Melanie Ruiz

Finding the right dog walker


If you wake up every morning and begin your day with a leisurely stroll to the park to spend time frolicking with your beloved pup and other pup friends, you’re blessed. But if your schedule isn’t so flexible — and you’ve got a little cash to spare — there’s an easy way to keep your BFF (best furry friend) exercised, socialized, trained, and happy.

Hundreds of dog walkers in this city are looking for your business. There are companies and independent walkers, playgroups and privates. Some pet sit, some don’t. Some even bathe your pooch if it happens to get too dirty while out on the town.

But there are also some operators who cram too many dogs into small vehicles, pay little attention to them while they run amok on public land, and don’t show much concern for your pet’s overall health. So it’s important to take some time finding someone who has a good reputation, a good rapport with your dog, and has a training philosophy you either share or would like to learn.

Start with your doggie’s temperament. If she thrives with other dogs, go playgroup. If not, one-on-one time is best. Endless energy and in need of a vigorous workout? Maybe a daily jogging session is required. Dogs who don’t get along with other dogs won’t be accepted by most dog walkers — although some specialize in behavior problems.

Next, pick a setting. It’s not always the case that off-leash park romps are the best option. If your pooch has anxiety in new places, say due to poor eyesight, maybe a neighborhood haunt is best. If she is limited by arthritis, a stroll close to home might be ideal.

Then go observe the dog walkers in action. Find someone whose energy fits your dog’s and start asking questions. Ask for references. Ask happy dog owners or your veterinarian’s office for recommendations.

Transparency, friendliness, and willingness to spend time answering your questions are good signs; nevertheless, the proof is in the meeting. Make sure you have an interview with all potential dog walkers. Most dogs get driven together to parks, so make sure the vehicle is safe, large, and cool enough.

Good dog walkers train their charges during their time with them. Great ones become extended family members. And remember: you’re trusting this person with the keys to your home. There’s no state or city licensing required, so make sure your dog walker is bonded and insured. Top-end dog walkers are often members of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and have taken classes in animal behavior.

I recently spent an hour romping around in the Presidio with 10 ecstatic dogs and walker Andrew Frye. Frye is the newest partner of Who Let the Dogs Out (WLTDO). Lauren Goldboss, who started the company seven years ago after deciding she’d rather be outside with dogs than inside with bankers, calls Frye "the best dog walker in the city."

Frye takes out two playgroups a day, and Goldboss says people beg to be in his group. After 30 minutes of picking up the pups and getting to the park — favorites are Crissy Field, the Presidio, Bernal Heights, and McClaren Park — he runs around with the dogs playing ball and teaching them tricks. He taught Birdie the cattle dog to weave in and out of his legs as he walks.

Frye loves his job and is great at training the pups to behave while showing them a fabulous time. He has no formal education in dog training, but reads extensively about classical conditioning and spends his free time talking to other people and dog walkers about tips for making the animals learn and behave.

Goldboss says the most important thing she looks for when hiring dog walkers is the way they interact with the dogs. They need to be willing, able, and happy to run around with the dogs everyday — rain or shine.

For an hour of park time five days a week WLTDO charges a monthly rate of $385 — a relative bargain. Some independent walkers I spoke with charge $15– $30 per trip, depending on the details, so you can spend as much as $600 a month for a daily walk. Typically, there are discounts for households with multiple dogs.

One benefit of hiring an established company is consistency. If your dog walker gets sick or takes a vacation, other staff can fill in, leaving your schedule is undisturbed.

But if your own schedule is flexible or is subject to sudden changes, make sure your dog walker is open to that and won’t charge you for days when you don’t need the services. Individual dog walkers are often willing to be accommodating.

Finally, different companies offer different services: SF Puppy Prep, for example, ( specializes in adolescent dogs.

On a beautiful, sunny Tuesday, it definitely didn’t suck going out to the park to bounce around with the dogs. As Ernie the bulldog rolled around on the beach, covering his wrinkly face with a thin brown mask of sand, I knew he had found the perfect dog walker in Frye. Earlier that morning, I saw the same honest grin on Jack the standard poodle as he wrestled with his neighborhood friends in the run. That’s one of the best standards of all — your dog walker is having fun, and so is your BFF.

The truth about San Francisco’s budget


“San Francisco,” SF Weekly recently proclaimed, “is arguably the worst-run big city in America.” That’s a hell of a claim — the levels of corruption and mismanagement in urban America are legendary. But the Weekly’s Benjamin Wachs and Joe Eskenazi set out to prove their case — with a series of mostly anecdotal points that looked at the usual targets: Nonprofits. Unions. And one senior Newsom administration staffer who pretty much everyone agrees was a horrible manager.

We were tempted to just let it go. Sure, there’s plenty of incompetence and waste in the Newsom administration. There’s a need for more accountability in some of the nonprofits that get city money. The police union got too big a raise in 2007.

That pattern also exists in a lot of other big cities. You wanna make a big headline by claiming SF is the very worst? Whatever.
But the heart of the Weekly’s factual analysis was a chart that purports to show that San Francisco spends vastly more per capita than other “comparable” cities. That’s a claim we hear all the time, one that the more conservative political forces constantly use to argue against higher taxes (and in favor of big spending cuts).

So it’s worth exploring a little further. Because when you look at all the facts, the Weekly analysis is just wrong.

Comparing cities is a complex task — urban areas in America are governed in very different ways. You can’t, for example, compare San Francisco to any other city in California because San Francisco is the only combined city and county. Get arrested in Berkeley, and the Alameda County sheriff locks you up, the Alameda County district attorney prosecutes you, the Alameda County public defender takes your case, and the Alameda County courts adjudicate it. And if you win, you ride home on AC Transit — a separate system that isn’t in the budget of either the city or the county.

In San Francisco, all those things are in the same city budget.

But Wachs and Eskenazi decided to get beyond that. “Any time someone tries to point out that San Francisco has serious systemic problems, the response (from the Mayor’s Office, from city bureaucrats, and sometimes even from city activists) is that ‘San Francisco is both a city and a county,’ as if that explained everything,” Wachs told us in an e-mail. “So the comparison was already being made as part of the city’s defense: San Francisco is a city-county, and what appear to be systemic problems are actually just features of being a city-county.

“We proved that isn’t the case: San Francisco’s per capita spending is significantly out of line even when compared to other large city-counties.”
Actually, it’s more than just the city-county distinction. The large cities-counties SF Weekly chose are so dramatically different in the services they do — and don’t — provide that the comparison comes close to being meaningless. Ken Bruce, a partner in the Harvey Rose Accountancy Firm, which serves as San Francisco’s budget analyst and does similar work in other cities, is no fan of wasteful spending. But he told us he wasn’t impressed with the Weekly chart: “I have yet to see a rigorous analysis done comparing San Francisco to other cities,” he said.

And the way the Weekly added up the numbers was, at best, misleading.

For starters, San Francisco runs (and includes in its city budget) an airport, port, public transit system, county hospital, and skilled nursing facility (Laguna Honda), for a total of more than $2 billion. None of the comparison cities do all those things. Or rather, some do those same things — but they aren’t in the local budget.

In Philadelphia, for example, the public transit system is a regional agency. Philly chips in $63 million from its general fund to help the Southeast Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA). SF pays almost three times that much to run its own Muni, because the overhead costs are included in the local budget. Philly taxpayers spend much more than $63 million on SEPTA — it just comes out of a different budget and funding stream, so it isn’t in the figures the Weekly used. Denver’s transit system is regional too, and thus not in the city-county budget.

In Indianapolis, the city transit system, Indygo, is far less complicated than ours. Jenny Brown, a spokesperson for Indygo, told us she was amazed her city was being compared to San Francisco: “Our transit system is not in the same league as yours,” she said.

Philadelphia also does not pay for a county hospital or include its port or airport in its budget. Neither does Denver.

There’s also a difference in most municipalities between the general fund (locally allocated spending) and the total budget, which includes federal and state money, self-sustaining departments, etc. In Philadelphia that’s a big distinction — more than $3 billion a year — but the Weekly compared Philly’s general fund to SF’s total budget (something Wachs admitted to us was his mistake).

So we took this a step further. First, in Chart A, we compare apples to apples — general funds to general funds. It turns out SF and Philly are relatively close in per capita spending. Then we adjusted the budgets to account for the fact that SF includes in its budget a lot of services other cities and counties budget somewhere else. That makes all the comparison cities a lot closer.

But can you really compare San Francisco — with its diverse and complex population and urban problems — to Indianapolis or Nashville? Even Denver? If even the folks in Indianapolis think that’s kind of bogus, we figured we could do better. So we set out to find some cities that make a more fair comparison. We included Philadelphia, but added Los Angeles and Chicago (New York, by the way, is so big, so complex, and has so many counties, boroughs, and budget items, that it’s not fair to compare that city to any other — even though is would help our case). To account for the city-county issue, we added to the L.A. and Chicago city budgets a percentage of the L.A. County and Cook County, Ill. spending equal to each city’s percentage of the county population. (Not a perfect yardstick, but pretty close).

As Chart C shows, all four big cities are within about 30 percent of each other in terms of per capita spending.

But there’s another big factor — cost of living. The vast majority of the budgets of these cities goes to employee pay and benefits — and it stands to reason that a city with a higher cost of living would have to pay its employees more. And San Francisco has by far the highest cost of living (according to the latest figures from the Council for Community and Economic Research’s ACCRA Cost of Living Index) of all the cities in this chart.

So we adjusted per capita spending by the cost of living index (SF = 169, L.A. 145.4; Philadelphia, 124.1; and Chicago, 110.8) and discovered that in fact all four big cities spend roughly the same per capita — although San Francisco spends the least.

So is San Francisco a service-rich city (like L.A., Philadelphia, and Chicago)? Absolutely. Is SF’s spending far out of whack with what other similar municipalities spend? No, not at all. All things considered, it’s a little low.

PS: The Weekly spent much of its article attacking the lack of accountability in the city’s $500 million’ worth of nonprofit spending. That’s a huge issue, but oddly, the Weekly didn’t quote a single person who supports the system San Francisco uses to distribute services through nonprofits.

We’ve been critical of many individual nonprofits, and some are over-funded, wasteful, and of dubious value. But overall, as labor activist Robert Haaland told us: “The fact that an individual nonprofit isn’t performing up to standard doesn’t mean that the services aren’t needed.”

And there are many who say the San Francisco model is, in fact, a national standard. Margaret Brodkin, former director of the Mayor’s Office for Children, Youth, and Families, helped develop the current system of nonprofit accountability in that office. She has been invited to speak all over the country about the standards and data system they developed. “Others have replicated the data system we had in place. It’s held up as a national model, the data system as well as the standards,” she explained.

So it’s not so simple — and to use a few anecdotes and some inaccurate and misleading figures to call San Francisco the worst managed city in the nation is, well, a bit of a stretch. To say the least.

Cleaner air for Oakland — but no one wants to pay for it


GREEN CITY On Jan. 1, the Port of Oakland and surrounding areas will get cleaner air — and as many as 1,000 truck drivers may lose their jobs.

That’s when the port’s Clean Truck Management Plan (CTMP) takes effect, setting strict requirements for trucks operating in the port. The new rules are an effort to address the public health crisis in communities near the port, where diesel exhaust fumes have been contributing to rampant asthma and increased cancer rates.

While no one questions the need for cleaner air, there’s still a raging battle over who should pay to overhaul old, dirty trucks — and how to make it possible for small independent truckers not to lose their livelihoods.

The new regulations, set by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), ban all trucks older than 1994 from entering the port. Trucks built between 1994 and 2003 are allowed if they’re retrofitted with a special filter, which by most estimates costs between $20,000 and $25,000.

Eventually CARB’s regulations will reduce diesel particulate matter emissions by 90 percent in areas most affected by the noxious pollution.

The problem — at least for some of the drivers — is that two-thirds of the trucks running cargo in and out of the Oakland port are run by independent owner-operators, who say they don’t make enough money on the cargo runs to pay for cleaner trucks or upgrades.

The Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports of Oakland (CCSP) is campaigning with Teamsters Union members and some truckers and Congress members to take the burden off independent owner-operators. But some say the industry model itself is the problem — that all the drivers should be employees of larger trucking firms that can pay for the latest equipment.

"The lack of resources among [independent owner-operators] and the inefficiencies in the current system strongly favor a more employee-oriented drayage sector," states an economic impact report on the issue commissioned by the port and prepared by Beacon Economics.

Currently the drivers wait, engines idling, an average of 3.6 hours at or in the terminal. That’s in part because they don’t get hourly pay — which gives the shippers and trucking contractors little incentive to hurry things.

As independent trucker Abdul Khan puts it: "Everybody certainly wants to have clean air. I might not be happy with this law, but I’m the one in this business being affected by this pollution." Still, with a 2003 engine in his truck, he expects to be out of a job come Jan. 1.

Khan has been a driver at the Port of Oakland for five years. He and his wife and child had to leave their home of 15 years to move in with his brother after fuel prices rose by 300 percent last year.

Khan has been without health insurance for his entire trucking career. The Beacon report states that "most [independent owner-operators] do not have health insurance from any source." Yet they are among those who suffer most from breathing the polluted air all day at work.

In some ways, the problem is the result of the 1990s-era deregulation of the trucking industry. In November, 24 members of California’s Congressional delegation, including East Bay Democratic Reps. Barbara Lee, Pete Stark, and George Miller, signed an open letter to the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee encouraging members of the House to "consider making changes to [federal law] so that California ports can successfully implement and enforce needed truck management programs."

The Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act was supposed to standardize the regulation of cargo carriers and encourage competition. But mistreatment of drivers and detrimental working conditions are, says CCSP director Doug Bloch, some of the consequences of deregulation, which essentially bars local or state governments from legisutf8g industry working conditions.

The Port of Oakland, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District set up a grant fund to help drivers retrofit their equipment to meet the new standards, and some did. But others who sold their older trucks and bought upgradeable models lost out when the money ran dry.

Robert Bernardo, spokesperson for the port, told us the grants were unusual: "Typically, whenever a regulation comes into effect, by CARB or DMV, it’s incumbent upon business owners to purchase any upgrades," he explained.

That’s not a simple story, though, since the finances of port shipping are immensely complex. In theory, the bigger players in the industry — the large trucking companies and the corporations doing most of the shipping — have the access to capital for creating an ecologically-sound fleet and more power to negotiate shipping prices.

When items are shipped from overseas, shipping lines set the prices. Since the commerce is international, there’s no regulation of anything, including prices. The shipping lines set the prices for the trucking companies, which in turn tell the independent truckers what they’ll pay per load. The independently-contracted drivers have no leverage at all.

Matt Schrap, an intermodel transport expert at the California Truckers Association, notes that international shipping rates "are negotiated somewhere in Shanghai and set by steamship lines. Then you go into contract for two to three years at locked-in rate." Since the steamship lines aren’t subject to antitrust laws, he warns of their ability to collude in price-setting.

So the debate has become as much about labor issues as the environment. Some activists argue that the entire economic model of independent drivers contracting with trucking firms is unworkable, and would prefer to see all the drivers become employees. Not all drivers want that; some are happy with being independent. And the trucking contractors love the current system, since they pay no benefits.

Valerie Lapin, spokesperson for the Coalition of Clean and Safe Ports in Oakland, says that that port drivers are misclassified as independent. She explains that typically they can only work for one company, which tells them where and when to go. With the current classification, trucking companies "skirt all responsibility for paying taxes and benefits. Drivers have to pay for everything — trucks, fuel, maintenance, registration, and parking. And [the trucking companies] pay them really low wages."

The fate of the new regulations may depend on what happens to a legal battle at the Port of Los Angeles. L.A. has sought to mandate that trucking companies hire drivers as employees, and the port would allow only newer, cleaner trucks to enter.

But the American Trucking Association sued the port under FAAAA, saying the law bars the city from requiring employee-drivers. The courts put the program on hold until further hearings, scheduled for May 2010.

Paying with our Health, a 2006 report by the Pacific Institute assessing the practicality of "ditching dirty diesel" to improve health in the communities suffering from freight transport pollution, concluded that "the industry is quite capable of standing on its own and paying for cleaner technologies, instead of standing on the backs of California’s poor and minority communities."

It’s not clear what the truckers who own banned trucks will do come Jan. 1. Some say they will look for work elsewhere.

And there’s still the issue of whether the port will have enough clean trucks to haul all the cargo. Bernardo insists that won’t be a problem. Others, including Wayne Steinberg, terminal manager at Horizon Lines, an all-employee based trucking company with a fleet in full compliance, says the company is "extremely concerned about not having enough drivers Jan. 1."

After the peak


To prepare for the inevitable decline in fossil fuel production, San Francisco’s Peak Oil Preparedness Task Force (see "Running on Empty," 1/30/08) has concluded the city needs to rapidly implement the community choice aggregation and its related renewable energy projects, beef up "buy local" programs, convert unused land (including some park and golf course property) into public food gardens, and consider implementing city carbon, gas, vehicle, and fast food taxes.

The task force presented its findings, contained in a 125-page report, to the Board of Supervisors’ Government Audit and Oversight Committee on Sept. 24. It notes the city’s weak current position with respect to the economy, food security, and transportation, yet it remains to be seen how the Board of Supervisors will answer the task force’s call. Sup. Ross Mirkarimi says he will look for ways to initiate some of the short- and long-term recommendations "to legitimize its most salient parts."

San Francisco is the largest U.S. city to produce a sweeping report on the potential impacts of peak oil, a term that refers to the point of maximum oil production, after which extracting dwindling supplies gets steadily more difficult and expensive. Although there isn’t consensus on when the peak will come, the task force’s message is clear: action must be taken now. "The transition cannot be done quickly; the city faces a limited window of opportunity to begin, after which adaptation will become enormously difficult, painful, and expensive," concludes the report. Without sufficient preparation, dwindling supplies of oil and fossil fuel could have dire impacts on San Francisco’s economy, food supply, and security.

Many actions recommended by the task force focus on developing local sustainability. For example, disaster planning needs to cover peak oil phenomena. If delivery of food is delayed or reduced due to fuel shortage, food prices could soar, creating a great need for local options, particularly for low-income families. So the report recommends maximizing the amount of time San Francisco can sustain itself locally.

Specifically, implementing an aggressive "Buy Local First" program that prompts public institutions to purchase regionally produced food when possible would encourage more local food production. A fast food tax could further support this goal. Other recommendations include establishing food production education programs and conducting a comprehensive evaluation of which public lands could be converted to food production. Although the Bay Area is capable of producing enough food to sustain itself, food currently being produced is not diverse enough, and much of it is exported.

The report also warns of the social unrest that could result from improper preparation. San Francisco’s economy depends heavily on travel and visitors, with about 18 percent of city revenue coming from tourism. Escautf8g energy costs and its myriad impacts could send the economy into a prolonged downward spiral.

"With food becoming increasingly expensive, travel and the distribution of goods significantly affected, and unemployment climbing, economically vulnerable populations — including a high percentage of people of color — could experience increasing malnutrition, and some may not be able to maintain health without government intervention," the report reads.

Such future scenarios should affect today’s decisions in all realms, including transportation. Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable Cities and an elected BART board member, said at the Sept. 24 hearing that it doesn’t make sense to fund highway expansions when future resources might not be able to support even the current number of automobiles on the roads.

In fact, he said, there is a cultural shift already underway in which people want to move away from the car-dependant suburbs and into more pedestrian-friendly urban areas, although policymakers haven’t caught up with this trend yet. While BART and Muni fight uphill battles to expand public transit service with dwindling resources, Radulovich pointed out that the Bay Area Metropolitan Transport Commission (MTC) is proposing to direct $6.4 billion toward highway expansion, despite a decline in vehicle miles traveled. Livable Cities coauthored a resolution, recently approved by the Board of Supervisors, urging the MTC to redirect these funds toward improving transit.

As oil becomes scarcer, the need to create and improve communities where people can safely get around by foot or bicycle will be paramount. Ben Lowe, a task force member specializing in transportation security, noted how important it is to look for regional solutions that go beyond individual cities. There is no magic single solution, but dealing with limited-supply and cost-prohibitive oil requires numerous small solutions as we make this transition.

The main obstacle, as Mirkarimi sees it, is that the sense of urgency is not there. Public officials need to educate the public and "to find something, key pieces of legislation, to rally around," he said. He plans to look into formal ways to keep the seven task force members involved in this process, for example, by matching them with policy experts who can facilitate creation of pertinent legislation.

The task force’s mantra for dealing with forthcoming shortages in oil is to integrate peak oil consideration into government planning and all the decisions made by the mayor and Board of Supervisors. Mirkarimi warns that it would be myopic for San Franciscans not to deliberate on the dangers and opportunities outlined in this report.

Read the report at