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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.”

Budget Woes Threaten Free Lifelong Learning Classes at City College

Lissette Alvarez, SF Public Press — Oct 31 2012 - 4:30pm

Free courses could be beyond the reach of many “lifelong learning” students under changes proposed by City College of San Francisco's leadership. The courses, which have been free for 30 years, could end up becoming fee-based as the college struggles to keep its accreditation by resolving looming budget deficits.

Food Prices at Center of Debate Over GMO Labeling in Prop 37

Ambika Kandasamy, SF Public Press — Oct 29 2012 - 12:20pm

Proposition 37, the state ballot measure requiring labels on genetically modified food, has revived a long-simmering debate about whether genetically modified food harms human health or the environment. But it’s the claim by opponents that food prices would increase that is riling proponents.

Board of Supervisors Candidates on the Issues: San Francisco Fall 2012 Election

Justin Allen, SF Public Press — Oct 24 2012 - 12:23pm
Where do they stand? We asked. A nonpartisan guide to the candidates’ political positions

Many observers complain about a lack of attention to the issues in city elections. It can be difficult for journalists, civic organizations and community groups to pin down exactly where the candidates stand on San Francisco policy disputes. Many of the candidate surveys distributed by news organizations and interest groups are limited because the questions permit evasive answers, focus on a narrow range of issues, or the candidates’ responses are not released to the public.

This issue-positions questionnaire for Board of Supervisors candidates in the November 2012 elections is largely based on recent divided votes of the board, covering the full gamut of San Francisco policy disputes, not just issues of concern to one or two groups. 

Bay Area Carbon Dioxide Sensor Network Aims to Check Climate Change Policies

Ambika Kandasamy, SF Public Press — Oct 22 2012 - 1:11pm

Scientists have devised an intricate network of carbon dioxide sensors in the Bay Area that could offer objective measurements to evaluate which climate change initiatives are effective in reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The sensors provide real-time local data on how much carbon dioxide is being emitted, said lead researcher Ronald Cohen, a professor of chemistry and of earth and planetary sciences at the University of California, Berkeley.

Noncredit Classes in the Crosshairs for City College Board Candidates

Lissette Alvarez, SF Public Press — Oct 17 2012 - 6:04pm

Free “lifelong learning” classes for the community could be the first cuts as City College of San Francisco struggles to downsize and retain its accreditation, say several candidates for the college’s Board of Trustees. They spoke at a forum sponsored by New America Media. Four seats are up for election on the seven-member board.

City makes move to increase awareness of domestic violence

Lissette Alvarez, SF Public Press — Oct 15 2012 - 4:54pm

Supervisor Eric Mar Monday unveiled new efforts to raise awareness about domestic violence. Working with the Department on the Status of Women, Mar focused on working through the city’s workforce to educate the public and to help those city employees who are victims themselves.

S.F. to Appoint Earthquake Retrofit Czar to Push for Mandatory Program Next Year

Noah Arroyo, SF Public Press — Oct 12 2012 - 3:20pm

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee next week plans to appoint an earthquake retrofit czar, whose job is to make sure seismic safety plans from last year don’t languish on the shelf until the next big temblor strikes. City officials hope the new manager will fast-track a proposal to require owners of thousands of buildings to retrofit, and he will be tasked with figuring out a way to assist owners who cannot pay for repairs.