Facing cuts, nonprofits forced to lobby City Hall to save immigration program

T.J. Johnston, SF Public Press — Aug 17 2011 - 4:33pm

Year after year, private organizations strategize and line up clients to push for last-minute ‘add-backs’

For clients at Self-Help for the Elderly, the citizenship classes taught by volunteer instructor Joanne Lee are a perfect fit: Classes are held at a convenient Chinatown location, senior clientele are easily accommodated and the material is taught in both English and Chinese. It has worked out well for students Sammie Xu, 69, and Nancy Zhang, 64, Chinese immigrants who are studying for their naturalization exam. Before enrolling in classes at the social services agency, the married couple tried others in which teachers only provided instruction books without guidance or taught classes only in English.

Millions in savings unclaimed; after audits, Muni revealed $20 million excess overtime

Angela Hart, SF Public Press — Aug 15 2011 - 4:25pm

UPDATE 8/19/11: Hear reporter Angela Hart discuss her story with KQED News, a Public Press reporting partner (fast-forward to second item)

San Francisco could have saved at least $33.5 million over the last two years’ budgets if departments, commissions and contractors had acted on advice from regular audits pointing out government waste and inefficiencies. The savings, much of it coming out of transit and police employee overtime, could have reduced the need to cut some vital services this summer as local government agencies faced $380 million in projected deficits over the next year.

Some of the audits produced by a unit of the controller’s office have been implemented swiftly. Yet as many as 40 audit reports out of 70 performed since 2009 linger officially unresolved. The problem is, there’s no recourse if departments choose to ignore auditors. And after two years, the office is not required to follow up on the reports, which could explain why 14 additional audits highlighting potential savings of $700,000 were not indicated on a list produced by the controller’s office.

Game Designers Become Activists in San Francisco’s Battle Over Taxes

Katie Lewin, SF Public Press — Aug 12 2011 - 9:04pm

‘Yay Taxes’ shows where the money goes, but some conservatives call it propaganda

In San Francisco, which closed a $380 million budget deficit in July, the question of whether the city can get any more money to fund essential services in the long term is at the top of everyone’s mind. Even game developers are getting into the act — with a particular agenda.

S.F. Was Key Juncture for Chinese Immigrants

Justin Allen, The Creosote Journal — Aug 11 2011 - 4:32pm

Conversation with the author of ‘American Chinatown’

In her new book “American Chinatown,” Bonnie Tsui charts the changing landscapes of five American neighborhoods. They are ethnically Chinese, hosting other Asian communities, and often share a tough history of exclusion and poverty, tempered from the beginning with resilience and savvy self-presentation. The five Chinatowns Tsui describes — San Francisco (the oldest), New York, Los Angeles, Honolulu and Las Vegas (the newest) — have been places of constant reinvention: immigrants coming to build new lives and identities, urban neighborhoods in economic and cultural flux. Today more than ever, they’re a portrait of changing urban dynamics and intergenerational complexity. 

Mission construction revamping parks, Cesar Chavez Street

News Partner, El Tecolote — Aug 10 2011 - 4:59pm

New playgrounds to be in place by 2012

The face of the Mission District is ever-changing, and this summer was no exception, with the children’s playground at Dolores Park getting a much-needed renovation.The Mission Playground also saw improvements and Cesar Chavez Street — from Hampshire to Guerrero streets — is the site of an even more ambitious project that will change the look and use of the heavily traveled corridor.

California: Ground Zero for America’­s foreclosure crisis

News Partner, New America Media — Aug 10 2011 - 4:39pm

Pace expected to quicken in 2012 as more homeowners fall into financial distress

Ethel Gist bought her dream house and planned to retire to Antioch. Instead, the 70-year-old lost the house during the height of the foreclosure crisis, and now rents a place with her daughter and two grandchildren.

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.