To do: Tuesday, Nov. 27

November 27, 2007

The Northern California Megaregion

Some issues affecting the Bay Area not only exceed the capacity of municipalUrbanist_megaregion_map002_thumb governments to handle, but go far beyond what we’ve traditionally conceived of as our nine-county region. But if the nine-county Bay Area isn’t always a relevant model anymore, what is our region? What kinds of structures do we need to plan for and govern this area? How do San Francisco and other central urban areas fit in? Where will the 10 million new residents anticipated by 2050 live? How does all of this affect our economy?

These are the issues the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association will address today in a lunchtime talk at SPUR’s offices near Union Square in San Francisco. SPUR Executive Director Gabriel Metcalf, one of the leading thinkers about the concept of emerging megaregions and the Northern California megaregion in particular, is scheduled to speak, along with SPUR Economic Policy Director Egon Terplan, who should provide some insight about the function of a megaregional economy.

More details about today’s event here.


The November/December issue of the Urbanist, SPUR’s monthly publication, features an extensive article about the Northern California megaregion.

Maps from the Urbanist megaregion article.


San Francisco Cityscape builds new Muni BRT maps

November 24, 2007

San Francisco Cityscape has just posted some lovely original maps of the bus-rapid-transitcityscape_BRT_thumb lines the Municipal Transportation Agency plans for Geary Boulevard and Van Ness Avenue.

In brief, the idea of BRT is to use buses on dedicated rights-of-way to free the transit vehicles from the entanglements of other traffic and speed up service. Often, BRT lines also make fewer stops than buses operating in regular traffic. When it works well, BRT provides service that’s nearly as good as that provided by light rail on a dedicated pathway, but at a fraction of the cost.

However, San Francisco hasn’t used BRT before, and for many transit riders, residents and business owners, the concept may take some getting used to. That adjustment, as Cityscape notes, could be partly eased by making it easy for riders to know where the stops are in relation to each other and to neighborhood destinations: “If BRT is to succeed in San Francisco, planners will have to get it right — and that includes stylish, functional maps at stops and on buses.”

If you’re interested in how San Francisco works, or more broadly interested in urban issues, you probably know the astute Cityscape already. If you don’t know it, you should. It’s always worth a visit.


San Francisco Cityscape

KTVU bungles oil spill animal stories

November 23, 2007

KTVU continues its embarrassing misidentification of common Bay Area animals this morning.

OK, so to update this post for the record, the afternoon after this original post I saw a piece by Janine De la Vega on KTVU’s 5 p.m. news broadcast, and it was repeated (probably slightly modified, thought I didn’t see it) at 10 p.m. It was much better than the crab story, and much more in keeping with the station’s usually higher quality of reporting. De la Vega reported on the deaths of a number of seabirds and the near-starvation of others in the Monterey Bay area. She didn’t reach for any conclusions that weren’t supported by the facts she presented. The piece didn’t go as deep as I would have liked (there’s a much bigger story behind these starving birds with potentially huge environmental and economic importance), but it was nicely done as far as it went.

The impact on wildlife and the fishing industry following the Nov. 7 oil spill from the Cosco Busan in San Francisco Bay is one of the most compelling elements of media coverage of the story. While the fact that the impact runs deep and is likely to go on for a long time is bad for the Bay Area in general, for the media it presents an opportunity for some great work that’s not only compelling and informative for news consumers but also stimulating for the journalists producing it. It ought to give the television news a change from “breaking stories” about snow in Blue Canyon, at any rate.

However, many media outlets can’t seem to properly identify the animals they’re covering. In the days immediately following the Cosco Busan spill, nearly every local television news station showed footage of harbor seals lounging on shoreline rocks (I saw the group that hangs out near Point Bonita in the Marin Headlands most often) while inaccurately calling them sea lions.

Harbor seals and sea lions don’t look much alike unless they’re swimming fast and you can’t get a good look at them, and because they occupy different ecological niches they are likely to experience different effects from the oil spill. Confusing a harbor seal with a sea lion is like not being able to tell the difference between a duck and a swan, or even between a compact car and a pickup truck. Similar in some ways, sure, but not that much.

Nevertheless, there’s little harm in this elementary identification error. Neither harbor seals or sea lions are economically significant to the region, and both represent more or less the same “awww” factor for average viewers.

But this morning KTVU — normally my favorite local TV news source — took bungled animal identification to a new and journalistically unacceptable low.

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S.F.’s Aquatic Park reopens after oil spill

November 22, 2007

San Francisco officials reopened Aquatic Park Wednesday morning, returning the popular waterfront spot to swimmers, boaters and tourists looking to get a little sand between their toes. Aquatic Park, on the city’s northern shore close to Fisherman’s Wharf and Ghirardelli Square, had been closed because of contamination from the Nov. 7 Cosco Busan oil spill.


I visited the area two days after the spill (see Nov. 9 post here), and went back this Wednesday to see how things had changed.

The first thing I noticed was that aggressive smell of petroleum that permeated the air nearly two weeks ago was gone. The string of yellow tape that had blocked access to the water had been taken down, and people strolled along the beach. The sun was bright, birds bobbed in the water and probed the rocks for food. I even saw someone swimming. In short, to a casual observer everything looked like it was back to normal.

But I wanted a closer look. I had timed my visit to take advantage of the afternoon’s lowaqpark_seawall_112107 tide, since it was roughly the same as when I was there Nov. 9 and would provide an accurate comparison of conditions. I climbed down the seawall and examined the shoreline more carefully, and discovered that it still was easy to see rocks coated with oil. Municipal Pier was still closed, too.

In spite of the footage and photos of San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin swimming at Aquatic Park on Wednesday morning (is it me, or does it look like he’s really hit the gym since thoseaqpark_rocks_112107 pictures of the speedo-clad legislator appeared in San Francisco Magazine earlier this year?), I think the impact of the Cosco Busan is going to be with us for a long, long time.

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San Francisco election results analyzed

November 12, 2007

San Francisco is still counting votes from last week’s municipal election, but this afternoon two veteran political observers will review and analyze the results so far in a lunchtime event near Union Square.

At 12:30 today, Monday, Nov. 12, David Latterman of Fall Line Analytics and political consultant Jim Stearns of Stearns Consulting will speak at a forum at the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research offices, 312 Sutter St. at Grant, fifth floor. Stearns has steered a number of successful campaigns in and around San Francisco, and Latterman is an astute analyst who can translate statistics into meaning. It should be an interesting hour.

This SPUR event is free for members and $5 for nonmembers.

SF Chronicle’s oil spill coverage shines

November 11, 2007

The San Francisco Chronicle seems finally to have figured out what to do with what in spite of several waves of layoffs is still a pretty fat newsroom, turning in very good coverage of the disastrous oil spill that hit San Francisco Bay last week.

When I was managing editor of the San Francisco Independent from late 2000 through 2003, and earlier when I ran the Independent’s neighborhood section, we regularly scooped the Chronicle on San Francisco news. The Chron and the Indy weren’t playing exactly the same game, so comparisons of the major metro daily with the three-day-per-week free paper are difficult. But it’s a fact that the Independent regularly scooped the Chronicle (and, earlier, the Hearst-owned Examiner), sometimes by months.

When the San Jose Mercury News timidly ventured into San Francisco in 2000 or late 1999 with a handful of people, we weren’t surprised that the Indy ate the Merc’s lunch. But the Chron had an enormous newsroom based right here in San Francisco — how was it possible for us to beat them? I’ve always said that if you gave me the right six reporters, this town wouldn’t know which ear to stand on, but it’s always been perplexing that the Chron seemed to mill about aimlessly with so many good reporters on staff and other resources on which to call. On paper, it shouldn’t even be possible to get a scoop in edgewise over the Chronicle.

But since Wednesday’s Cosco Busan spill, the Chronicle has really bumped up its game, using both old-school print skills and electronic tools very well.

One thing print still does much better than the web is the front page. That is, it can present, in a single combination of type and imagery, the *idea* of an event or story with instantaneous power that the busy pages of news web pages don’t seem to be able to muster.

In 2001, one of the most iconic images to emerge from the media following the Sept. 11 attacks was the San Francisco Examiner’s front-page photo of the burning Twin Towers capped by the headline, “Bastards!” Sept. 11 and the Cosco Busan oil spill are vastly different stories, of course, but just as thechron_scoter “Bastards!” front page captured the zeitgeist of the moment, so did the Chronicle capture the feelings of many people who love or live in the Bay Area with its front page of Friday, Nov. 9. The image by Michael Macor, which filled almost the entire expanse of the front page above the fold: the head of a surf scoter, completely soaked in oil, cradled in the hands of a Marin surfer who tried to rescue it. The banner headline: ‘Heartbreaking’.

But beyond the headlines, the Chronicle also has had very good ongoing coverage of the spill and its impact. I’ll update this post soon with links to specific articles and resources, but for now just check out the coverage at

Track the path of San Francisco oil spill tanker

November 11, 2007

Watch the movements of the Cosco Busan, the tanker ship that crashed into the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and spilled tens of thousands of gallons of oil into San Francisco Bay.

coscobusan_path provides animations of ship and boat traffic in San Francisco Bay. This is always an interesting and useful service usually provided in real time, but they’ve very astutely responded to the interest in the San Francisco Bay oil spill by providing an animation of the path of the tanker that hit the bridge.

In the image above, the Bay Bridge is the line that goes diagonally from San Francisco on the bottom left to the East Bay on the top right, intersected by Yerba Buena Island. the port of Oakland is on the right. You can see the Cosco Busan — the tanker ship responsible for the Nov. 7 oil spill — as a small red arrow next to the bridge. It’s just about to hit the bridge’s protective bumper. The blue arrow next to the Cosco Busan is the tug Revolution.

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