My Spot.Us pitch about Muni reaches full funding

December 22, 2008

Success! My Spot.Us pitch for a story about San Francisco’s Muni express bus service, and why Muni doesn’t run more express buses, is now fully funded.

Thanks to all the sponsors who signed on to support this story — and, by extension, the concept of crowd-funded journalism. Thanks also to Spot.Us honcho Dave Cohn. Without his efforts, I’d still be in the fundraising stage.

I’m really pleased to be able to get moving on the legwork for this story, which I expect to start in January, and I have ideas for several other stories I think would fit in well on Spot.Us.

My Spot.Us pitch on Muni express buses is here.

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Update on my Muni express bus story pitch

December 11, 2008

I’m really pleased to report that I’ve almost reached full funding for my story about San Francisco’s Muni express bus service on!

Muni may be watching its funding get yanked out from under it right now, but that makes it even more important for Muni to run well with the resources still available. And clearly, people are interested in why Muni doesn’t run more expresses to serve the needs of daily commuters. As of the afternoon of Dec. 11, my story pitch for crowd-funded journalism site was just $60 away from full funding.

And — super cool — San Francisco blog SFist ran a little piece about my story pitch. Thanks, SFist! Read the SFist post at

A more detailed update is available on my YouTube channel, Or just watch the video below.

For more information about my story idea, and how crowd-funded journalism works, please visit

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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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Happy Park(ing) Day!

September 19, 2008

Today is Parkin(ing) Day, one of my favorite events to develop in recent years. The brainchild of San Francisco’s REBAR Group, Park(ing) Day started as one of their projects combining wierd street theater with a serious urban planning context. The group plunked some quarters into a San Francisco Parking meter, rolled out some sod in the street space they had just

People enjoy a temporary park set up in a parking space on a San Francisco Street in 2006 as part of the Park(ing) event created by REBAR Group.

People enjoy a temporary park set up in a parking space on a San Francisco Street in 2006 as part of the Park(ing) event created by REBAR Group.

rented, set up a bench and invited everyone to enjoy the park they had just created.

I don’t know if what they did was legal the first time, but I loved the presumption: “Look, I’ve just rented this spot on the street for an hour, right? Why do I have to only put a car on it? Why not a park — if I roll it up and take it with me when the time is up?”

From that single parking space on Mission Street (spitting distance from my old office at the San Francisco Examiner), the idea has grown to an annual event in many cities across the United States.

There are a number of interesting Park(ing) spaces to see in San Francisco, but I’ll put in my plug for the one at David Baker + Partners Architects, at the northwest corner of Second Street and Bryant Street. I don’t know what David has planned (and I’m on deadline today so I can’t go), but he does interesting work and he’s an interesting guy, so I’m sure it will be worth a visit.

Photo by Steve Rhodes under the Creative Commons license “Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic.”

More resources:

Find Park(ing) Day events near you!


National Park(ing) Day at the Trust for Public Land

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Last chance to comment on GGNRA management plan

August 1, 2008

The Golden Gate National Recreation Area is revising its policies for managing the lands and facilities under its jurisdiction, but the period for public comment is drawing to a close.

This revision is important to anyone who uses the GGNRA in any way, as it is intended to guide the management of the park for many years. Friday, August 1 is the last day the GGNRA and the National Park Service will accept comments on the plan from the public.

Read the four alternative proposed management concepts, and make your comments before 11:59 p.m. Pacific time.

My understanding is that after the GGNRA selects a general set of guiding principles (the management concepts), it will undertake further study and gather additional public input to turn those principles into actual working regulations, policies and practices.

Cosco Busan pilot to get trial date

April 4, 2008

The pilot of the Cosco Busan is set to receive a date April 4 for his trial on federal charges related to the crash of the cargo ship into the Bay Bridge and the resultant oil spill into San Francisco Bay.

Pilot John Cota, meanwhile, has indicated that he thinks the Coast Guard shares responsibility for the spill, which killed and sickened birds and other wildlife in the bay and along the nearby Pacific Ocean coast. His lawyers have said Cota will refuse to testify in a National Transportation Safety Board hearing next week.

The Nov. 7, 2007 spill of 50,000 gallons of bunker fuel into San Francisco Bay killed at least 2,000 birds and sickened an unknown but much larger number of others. While all other similar cargo ships in the bay that day remained at anchor because of heavy fog, the Cosco Busan set sail in spite of low visibility.

Today’s court procedure is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. on the 15th floor of the San Francisco Federal Building at 450 Golden Gate Ave., in the court of U.S. Magistrate Joseph Spero.

San Francisco Zoo open again after fatal tiger attack

January 3, 2008

When the San Francisco Zoo opened its gates Thursday morning, it was the first time thelionhouse_sign public had been allowed inside since a tiger escaped its enclosure on Christmas Day 2007, killing one young man and wounding two others. My 8-year-old daughter and I were among the first visitors.

As for the tragic events of Christmas Day, I’m not about to start speculating on where blame lies. There’s no way for me to know what really happened, and I don’t have enough knowledge or expertise to provide a useful opinion.

However, as a journalist I am fascinated by the media coverage surrounding the tiger attack and its aftermath. I was expecting that members of the media would outnumber actual zoo visitors, and my casual observation Thursday morning confirmed that prediction. A reporter approached me and my daughter before we even got within sight of the zoo entrance, and by the time we left the zoo I had talked with people from the San Francisco Chronicle, the New York Post, radio station KQED, and television stations KTVU and KPIX. I saw at least half a dozen other reporters, and I lost count of how many photographers were there.

My favorite interview of the day came from Rob Roth of KTVU. When I was neighborhood editor of the San Francisco Independent newspaper, lo these many years ago, we used to joke that if you wanted to know what Rob Roth was going to report on during a given week, all you had to do was read the Neighborhood section of the Independent. One of my reporters supposedly even challenged Roth to an arm-wrestling match on the steps of San Francisco City Hall because she was so annoyed it (that’s what she told me, anyway). We didn’t expect much from the TV guys, though, so it wasn’t as much fun for us to scoop Channel 2 as it was to beat the Chronicle. When I talked with Roth on Thursday, however, he was intelligent and gracious, even when I kidded him about following behind the Independent. I’m glad I got to see him work in person.

For more photos from today’s visit to the San Francisco Zoo, click here.

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