions of sitting on sidewalks or loitering, which allies of homeless people say are disproportionately enforced on low-income people.

Failing to appear in court to answer charges can lead to jail time. The bill, said Ammiano spokesman Carlos Alcala, intends to prevent scenarios similar to Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables,” in which a stolen loaf of bread leads to years in jail.

“That’s the sort of thing people are sent for 19 years for, and are turned into criminals for doing so,” Alcala said.

The right to legal counsel would extend to homeless people in any judicial proceeding. The cost of legal counsel for these purposes is not specified in the bill.

Director Paul Boden of the San Francisco-based Western Regional Advocacy Project homeless lobbying group, said laws that penalize poverty-related acts were preceded by those that targeted groups ranging from disabled people to Dust Bowl migrants in the 1930s.

“From the ‘ugly laws’ of the mid-19th century — which made it a crime to have a visible disability in public — through the anti-Okie law of the Great Depression — which made it a crime for poor people to enter the state — and up through the present, state and local governments have used unjust laws to punish or conceal poor people,” he said.

The group surveyed more than 800 homeless people throughout the U.S. and found that three-fourths have been stopped by police for sleeping, sitting or loitering outdoors. Half said the appearance of homelessness prompted contact with law enforcement.

A Public Press analysis earlier this year found that over a five-year period police issued almost 40,000 tickets to homeless people for a host of low-level offenses.

Such priorities should switch from policing to helping people leave homelessness, said Colleen Rivecca, policy and advocacy coordinator of Homeless Youth Alliance, an organization in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood serving clients in their teens and 20s.

“Especially in the Haight, we have seen laws that are supposed to apply equally to everyone be selectively enforced against homeless people,” she said. “We need to shift our focus from enforcing laws that are meant to prohibit the existence of homeless people to proactive policies that can build a foundation for the safety and well-being of the most vulnerable members of our community.”

But Supervisor Scott Wiener, who represents the Castro and parts of the Mission, is against the bill. Earlier this year, the board passed Wiener’s ordinance expanding a camping ban to two plazas in his district. The proposed state law could override such efforts.

“I don’t support this effort to undermine local laws that prevent public spaces from becoming homeless encampments,” he wrote in a Facebook posting. “Public spaces are for everyone, and it doesn’t build great neighborhoods to allow people to turn those public spaces into sleeping quarters.”

The bill is expected to have its first hearing in the Capitol in March.

San Francisco to Pilot Participatory Budgeting

T.J. Johnston, Public Press — Dec 10 2012 - 5:11pm

Residents in San Francisco’s northeastern corner will soon get a say in how a small piece of San Francisco’s budget is spent improving their neighborhood. Supervisor David Chiu announced last week that residents of District 3, which includes North Beach, Chinatown and part of the Financial District, could vote on how to spend $100,000 in discretionary funds. It’s part of a civic innovation called participatory budgeting, with the money earmarked for one-time community projects.

A Central Subway North Beach Station? Not So Easy, Planners Say

Jerold Chinn, SF Public Press — Dec 6 2012 - 2:44pm

A proposal to pull out tunnel-digging machines in North Beach has spurred debate about the prospect of building additional stations to extend the Central Subway project north of Chinatown. But transit officials say that’s not in the current plans, and such a move would take years more planning.

Tuition Refund Will Net CSU Students $250, but Set System Back $132 Million

Lissette Alvarez, SF Public Press — Nov 28 2012 - 12:44pm

A tuition refund of $249 or more per semester that the California State University system is planning to give most full-time students will be a godsend for thousands feeling financially pinched in their academic pursuits. But the move will also reduce tuition revenues into the system by about 3 percent this school year.

How the Profits Upkeep Commission Helps PG&E Pick Your Pocket

David Cay Johnston, Special to SF Public Press — Nov 26 2012 - 1:34pm

The next time you pass a power pole consider this: Pacific Gas & Electric expects that pole to be there until the year 2357 and perhaps until 2785. The average PG&E pole has just nine years of useful life left, according to PG&E’s sworn testimony asking for more money to speed pole replacement. It got money through rate hikes to replace poles on a 50-year cycle, but it has been replacing them on a 346 to 778 year cycle while, by PG&E’s own testimony, diverting that money to other purposes.

Muni May Use Extra Funds on Fast Passes for Low-Income Youth, Maintenance

Jerold Chinn, SF Public Press — Nov 19 2012 - 4:28pm

San Francisco transit director Ed Reiskin wants to use $6.7 million in extra regional transportation funds for a 12-month pilot program to hand out free Fast Passes to the city's low-income youth and to rehabilitate light-rail vehicles.

Food Bank Looks to Make Up Loss of Federal Funds

Lissette Alvarez, SF Public Press — Nov 16 2012 - 5:18pm

Federal food aid cutbacks have forced the San Francisco Food Bank to seek additional cash donations after it failed for a second straight year to receive money from the Emergency Food and Shelter Program.

With California Carbon Cap-and-Trade Program Launch, Experts Debate Economic Side Effects

Barbara Grady, SF Public Press — Nov 15 2012 - 4:56pm

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, California’s potentially revolutionary carbon cap-and-trade program launched in a humdrum fashion. Numbers began appearing on a secure Web site accessible to the biggest oil exploration companies, manufacturers, utilities, state regulators and independent monitors. No one outside of this select group got to see its inner workings. But the event marked a new phase in the state’s pioneering effort to halt climate change: actual dollars traded for permits to emit carbon dioxide.

Alexandria Theater Site Could Get New Life

Jerold Chinn, SF Public Press — Nov 12 2012 - 5:02pm

The dilapidated Alexandria Theater might actually get renovated by early next year, saving at least the facade of the Richmond District landmark. But the new building would not look much its predecessor on the inside, with entertainment giving way to needed housing and retail.

City College Still Risks Losing Accreditation Even After Local, State Measures Pass

Nov 7 2012 - 6:52pm

The passage of local and state education measures Tuesday added $11 million to the budget of City College of San Francisco for next year.

But the school still faces a loss of accreditation if it fails to balance its budget responsibly.

The school now must confront a $15 million budget gap, and according to state Proposition 30, also needs to meet an enrollment target. That’s going to be particularly hard, given the demand from the outside accreditation team that City College slash unusually high salaries and benefits.

Other instructions from the Accreditation Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, and from the state’s Fiscal Crisis Management Assistance Team, include improvements in governance, student learning outcomes and fiscal management.

City College’s Board of Trustees also plan to collect more student fees, revise policies and administrative structures and close of one of its child care facilities.

Thelma Scott-Skillman, Interim Chancellor at City College, said that in the last six months the school has taken “significant steps” toward naming a special trustee to help guide the enormously time-consuming task of restoring financial stability to a vast institution with more than 90,000 enrolled students.

Now that Proposition 30 passed, City College’s Board of Trustees can breathe something of a sigh of relief. It can now operate under the $186 million budget it already adopted for 2012-2013. But in order to receive the proposition’s funding — from a combination of higher taxes on the wealthy and sales tax — City College must meet the “base enrollment target” of 34,000 full-time equivalent students.

If the school does not meet this requirement, the college will lose a significant portion of funding. 

Proposition 30 does not alleviate most of the college’s need for continued fiscal and structural reform, said Larry Kamer, a spokesman for City College.

Kamer said City College still needs to resolve  its unsustainable spending patterns to satisfy the accreditors, and that means finding a long-term solution for its annual $15 million budget gap.

Scott-Skillman said another core spending challenge is employee compensation and benefits. Both the accreditation and fiscal crisis teams said the school could no longer spend 92 percent of its revenues on salaries and benefits. The accreditation team recommended reducing that level to no more than 80 percent.

Local Proposition A, another measure focusing on funding education, will provide $14 million to the college for the next eight years. The money starts flowing in fiscal year 2013-2014. 

Kamer pointed out that these propositions would not, by themselves, keep City College from going bankrupt

Ethnic Voters Bolster Democratic Edge in State, Poll Finds

Lissette Alvarez, SF Public Press — Nov 4 2012 - 12:56pm

California is reliably “blue” — Barack Obama carried the state by 23 points in the last election — largely because of the rise of ethnic voters, a new survey by the Field Poll found. “This hasn’t always been the case,” said the poll’s director, Mark DiCamillo. Republicans won seven of the nine elections between World War II and 1982, when the state became solidly Democratic in federal elections. “The main reason for it is because of the growth of ethnic population.”