No coal for Oakland Port
A company that operates a coal mine in Colorado has been looking to ship its fossil fuel products to Asia via the Port of Oakland.
A coalition of environmental organizations sounded the alarm that the Board of Port Commissioners was considering a lease proposal from Bowie Resource Partners to operate a coal export facility at Oakland’s Charles P. Howard Terminal.
Another proposal submitted for consideration, from California Capital Group/ Kinder Morgan/ MetroPorts, could also lead to coal exports, said Jess Dervin-Ackerman, conservation organizer for the Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club.
“We’ve really reduced our use of coal in this country, but that means we’ve just been sending it to Asia,” Dervin-Ackerman noted.
In addition to the global concerns about exacerbating climate change by shipping coal to be burned in power plants in Asia, where there are weaker environmental protections, environmentalists are worried that Oakland neighborhoods could be impacted by pollution from rail operations and fine coal dust that could leave airborne traces behind as it is transported to the marine terminals.
Bowie proposed to ship not only coal, but petroleum coke, a pulverized fossil fuel that is illegal to burn in California. Already 128,000 barrels of this product, called petcoke for short, are shipped daily from throughout the state.
Port of Oakland staff, however, has recommended rejecting the proposals from both entities.
“Staff believes that Bowie’s proposed use and operation of the property raises environmental concerns related to the handling of commodities such as coal. Environmental concerns about handling commodities such as coal stem primarily from issues of fugitive dust and climate change,” a staff report noted. “Port staff believes that operations such as those proposed by Bowie conflict with recently adopted Port policies and programs intended to create or support environmental sustainability.”
In the face of opposition from environmentalists and the staff, the board voted against the proposals on Feb. 27. (Rebecca Bowe)
Register your bike
A new program registering San Francisco bicycles and their owners enrolled just over 500 bicyclists in its first two weeks, a small success story in the effort to reunite riders with their stolen bicycles.
The program in question is Safe Bikes, a joint venture between the SFPD and SF Safe. Cyclists can log onto its website, register their bike’s make and model, and when victims report a bike theft to police they can be reunited with their two-wheeled friend just as easily. There are 75,000 bike riders a day in San Francisco, according to the Budget and Legislative Analyst’s office, a buffet of tantalizing goods for bike thieves.
More than 500 bikes are a small dent in that number, but for only a two-week start it isn’t too bad. Safe Bikes Manager Morgan St. Clair said it’s only just begun its outreach. Next month, it plans to host an event at Twitter headquarters, where it will give away 50 Kryptonite locks, funded by the San Francisco Police Officers Association.
“We’ve only gone to three bike shops so far,” she said. But in the coming months St. Clair and her team of 15 volunteers have a city full of shops they plan to visit.
An estimated 4,000 bicycles were stolen from riders in 2012, though only 812 were reported to police. St. Clair said there is a perception problem.
“They think the police department isn’t doing anything and say ‘oh, what the heck,’ and don’t think they’ll ever get it back,” she said. “We’re trying to change that mentality.”
In fact, the SFPD has been a strong driver of getting bikes back into the hands of owners, mostly at the behest of Officer Matt Friedman. He runs @SFbiketheft, a Twitter handle that tries to recover stolen bicycles and link them to owners.
“We really want people to report more bicycle thefts,” St. Clair said. And to have those reports be effective, people need to register their bikes. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)
Newsom misses the train
As California struggles to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and meet the long-term transportation needs of a growing population, officials from Gov. Jerry Brown to Mayor Ed Lee have steadfastly supported the embattled California High-Speed Rail Project, which Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom recently withdrew his support from. California now has until July 1 to find funds to match the federal grants.
It’s not exactly surprising that this calculating and politically ambitious centrist would cave in to conservatives like this, particularly as Newsom tries to set himself up to succeed Brown in four years. But it’s a sharp contrast to more principled politicians like Brown, and to those trying to create the transportation system future generations will need, as President Barack Obama took a step toward doing by announcing new federal transportation funding.
US Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox is also taking part in the three-day High Speed Rail Summit, sponsored by the United State High-Speed Rail Association, that began Feb. 25 in Washington DC. Its theme was Full Speed Ahead.
“Secretary Foxx’s experience at the local level as mayor of Charlotte is extremely valuable for shaping national transportation policy. We look forward to working with the Secretary to advance high speed rail in America across party lines,” USHSRA President and CEO Andy Kunz said in a press release.
While Newsom’s new tack may play well with myopic, penny-pinching, car-dependent moderate and conservative voters, many of his allies and constituents were furious with his about-face on a project that promises to get riders from downtown San Francisco to downtown Los Angeles in less than three hours.
Among those unhappy is San Francisco resident Peter Nasatir, who forwarded the Guardian a letter that he sent to Newsom’s office, which concluded, “High-speed rail is coming. The economy demands it, the environment demands it, and Central Valley population growth demands it. You may get some votes from moderates in the short run, but in the long run, you have positioned yourself as the most prominent person in the state to be on the wrong side of history.” (Steven T. Jones)
App for homelessness
Mayor Ed Lee, Sup. Jane Kim, and representatives from tech firm Zendesk gathered at St. Anthony’s in the Tenderloin Feb. 28 to announce the launch of a new smartphone tool, Link-SF, to help homeless and low-income people access services.
Zendesk is a customer-service software company near Sixth and Market streets. It was the first tech company to move into mid-Market in 2011 and take advantage of the city’s Central Market Payroll Tax Exclusion Zone (aka the “Twitter tax break”), a controversial bid to attract tech companies to an area that has historically had the city’s highest concentration of poverty.
Financially speaking, Zendesk is doing quite well. In 2012, it raised $60 million in new funding and hired 160 new employees. That same year, the city’s Central Market tax exclusion resulted in about $1.9 million in forgone revenues that the city would have otherwise collected from 14 companies that took advantage of the payroll-tax exclusion zone. Zendesk has 350 San Francisco employees, and Public Affairs Director Tiffany Maleshefski told the Bay Guardian that the company has contributed a collective 1,400 hours of volunteer service to uphold the company’s end of a community benefit agreement deal with the city, a requirement for those receiving the local tax breaks. “Link-SF was part of the community benefit agreement,” Maleshefski confirmed. The smartphone app, designed for use by homeless and low-income people seeking services, provides data on food, shelter, medical, or employment assistance programs. “It’s empowering for the users.” (Rebecca Bowe) RIP, Bush Man II San Francisco has lost one of its own. Gregory Jacobs passed away of heart failure on Feb. 23. He’s less known by his full name, but better known by his moniker, “The Bush Man.” No, he’s not the original Bush Man. That would be David Johnson, who’d been there for 36 years, compared to Jacobs’ 30. Little matter. Jacobs was a San Franciscan through and through. Like many San Franciscans, he came here from somewhere else, in his case the “somewhere else” was Arkansas. But Jacobs was known and loved here in the city. The man was dedicated to his work: sitting along Jefferson street and spooking tourists by shouting “boo!” from behind two large and bushy tree branches. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez)