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A farm blossoms in Hayes Valley where a freeway once cast a dominating shadow

Angela Hart, SF Public Press — Dec 27 2010 - 11:24am

Neighborhood rallies to site of collapsed freeway two decades after Loma Prieta earthquake

In 1990, Madeline Behrens-Brigham and Russell Pritchard opened art boutiques in a crime-ridden section of Hayes Valley. They called their part of the neighborhood, from Laguna Street to Market Street, the “Tenderloin of the ’90s.” “It was only 20 years ago that you’d drive down Octavia Boulevard and on all corners it was prostitutes everywhere, like the Tenderloin is now,” Pritchard said. The self-proclaimed neighborhood activists were barely making rent. They began attending meetings between Caltrans and city officials, petitioning to get the Central Freeway taken down. The double-deck structure had crumbled in the October 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and laid fallow for two years.

Former women prisoners face longer odds staying out after aid programs slashed

Mineko Brand, SF Public Press — Dec 24 2010 - 4:36pm

Rehabilitation taking backseat to punishment

By the time Sunshine Schmidt was 19, her rebellious streak led her to prison in Wisconsin for violating probation on a forgery charge. But it was just the beginning of her troubled young adulthood. As she tells it, the uncaring reaction from a criminal justice system on autopilot put her back in prison for minor violations, only driving her further into the life of small-time crime as she racked up drug and theft-related charges. “Every time, I was released back into homelessness or an abusive partner,” she said. “I didn’t have the resources or tools to get back on my feet.” It was only three years ago, after leaving a California prison at age 27, that Schmidt was able to pursue legitimate jobs and an education. After living in transitional housing, she became a client of Way-Pass, a City College of San Francisco-based nonprofit organization that helps female ex-prison inmates adjust to everyday life.

Fund to boost Mid-Market Street cultural district has money but few takers

Ambika Kandasamy, SF Public Press — Dec 22 2010 - 9:54am

Small arts groups can’t come up with capital to lease property

An $11 million city fund to create a mid-Market Street cultural district so far has yielded one government loan—to a restaurant—while dozens of small performing arts groups cannot take advantage of the program because of their limited financial resources. Mayor Gavin Newsom announced the Central Market Cultural District Loan Fund in January as a way to support and concentrate arts groups to bring life back to the city’s long-depressed central corridor. Mid-Market stretches from Fifth to 10th streets on Market Street and from Mason to Larkin streets and up to O’Farrell Street in the Tenderloin, according to the city loan guidelines.

New ‘Distress Index’ shows San Francisco’s economic pain is getting worse

Nina Martin, New America Media — Dec 20 2010 - 10:00am

New tool finds that recession started earlier in Bay Area

Some economists and business groups say the Great Recession is over, but how do communities really know whether they're moving out of the recession or falling behind?

A ground-breaking new tool that measures the real-world impact of the recession is providing answers. It shows that in San Francisco, at least, the worst downturn in 70 years isn’t just continuing — it may be getting worse.

The new San Francisco Distress Index, which assembles 11 types of monthly economic indicators such as foreclosure rates and food pantry visits, has risen 11 percent since June 2009 — the month when, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the U.S. recession supposedly bottomed out.

Bike sharing technologies on display in San Francisco

Jerold Chinn, Shareable.net/SF Public Press — Dec 17 2010 - 4:18pm

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency sponsored demonstrations Friday at Civic Center Plaza to promote a new high-tech way of renting and sharing bikes in the city. The bike sharing pilot program is expected to launch in the of spring 2012 with 500 bikes deployed around the city.

City struggles to move beyond piecemeal approach to earthquake retrofitting

Rosemary Macaulay, SF Public Press — Dec 17 2010 - 2:19pm

Thousands of structures in city in need of seismic work

San Francisco’s piecemeal approach to seismic retrofitting took a big hit when voters rejected a $46 million bond to retrofit affordable housing and residential hotels. This was the third time in as many years that the city sought the ability to borrow money to fix structures that were most vulnerable to a major earthquake. Advocates say this measure’s passage could saved the lives of some of the city’s most vulnerable residents. But seismic safety experts argue it was only a fraction of what is needed to prevent widespread building collapses when the next big quake strikes. While this year’s bond measure, Proposition A, could have saved as many as 156 buildings, the city has identified at least another 2,700 similar structures that are not covered by any retrofit program.

Board delays picking new mayor until January

T.J. Johnston, SF Public Press — Dec 15 2010 - 11:31am
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors decided to put off nominating and picking an interim mayor until early January. On a 8-3 vote on Tuesday, the board delayed any decision to nominate Mayor Gavin Newsom's successor until at least Jan. 4, 2011, the day after Newsom is scheduled to be sworn in as the state's lieutenant governor. The Jan. 4 meeting would be the last meeting of the current board before four new members take office.

Experiencing holiday gifts in a whole new way

Victoria Schlesinger, Way Out West News — Dec 13 2010 - 1:10pm
Gretchen Wustrack’s family asked her for a Christmas list. But like many people, she found herself thinking,”I didn’t know what I wanted. I have enough stuff, and so do they.” Rather than come up with a handful of half-hearted suggestions, Wustrack, a San Francisco designer, asked her family if they would consider exchanging experiential gifts – classes, tickets or certificates for new, hands-on experiences. The Wustrack family has been trading experiences ever since, and this summer Gretchen and her long-time friend Lisa Carey, a Bay Area native and marketing consultant, decided to take experiential gifts to the public.

Muni says it will improve practice that forces riders off trains early

Jerold Chinn, SF Public Press — Dec 13 2010 - 11:20am

In the past several months, Muni riders have been frustrated by Muni light-rail vehicles turning around mid-route without informing them of the switch until the very last minute.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which operates Muni, addressed those concerns in a new report and plans to change some of its policies when turning trains around including operator announcements and displaying the correct final stop on the train display.

Gulf residents doubt government committed to working with communities to fix spill damage

Kevin Stark, SF Public Press — Dec 9 2010 - 11:01am

Some fear money won't go to restoring ravaged coastline

As the federal government promotes initiatives to ensure long-term recovery for the oil-spill-beleaguered Gulf Coast region, officials are attempting to court marginalized community groups whose members say their suggestions have been disregarded or they have been left out of discussions entirely. But the reaction has been skeptical, with residents saying they have been deceived by low-ball official assessments of environmental and health threats. Residents say they are increasingly anxious about the economic and environmental viability of life along the shoreline. As many as one-quarter of the region’s residents say they are thinking of moving away.

Effort to choose new mayor includes social network

T.J. Johnston, SF Public Press — Dec 6 2010 - 4:20pm
UPDATE: Assemblyman Tom Ammiano issued a statement saying he will not accept any nomination to be interim San Francisco mayor, according to SF Weekly. As the San Francisco Board of Supervisors prepares to hear nominations to pick a new mayor, one member of the board is turning to the Web to push his candidate. Chris Daly posted a petition on the Change.org social network site to draft Assemblyman Tom Ammiano into seeking the mayor’s office that Gavin Newsom’s election to lieutenant governor will leave vacant.

Judge and media navigate claims of gay bias

Kristine Magnuson, SF Public Press — Dec 4 2010 - 10:17am

Same-sex marriage appeal puts spotlight on personal lives of those judging — and reporting on — the issue

Same-sex marriage opponents complained that U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker — who this summer overturned Proposition 8, a 2008 state constitutional amendment banning the practice — should have recused himself because he is gay (a suggestion Walker has declined to discuss). Walker’s sexual orientation will be front and center in arguments before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday. This puts journalists, too, in a funny position. Who will believe a gay reporter covering the question about whether a gay judge should be disqualified?

Iraq veteran’s new battle: defeating ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

Angela Hart, SF Public Press — Dec 2 2010 - 2:35pm

Back in war zone as contractor, decorated sergeant yearns for return to military life

Anthony Loverde joined the military at 22 because he needed money for school, and because he felt a deep love for country. But the real reason, he said, was to gain discipline — to “fight being gay.” Starting as an Air Force radio technician, he climbed quickly to the rank of staff sergeant, and then served as a cargo loader flying missions in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan. His close crew of six did everything together — ate, slept, fought a war. While the team built camaraderie, Loverde had to lie about his personal life constantly. One summer day in 2008, a battle buddy asked what was wrong. Loverde had to let his secret out: he was gay. Military procedure required his friend to tell their commander. After seven years of service, Loverde was discharged under the military’s long-standing “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

SF finds revenue under every rock

Conor Gallagher, SF Public Press — Dec 1 2010 - 4:05pm

From the mundane to the taboo to the absurd, city leaders hike any fee they can think of to balance city budget

The cost of living and doing business in San Francisco increased this year in hundreds of little ways. Though they didn’t garner as much attention as the city’s massive budget cuts, a series of new and increased fees emerged from the Board of Supervisors from late May to early July. The goal was to generate revenue beyond taxes, reducing city departments’ reliance on an anemic general fund. The following list was compiled from records from the board. It includes all new and increased fees introduced with the 2010-11 fiscal year. The supervisors enacted more than 400 fee hikes, some for rare activities with small constituencies, such as hosting a masked ball or shooting off a cannon. (Seriously.)

City assessor running for mayor next year

Jerold Chinn, SF Public Press — Dec 1 2010 - 3:58pm

San Francisco Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting filed for papers Wednesday morning to start organizing his campaign to become the city's next elected mayor. He will join other candidates state Sen. Leland Yee, City Attorney Herrera and Supervisor Bevan Dufty.

“Politics is too important to leave to politicians alone. We need to engage the whole population to identify problems, to help fix them and most of all to hold government officials accountable for results,” said Ting in a statement.

He also said the city needs a mayor who can solve the ongoing budget problems, which he believes has the credentials to do so. He said his office has generated $245 million in new revenue without raising taxes.

Geographies of San Francisco re-imagined

Mineko Brand, SF Public Press — Nov 30 2010 - 1:19pm

Innovative atlas juxtaposes dissimilar items into fanciful maps

On the night that San Francisco Giants fans took to the streets delirious over a World Series championship, a tamer crew of folk including cartographers and poets gathered to mark the release of “Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas.” The collection of fanciful maps of the city combines disparate but creatively juxtaposed items such as World War II shipyards and African-American political and musical landmarks, as drawn together in “Shipyards and Sounds: the Black Bay Area Since World War II.” Other maps are called “Death and Beauty: All of 2008’s Ninety-Nine Murders, Some of 2009’s Monterey Cypresses”; and “Graveyard Shift: The Lost Industrial City of 1960 and the Remnant 6 A.M. Bars.”

New Rules on Phone Competition Could Affect Prices for Poor

Conor Gallagher, SF Public Press — Nov 29 2010 - 3:47pm

Basic service would no longer include unlimited local calls

A proposal by state utilities regulators to deregulate basic phone service could open competition to companies using newer technologies, but critics say it could sharply increase costs for more than 2 million low-income Californians who rely on discounted landline service.

All landline rates could rise under the proposed rules, which would increase the companies’ leeway in new charges for services, whose prices are now fixed. Phone rates have been under California Public Utilities Commission oversight since the dawn of phone service in 1915.

The commission, which regulates the state’s telecommunication, energy, water and transportation industries, has proposed ending a requirement that basic phone service include free incoming calls and unlimited local calling for a flat rate.

Treasure Island building plans draw fire

Victoria Schlesinger, Way Out West — Nov 29 2010 - 3:09pm

Foes say development would choke bridge traffic and worsen air

Proposed redevelopment on Treasure Island would increase traffic jams on the Bay Bridge, lengthening commute times and exacerbating Bay Area air pollution, critics say. Residents, environmental organizations and local agencies voiced those concerns this fall in almost 700 written comments on proposed new residential and commercial development that planners have said would make the island a world-class green neighborhood. Comments about the project’s draft environmental impact report submitted by the September deadline expressed deep misgivings with the plan by the city and the developer to limit driving on and off the island.

Decades after Sonoma ‘Running Fence,’ Christo still making art — and waves

Erin Van Rheenen, Special to SF Public Press — Nov 24 2010 - 10:23am

New documentary examines public battles over revolutionary installation.

Bureaucracy has once again issued a daunting challenge to the art of Christo, this time “Over the River,” his proposed temporary installation of shimmering fabric across the Arkansas River in Colorado. The battle, waged this summer, mirrors one that arose just across the Golden Gate Bridge in the early 1970s, when Christo and his French wife/collaborator, Jeanne-Claude, fought government and naysayers to create “Running Fence.”

Outtakes from the filming of ‘The Running Fence Revisited’

Erin Van Rheenen, Special to SF Public Press — Nov 24 2010 - 10:06am

In September 2009, artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude returned to Northern California for the 33-year anniversary of their “Running Fence” (1976) installation and to film “The Running Fence Revisited” (2010), directed by Wolfram Hissen and sponsored by the Smithsonian Museum of American Art.

During the filming, author Erin Van Rheenen did double duty as both writer and girl Friday for the crew. Between takes she interviewed Jeanne-Claude and Christo — at the Petaluma Denny's, at a reunion picnic and in the car as they traced the route of where the fence had run. She may have been the last to interview Jeanne-Claude, who died suddenly on Nov. 18, 2009, at the age of 74.

The scenes described in the story first appeared in a slightly different form as the program for the documentary’s West Coast premiere back in June.