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Bay Area Ridge Trail faces uncertain future

By Rachel Gulbraa, Bay Nature

The vision to create a 550-mile trail around the San Francisco Bay is threatened by state park closures scheduled for this summer, trail advocates say.

The Bay Area Ridge Trail may not be the target of California state budget cuts, but because it runs through four state parks that are on the chopping block, advocates are worried about its future. As the July 1 deadline approaches on state park closures, the trail advocates say it's still unclear how trail access, maintenance and public safety will be handled, as well as what happens to long-term prospects for connecting new trails to the loop.

Read the complete story at Bay Nature. 



Parent volunteers help fill gaps at cash-strapped schools

By Eleanor Yang Su, California Watch

Step inside any public school these days, and you’ll likely see parents working alongside the staff.

They’re running arts education in some schools, coordinating major fundraisers, setting up school assemblies and planting campus gardens. The deep budget cuts of recent years have left a void, and an army of parents is trying to fill it with donated money and time.

The California State PTA estimates its members volunteered about 20.6 million hours last year, up slightly from 19.8 million hours two years earlier. Nationally, observers have seen a similar trend. VolunteerSpot, a company that helps organize volunteers, mostly in schools, has seen figures skyrocket in the course of a year. The site logged 2.25 million volunteer hours in 2011, up from 750,000 in 2010.

“We really saw a big rise in parents volunteering in 2010, when the reality of the budget crisis hit,” said Karen Bantuveris, VolunteerSpot’s founder and CEO.

Read the complete story at California Watch. California Watch, the state’s largest investigative reporting team, is part of the independent, nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting. For more, visit

One losing S.F. mayoral candidate spent $510 per vote

By Lance Williams, California Watch

In losing the 2010 governor’s race, Republican Meg Whitman set a record for political spending in a California election: Her campaign cost $178.5 million.

But Whitman’s losing campaign against Democrat Jerry Brown appears somewhat more economical in terms of dollars spent per vote obtained. Whitman paid about $43 for each of the 4.12 million votes she attracted.

Compare that with the recent electoral foray of San Francisco Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting, who was among 16 contenders in the 2011 contest for mayor of San Francisco.

In losing to appointed incumbent Ed Lee, Ting spent an astonishing $510.45 per vote, according to data compiled by the CitiReport political website. Ting finished 12th, spending more than $500,000 to win 1,013 votes – and seemingly setting a record for spending the most money per vote in a major election in California.

Read the complete story at Californa Watch. California Watch, the state’s largest investigative reporting team, is part of the independent, nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting. For more, visit

Guerrilla tree grafters bringing fresh fruit to S.F., one splice at a time

By Renee Frojo, Bay Nature

A group of renegade agricultural activists is challenging the notion that nothing comes for free by grafting fruit-bearing branches onto trees lining city streets.

Over the past year, the Guerrilla Grafters – a diverse group of volunteers who started in San Francisco – has been splicing fruit-bearing branches onto ornamental fruit trees around San Francisco in an effort to grow apples, cherries, pears and other fresh produce that urban residents can enjoy for free.

Although the group doesn't have explicit permission to graft trees, so far it hasn't received any direct pushback from city officials.

Read the complete story at Bay Nature. 


Lack of primary and preventive care sends thousands to hospitals

By Bernice Yeung, California Watch

Better access to primary health care and prevention programs could have kept thousands of California adults out of hospitals, according to a new statewide analysis.

According to new data released  by the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, there were more than 335,000 adult hospitalizations in California that could have been avoided if the patient had seen a doctor sooner.

According to the state agency, so-called “preventable hospitalizations” are an indication of systemic shortcomings related to access to quality primary care.

“These are people going into the hospital that probably shouldn’t be if they were getting good primary care up front,” said Michael Kassis, a research specialist with the office.

Read the complete story at California Watch. California Watch, the state’s largest investigative reporting team, is part of the independent, nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting. For more, visit For  additional information on health care programs and preventive care, read "Healthy SF: Who Pays?"


Is the Mission maxing out on parklets?

By Christy Khoshaba, Mission Local

Parking in the city — don’t wanna hear it. Take away 14 parking spots — come again? Yet add something nice in the neighborhood, and voilà, people forget those 14 parking spots ever existed. Or at least most people do.

Often, business owners see the parklets that have grown up along Valencia Street as an extension of commercial space. Customers and many residents see them as a social space. But to some residents, the park-like patches are hell on the ground — rest stops for the homeless or noisy drinkers.

In less than two years, six parklets have appeared in the Mission; four on Valencia and two on 22nd Street. Citywide, the parklet population has jumped to 31 in little more than two years, according to The new public spaces met little early opposition, but that may be changing.

Read the complete story at Mission Local. 

Fines for double parking and sidewalk cyclists go up

Double-parkers, vehicles obstructing traffic and bicyclists who ride on the sidewalks are all facing hefty increases in fines after the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s board of directors approved the boosts on Tuesday.


Currently fines for vehicles obstructing traffic and riding a bicycle on the sidewalk is $50, while a fine for double-parking is $80. All three fines will increase to $100.


The proposed increase was brought to the board in December last year, but was held off at the request of Director Jerry Lee who wanted to know how many citations were issued in 2011.


Commander Lea Militello of the San Francisco Police Department said they issued 20,576 double-parking citations (through November 2011) and 372 citations for bicyclists riding on the sidewalks.


Militello said at last month's transit agency committee that riding a bike on the sidewalk increases the danger for pedestrians. To curb this behavior, we have to make it hurt,” she said.


Officials said that double-parked cars not only delay private vehicles, but also slow down Muni buses and light-rail lines.


Director Bruce Oka backed the increase, but said in order to change behavior, there has to be more enforcement. “Just to raise the parking fines for this without enforcement is useless,” said Oka.


The increase goes into effect immediately.

Homeowners and housing advocates call for temporary halt to foreclosures in state

By Zaineb Mohammed, New America Media

A week after Attorney General Kamala Harris announced an $18 billion settlement for California’s foreclosure victims, homeowners and housing rights advocates declared the need to temporarily halt all foreclosure-related activity.

During a foreclosure roundtable discussion held recently at the Mission Economic Development Agency, Alan Fisher, Executive Director of the California Reinvestment Coalition, said that advocate "groups are asking for a pause in foreclosures so people don’t lose their homes [while the settlement is being implemented.]"

John Eller, a senior organizer with Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), said that by putting a temporary stop to the foreclosures “it would enable borrowers to have some breathing room while they figure out if they qualify for the settlement.”

Read the complete story at New America Media

Researchers to examine revamp of public health

By Christina Jewett, California Watch

As California continues to forge ahead implementing health reform, state Medi-Cal leaders and UC Davis researchers announced an agreement to examine public health system transformation efforts that may serve as models for the nation.

The researchers will evaluate public hospital systems as they revamp daily operations in ways meant to simultaneously reduce health costs and improve patient health.

New programs are taking shape under California’s Medi-Cal “waiver,” a $10 billion program that is part of the state’s effort to prepare for a major influx of beneficiaries who will be covered when the Affordable Care Act expands eligibility in 2014.

Read the complete story at California Watch. California Watch, the state’s largest investigative reporting team, is part of the independent, nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting. For more, visit

Muni hopes new reports will give clearer view of performance issues

Muni is considering changing the way it looks at how well the transit system is performing by adding new measures and having more monthly reports for the fiscal year 2013-2014.

Some of the new reports would gauge the average Muni system speed on a quarterly basis and also track how often buses leave their terminals on time. The transit agency will also look at overall customer satisfaction with transit services quarterly instead of just annually.

Officials said  the new reports will help them examine Muni more closely and provide riders more meaningful indicators on how the transit system is performing.

January Muni bus ridership 3.3 percent compared to last year. Ridership rose from 457,979 to 473,146 on the weekdays, according to the transit agency.

John Haley, transit director of Muni operations, attributes the increase to more service hours and increased economic activity. He expects to see the ridership numbers to keep rising.