Maggie Beidelman

Parking on the park


In a steering committee meeting for the Dolores Park Rehabilitation Project on August 4, San Francisco Recreation and Park Department (RPD) officials stunned the committee with a proposal to bring in more food trucks. The move came just two days after a ballot measure that would have banned more such leases in city parks was removed from the fall ballot.

The proposal included putting in a “cement pad,” with electrical and water hookups, where food trucks would park and sell their fare. It was just the latest in a series of controversial attempts to monetize park resources to raise funds for RPD (see “Parks Inc.,” July 12). But the steering committee reeled at the idea, worried it would permanently harm the image of Dolores Park.

“It was a surprise. It really hadn’t come up before,” said Rachel Herbert of Dolores Park Café, a steering committee member. Many of the neighbors don’t like the idea of commercializing the park because there’s no infrastructure to support it, she said.

“It personally made me question if the steering committee meetings are really just a way for Rec & Park to say, ‘We reached out to the community,'” said Herbert. The rehabilitation project is in its early stages of design and development, with a predicted completion date of April 2014.

There’s already one semi-permanent food truck in the park — the La Cocina-incubated, generator-powered Chaac-Mool truck — which is parked in the main park entrance. “We felt it would be irresponsible to ignore discussing a place for more food trucks in the new design,” said Jake Gilchrist, the park rehabilitation project manager.

“There were a lot of members in the room that didn’t want this to happen,” said steering committee member Robert Brust of the nonprofit Dolores Park Works. Brust said the argument over the proposal lasted all of five minutes before landscape architect Steve Cancian, employed by RPD to facilitate the meetings, “took it off the table.”

But it doesn’t look like they’re willing to give it up, said Brust. “The fight over the ‘commercialization’ of the park is at a stalemate right now,” he said. “Rec & Park has always sold stuff—they’re just trying to capitalize on it a little more now.”

Despite the steering committee’s obvious and immediate discontent with the idea to create a cemented, permanent space for food trucks, RPD officials say they are continuing to include the idea in community discussions. But they say they are open to suggestions.

“At the end of the day, it’s the community’s park,” RPD spokesperson Connie Chan told us. “We understand that whatever vision that we have, it needs to be with the community.”

The meeting came just two days after members of the Board of Supervisors killed a previously approved ballot measure that had been written by the group Take Back Our Parks, which had been severely criticized by RPD, Mayor Ed Lee, and supporters of the department’s privatization efforts. John Rizzo, a member of that group, expects RPD to move ahead with the proposal for Dolores Park.

“They never change something because of public opposition,” Rizzo said. “It’s the same stamp they use all over the city. They come up with these plans to make money and then they unveil the plans to the public.”

Rizzo suggested that the public contact San Francisco supervisors and the mayor to be heard regarding the privatization of parks, because “the [Recreation and Park] Commission is deaf ears.” Either way, Herbert said, significant changes are in store for Dolores Park, including the possibility of putting in a 14-foot paved road for vehicles. “I just really was kind of sad when I left that meeting. I don’t know if anyone’s really going to be able to make a difference. It seems like we’re in danger of it being built,” she said. “It’s not gonna be our sweet little Dolores Park anymore.”




Protesting another police shooting

Raheim Brown Jr., 20, was killed on Jan. 22 by an Oakland school district police officer, after a fellow police officer was allegedly attacked with a screwdriver. This rally protests the latest in a series of killings by police, and supports Brown’s family, who will be confronting the Oakland School Board for its part in the death. After the rally, protestors will march to the Oakland School District headquarters where the family members will be making their address.

3:30 p.m., free

Lake Merritt Bart Station

Oak & 9th St., Oakland



Mayoral debate

Watch the mayor mayoral candidates face off in a debate. The forum will be hosted by the San Francisco Young Democrats, Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club and the City Democratic Club, who have partnered with the Huffington Post and YouTube to broadcast and discuss the event. Melissa Griffin will be the evening’s moderator, with commenting by Beth Spotswood and Pollo de Mar.

6 p.m., free

African American Art & Cultural Complex

762 Fulton St., SF



Climate change and the EcoHouse

Learn how to reduce your carbon footprint on a tour of Berkeley’s EcoHouse, a toolshed built with straw bale, rammed earth, clay, and cob. The center has a living roof, laundry greywater system, 1100-gallon rainwater cistern, a native rain garden and three kinds of compost. The tour features tips on the best ways to save energy and reduce climate impact, with the EcoHouse as its prime example.

10 a.m.-noon, free


1305 Hopkins St., Berkeley

(510) 548-2220 x239



Iraq War Veterans Speak Out

This event organized by March Forward!, an organization of veterans and soldiers on active duty, gives Iraq War Veterans a chance to speak out about their experiences, and against war. A former Marin Corps infantryman, former Army infantryman and former Army intelligence operative will share eyewitness accounts of their time in Iraq. They will explain how their Iraq war experiences turned them into anti-war activists, the current situation for veterans and veteran care, and how they are building an anti-war resistance among active duty troops within the military.

5-7 p.m., $5-10 donation, no one turned away

2969 Mission St., SF


Mail items for Alerts to the Guardian Building, 135 Mississippi St., SF, CA 94107; fax to (415) 437-3658; or e-mail Please include a contact telephone number. Items must be received at least one week prior to the publication date.

Replacing the Concourse


In one of the few remaining San Francisco neighborhoods untouched by gentrification, there is a proposal to demolish the Concourse Exhibition Center and replace the quintessential Showplace Square building with a market-rate residential project, which the developer says will be rental apartments.

This is the first major project in the new Eastern Neighborhoods Plan that will change the light industrial neighborhood where brick and mortar meet interior design, raising questions about whether the development would be sustainable, transit-oriented, and family-friendly.

Home to annual events like the Green Festival and the KPFA Craft Fair, the Concourse is where mom and pop vendors share their wares in an affordable venue — one of the few remaining in the city.

“Since ’96,” recounted Alan Van De Kamp, director of sales for the Green Festival, “they’ve been trying to sell it, to tear it down. You never know from year to year … You imagine at some point, somebody’s gonna say it’s time.”

Though nothing has been approved, the current proposal by developer and Concourse owner Bay West Development, first introduced in 2000, has come the farthest yet. The project will be considered for approval by the Planning Commission once the environmental review process is complete, which could take up to six months. Public comments on the project will be accepted until August 8.

The proposed project contains two sites, one at 801 Brannan Street and one at 1 Henry Adams Street, which would result in a total development of up to 674 residential units, 43,037 square feet of retail space, and 673 parking spaces. Under the city’s inclusionary housing laws, 221 of those units would be affordable (71 to be built on site and 150 dedicated to the city for development). Of the total parking spaces, 166 spaces would replace existing parking spots at the site.

Bay West, developer of the San Francisco Design Center, has owned the Concourse building for 30 years and wants to demolish and rebuild as part of the Eastern Neighborhoods Rezoning and Area Plans, the blueprint for development in a part of the city dominated by working class residents.

That controversial plan was in development for years, during which there was a moratorium on approval of large projects, and it was finally adopted in 2008. It was created to redevelop The Mission, Showplace Square/Potrero Hill, East SoMa, and the Central Waterfront — 7 percent of the city’s 47 square miles — over 20 years.

“It’s our feeling that the building itself is beyond its use as an exhibit hall and we’re replacing it with housing units,” said Sean Murphy, a partner at Bay West.

The Planning Commission heard the draft Environmental Impact Report for the proposal on July 28. At the hearing, the commissioners expressed interest in seeing the progression of the development, but not all were convinced.

“There is a certain amount of vagueness,” said Commissioner Kathrin Moore. “This EIR is ultimately tempered by the strong policy issues that underlie building in the Eastern Neighborhoods and at this moment I don’t quite see that.”

The proposal has left some questions unanswered, such as, where will the small vendors go to sell their wares? Bay West has suggested exhibition halls like the Cow Palace or Moscone Center, but Green Festival organizers say that isn’t realistic for everyone. “We would lose some of our vendors if we went to Moscone,” said Van De Kamp. “There’s some people that can’t come. A lot of the green economy is about mom and pops. They can’t afford it.”

Sue Hestor, a land-use attorney who opposes the development, asked vendors who use the Concourse how important leaving the center would be. “For a lot of people,” she said, “it meant the difference for them being viable or not.”

It would be a major challenge to move, said Robbie Kowal, the co-director of Sea of Dreams, a huge party and concert that will hold its seventh annual celebration this New Years Eve at the Concourse. “There’s the Cow Palace, and the Design Center, but it’s not that big, not a place where you can put a proper concert on one side and a multitude of different kinds of spaces [on the other]. The Sea of Dreams’ success is attributable to the proper use of the Concourse.”

With 125,000 square feet of space that can be split into its west and east halls and a mezzanine, the Concourse building has catered to annual festivals and events for more than 20 years, holding as many as 6,800 people at once.

“There’s room for so many different communities in there. We love our home,” said Kowal. “It’s a really unique and wonderful space.”

The redwood frame of the Concourse, accented by glass fronts that allow for natural lighting, used to be a furniture mart and then a fashion and jewelry mart before it was an event center. The project proposal’s architect, David Baker and Partners, has already designed many of the new buildings in Showplace Square.

Bay West isn’t worried about where the Concourse shows will go. “Most of our shows use less than 20,000 square feet,” said Murphy. “The larger shows would go to the 100,000 square foot San Mateo County Event Center.”

Tony Kelly of the Potrero Boosters Neighborhood Association says the intention of the plan is to reduce the light industrial area by zoning more of it for residential uses, protecting only about half of it and converting the remainder.

“This is an area where we don’t have enough parks, or transit. The project would double the population, and we don’t have enough new infrastructure to handle it,” he said. “It’s essentially a ticking time bomb that the city’s going to have to get a handle on at some point, or these residents are going to be miserable.”

Though the project would create at least an acre of publicly accessible open space, some residents wonder if it’s enough, and the concern about insufficient transit remains.

“It seems to me that once again there is too much parking near a freeway entrance, inadequate transit that is not likely to improve significantly once the Transit Effectiveness Project [a city plan for improving Muni service] is implemented,” said activist Sue Vaughan, who rides her bike at least part way during her commute from the Richmond District to REI at 840 Brannan Street for work.

“This is exactly the kind of place that attracts (commuters),” said Hestor. “There’s too much parking. There’s crappy transit. It totally undermines any idea of sustainable development.”

But at the commission hearing, Commissioner Hisashi Sugaya didn’t think Hestor’s argument had merit. “Parking is not an environmental impact as far as the city is concerned,” he said.

Vaughan says that Muni managers have been absent from several development meetings in the Eastern Neighborhoods area. “No one from Muni was represented on this panel discussion about the Sustainable Communities Strategy,” she said, referring to a July 6 meeting convened by the Planning Department to discuss the importance of building housing next to accessible transit.

The Concourse is scarcely accessible by bus lines 10 and 19, but with a growing population in Showplace Square, it wouldn’t be enough, says Vaughan. “We’re moving forward with all these projects with lots of parking near freeway entrances, which makes it seems like SF is becoming a bedroom community for Silicon Valley. You have an impact on Muni when that happens. With more cars, there’s more congestion for buses.”

Bay West argues that the apartments it plans to build at the Concourse site would be “workforce housing” with less than 1:1 parking (actual parking would work out to .79:1 at the 801 Brannan site and .64:1 at the One Henry Adams site). More than 40 percent of the units would be larger two-bedroom units intended for families.

Yet Kelly says that that by offering the apartments at market rates, none are appropriate for new families. “For all the talk about keeping families here, then how come we’re not building family housing?”

It’s a max-out project, says San Francisco architect Dick Millet, of the Potrero Boosters Neighborhood Association. “In the end, under their breath, they’re all going to say, I wouldn’t live there myself.”

State park closures raise difficult issues


The recent state budget cuts remind us to treasure the natural beauty of California reflected in our state parks that we’ve taken for granted — until now. For the first time in state history, budget cuts will require closing up to 70 of our 278 state parks by July 1, 2012.

The closures are a result of the budget cuts of $11 million for the next fiscal year 2011-12. Another $11 million will be cut for the following fiscal year 2012-13. In the Bay Area alone, 20 state parks are set for closure, including Samuel P. Taylor State Park in Marin County and Castle Rock State Park in Santa Cruz County. “These cuts are unfortunate, but the state’s current budget crisis demands that tough decisions be made,” Resources Secretary John Laird said in a prepared statement.

Because no state park has ever been closed before, “we’re still figuring out what a closed park looks like,” said Danita Rodriguez, state park superintendent of Marin County.

One option is to continue to let people into the parks, but without facilities—no potable water, no bathrooms. Rodriguez hopes to create new partnerships and operating agreements in an effort to keep some of the doomed parks open, at least seasonally. “We’re in a whole new ball game right now,” she said.

Though the state park system has no intention of privatizing its parks to keep them open, it is still developing plans and guidelines and could allow private companies to operate parks under state rules as equipment rental places and restaurants within parks already do.

“In Little Basin, there’s United Camps Conferences and Retreats that operates the campground for us,” said California Department of Parks and Recreation Deputy Director of Communications Roy Stearns. “If we can find more professional campground organizations that can run campgrounds, under our rules, we’re going to consider it.”

The goal is to keep the land public, but to keep it open with private sector help if necessary, a scenario that could raise controversial privatization issues depending on what the department allows. At least 92 percent of today’s park attendance will be retained, even with the closure of 70 parks. But no one knows how the individual parks will be affected. “There are many unanswered questions,” said Chet Bardo, state park superintendent of Santa Cruz County. One such question is, how do you close a beach?

“It would be very difficult to keep people out,” Rodriguez said. But if you continue to let people in, they could act as extra eyes and ears to discourage vandalism.

Bardo suggested shortening the parks’ open seasons. “We’ve just never done this before,” so they don’t know what’s going to happen. Bardo is in the middle of submitting draft proposals for alternatives to full park closures, which could begin as early as February 2012, according to Stearns, as park employees begin getting laid off or moved to vacancies in other parks.

“Anybody who cares for their parks should visit them now and in the future, if they can,” said Bardo. 



Candlestick Point State Recreation Area

Gray Whale Cove State Beach

Samuel P. Taylor State Park

Tomales Bay State Park

Castle Rock State Park

Portola Redwoods State Park

Henry W. Coe State Park

Twin Lakes State Beach

Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park

Brennan Island State Recreation Area

Benicia Capitol State Historic Park/Benicia State Recreation Area

Olompali State Historic Park

China Camp State Park

Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park

Jack London State Historic Park

Annadel State Park

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park

Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park

Bothe-Napa Valley State Park

Austin Creek State Recreation Area

For a map of all parks identified for closure statewide, go to


Is LEED really green?

The archangel of sustainable development has arrived, promising much needed city housing that will add to the “social fabric of the waterfront community” with its glamorous green rooftops and unheard-of bay views. This is going to be the greenest building of them all, or so we’ve been told, but the truth is a bit more complicated.

A condominium development 25-plus years in the making, 8 Washington would transform the site of the Golden Gateway Tennis and Swim Club near Pier 39. The developer plans to renovate the recreation center with a larger fitness facility, provide two new waterfront parks with public access, and supply 30,000 feet of ground-floor retail stores and restaurants beneath its 165 new luxury apartments.

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? The problem with this $345 million project is that it’s being touted, with its “green building” LEED certification, as the most sustainable structure it can possibly be.

But there’s nothing sustainable about building high-end condos in San Francisco, a city with too many high-end condos and not enough affordable housing. And LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), the most popular sustainable development certification system in the country, is a lie — at least as your friendly neighborhood building developer is marketing it.

LEED, the baby of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is a great marketing tool for developers in San Francisco, the city with the single most LEED certified buildings in the United States. San Francisco was just named the “greenest” city in North America at the 2011 Aspen Ideas Festival, largely due to its extensive representation of green buildings — which normally means structures built with recycled materials, near a transportation hub, featuring some solar panels or other renewable energy sources.

“LEED is certainly a positive thing,” Planning Commission President Christina Olague told us. “There’s this whole push toward green sustainability.”

The project’s “platinum” LEED status is all a San Francisco developer could hope for to attract the green — and more important, the city’s approval.

“LEED certification is part and parcel to the vision for the project,” said PJ Johnston of PJ Johnston Communications, speaking for the developer. “The city, neighborhood, and waterfront deserve healthy, sustainable structures, living spaces, public spaces, and amenities. That’s exactly what 8 Washington will bring.”

LEED has become the final word in green building — if your building is LEED certified, you’re golden. But all this green they’ve been feeding us is really a misleading, incomplete rating system.

The first thing to consider is that sustainable development, even if it uses recycled materials and 10 percent sun-powered electricity, is still development. Any time a structure is torn down, “the energy and materials in that [original structure] are going to get sent to landfills somewhere. You gotta calculate all that,” said sustainable development activist Brad Paul, a former SF deputy mayor, who believes in considering the entire “life cycle of a building” in determining its sustainability.

Even the Environmental Protection Agency sometimes discounts essential considerations of sustainable building. When it sought a new SF office space in 2009, its intention was to find a home that was “a model of sustainable development,” the SF Biz Times reported. But its first choice was to build new development, at the site at 350 Bush Street — with its environmental costs of demolition, throwing out old materials, and starting from scratch.

Last month, the EPA decided to remain at 75-95 Hawthorne Street instead of moving to a new building, but not because it was the sustainable choice. No deal was reached for 350 Bush, and as Regional Public Affairs Officer Traci Madison said, “There was no other option to choose from.”

Although it’s a measure of a structure’s material sustainability, LEED does not consider a building’s life cycle, or even its use. Consider 8 Washington. The developer has boasted that it’s the most expensive housing project in San Francisco history, with a hefty price tag of $3 million to $10 million per apartment.

“Who can afford these luxury condos, and what do they use them for?” Paul asks. “These guys who work for hedge funds on Wall Street,” who use the condo as a second or third home and commute on their private jets to get there.

Johnston said 8 Washington will be marketed to a “mix of buyers, including young professionals, empty-nesters looking to move back to San Francisco, and families … The project has many two- and three-bedroom units, encouraging family living,” he said. But it’s unlikely that those who can afford a condo of this luxury will make it their only home.

“[Board President] David Chiu says he’s worried about SF becoming a bedroom community for Silicon Valley,” said Paul. “I’m more worried about this being a bedroom community for New York, Boston, L.A.”

Instead of providing the affordable housing that San Francisco so needs, projects like 8 Washington attract the wealthy, who aren’t using public transportation. Instead, Paul said, they burn tons of fossil fuels using their new condos as weekend getaways.



LEED certifies buildings as “sustainable developments” based on the following categories: sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation in design and regional priority.

Earning points in each category brings a building closer to LEED certification, which requires at least 40 points. Above “silver” and “gold” status, a “platinum” LEED certification requires 80 points. But how builders get the points is what matters. For example, a developer might skimp on the insulation to install extra solar panels and get more points for a less efficient building.

Does LEED consider a building’s actual use? “The short answer is no,” said Jennifer Easton, a communications associate at the USGBC who added, “We want [LEED] to be used by every type of project.” But despite its billing, LEED tells an incomplete story.

“It’s just green drapery,” said SF attorney Sue Hestor, a slow growth advocate. “They’ve really had a PR machine. They keep touting all this greenness.”

LEED certification has value, Paul said, but it doesn’t turn multimillion dollar condos green. “There is absolutely no need for high-end luxury housing in the city right now,” he said.

Building luxury condos in place of affordable housing encourages the “Manhattanization” phenomenon, attracting wealthy out-of-towners to expend fuel on their private jets to get to their new crash pads.

“They aren’t gonna be living there all year,” Olague said of residents of luxury housing. “We hear a lot of, ‘We need more housing.’ If you keep building housing for the top 2 percent, how does it lessen the demand on your average workforce?”

But not everyone sees luxury condo-building as counterproductive. “Building that project actually allows for more affordable housing,” said Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of SPUR (San Francisco Planning + Urban Research Association). “It’ll provide housing for some people, and that can only be helpful to the housing market. If you don’t build new condos, then people just compete for the crumbs, and that means people who are rich push the rest of us out.”

In other words, if you give the rich housing, then they won’t take over your flat in the Mission — if they ever really wanted it in the first place. “I don’t think we can impose some kind of hipster elitism that they’re not our kind of people so they’re not allowed in,” Metcalf said of the wealthy out-of-towners.

LEED agrees. “We don’t want [LEED] to be for one specific group of people,” Easton said. “We have LEED-certified homeless shelters, but having a LEED certified luxury condo building is an advantage. We can’t control if someone is flying across the country in a jumbo jet every day — but we can control their energy efficiency in a building.”



For the typical working class San Franciscan, living modestly is a must and public transportation is essential. So there’s an inherent environmental advantage to attracting residents who don’t rely on polluting planes and cars.

“There’s a definite need for workforce housing, middle class housing in San Francisco,” Paul says. “I guarantee you none of those people get there by private jet. The less income people have, the more likely they’re going to be to use public transit.”

But 8 Washington and luxury developments like it don’t foster public transit. The more wealthy people who move in, the more low-income residents get displaced — to the East Bay or other areas with more affordable housing. It’s another strike against sustainability when these workers opt to drive back into the city for work instead paying for BART, says Paul, particularly when they drive older, less-efficient cars.

“LEED was a way to spell an environmentally friendly product, but you have to figure in the extra driving,” said Paul.

But 8 Washington gets LEED points for building on a site close to public transit in an attempt to discourage individual car pollution. But will wealthy condo owner actually take the infrequent F-line with all the tourists instead of parking their $150,000 car in the underground parking garage right below their feet?

“When you’re talking about sustainable practices and reducing greenhouse gas emissions and how it relates to land use planning, it makes you wonder if that’s supposed to [solely] relate to housing people near transit corridors,” said Olague. “It seems to me you have to look at equity.”

The garage at 8 Washington, to be built below sea level under the condos, will house 415-plus parking spaces. The developer says that 250 of the spaces will be offered as public parking for the busy Ferry Building down the street, but the 165 additional spaces guarantee one parking space for each residential unit.

“Given the larger size of the residential units and the fact that the majority of the units are two to three bedrooms, we believe that one parking space per dwelling is appropriate,” said Johnston. Appropriate, maybe, but not environmentally friendly.



Wealthy people and affordable housing aside, LEED doesn’t actually measure the energy used in a building, says New York City-based architectural associate Henry Gifford. He filed a $100 million class action lawsuit against LEED last October for gaining a monopoly on the sustainable development market by making false claims about buildings’ energy savings.

“They say that the building is required to be energy efficient. But the building doesn’t have to be energy efficient — it just has to earn points, to promise it’s going to be energy efficient,” Gifford said.

It’s up to the developer what computer software is used to predict a building’s energy efficiency, and Gifford says that computer diagrams can easily be manipulated and do not consider inconsistent factors, like weather.

“California is the promise land,” said Gifford. “All you’re required to do is provide a promise. The sad thing is that it removes all the integrity from the process — it encourages lying.”

Furthermore, once the building is built and has achieved LEED certification, the building’s actual energy use in its life cycle isn’t considered. The only way you can truly know if a building is energy efficient is by looking at the utility bills, says Gifford. But once it’s LEED-certified, who cares?

There is a voluntary program called Building Performance Partnership (BPP) that tracks a building’s energy and water use over time. “The idea is we want LEED to be a system where it enacts change in the actual building,” said Easton. But the problem is the building has already gained LEED certification before the first utility bill is even mailed.

“We publish baseball scores. With everything in life, people get scored,” said Gifford, who operates with transparency in developing energy efficient buildings in New York, hosting open houses after buildings are built with printouts of their recent utility bill history.

LEED was never intended to have the final say on sustainable building, to be a seal of green approval, according to a New York Times op-ed by Alec Appelbaum last year (“Don’t LEED us astray,” 5/19/10). “Rather it was to be a set of guidelines for architects, engineers, and others who want to make buildings less wasteful. However, developers quickly realized that its ratings — certified, silver, gold, or platinum — were great marketing tools, allowing them to charge a premium on rents.”

Therein lies the issue. Yes, 8 Washington will “allow for more ‘eyes on the street’ at all hours of the day” and provide two or three-bedroom units for families who can afford them, as it promises. But a sustainable structure is far different than the promise of a sustainable life cycle of a building. And a promise is just that. *

UPDATE: Jennifer Easton at LEED wrote to inform us that, although the 8 Washington website clearly states that the project will include LEED certified buidlings, “We would like to clarify that 8 Washington is not a LEED-certified project, nor a LEED-registered project.”



July 7: Community Vision for San Francisco’s Northeast Waterfront

July 14: City demographics and sustainability; the need for low-income housing; presentation of “jet fuel burn rate” argument.

July 21: 8 Washington’s EIR approval hearing

All hearings to be held at 12 p.m. in the Commission Chambers, Room 400, City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place.



Let’s assume that just five of the 165 condo buyers at 8 Washington (3 percent) are Wall Street hedge fund traders or venture capitalists using them as second or third homes. Let’s also assume they’ll use them 1.5 times a month and commute to SF aboard their business jet, a reasonable assumption for Wall Street execs making tens of millions in salary and bonuses. Why would they fly by private jet rather than take Southwest or Amtrak? Because they can. This must be factored into any environmental analysis of a project that explicitly markets to this demographic and include the following:

Mid to large size business jets used to fly cross country (Hawker 800XP, Gulfstream G2/ G3, Bombardier Global Express) on average burn 400 gallons of jet fuel/hour, take 6 hours to fly New York to SFO and 5 hours for return trip. Therefore, a single round trip burns:

11 hours X 400 gallons per hour = 4,400 gallons of jet fuel per trip. A typical family car uses 1,200 gallons of gas per year, so one flight from NYC to 8 Washington equals almost four years of driving a family car.

1.5 trips/mo. = 6,600 gallons X 12 months = 79,200 gallons of jet fuel/year or the equivalent of driving a family car for 66 YEARS each month.

Using our example of five residents, the numbers over one year and 20 years are:

5 X 79,200 gallons/per year = 396,000 GALLONS OF JET FUEL A YEAR or equal to driving a family car 330 years, A THIRD OF A MILLENNIUM, each year.

396,000 gal. X 20 yrs. = 7,920,000 gallons of jet fuel, equivalent of driving family car 6,600 years, OVER 6 MILLENNIUM, in 20 years.

Given this reality, the 8 Washington environmental impact report must analyze such questions as:

How many solar panels are needed compensate for burning 396,000 gallons of jet fuel/year? How many low flow toilets would make up for burning 396,000 gallons of jet fuel/year? Etc.

Cleaning up UC’s mess


By 7 a.m., when engineering students begin to trickle into Cory Hall at UC Berkeley, Arnold Meza has already scrubbed the floors, wiped clean the chalkboards, and emptied the trash of 30 offices and many of the classrooms and hallways of the six-floor building.

His early shift as a custodian is a gift, he says, because it is steady compared to his former swing-shift schedule, but Meza is still barely making rent. And he is a single father of four. Like many service workers in the University of California system, Meza wonders how the university can refuse to give him a 3 percent wage increase while top UC executives receive six-figure bonuses every year.

“It falls on broken promises,” Meza said while tying up a bag of trash, one of hundreds he would take out that week. Meza was referring to an agreement in 2009 between the university and its service workers unions, including Meza’s union, AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees). At that time, the administration established a minimum wage (currently $13 per hour) for the more than 7,000 service workers and agreed, if funding was available, to increase wages annually to bring their low-wage workers out of poverty.

But the university is going back on its promise, refusing to increase wages with the funding dedicated for that very purpose, the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy and the Partnership for Working Families (EBASE) notes in its recent report titled “Bad Budgeting, Broken Promises.”

As the UC Office of the President sees it, the 2009 discussion was not an agreement at all, but a “conditional memorandum of understanding” that would only be effective if state funding was available, said UCOP spokeswoman Dianne Klein.

“We’ve already taken $500 million in cuts. We’ll have to take another $500 million in cuts. Because there is no new money, the memorandum of understanding is moot,” Klein told us.

The state budget vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown last week would have set the UC system back $150 million in cuts on top of the $500 million in cuts approved by Brown in January. How much more will actually be cut from UC funding remains to be seen, but the forecast is not promising.

Despite the cuts, the proposed budget bill states that $3 million in distributed state funds should go toward the salaries and benefit of service workers in the UC system. In a March 24 letter to the governor, UC President Mark Yudof requested that the governor veto that restriction so the university could use the dedicated $3 million “to preserve our flexibility in dealing with the $500 million reduction.”

Compared to the total UC budget of $21.8 billion, that $3 million makes up only 0.014 percent — nickels and dimes to give employees a living wage.

Meanwhile, Meza and his fellow coworkers struggle to put food on the table, making ends meet by working two jobs. After his 4 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday shift, Meza works eight-hour shifts as a car mechanic on weekends. Similarly, many UC service workers collect cans to get a few dollars from the recycling center.

“When I started here 20 years ago, I was making close to $9 an hour. That wasn’t enough,” recalled Meza, who put his four children through public high school on that salary. Today, Meza brings home about $2,400 a month, barely enough to cover rent and a few bills at his El Cerrito home.

“I want my kids to go to college. But financially, I can’t afford it,” he said. “For me, it’s a sad reality.”

Meza’s union, AFSCME, is working with UC to lower the workers’ contribution to retirement pensions to 1.5 percent. The university proposes a 3.5 percent pension plan to go into effect this July and 5 percent in July 2012—the same amount requested from top UC executives. At their low wage, that would cost the service workers the equivalent of one biweekly paycheck a year.

Some UC executives, such as UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, receive additional retirement perks. Roughly 200 highly paid UC executives receive a supplemental retirement benefit of 5 percent of their annual pay, said Nikki Fortunato Bas, the executive director of EBASE. That’s a total annual cost to UC of $4 million.

“If UC gets its way in 2011, instead of getting to climb that next rung on the ladder out of poverty, [the low wage workers] will take a step backward through a combination of increased contributions to retirement and healthcare and UC withholding a 3 percent raise,” Bas said. “All the while, UC is showering already highly-paid executives with six-figure bonuses.”

In an infamous budget battle that has required the UC system to restructure its quickly diminishing funding from the state, more than 100,000 employees’ paychecks have been reduced while top execs like UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center CEO David Feinberg receive thousands of dollars in bonuses. In September 2010, Feinberg’s base pay was increased by 22 percent and he received a $250,000 “retention bonus,” for a total compensation of $1.33 million.

These astounding numbers, as part of a $3.1 million package in bonuses for 37 UC executives last September, were quoted in the EBASE report, using data from the UC Regents website (

UCOP says the retention bonuses are necessary “because we pay below market as it is [for top executives’ salaries],” said Klein, and the UC needs to offer huge bonuses to keep the executives from moving to higher paying universities. “You have two options: sayonara or we’ll match it,” Klein said. “You can’t recruit in the classifieds for these people … and you’ll have to replace them for the same money, anyway.”

The bonuses are not state-funded, said Klein, but are taken from research grants, patient care, and even federal funding. But Bas said the problem is with UC’s priorities: “Time and again, they have shown that they can find money to give bonuses or backfill sports programs,” she said. “UC may look at this as a matter of technicalities, but we cannot ignore the stories of employees and their families who are struggling to get by.”

As it stands, UC is short-staffed when it comes to service workers. “We’ve been short-staffed for the last 10 years,” said Meza, who estimates that UC Berkeley employs about 140 custodians, less than one-third of the 460 or so custodians the university employed in the 1980s. The result is that the students suffer, said Meza. “The students are getting the short end of the stick because we can only clean once a week in some classrooms because we’re short staff. We see the students pay a lot with tuition, and they’re getting less.”

Already, student fees have increased by more than 32 percent, and another 8 percent fee increase is pending, reported EBASE. As the state continues to make cuts, students and low wage service workers suffer the consequences.

According to the California Budget Project, a single-parent family needs to make $68,375 a year just to make ends meet in Alameda County. “UC workers have reduced-cost healthcare, so this number could be adjusted downward to $58,544,” said Bas. “For a custodian at UC Berkeley or UC San Francisco making $30,000 or even $40,000 a year, this means working two jobs and collecting cans just to scrape by.”

When his oldest was nine years old, Meza remembers, he used to drive his family to the recycling center to get cash for cans he had taken out of the garbage. “The kids were happy in the car because I was going to get money for food when I recycled cans,” which meant there would be dinner on the table that night, Meza said, apologizing for getting teary-eyed at the memory.

“I just don’t want people who work here to go through what I went through to raise a family,” he said.

No matter how many cars Meza fixes on the weekend, he never seems to have a break from the stress of trying to cover fuel, rent, heating bills, doctors’ bills, and other necessities. He’s only 43, but he feels much older after 20 years of working two jobs, seven days a week, providing for four children on his own.

UC workers, unions like AFSCME and other stakeholders have proposed $600 million in budget alternatives such as reducing the excessive 7-to-1 employee-to-management ratio (at UC Berkeley, the average is four employees to one manager). Yet UC does not appear to be seriously considering these alternatives; its current goal is to take back the $3 million dedicated to its low-wage service workers.

“We think this is a matter of finding the will within the UC administration to do what’s right by honoring their word to protect working families’ a path out of poverty,” Bas said.

Two months ago, Meza and his fellow union members marched into UC Berkeley’s Chancellor Robert Birgeneau’s office and asked him to spend one day in the life of a service worker on campus. He still hasn’t answered their request.

“People are really struggling here. We are committed to working and we give 110 percent — that should be accounted for,” said Meza. “Give us our 3 percent. We earned it.”