SF bans water bottles

San Francisco continues to lead the way in the nation’s environmental policy, with the Board of Supervisors on March 4 voting unanimously to bar the city from buying plastic water bottles and to ban distribution of plastic water bottles smaller than 21 ounces on city property starting Oct. 1. The ban excludes city marathons and other sporting events.

"We all know with climate change, and the importance of combating climate change, San Francisco has been leading the way to fight for our environment," Board President David Chiu, who authored the legislation, said at the hearing. "That’s why I ask you to support this ordinance to reduce and discourage single-use, single-serving plastic water bottles in San Francisco."

Chiu held up a water bottle at the board meeting, a quarter of the way full with oil, to illustrate how much oil is used in the production and transport of plastic water bottles. He also reminded San Franciscans that the current fad of buying bottled water only started in the 1990s when the bottled water industry mounted a huge ad campaign that got Americans buying bottled water.

Somehow, Chiu noted, "for centuries, everybody managed to stay hydrated." (Francisco Alvarado)

Mass action against Keystone XL

Nine environmental activists were arrested in San Francisco for marching through the financial district and entering One Spear Tower on March 3, the building that houses local offices of the State Department, to express opposition to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

A day earlier, a mass protest against the oil pipeline was staged outside the White House in Washington, D.C. Roughly 200 protesters were arrested after using plastic zip ties to lock themselves to the White House fence.

Meanwhile, thousands more have made a vow — at least in the sense of clicking to add their name to a petition — to engage in peaceful civil disobedience if President Barack Obama grants ultimate approval for the oil infrastructure project, which would transport 830,000 barrels of crude oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

Nonprofit Credo Action has created an online petition urging people to get ready to respond with peaceful civil disobedience if the pipeline wins final approval. (Rebecca Bowe)

City weighs lawsuit over Airbnb

The San Francisco City Attorney’s Office is finally preparing to take action against the illegal short-term housing rentals facilitated by Airbnb, something we’ve been hearing that the Examiner also reported on March 6 ("SF landlords could face legal fight over rentals on Airbnb, other services"), an action that would address the company’s apparent stall tactics.

Despite a business model that violates a variety of San Francisco laws — most notably zoning, planning, and tenant regulations — and Airbnb’s flagrant flouting of a two-year-old city ruling that it should be collecting and paying the city’s transient occupancy tax (see "Into thin air," Aug. 6), the City has appeared unwilling or unable to enforce its laws or address these issues.

"We’re aware of multiple housing allegations, including some that community leaders have brought to us," City Attorney’s Office spokesperson Matt Dorsey told the Guardian, confirming that the office is considering taking legal action to enforce local laws governing short-term housing rentals but refusing to provide details.

Board of Supervisors President David Chiu took on the problem over a year ago, working with the company and its critics to develop compromise legislation that would legalize and tax the activities of Airbnb and its hosts, but the multi-layered legal and logistical challenges in doing so have so far proven too much for the otherwise effective legislator.

"My staff has held meetings with Planning staff and its enforcement team to discuss enforcement and related challenges. We’ve also been in touch with the City Attorney’s Office on these issues," Chiu told the Guardian, saying he and his staff have recently been focused on other tenants and secondary unit legislation, but they "plan to refocus on our shareable housing efforts soon." (Steven T. Jones)

Blaming pedestrians

ABC7 News Investigative Team’s new "investigative report" on pedestrian safety stirred controversy last week as street safety advocates called out the video for its insensitivity towards pedestrian deaths and lax attitude towards unsafe drivers.

Streetsblog SF and others in San Francisco said the report engaged in "victim blaming."

ABC7’s pedestrian safety coverage comes on the heels of a number of high-profile traffic collision deaths, including that of 6-year-old Sofia Liu, killed on New Year’s Eve. Since then, the Walk First program to create safer streets has garnered more attention, culminating in Mayor Ed Lee’s announcement today to partially fund safety improvements to the city’s most dangerous intersections, to the tune of $17 million — improvements that languished due to funding gaps since the program was announced in April.

But making all the needed improvements though would cost $240 million, according to city estimates, and that funding has yet to be identified. Suffice to say, the traffic enforcement debate still rages in San Francisco, with emphasis on the word ‘rage.’

"We’ve seen ‘blame the pedestrians’ from police and in the media," Leah Shahum, executive director of the San Francisco Bike Coalition, said at a pedestrian safety hearing in January. Police Chief Greg Suhr that night apologized for his officers’ lax enforcement of drivers, and focus on pedestrians, and pledged to change policies to focus on drivers going forward.

It’s too bad ABC 7’s I-Team didn’t get that memo.

"In San Francisco, simply stepping off the curb can be deadly," ABC reporter Dan Noyes narrates in their video report. The word ‘deadly’ is capped off with a Hollywood-style musical flourish, like a horror movie moments before the big scare.

"Pedestrians are making mistakes over and over again," Noyes narrates. The video cuts to pedestrian after pedestrian looking at cell phones, jaywalking, or otherwise engaging in unsafe behavior. It’s fair to say the piece, headlined "I-Team investigates what’s causing pedestrian deaths," places responsibility of pedestrian safety squarely on the shoulders of pedestrians. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)

High-speed challenges

The California High Speed rail project has been facing resistance that threatens to derail the project. Not only has public support for the $68 billion project wavered in recent years, now the project faces a legal battle that could delay the project before the first rail is laid.

On March 4, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny ruled that a lawsuit brought on by King County can go to trial. The lawsuit raises questions about the legality of using 2008’s voter-approved Prop 1A funding, $9.95 billion worth of bonds, to upgrade and electrify Caltrain’s tracks and incorporate them into the high speed system.
Another concern was that the proposed high-speed system would not be able to pull through with its promise of a 2 hour 40 minute nonstop ride from downtown San Francisco to Los Angeles’ Union Station if the high speed system had to share tracks with Caltrain.

The lawsuit also threatens to leave San Francisco’s new $4.5 billion Transbay Terminal without its planned underground high speed rail station, which could be disastrous for that project as well.

None of this seems to faze Rod Diridon, executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute based out of San Jose State University and former founding board member of the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board. He told the Guardian: "I think that [the project] will happen now. I think that our wonderful governor and our legislative leaders are going make it happen now…. If it was delayed it would only be a matter of time before it came back." (Francisco Alvarado)