Google bus plan challenged
San Francisco activists and labor filed an appeal of the controversial commuter shuttle (aka, the Google buses) pilot program with the Board of Supervisors on Feb. 19, alleging it was pushed through without a proper environmental review.
The appeal was filed by a coalition of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, SEIU 1021, The League of Pissed Off Voters, and Sara Shortt of the Housing Rights Committee.
The shuttles, mostly to Silicon Valley tech firms, pick up passengers at Muni bus stops. The use of public bus stops would incur a $271 fine for private autos, and often do, but the shuttles have largely received a free pass from the city. Last month, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency approved a pilot plan hatched behind closed doors that allows use of 200 bus stops by the private shuttles, charging only $1 per stop, per day.
The appeal alleges that the program needed review under the California Environmental Quality Act, which asks for projects to be analyzed for, among other things, land use, housing, and public health impacts.
“CEQA actually identifies displacement as an environmental impact,” attorney Richard Drury, who filed the appeal on behalf of the coalition, told us. “Almost no one knows that. Honestly I didn’t know that, until I started researching all of this.”
If the Board of Supervisors doesn’t back the appeal, there may be a court battle on the environmental impact of the shuttle stops, which increase rents and home prices nearby.
Paul Rose, spokesperson for the SFMTA, responded to the complaint in an email to the Guardian.
“We developed this pilot proposal to help ensure the most efficient transportation network possible by reducing Muni delays and further reducing congestion on our roadways,” Rose wrote. “We are confident that the CEQA clearance is appropriate and will be upheld.” (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)
Library cracks down on the homeless
The way homeless residents are treated in San Francisco has come under scrutiny lately, with recent reports of homeless individuals being sprayed with hoses by Department of Public Works staff who started doing early-morning sidewalk cleanings nearby Twitter’s mid-Market headquarters.
This week, much discussion has been focused on homeless individuals’ use of the city’s Main Library — and while library administrators say they are just trying to make the facility safe and enjoyable for everyone, advocates have voiced concern that the homeless are being unfairly targeted.
“We want people to use the library from all walks of life,” library spokesperson Michelle Jeffers told the Guardian, saying a new set of proposed policies is not meant to be directed at homeless people in particular.
But it’s difficult to imagine who else would be bathing in the restrooms, for instance, or bringing a shopping cart into the library.
There is even a line in the code of conduct policy that forbids emitting “strong or pervasive odors.” While the policy notes that this could mean perfume, it could also mean body odor.
At a recent meeting, the San Francisco Library Commission considered bulking up security staff and imposing stricter penalties for these violations and others, such as sleeping in the library, asking for money, or bringing carts or luggage into the building.
Under proposed revisions to the library’s “Code of Conduct,” patrons could face tougher penalties for such offenses. (Rebecca Bowe)
Kelly runs in D10
After being narrowly edged out in the race for the District 10 seat on the Board of Supervisors four years ago, Potrero Hill political activist Tony Kelly launch his campaign for the seat Feb. 19, challenging incumbent Malia Cohen.
In 2010, after former Sup. Sophie Maxwell was termed out, the D10 race was a wide open contest that had low voter turnout and the squirreliest ranked-choice voting ending that the city has seen. On election night, former BART director Lynette Sweet finished first, followed by Kelly, a third place tie between Cohen and Marlene Tran, and Potrero Hill View publisher Steve Moss in fourth.
But the strong negative campaigning between Sweet and Moss, the leading fundraisers in the race, allowed the likable but then relatively unknown Cohen to vault into the lead on the strength of second- and third-place votes, finishing a few hundred votes in front of Kelly, who came in second.
Cohen has had an unremarkable tenure on the board, spearheading few significant legislative pushes and being an ideological mixed bag on key votes. But she’ll likely retain the support of African American leaders and voters in Bayview and Hunters Point, and enjoy the always significant advantage of incumbency.
Kelly hopes to turn that advantage into a disadvantage, tying Cohen to City Hall economic development policies that have caused gentrification and displacement. “Too many San Franciscans face an uphill battle, especially here in District 10,” Kelly said in a statement announcing his candidacy. “Our district is part of one of the richest cities in the richest state in the richest country in the world, and yet our neighborhoods are home to the highest unemployment rates in the City, our homeowners are at risk of foreclosure, and our tenants at risk of evictions. This is unacceptable, and we must do better.” (Steven T. Jones)
Obamacare vs. HealthySF
Thousands of Healthy San Francisco enrollees will soon face a dilemma.
Federal health care reform will hold them to the “individual mandate,” a requirement to obtain health insurance — but Healthy San Francisco doesn’t count. Roughly 70 percent of uninsured San Franciscans currently rely upon the city-administered program, created by San Francisco’s Health Care Security Ordinance, to access medical care.
Anyone who doesn’t satisfy the individual mandate will be made to fork over $95 as a penalty — but that noncompliance fee will skyrocket to $625 in 2015.
Meanwhile, people who are eligible for subsidized health insurance under the Affordable Care Act will automatically become ineligible for Healthy San Francisco under current rules, according to San Francisco Department of Public Health Deputy Director of Health Colleen Chawla.
The prospect of becoming suddenly ineligible for Healthy San Francisco will leave thousands of residents in the bind of being unable to rely on the system they now use to access care, while also being unable to afford the new insurance option — and so far, city officials have found no clear resolution to this dilemma.
Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, who authored the legislation that created Healthy San Francisco as a member of the Board of Supervisors, admonished the Department of Public Health last week for turning away enrollees, conveying to program participants that only those who are undocumented would be eligible to remain in Healthy San Francisco. On Feb. 18, the San Francisco Health Commission approved a temporary solution, signing off on a resolution that creates a “transition period” allowing Healthy San Francisco enrollees to remain in the program until the end of the 2014. (Rebecca Bowe)
SF has fastest growing wealth gap
San Francisco has the second highest gap between the rich and the poor in the United States, according to a new study from the Brookings Institution. The study looked at US Census data across different income levels and ranked cities for not only the widening chasm between the rich and the poor, but also the speed at which that gap increased. Though San Francisco has the second widest income inequality gap (second to Atlanta, where the poor are poorer, but the rich far less rich than here), it’s tops in terms of the speed at which the wealthy are pulling away from the rest of us, the study found. “Not surprisingly, San Francisco experienced the largest increase in its ratio from 2007 to 2012,” the Brookings Institution reported. “Income for its typical 20th-percentile household dropped $4,000 during that period, while income for its typical 95th-percentile household soared by $28,000. No other city saw nearly as large an increase in its rich households’ incomes.” (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)