Muni express pitch for catches MetBlogs’ eye

November 24, 2008

My pitch for a story about San Francisco’s Muni express bus service has attracted some attention over at MetBlogs, as has new crowd-funded journalism site

MetBlogs’ Anna explains the concept this way: “You submit an idea, either a story you want reported, or one you want to report, and people vote or Digg it *before* the work is done. Crowd-sourced journalism.”

Muni bus on Market Street.

Muni bus on Market Street.

I’m also pleased to report that thanks to some generous pledges, funding for my story is just $180 from the goal. For just a few dollars (really — a donation of 10 bucks makes a big impact), you can be part of this new direction in journalism, too. And if you’re a media outlet or other publisher of news, don’t forget that this is a great way to get unique content at a very reasonable price.

To find out more about and my story about Muni express buses, please visit

Read the rest of MetBlogs’ post.

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S.F. Fire Department truck scores triple block

November 22, 2008

On Friday I saw a San Francisco Fire Department pickup truck simultaneously block a crosswalk, a wheelchair ramp and a fire hydrant. I’ve seen many city vehicles block one of these, but to see one score all three at once is pretty remarkable. The truck also had boxed in a silver pickup truck parked behind it.

There was a funeral for a police officer or firefighter at the church half a block away, and I’m sure that if there had been a fire requiring the hydrant, someone would have moved the truck without delay. But the truck was in the intersection of 40th Avenue and Ulloa Street, and the surrounding neighborhood has some of the most abundant parking in the whole city of San Francisco. Even when the church’s school is in session and there is an event at the church, it’s usually easy to find parking within two blocks.

There were no license plates on the truck, but I did get the VIN.

SFFD pickup blocking crosswalk, wheelchair ramp and hydrant

SFFD pickup blocking crosswalk, wheelchair ramp and hydrant

SF Fire pickup blocking crosswalk

SF Fire pickup blocking crosswalk

Why doesn’t Muni run more express buses?

November 19, 2008

Have you ever missed the last Muni express bus and had to endure a slow bus ride home through San Francisco at the end of a long day at work? Have you come to know your fellow bus commuters a little more intimately than you might have liked because those express buses are so crowded? Have you ever thought of giving up driving your car to work in San Francisco, only to find that the express bus just doesn’t meet your needs? What’s going on? Why doesn’t Muni run more express buses?

You can help get the story on San Francisco’s Muni express buses by taking part in a new direction in media and the news: crowd-funded journalism. Crowd-funded journalism means that instead of a single publication or other media outlet paying for a news story, lots of people pitch in a little bit to fund the story. For print publications, blogs and other publishers of content, this means good content at a very low price. For news consumers, this means that they can decide what news gets published, by making even a small contribution.

I’ve pitched this story on the new crowd-funded (or “community-funded,” if you prefer) journalism site For more information about my story on Muni express buses, or about and crowd-funded journalism, watch the video below or visit

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Observations on San Francisco’s November 2008 election, part 2

November 10, 2008

More good stuff from the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association’s post-election analysis of the Nov. 4, 2008 election with Alex Clemens of Barbary Coast Consulting and David Latterman of Fall Line Analytics, plus a couple of my own comments (See part 1 of the observations here). This round includes Prop. 8, Chris Daly’s role as bogeyman, the next president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and Ron Dudum’s future:

Prop. 8 aftermath. The victory of California Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment withdrawing the right to civil marriage from gay men and women, has been deconstructed a million ways to Sunday already. Various analysts have offered their opinions: Prop. 8 won because African-American voters are more conservative on social issues than the electorate at large, and they came out in great numbers to vote for Barack Obama; or Obama is partially to blame because he wasn’t vocal enough about opposing Prop. 8 (and he said he was personally opposed to gay marriage); or San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom didn’t campaign against it actively enough; or Newsom was too visible and became a negative factor; or the anti-8 campaign just screwed up by being fractured in the beginning and missing out on key fundraising opportunities.

Whatever the explanation, both Clemens and Latterman said that support for gay marriage seems to be increasing by about one percentage point per year, and they expected to see the issue on the ballot again.

Clemens said he believed that the next time gay marriage appears on the ballot, supporters of gay marriage won’t rely on a paid-media campaign of television ads and mailers. Instead, they’ll do something like what the Obama campaign did with its vast pool of volunteers. That is, the campaign will be fought in the field, with supporters of gay marriage (probably including as many straight supporters of gay marriage as they can find) going door to door and talking with individual voters.

Alex Clemens, David Latterman and Gabriel Metcalf discuss the outcomes of the Nov. 4, 2008 election at SPUR.

Alex Clemens, David Latterman and Gabriel Metcalf discuss the outcomes of the Nov. 4, 2008 election at SPUR.

My own guess about the fate of gay marriage in California is that the legal challenges to Prop. 8 will go on so long that a measure seeking to undo it will hit the ballot before all those challenges are resolved. If that’s within two years, I’d bet the new anti-8 proposition will lose, but in just a few years longer a subsequent proposition spelling out a constitutional right to civil marriage for gay men and women will win. After that, a few measures seeking to replicate Prop. 8 will come up, but will lose, before supporters decide to direct their money elsewhere.

Regarding the impact the victory of Prop. 8 may have on Newsom’s ambitions to be governor of California, Clemens said that while it may have a negative effect now, a few years down the line it may be good for Newsom to be seen as the father of gay marriage in California. “Four years from now,” said Clemens, “it will be a badge of honor.”

Daly done as a demon? District 6 Supervisor Chris Daly’s days as an effective bogeyman for opponents such as the Apartment Association, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and others seeking to bring the city’s moderate and conservative voters to the polls may be done, according to Alex Clemens of Barbary Coast Consulting and David Latterman of Fall Line Analytics.

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Another transition priority: Teach Obama to salute

November 9, 2008

In all the activity undertaken by U.S. president-elect Barack Obama and his team to begin governing Jan. 20, I hope someone remembers to teach Obama to salute properly.

I’m not talking about this business of whether he did or didn’t salute the flag on one occasion early in the campaign (and whether it mattered). What I mean is that Obama not only is going to have occasion to salute U.S. military personnel on a regular basis, he’s going to be doing it as commander-in-chief — and the people he’s saluting deserve the respect a proper salute shows. Besides, a lot of people are going to be looking for reasons to criticize Obama, and the last thing he needs is to start throwing around a ridiculous, loosey-goosey salute to be captured in photos and video, or some overly stiff parody of the right form. has an extensive article on saluting. Or, as the following video advises, just relax.

Parting Shots: I don’t remember the occasion of the interview, but I remember once reading that Ronald Reagan recalled that when he was taught to salute, he was advised that the proper way to move his hand was to “bring it up like honey and throw it away like shit.”

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Looking back on the Cosco Busan

November 7, 2008

One year ago, the container ship Cosco Busan hit a bumper on one of the towers of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, spilling more than 50,000 gallons of toxic bunker fuel in San Francisco Bay.

(More following video below)

I went down to Ocean Beach to see the damage for myself, and things were pretty bad. I expected the beach to be completely black with oil, and thought it wasn’t that bad, it was bad enough, with blobs of oil from the size of marbles up to the size of dinner plates all over the sand, and more stuck to the wrack that always rests on the beach.

Oil blob, Ocean Beach

Oil blob, Ocean Beach

The worst part was the birds. I saw a dead bird covered with oil right away, and farther down the beach I found more that were still alive but heavily oiled and clearly in distress. I think the saddest sight was two little eared grebes hunkered down in the sand near the end of Sloat Boulevard, desperately trying to preen the oil out of their feathers. They likely ingested quite a bit of the oil stuck to them, in which case they probably didn’t survive.

Dead murre on Ocean Beach

Dead murre on Ocean Beach

One year later, some measures have been taken to prevent another spill and to better clean up afterward, but much more remains undone. A proposed law requiring double-hulled fuel tanks on cargo ships is stalled in Congress, some proposals for faster required response times have been rejected, and most glaringly there still is little training available for people who want to be part of volunteer cleanup crews in preparation for the next spill.

Oiled grebe on Ocean Beach

Oiled grebe on Ocean Beach

As for the impact of the spill on the environment of San Francisco Bay and the nearby parts of the Pacific Ocean coast, that’s still under study. One important piece of information will come in just a matter of weeks, when schools of herring make their annual journey into the bay to lay their eggs on eelgrass and various seaweeds. The herring fishery is the last commercial fishery in the bay, with herring eggs (preferably still attached to the seaweed) fetching a good price in Japan.

The pilot guiding the Cosco Busan on the day of the crash is set to go to trial in the spring.

For more videos of the Cosco Busan aftermath at Ocean Beach and Aquatic Park, including video of oiled birds and bird rescues, visit my YouTube channel at

For more photos of the oil spill, including some that the Weather Channel picked up for an episode of its Forecast Earth show, click here to visit my Flickr photostream. I’ve separated some oil spill photos into two folders to make them easier to find.

The San Francisco Chronicle did a good job of covering the Cosco Busan spill when it happened, and they’ve done a good job following up a year later. I don’t see any reason to reinvent the wheel here, so here are some links to my posts from last year, plus some Chronicle stories:

PretePress: Black death on the beach

PretePress: Oil spill updtate November 9

Pretepress: Track the path of San Francisco oil spill tanker

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

Chronicle op-ed reviewing reactions to the spill and what needs to be done

Chronicle article on the role of the pilot and what went wrong

Chronicle on the ongoing environmental effects of the Cosco Busan oil spill

Chronicle on the lack of training for public oil spill response

Chronicle article providing a considerably rosier view of the bay’s recovery, from the USCG

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Obama should make early appointment of environment, energy heads

November 6, 2008

U.S. president-elect Barack Obama has sent clear signals that he intends to move swiftly to start the transition from the Bush administration to his own. However, two areas to which Obama should devote his early attention aren’t traditional priorities: the environment and energy.

Two important policy areas that are almost universally considered urgent priorities for the next president are defense (including domestic national security) and the economy. That makes sense, and of course to run daily business he also needs administrators and advisors such as Rahm Emanuel, an early pick for chief of staff.

But Obama takes office at a time when the environment and energy take positions of great importance, elevating them beyond the second- or third-tier priorites (or lower) they have occupied under earlier administrations. In fact, the environment and energy now are so intimately bound up with the physical and economic security of the United States that I think it makes sense for Obama to address energy and the environment at the same level of importance as national security and the economy.

Obama is in a unique position to do two things if he makes environmental and energy problems top-tier priorities: 1) increase national security by demoting foreign oil to the status of a useful but not critical commodity, by powering more and more of this country with other energy sources (former CIA Director R. James Woolsey goes even further and identifies all oil, not just that from foreign producers, as a security threat), and 2) rejuvenate the economy by making the United States a world leader in the research and development of those viable alternative energy sources.

Whether he sticks with the traditional cabinet structure, creates a new cabinet position, decides to task existing cabinet members with new responsibilities or chooses some other method, the president-elect should act early to address the environment, energy, national security and the economy as a cohesive set of interrelated issues.

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