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Through the cracks journalism

The latest catch.

California drought: S.F. wants to add groundwater to tap

November 24, 2014

By Kurtis Alexander : sfchronicle – excerpt

Most city spigots, which, since the 1930s, have gushed water from Yosemite’s pristine Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, will start delivering the Sierra supply blended with a splash of local groundwater — by many measures, a far inferior sour

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission recently began digging in and around Golden Gate Park in hopes of drawing underground flows into the mix within the next two years. The move is designed to increase and diversify the city’s water reserves as California faces its worst drought in a generation.

The local groundwater isn’t nearly as pure as the Sierra runoff, which is considered among the best water in the nation, and it sometimes contains unsavory, if not unhealthy, deposits.

But city officials say not to worry: The underground reserves are sufficiently clean and palatable, and will be blended with Hetch Hetchy water in small doses — between 10 and 15 percent — to assure a negligible change… (more)

How SF lets developers cheat Muni and affordable housing out of millions

November 23, 2014

By Zelda Bronstein : 48hills – excerpt

When the San Francisco Planning Department allows property zoned for Production, Distribution, and Repair – also known as PDR — to be converted illegally into offices, San Francisco loses more than precious light-industrial land. The city also forfeits hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars that would have gone to Muni and affordable housing.

That’s because new development—not only new buildings but also development that involves a change from a lower intensity use, i.e., PDR, to a higher one, i.e., offices—is supposed to trigger development impact fees.

Impact fees are charged on new development to offset the costs of public infrastructure and services that are created by new workers in those buildings.

And there’s evidence that city planners are repeatedly letting developers off the hook for those costs.

Developers are also using a little-known provision in the planning code to get discounts on the fees they have to pay to convert industrial buildings to office – providing, critics say, an incentive to wipe out what’s left of the city’s workspace for blue-collar jobs…

Speaking at public comment, land use attorney Sue Hestor called the Planning Department’s disposal of TIDF and the Jobs-Housing fee a “farce.” Noting that she’d helped to formulate both programs in the course of a “long struggle in the early Eighties,” Hestor objected to reducing the impact fees by subtracting the PDR fees. That practice, she said, effectively gives property owners “credit for demolishing PDR.”…

Responding to the commissioners’ questions about the netting out of PDR fees, Sucré said, “It’s not a discount.” His boss, Planning Director John Rahaim, repeated that claim, adding that “if there’s an existing use, there are certain impacts associated with that use.” The fee “is simply addressing the additional impact” of the new use—in this case, the “net difference” between the higher impact of office and the lesser impact of PDR. This, Rahaim said, is “standard operating procedure.”

It’s also what’s mandated by Planning Code Section 411.3(c)(2):

When calculating the TIDF for a development project in which there is a change of use such that the rate charged for the new economic activity catgeory is higher than the rate charged for the existing economic activity category, the TIDF per square foot rate for the change of use shall be the differences between the rate charged for the new use and the existing use.

I can’t find a comparable passage in the Planning Code about the Jobs-Housing fees. But Tables 413.6A and 413.6B indicate (after a fashion) that with a change of use from PDR to office, PDR fees are to be subtracted from the office fees… (more)

 

In SoMa, city could hit office developers with new fees to help keep nonprofits from fleeing

November 23, 2014

By : San Francisco Business Times – excerpt

San Francisco developers looking to build office towers in parts of the South of Market neighborhood could for the first time have to pay extra fees to help create new space for nonprofits in the area.

The impact fees — aimed to help nonprofits that have started to flee the city because of high rents — could be adopted as part of the Central SoMa Plan. That zoning plan will set new zoning rules and add millions of dollars worth of land value to the 10.5 acres around the future Central Subway line. (The $1.59 billion subway line now under construction will run 1.7 miles from SoMa to Chinatown.) But the fee plan under consideration will likely be controversial in the business community…

The planning department would also institute a mix of mechanisms to help nonprofits, including instituting development bonuses for office developers that protect existing community facilities. The plan could also incentivize developers to build new space for organizations that focus on production, distribution and repair, or PDR

Giving teeth to affordable housing wishes

When voters approved Proposition K by a wide margin, they passed a measure that “attempted to ensure” that one-third of housing in the city is affordable. But it lacked regulatory enforcement. The planning department now appears to be taking up that goal as a mandate…

“What the city has done in past plans is, at a very aspirational level, talk about mixed-income and diversity of housing choices, and have had few actual mechanisms and no real strategy to get there,” he said. “You have to have a game plan built into the plan at the front end so you have more than just aspirations and cool ideas.”… (more)

The War of the Roses: The City’s Future May Erase Its Past. In Which Case: Send Flowers.

November 22, 2014

By  : sfweekly – excerpt

An oasis of light emanates from the inky shadows at Sixth and Brannan in the South of Market district. It’s a few ticks shy of 5 a.m. on a Wednesday and every last person shuffling along the slick pavement has a story: hyperaggressive, lycra-suited joggers, diminutive women pushing shopping carts piled with rattling aluminum cans, unshaven men likely ejected from all-night diners when it grew clear the only thing they wanted was sleep.

But this place — this place is a story…

Strip away the trappings of exoticism, however, and the Flower Mart presents a deeply typical San Francisco tale. In the predawn hours especially, it feels like a self-contained little realm. It’s anything but.

Superficially, this place looks much as it did a generation ago; some of the same faces even peer out from behind the forests of hydrangeas. But, in that time, the flower business has transformed. The Mart is an anachronism in a town where anachronisms are now perceived as a market inefficiency. It’s one of the last industrial outposts in San Francisco, a sprawling, ramshackle hangar in the heart of SOMA, the burgeoning showcase of tech and imminent home to mushrooming office towers emblazoned with the gibberish names of companies defining the city’s 21st-century economy.

The Flower Mart isn’t nearly as valuable as the land beneath it (and the air above it), which, like so much of the city, is primed to house yet another high-rise tech fortress…

The Flower Mart was, for decades, composed of two organizations existing side-by-side: The San Francisco Flower Growers Association (the “Italian side”) and the California Flower Growers Association (the “Japanese side”). In October, Kilroy Realty, Inc. officially acquired the Italian side and is on the cusp of doing the same with the Japanese side. As such, a plum parcel in perhaps the world’s most desirable real estate market has fallen into the hands of one of the city’s newest, most prolific — and most aggressive — developers….

The Flower Mart is a repository of traditional, working-class jobs in a town rapidly shedding both tradition and working-class jobs. And, like everyone else, registered voters here like flowers, nearly as much as they like puppies and kittens. The universal appeal of flowers would be pretty persuasive if it landed on the ballot.

Seizing on this possibility, the city’s most prominent critics of high-rise development and tech ascendance could put the whole thing to a vote, calling upon the electorate (yes, you) to settle a spectacularly complex, high-stakes, and emotionally supercharged development proposal. Again… (more)

Displacement of our lifestyles is the problem San Francisco residents face. Who benefits from taking our homes, jobs, cultural venues and historical treasures? Citizens better figure that out and quit listening to everything they say if they want to change the pace of displacement.
Oakland will not work anymore as the panacea, as real estate values in Oakland are now the fastest growing in the country, if you believe the media. Displacement is the enemy. Let ‘s all agree to fight it and then figure out the methods.

What on earth does an assemblyman do?

November 20, 2014

By Nato Green : sfweekly – excerpt

David Campos and David Chiu are fighting over Tom Ammiano’s seat in the California Assembly with the intensity of a retiree from Iowa parallel parking a stick shift between two motorcycles on a San Francisco hill for the first time.

Election narratives assume that the Assembly is a more prestigious office than supervisor, but how many voters have the foggiest notion what an assemblyman actually does? I have lobbied several failed bills at the state Capitol, so can share my participant-observer ethnography of how the sausage is made. The voters of San Francisco can then make an informed decision of who is most qualified for the duties of this specific job.

The first thing to know about how the sausage of public policy is made is that it is made entirely of lips and nether parts. To call the Capitol a cesspool would be demeaning to cesspools. Lobbyists spend all day lurking unventilated, fluorescent-lit halls, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting legislators sneaking to the bathroom. People agree to any minor amendments when they have to pee. You can always tell how powerful a lobbyist is from the price of their lobbyist’s suit, which is directly proportional to their smell. Brooks Brothers and body odor? That must be the Western States Petroleum Association!

Also, the state Legislature is not run by the people we elect to do so. It’s run by attractive 25-year-old staffers for the legislators and various committees. I don’t know why sexy people are over-represented in the Capitol, but they are. Apparently powerful men like having hot young women around them. These are the millennials who tend not to be comely enough for Los Angeles, or capable enough to go to New York or D.C. But they are just comely and capable enough to steward the world’s eighth-largest economy… (more)
Or the only way to get your way is to buy your own lobbyists. If we took all the money we were handing to the legislators, because we can never buy them, and hire our own lobbyists, we might get better results. That or start a third party.

California drought hits San Mateo County coast particularly hard

November 17, 2014

By Kurtis Alexander : sfgate – excerpt

… The historic statewide drought has struck especially hard along the southern San Mateo County coast. While other parts of the Bay Area are served by big water agencies with steady if shrinking supplies, most of the homes and small farms here, less than an hour’s drive from Silicon Valley, rely on creeks and wells, many of which have stopped flowing.
That’s left scores of people struggling mightily to get by with little or no water.

“People don’t think there are rural communities on the San Francisco Peninsula that have run out of water,” said Chelsea Moller, project coordinator with the San Mateo County Resource Conservation District, which is trying to help families shore up their water needs. “I think they really get overlooked.”… (more)

This is one of the most distressing stories we have seen in the news lately. Please read it and comment on the source. We witnessed a lot of similar problems in the Valleys as we drove up Route 5 last weekend. There were also a lot of signs by the side of hte road deriding the politicians for mismanaging the water system.

It is hard to know who, if any human is to blame, and even harder to know what the answer is. Clearly we need to stop inviting more people to move to the desert until we solve the water crisis.

That message needs to get to Sacramento and the so-called water rich cities. Where is the sharing spirit when it comes to sharing water resources? Willie Brown is right. The Sharing Economy is a business deal, period. There is no benevolent spirit inherent in it. If something isn’t done soon, we will not be eating local food. Our food will be coming from outside the state, and in many cases, outside the country.

 

Drought: Valuable 100-Year-Old Water Rights Could Make Some East Bay Cities Rich

November 17, 2014

By Ann Notarangelo : KPIX – excerpt – (video)

ANTIOCH — Every day without rain adds to the uncertainty about California’s water supply, but old state laws have one part of the Bay Area an edge.

City leaders in Antioch hope to capitalize on decisions made 100 years ago.

Jerry Tennant is a third generation walnut farmer. He is passing along his expertise to his son Jason, along with some very valuable water rights.

“Water rights are basically property rights,” said Tennant.

And the water rights his farm, Houston Orchards, date back to before 1914.

“When a lot of these rights were granted in the early 1900′s, or before, [when] there was an unlimited supply of water,” explains Tennant. “Whoever was filling out these forms for water rights said ‘Yeah, sure, give them what they want.’”…

Those rights have been challenged over the years, but don’t expect them to go away (more)

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