Volume 48 Number 03

Bay Guardian Community Forum! Bikes, buses, and budgets: How to create the transportation system San Franciscans need


Join the San Francisco Bay Guardian as we explore the current swirl of challenges and initiatives that will determine how people get around San Francisco. We’ll discuss transportation funding measures recently placed on the fall ballots this year and in 2016, big ideas such as tearing down I-280 and taking a Bay Bridge deck for bikes and buses, and the gap between political rhetoric and realities on the street along with a panel of key experts and activists. This is a free community event, and attendees will be entered into a raffle for an A2B electric bicycle, with a winner selected at the end of the event.


Supervisor Scott Wiener — Wiener represents San Francisco’s Supervisorial District 8 (Castro, Upper Market) and he has taken the lead role on the Board of Supervisors and Metropolitan Transportation Commission in advocating for dedicated funding sources for transportation project and challenging his colleagues to get serious about the challenges we face.

Professor Jason Henderson — As a geography professor at San Francisco State University, Henderson has focused his research and teaching on urban transportation issues. He’s also the author of Street Fight: The Politics of Mobility in San Francisco and he writes the Guardian’s popular and controversial monthly Street Fight column.

Chema Hernández Gil — Hernández Gil is a community organizer with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, San Francisco largest member-based grassroots advocacy organization, which has recently been highlighting funding shortfalls in creating the bicycling infrastructure needed to accommodate a growing number of cyclists. 

Susan King — King coordinates the popular Sunday Streets program, which creates temporary car-free spaces in San Francisco, the latest endeavor in a long history of transportation activism ranging from working for Livable City to helping found WalkSF to serving on the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee to working on transit justice campaigns.


Moderators: Guardian Editor-in-Chief Steven T. Jones and News Editor Rebecca Bowe



6-7pm: Panel discussion — Prompted by questions from the moderators, panelists will share their insights into what kind of the transportation system San Francisco needs to address a growing population amid global warming and other environmental challenges, how to overcome the multi-billion-dollar funding shortfalls that have been identified, the political/ideological context of this debate, and other issues.

7-7:15pm: Break and networking — Stretch your legs, meet fellow concerned citizens, enjoy snacks provided by the Guardian, sign up for the A2B bike raffle, and prepare your remarks

7:15-8pm: Comments and questions: What do you think San Francisco needs from its transportation system and how do we get it? This is your chance to offer your ideas and/or ask questions of our panelists (note: Wiener has a prior engagement and will only be there for first hour, sorry). This is also a time for panelists to raise big, thought-provoking ideas and get audience feedback.

8pm-?: Haven’t had enough? Join the diehards over at Zeitgeist to continue the discussion over pitchers of beer and burgers. 


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400 awards, eight huge sections, a dozen beloved local heroes, one giant issue …. Since 1974, the Guardian has been publishing the original Best of the Bay. More than 15,000 readers voted this year for their Bests of the Bay:




Parking and the gentrification of food


STREET FIGHT Professor Don Shoup, an icon in San Francisco planning circles, is famous for illuminating that there is no such thing as free parking. In his voluminous book The High Cost of Free Parking, Shoup breaks-down the costs of building parking spaces and the land underneath.

Beyond that there’s lighting, insurance, security, maintenance, ventilation, financing, contracting, and surveying costs. There’s also the additional property tax on the parking, and piling onto that, the vast external costs to society with congestion and pollution from car trips generated by parking.

While all of this might seem obvious, the virtue in Shoup’s work was to show how the costs of parking are regressive and passed onto communities, especially low income households and non-drivers. For example, a grocery store bundles parking into the price of food and this is disproportionately borne by non-drivers.

In a sense, free parking causes the gentrification of food.

In San Francisco, underground parking costs anywhere from $80,000 to $100,000 per space to construct. In the proposed supermarket at 555 Fulton Street, the 77 spaces proposed underneath the store will cost anywhere from $6.1 million to $7.7 million to build.

That’s millions that will be passed on to a grocery store tenant and ultimately to shoppers. And that’s just to build, not operate, the parking. This adds more burden to the already tight pocketbooks in a gentrifying city like San Francisco.

Parking also complicates the issue of grocery stores and formula retail, making developers prefer a chain store because it can access the financing to build parking. So parking literally “drives-up” the rents for tenants seeking to lease the space. This makes it more difficult to find an affordable, local, non-chain grocer while also translating into higher food prices, since grocers transfer the cost of parking onto all shoppers regardless of how they got there and regardless of the shoppers’ income.

All of this came to a head last week at the San Francisco Planning Commission hearing on 555 Fulton, a proposed mixed use development that might include a grocery store. The Commission voted 4-2 to lift a formula retail ban on this site, concluding that only a chain store is “economically viable.” (Disclosure: I publicly advocated against that exemption as a member of the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association).

This was not just a blow to the city’s unique character in terms of guarding against chain stores. It undercuts sustainable and affordable urbanism and will lead to gentrified food. Here’s a brief summary of what happened:

In the early 2000s, the old Christopher Dairy at 555 Fulton, between Laguna and Octavia, was identified as a good location for a supermarket as part of a larger mixed-use development. The site was folded into the Hayes Valley formula retail ban to encourage an independent, community-based supermarket with fresh produce, high quality food affordable to nearby residents, and jobs for locals.

In 2010, the Planning Commission approved the first iteration of this project, with 136 housing units above a non-chain grocery store. Neighbors were very excited to have a local supermarket to serve the whole community and the developer did not try to circumvent the chain store ban. The community and Planning Department were working together.

In late 2012, the site and its entitlements were sold to a new developer, Fulton Street Ventures. It immediately informed the community that it would seek to lift the ban. HVNA unanimously opposed lifting the ban and Planning Department staff supported HVNA’s position. At that point, it seemed that the planners had read and understood Shoup.

For its part, HVNA compiled a list of potential non-chain store candidates and proposed creative ways to make the site work for a locally owned business, with perhaps some space allotted to a hardware store or other neighborhood-serving shops. HVNA also proposed reducing the parking at the site in order to make the store affordable.

The Market and Octavia Plan, which includes 555 Fulton, allows a grocery store to have less parking than the 77 the developer wants, and even zero parking. The developer could eliminate some or all of the parking, reduce construction costs, and reduce the asking price for a lease. This area is flat, incredibly walkable and proximate to thousands of existing residents, with thousands more on the way.

A car-free or car-lite grocery store can deploy innovative ways of delivering groceries, such as a jitney service or delivery vans, for those who need such service, and to limit the amount of store parking to a small number of car share and disabled parking stalls. This kind of grocery store would be at the cutting edge of truly sustainable urbanism, while also providing more affordability to all residents of the community.

Yet another Shoup axiom is “Planning for parking is more a political than a professional activity.” Instead of being creative, Fulton Ventures balked at the parking ideas and employed divisive race-baiting to push its profit-driven agenda. It financed a quiet campaign to accuse anyone supporting the formula retail ban and reducing parking as racist and elitist. It leaned heavily on City Hall and somehow got the Planning Department to suddenly retract its support for upholding the chain store ban. Sup. London Breed, who remained publicly detached, insisted that all she cared about was an affordable supermarket, but she offered no path to achieve it.

In a confusing Oct. 3 hearing, supporters of Fulton Ventures LLC made below-the-belt public comments that seemed to come straight out of a Tea Party playbook. It was tough to watch. Their position was that a chain store with excessive underground parking was the only way to an affordable grocer — anything short of that was racist. The commission voted 4-2 to lift the ban.

By lifting the formula retail ban, the city lost leverage for making the store affordable while also providing fresh food for thousands of people within walking distance. And the many car-free households of the Western Addition and Hayes Valley will get to breathe the car fumes from upscale shoppers. The commission gentrified food.

All is not lost though. The damage done by the Planning Commission can be overturned or fixed at the Board of Supervisors. Breed states she cares about affordability, local small business, and the city’s transit-first policies. She can put conditions on this project that reduces the parking, or decouples the parking from the lease for the commercial floor space, thus making the project economically viable for an affordable grocer. She can demand other creative and sustainable solutions which planners so far have not considered. She doesn’t have to give it away to a chain store. And if you care for affordable groceries with less driving, and want to stop the gentrification of food, write her and let her know.

Lock-up shake up



Should San Francisco spend $290 million on a modernized jail to replace the old ones that will be demolished when the Hall of Justice comes down?

That’s been the plan for years, but the Board of Supervisors Budget & Finance Committee started to ponder that question at its Oct. 9 meeting, setting the stage for a larger debate that hinges on questions about what it means to take a progressive approach to incarceration.

The Department of Public Works, in collaboration with the Sheriff’s Department, is preparing to submit a state grant application for $80 million to help offset the cost of rebuilding County Jails 3 and 4, outmoded facilities that are located on the sixth and seventh floors of the Hall of Justice.

That building is seismically vulnerable, and slated to be razed and rebuilt under a capital plan that has been in the works for the better part of a decade. With a combined capacity of 905 beds, Jails 3 and 4 were built in the 1950s and are in deplorable condition.

At the hearing, when supervisors considered whether to authorize the $80 million grant application, Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi said the current state of affairs is so bad that his department had to convert a bathroom to a visitation area because there was nowhere else for inmates to spend time with their kids in the same room. In other areas of the jail, temporarily vacant holding cells sometimes double as classroom space, since the department lacks dedicated areas for conducting classes.

The new jail would be built with somewhere between 481 and 688 beds, based on a lower calculated projected need, and more space would be devoted to programs like substance abuse education, parenting programs, or counseling.

San Francisco currently has five jails, but only one — a San Bruno facility built in 2006 — has what the Sheriff’s Department considers to be adequate space for rehabilitative services. Inmates there can opt to earn a high school diploma or take a course in meditation, and the department wants to build on that design in the new facilities.

Mirkarimi urged committee members to sanction the funding request as a first step toward that goal. “Whether it’s parenting programs or something that goes much deeper, then we need that space to make it happen,” he said.

At the same time, some community advocates questioned the very premise of spending millions on a new jail, arguing that scarce public resources could be better spent on services to prevent people from winding up in the criminal justice system to begin with.

In late August, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area called for the plan to be reexamined. “We agree that Jails 3 and 4 in the Hall of Justice should be torn down,” they wrote, “[but] we question the need to replace them with a new facility.”

Micaela Davis, criminal justice and drug policy attorney at the ACLU of Northern California, told the Guardian that advocates are seeking to reframe the debate by questioning why a new jail should even be built, rather than focusing on what kind of jail should replace the old ones.

She and other advocates are pushing for the county to explore alternatives to jailing arrestees who haven’t yet gone to trial, or look at ways of reorganizing housing for existing inmates. Given that the jail has been in the capital plan for so many years, she said, “it just seems necessary to reevaluate before moving forward with this project.”

While Sup. David Campos hasn’t taken a position so far, he submitted a request at the Oct. 1 board meeting for a hearing “to have an open discussion about what is being proposed, and to really examine if what is proposed makes sense,” he said. It’s expected to take place in early December at the Neighborhood Services and Safety Committee.

If San Francisco is awarded the $80 million in state funding, it must agree to dedicate $8.9 million of its own funds toward the project, which would be spent on preliminary designs, studies, environmental review, and other early costs, according to a board resolution approving the request.

Speaking at the Oct. 9 committee hearing, Sup. John Avalos responded to activists’ concerns by saying: “The last thing I want to do is build out the prison industrial complex. … I’ve always wanted to make sure we were minimizing what would lead to incarceration of more people.” While he did support the idea of applying for the grant, he did so with a caveat. “I would certainly want to uphold the right to vote against a jail in the future,” Avalos said.

Sup. Eric Mar, on the other hand, would not consent to allowing the funding request. “I can’t, under clear conscience, support this,” he said. In the end, the committee authorized the grant application with Avalos and Sup. Mark Farrell supporting it, and Mar opposed.