Shanty towns rise in the Central Valley as poverty levels climb

Thea Chroman, Mar 2 2009 - 11:51pm

Fresno, Calif. has the highest levels of concentrated poverty in the nation. In some neighborhoods, nearly half of all residents are living below the federal poverty line. Over the past year, many of those poor residents have slipped out of housing completely. Now shanty towns are springing up along the railroad tracks, an image that recalls shanty towns of a different era: the so-called Hoovervilles of the Great Depression. KALW's Thea Chroman reports.

Hearst Corp. threatens to close Chronicle

Bethany Fleishman, The Public Press — Feb 24 2009 - 7:56pm

The Hearst Corp. announced Tuesday that it would be forced to sell or close the San Francisco Chronicle if it could not make needed “critical” cost-cutting measures, including job cuts, in coming weeks.

The company said the paper lost $50 million in 2008. A memo to employees from the publisher, Frank Vega, said the paper could no longer bear the “staggering losses,” which he said were worsening in the current recession.

“Survival is the outcome we all want to achieve,” said a statement from Hearst quoting two top executives, Frank A. Bennack, Jr., vice chairman and chief executive officer, Hearst Corporation, and Steven R. Swartz, president of Hearst Newspapers.

The return of Hooverville: car and tent cities on the rise in San Francisco

Thea Chroman, The Public Press — Feb 10 2009 - 7:13pm

San Francisco’s per capita homeless rate has long been the highest in the country. But in the past year, it has shot up 40 percent, by some measures. The increase came as foreclosures put pressure on the rental market, the budget crisis slowed aid, and the job market tightened up.

When the Longevity Revolution Hits Your Town: A Gray Wave Hits Home

Cecily O'Connor, RedwoodAge — Jan 30 2009 - 2:21pm

Changes in cities over the next two decades will be driven by the "longevity revolution" as the ranks of US adults over 60 soar and many more lifespans stretch past the century mark. While these changes present challenges to cities that are ill-equipped or unprepared, they also serve as a wake-up call to tap into the skill and expertise of older adults. These elders represent a key to the solutions, whether it's through volunteer work, sharing professional experience or helping families with childcare.

When the longevity revolution hits your town: a three-part series

Jan 30 2009 - 11:49am

By Cecily O'Connor,

Stella Gerson rides a Whistlestop shuttle to a senior center in San Rafael, Calif. (

It's no problem for Stella Gerson to walk down to the bus stop. Getting home is the hard part.

"I have to go up a hill to my house," said the 89-year-old San Anselmo, Calif., resident, who suffers from macular degeneration, a disease that blurs her vision.

In Northern California where Gerson lives, transportation is one of several pressing needs for a rapidly graying population. Age-friendly housing, affordable healthcare, walkable neighborhoods, crime-free streets and social activities are others. 

As they age, many residents think about these needs by asking themselves, "Is my community a great place to grow old?" 

Read the Entire Series

When the Longevity Revolution Hits Your Town: Neighbors Saving Neighborhoods

Jan 27 2009 - 12:55pm

By Cecily O'Connor,

For almost a year, boomer Tricia Webb has enjoyed an automatic door at the front entrance of her San Francisco apartment building.

She fought hard for that door. Webb, who sits in a wheelchair, lobbied her landlord for the door for five years, but her requests were denied due to cost.

When the Longevity Revolution Hits Your Town: Baby Steps on a Long Road

Jan 27 2009 - 12:43pm

By Cecily O'Connor,

As life spans lengthen, cities are trying to be all things to all age groups. But they're just scratching the surface. 

Committees, studies and action plans are baby steps on a long road toward coordinating services and resources before a crisis sets in. The down U.S. economy is adding to the mess.

How safe are San Francisco Bay beaches and water a year after the Cosco Busan oil spill?

Jan 8 2009 - 8:30pm

With few visible signs, effects of pollution may be long-lasting underwater

A community-funded report originally published on

By Aaron Crowe

A"dirty bathtub ring" and a some oil under a few rocks are about all that remain from the Cosco Busan oil spill more than a year ago in the San Francisco Bay.

The spill of nearly 54,000 gallons of heavy fuel when the container ship hit the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge on the foggy morning of Nov. 7, 2007, was the largest spill in the bay in 20 years. It killed nearly 3,000 birds, fouled 69 miles of beaches and spurred hundreds of volunteers to help with the cleanup around the bay. Cleanup and compensation costs are estimated at $90 million.

While officials can't guarantee that another another such accident won't happen again, they say that many measures have been taken to try to prevent it.

The Truthiness Report: Fact-checking SF election ads

Michael Stoll, The Public Press — Dec 6 2008 - 1:22pm

In the weeks leading up to Election Day 2008, The Public Press joined with in a unique noncommercial news collaboration to fact-check the dizzying array of voter propositions on the San Francisco ballot.

The project, which was co-published on and, with segments broadcast on Crosscurrents Radio on KALW-FM, took to task the spinmeisters who flooded San Francisco neighborhoods with fliers containing truths, half-truths, and “truthiness.”

SF Election 2008 Proposition Fliers Decoded

Nov 3 2008 - 10:07pm

San Francisco election fliers 2008

View a sampling of dozens of fliers distributed in San Francisco to sway voters for and against propositions at our Flickr site -- and mouse over the graphics to read our reporters' commentary.

Prop. D: Consensus on Pier 70?

Nov 3 2008 - 9:26pm

By Bernice Yeung, Public Press

Although development is a perennially hot-button topic in San Francisco due to concerns about gentrification, Proposition D, which would facilitate Pier 70 revitalization, is a seemingly controversy-free measure that has garnered wide support from neighborhood groups, environmentalists, city officials and developers.

JROTC and Proposition V: Lessons in How Not to Listen

Tim Kingston, Public Press — Oct 31 2008 - 5:40pm

• Sidebar: "Moderate vs. Progressive?"

For a measure that is completely nonbinding there is much sturm und drang around the "Policy Against Terminating Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC) in Public High Schools."

Debate is a limited commodity in the case of Proposition V; instead the two sides talk past and through each other -- loudly and heatedly. They also make claims that cannot be verified.

Prop. A: The Specter of a City Without a Lifeline

Oct 31 2008 - 2:55pm

By Matthew Hirsch, Public Press

  View our annotated Flickr collection to see how pro-Propositon A activists are spinning the issue in campaign fliers.

The proponents of Proposition A want voters to believe that the Nov. 4 election is a matter of life or death for San Francisco's main public hospital.

The measure has an enormous list of supporters, including elected officials, newspapers, community groups, and the local Democratic, Republican and Green parties. The campaign ads also feature long endorsement lists and descriptions of health care specialists who provide essential medical services.

However, these ads misrepresent some of the facts. And they appeal to the lowest common denominator in politics -- quality health care, something everybody supports -- without taking on more difficult questions raised by the campaign.

Prop. M: The Latest Battle in San Francisco's Rent Wars

Tim Kingston, / The Public Press — Oct 31 2008 - 12:29pm

View our annotated Flickr collection to see how pro- Proposition M activists are spinning the issue in campaign fliers.

Rancorous is always a good way to describe tenant-landlord relations in San Francisco, and the debate over Proposition M -- an anti-harassment initiative put on the ballot by tenants' rights activists -- is no exception.

The inelegantly dubbed Changing the Residential Rent Ordinance to Prohibit Specific Acts of Harassment of Tenants by Landlords attempts to do just that -- at great length, and has spurred an exchange of pro and con arguments around free speech and the role of lawyers.

Prop. L: Political Maneuvering on Community Justice Center

Bernice Yeung, / The Public Press — Oct 28 2008 - 3:24pm

Proposition L, which would guarantee funding to San Francisco's new Community Justice Center, is supposedly an initiative that would "stop efforts to play politics with community justice," according to advertising paid for by proponents.

However, given the heated debate among city officials -- rooted in a longstanding feud between Supervisor Chris Daly and Mayor Gavin Newsom -- that surrounds the creation of the court, the measure appears to serve a political purpose itself.

Proposition B: 'Chump Change' or 'Massive Budget Hole'?

Tim Kingston, The Public Press and — Oct 25 2008 - 12:18am

The battle over public power and the hospital bond have vacuumed up much of San Francisco's attention and political capital this season. But there's an equally significant, if under-the-radar, item up for grabs: Proposition B. The "Establishing [an] Affordable Housing Fund" measure mandates that 2.5 cents out of every $100 in property taxes go to create what is essentially a dedicated San Francisco affordable housing account. Proponents and opponents alike agree that it would raise roughly $2.7 billion over its 15-year lifespan -- in fact, that's about all they agree on.

Brass Tax: Propositions N and Q Levy Businesses, Property

Tim Kingston, / The Public Press — Oct 23 2008 - 11:57am

Propositions N and Q, which would increase and modify San Francisco's property transfer and payroll expense taxes, were the product of intense negotiations between different business groups. Not surprisingly, the winners and losers in those negotiations define the pro and con election advertisements. The laws are simple enough: N would increase the property transfer tax from 0.75 to 1.5 percent on properties worth over $5 million, while Q ensures that partners in law firms have to pay payroll taxes. It also raises the ceiling for payroll tax exemption to $250,000. The city controller states in the voter handbook that the propositions would raise almost $40 million for the city's general fund, but how it does that, and who stands to gain or lose, is not so clearcut.

Prop. K: Untested Theories Drive Prostitution Debate

Bernice Yeung, and The Public Press — Oct 20 2008 - 3:12pm

Proposition K, which seeks to decriminalize prostitution in San Francisco, has spawned a heated debate over how to curb human trafficking and protect the lives and health of sex workers. A close look at campaign advertising around the proposition reveals sharp disagreements between supporters and opponents over what the local impacts of the law would be, as well as a schism in feminist circles over prostitution itself.

Prop. H: Energy Measure Spurs Conflicting Claims / The Public Press — Oct 16 2008 - 4:29pm

Proposition H is described as a clean energy measure by its proponents, and a "blank check" by its opponents. With an eye-popping $5.4 million spent on the No on H side compared to the $19,000 on the other, Proposition H merits a close look from voters. Those are dollars spent through September. Expect more money to flow in these next few weeks, as the opposing forces battle over the definitions, costs and consequences of the measure.

The Business of Ballot Booklet Brokering / The Public Press — Sep 30 2008 - 7:36pm

Like many who work in San Francisco City Hall, David Noyola last month was answering two phones, a land line for his official duties, and an iPhone to talk politics.

Noyola has since left his position as a legislative aide for Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, and for election 2008 has put his specialized knowledge to use as a professional campaigner. His work in these two capacities illustrates how insiders can have sizable impacts on local elections. In Noyola's case, his influence is currently most visible in the city's voter information guide -- the thick booklet published before each election that lists all the candidates and initiatives, as well as the official and paid arguments in support or opposition.