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Streetsblog Talks with Jeff Tumlin About Oakland’s Transportation Future

Jeffrey Tumlin, Principal and Director of Strategy at Nelson\Nygaard Consulting, outside a restaurant near Oakland City Hall. Photo: Streetsblog.

Jeffrey Tumlin, Principal and Director of Strategy at Nelson/Nygaard Consulting. Photo: Streetsblog.

Jeffrey Tumlin, Principal and Director of Strategy at Nelson\Nygaard Consulting, has until early next year to put together a Transportation Department, pretty much from scratch, for the City of Oakland.

“A better Oakland starts with better streets today, in every part of our city,” said Mayor Libby Schaaf, in a prepared announcement. “We need a world-class transportation department to take a fresh look at our streets, and provide Oakland residents with safer, healthier and more accessible ways to get around, to and from work and school. Equitably enhancing our streets and adding to the array of viable transportation options in Oakland increases the vibrancy of our urban community.”

Tumlin is charged with setting up the department and putting all those goals in motion, as the interim director of the new DOT. Easy, right? Uh, no. From where Streetsblog sits, it seems pretty daunting. If anybody can do it, it’s Tumlin. He’s famous for his work on planning projects all over the world and his uncanny ability to make the wonkiest transportation stuff easily digestible to the general public. That’s important, considering how many voters–and the politicians who represent them–still think better transportation equals widening highways.

Tumlin asked Streetsblog for a sit down to talk about what he’s up to. And when a rock-star of the safe-streets movement asks Streetsblog for a lunch meeting outside Oakland City Hall, he gets it.

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Streetsblog: So Jeff, what brings you to Oakland?

Jeffrey Tumlin: My charge is actually fairly simple, first thing I have to do is create a DOT for Oakland. There’s currently one employee, that’s me. We need to create an organization. We need all of the details of the organization chart, including how to split administration functions from Public Works and have the resources to adequately staff our administration functions. Do we organize it functionally or by service delivery? Do we organize the org chart according to conventional silos, or do we turn it 90 degrees and organize it by project team or service delivery. Both structures have profound advantages and disadvantages.

SB: 90 degrees–come again?

JT: Is our primary orientation around skill and function area, or is it around service delivery? In a capital project, you can set it up so one group is in charge of planning, another does design, another does operations, and another builds it. And there’s a hand-off that occurs when it moves from phase to phase. Another way of addressing it is instead of organizing a group of people who do nothing but, for example, budgets, instead organize a project team.

SB: So instead of a design department, a planning department, and a bike lane department, you structure it so you have an office for, let’s say, the Telegraph Avenue Complete Streets project, and people from all those specialties are inside that office?

Oakland will be getting more parking-protected bike lanes like this one demonstrated by Bike East Bay. But will the potholls get repaired? Photos: Melanie Curry

Oakland will get more parking-protected bike lanes like this one demonstrated by Bike East Bay. But will the pavement be repaired? Photo: Melanie Curry

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Panel Asks: How do We Get More Diversity in Bike Advocacy?

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SFBC director Brian Wiedenmeier introduced Janice Li, Renee Rivera, Lateefah Simon and Tamika Butler for a discussion about racial equity in the bike advocacy movement. Photo: Streetsblog.

SFBC director Brian Wiedenmeier introduced Janice Li (who moderated the panel), Renee Rivera, Lateefah Simon, and Tamika Butler for a discussion about equity in the bike advocacy movement. Photo: Streetsblog.

Yesterday evening, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC) held a discussion about diversity as part of its “Bike Talks” series at the Sports Basement Grotto on Bryant Street. Janice Li, Advocacy Director for SFBC, moderated a panel comprised of Lateefah Simon, President of the Akonadi Foundation, Tamika Butler, Executive Director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, and Renee Rivera, Executive Director of Bike East Bay.

The formal discussion about the lack of diversity in the bike advocacy community was preceded by a social with snacks and drinks. “I’ve been very up-front that issues of racial and economic justice are important to me personally, and I am interested in how the SFBC’s work can reflect those values,” said Brian Wiedenmeier, in a conversation with Streetsblog. Wiedenmeier, in several presentations, has stressed his wish that the SFBC broaden efforts to increase the diversity of its membership. “We have a strategic planning process we’ll be kicking off this fall and I think this event is a great way to begin that conversation with our members,” he said.

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Streetsblog Talks with Scott Wiener

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Streetsblog sat down with Supervisor Scott Wiener in an unofficial district office (Casto Tarts) on Friday. Photo: Streetsblog.

Streetsblog sat down with Supervisor Scott Wiener in an unofficial district office (aka: Castro Tarts) on Friday. Photo: Streetsblog.

On Friday, Streetsblog caught up with District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener. Readers may recall that Streetsblog last interviewed the then newly re-elected chair of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority back in January. Since that interview, much has changed. The mayor has a new Executive Directive on Vision Zero, a new city sales tax initiative is scheduled for the November ballot that will be integral to the budget and transportation investment, and there is a new interim police chief. Moreover, Wiener is now locked in a close fight for the State Senate District 11 seat for San Francisco and San Mateo County with Supervisor Jane Kim. Given all that, Streetsblog thought it was time to get the latest from Wiener.

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Streetsblog: You recently wrote an editorial advocating for late night service on BART and Muni. I know you’ve been working for some time on late-night service options. Do you envision that as bus-only, bus-plus-Muni rail, or do you see a scheme of, say, single-tracking through the Transbay, so it would include some BART service too?

Scott Wiener: Obviously, the easiest late-night transportation expansion is going to be a bus service and that’s been a big focus. Improving the owl service—making it more frequent and expansive; not having to tour the whole city to get home. And we want to increase Transbay late-night service to make it truly usable. We’ve made progress, and there will be more.

I’d absolutely like to see overnight rail service. I’d like to see Muni run the subway later too—at least on the weekends until 2 a.m. In terms of BART—we’ve been struggling for so long. They insist they can’t do 24-hour service.  I’ve heard conflicting things about whether BART has enough of  a “can do” attitude. But they are emphatic about the impossibility of running overnight. So we need to keep a second Transbay tube on track, which will allow for 24-hour BART. Of course, it’s not just about 24-hour capacity; it’s about redundancy. It’s about connecting Caltrain, the Capital Corridor, and getting HSR over to the East Bay and Sacramento.

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SPUR Talk: Transportation Challenges for Downtown Tech Companies

A SPUR panel discussed how downtown Tech companies Airbnb and Salesforce help their employees get to work . Photo: Streetsblog.

A panel at SPUR discussed how downtown tech companies Airbnb and Salesforce help their employees get to work . Photo: Streetsblog.

The San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), hosted a lunchtime talk in downtown San Francisco today, with representatives from Salesforce and Airbnb, about how the companies help employees commute between work and home. Unlike tech giants based outside of downtown San Francisco, neither company makes heavy use of private buses–so-called Tech Shuttles–and instead depends on public transit such as BART, buses and Caltrain.

“Our San Francisco campus is right down the street,” said Lauren Bennett, Senior Program Manager for Transportation at Salesforce. Her company has seven buildings in downtown San Francisco with nearly 7,000 employees, she explained, adding “That gives us access to two BART stations and the regional Transbay Terminal…we don’t have a last-mile problem.”

That’s probably why a third of its employees get to work by BART, with another 20 percent getting in by various bus and other transit providers. That’s part of a corporate strategy. “We think our employees want to work in urban areas and like the city as an amenity,” she said. And they don’t try to insulate their employees from the surrounding area. “We don’t have a cafeteria. We want people to get out, walk around and spend money in small businesses,” she said.

Airbnb has a similar strategy. “Airbnb was born and bred South of Market,” said Rob King, Facilities Coordinator at Airbnb. “It was started with air mattresses on the floor in SoMa; we’ve always been an urban company right in the heart of cities.” But the SoMa location comes with its own last-mile challenges. “The Caltrain station and BART are both .8 miles away,” said King, “Transbay is 2 miles and it’s 2.5 for the Ferry Terminal.”
Read more…

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SFMTA Readies Limited Roll Back on Mission Transit Project

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A few of the 65,000 people who take Muni to the Mission. Image: Streetsblog.

A few of the 65,000 people who take Muni daily to the Mission. Image: Streetsblog.

SFMTA staff has released its recommendations for compromises to its recently completed Mission Street transit upgrades. In addition to plans to relocate the outbound Cortland stop to the nearside of the intersection, the staff wants to move forward with (from the agency’s FAQ):

  • Removing two of the required right turns on Mission at 26th and 22nd. This will allow vehicles to travel four blocks on Mission before encountering a required right turn, making it easier to access businesses and find parking along the street. We expect this change to improve traffic circulation without increasing through traffic or delaying bus riders.
  • Exempting taxis from the left turn restriction at 21st Street. This exemption, in the middle of the Mission corridor, will provide more options for taxis to reach their destinations.

SFMTA also reports increased bus reliability and an 85 percent reduction in Muni collisions. So why roll anything back if the improvements are working? Streetsblog readers will recall that these additional changes are in response to anger from local merchants, many of whom complained to Supervisor David Campos about lost parking and turning restrictions. Campos’s staff was unavailable, but in a previous post from his Facebook page, he wrote that  “I have heard from many of you–car commuters frustrated by traffic jams that stretch multiple blocks…That’s why I’m calling on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to make a radical shift in the program.” That resulted in a contentious public meeting on June 20 that brought out transit advocates to speak in favor of the “red-carpet” bus lanes, against business owners who demanded that Mission be changed back to the way it was.

Certainly, the shift that SFMTA is recommending is nothing as “radical” as Campos’s business constituents were requesting, at least so far; SFMTA is not talking about taking away the transit lanes. And the turning restrictions are so routinely violated–as observed by Streetsblog this afternoon–that it’s difficult to imagine eliminating them will make much difference.

Private cars follow a cab north on Mission instead of turning right as is currently required. Photo: Streetsblog.

A line of private cars follow a taxi north on Mission instead of turning right as is currently required. Photo: Streetsblog.

And that speaks to a deeper problem–with a myriad of exceptions to follow, how can different drivers decipher who can turn when and where?  And if a left turn is dangerous for an Uber driver, can it really be safe for a taxi driver? Again, continually accommodating different interests–rather than holding the line on safety–leads to bad outcomes and is no doubt why Vision Zero efforts are failing thus far. “The plan has tried to fit safety in after the fact, rather than building in a Vision Zero lens from the beginning,” wrote Walk San Francisco’s Executive Director Nicole Ferrara, in an email to Streetsblog. “We’re particularly concerned with changes that will allow taxis to make left turns, further confusing drivers and compromising on a key pedestrian safety treatment.”

That said, “It’s reassuring that SFMTA does not intend to recommend changes which significantly compromise the now-documented benefits of improved reliability and faster transit trip times the plan has achieved,” said Peter Straus, from the Executive Board of the San Francisco Transit Riders.

Business owners around the intersections in question, meanwhile, still want Mission restored to how it was before March, when SFMTA put down the “red-carpet” lanes for transit. Patel Varsho, who’s owned “King of Fashions,” a clothing shop on Mission, since 1991, said they’ve felt the cuts to parking and that  “Business is slow.” Mihee Lee owns the “Smile Bar-B-Q,” a nearby lunch counter on Mission at 22nd. “Customers have no parking,” she said. “Business is down 20 percent.” Neither commented specifically on the significance of eliminating the turn restrictions, and instead were concerned primarily about parking.

Either way, as Streetsblog has pointed out before, business owners tend to overestimate how many customers arrive by car. Lee, for example, said she didn’t know how many of her customers take the bus versus driving, making her claim that business was down 20 percent due to changes to the street seem dubious.

Wilfredo Dominguez, owner of Cuzcatlan Travel, wants Mission returned to how it was. Photo: Streetsblog.

Wilfredo Dominguez, owner of Cuzcatlan Travel, wants Mission returned to how it was. Photo: Streetsblog.

Jesse Oropeza, meanwhile, said there’s been no change in business. She works at “Mission Shoe Repair” on 22nd, right by the intersection with Mission. But Wilfredo Dominguez, who’s owned “Cuzcatlan Travel Service” a few shops down for two decades, also said business is down by 20 percent. “It’s hard because of the loss of parking,” he said. “We have loyal customers who drive from Berkeley, San Mateo and San Jose–they [SFMTA] really screwed up by doing what they did. They should send buses to Van Ness.”

Business owner Jacob Bullock said bus service has improved. Photo: Streetsblog.

Business owner Jacob Bullock said bus service has improved. Photo: Streetsblog.

But Jacob Bullock, owner of the “Refinery Grooming Club,” on Mission said: “we still get plenty of business…and I think the bus ride is better.”

One thing the transit lanes doesn't seem to have improved on: bus bunching. Three 14s in a row pulled into the stop on 22nd. Photo: Streetsblog.

Despite claims of improved reliability, the transit lanes don’t seem to have improved bus spacing. Three 14s in a row pulled into the stop on 22nd. Photo: Streetsblog.

The SFMTA Board of Directors will hear public comment on the roll-back proposals on August 16, at 3:00 p.m. in San Francisco City Hall, Room 400. If you are unable to attend, email comments to MTABoard@sfmta.com.

UPDATE: The day after publication, David Campos’s staff sent the following response to the story: “Transit reliability and thriving small businesses are not mutually-exclusive. I hope the SFMTA’s revisions will work as a compromise between the needs of transit riders and small businesses.”

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A Call to Save Stockton Street

Societies can rise or fall based on the quantity and quality of their public spaces. New decent public spaces are rare and precious is the day when there’s a chance of a new one. Does it matter if you live near that proposed space? No. Any new public space is a beacon to the world, showing that we need and can have public spaces everywhere.

So let us celebrate the possibility that this street…Stockton-Before
…could become this… Read more…

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Streetsblog Talks with Lisa Feldstein about BART

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Outgoing BART Board President Tom Radulovich endorsed Attorney and Planning Instructor Lisa Feldstein for his replacement. Photo: Streetsblog.

Outgoing BART Board President Tom Radulovich endorsed planning instructor Lisa Feldstein for his replacement. Photo: Streetsblog.

20-year BART board veteran and current board president Tom Radulovich announced yesterday that he will not seek re-election this November. Additionally, he endorsed a replacement: Lisa Feldstein, an instructor at the University of San Francisco. It looks as if Feldstein is going to have quite a bit of competition for Radulovich’s seat. That said, Streetsblog figured it worth talking with Feldstein to find out what she’s all about and to learn her vision for BART. Streetsblog caught up with her yesterday afternoon at a coffee shop near the Balboa Park BART station.

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Streetsblog: Let’s start with the obvious question. Who are you and why do you want this job?

Lisa Feldstein: I’m a planner and transportation geek and I care a lot about BART. It’s the spine of the region and there’s a lot we need to do so it serves today’s commuters. I grew up in NYC. My grandfather drove a city bus and my dad was from San Francisco. He always talked about San Francisco like it was paradise on earth. So I went to law school in Berkeley, with a plan to return to the East Coast. But I met my spouse. BART has been part of my life ever since, getting to and from jobs, Berkeley law, which I graduated from in 1992, and then I went back to school in 2007 to get a planning degree.

SB: So this is hardly your first foray into politics and planning?

LF:  I was appointed to the San Francisco Planning Commission by former Supervisor Tom Ammiano. Then from there I took a job with a non-profit, teaching public health professionals in planning. The idea was public health professionals have to clean up from planning decisions. Planning and public health started as one thing, and they separated. Planners made non-walkable suburbs which helped with communicable disease but led to chronic disease.

SB: Such as diabetes and heart disease from the lack of exercise?

LF: Public health people had figured out what the problem was but had no idea how to intervene so my job was to teach them at the front end so they could work with planning departments.

SB: And now it’s generally recognized that bad planning leads to bad public health outcomes.

LF: Right. And the partnership [between health and planning] has been very successful, putting health elements into general plans.

SB: You had a law degree. But you decided to go back and study planning, even though you were already working in it?

LF: My daughter was young at the time. And I burned out on all the travel, but I liked the teaching part. So I went back and got a PhD so I could teach.

SB: You’ve been doing that for a while. So you want to get back into hands-on work with BART?

LF: I like the idea of being able to stick my hands back in and make some positive change on issues that I’ve been thinking about for so long. Some of that is transportation specific, but a lot of it has to do with equity.

SB: How so?

LF: BART is not that old a system, but it was created for a white middle class, mostly men, and that’s not really the ridership anymore.

SB: Right. If you look at old pictures of BART, the ridership is very, well, monochromatic.

LF: Today’s ridership is much more diverse, racially, socially, economically and we don’t have a single commute pattern anymore.

SB: It’s not just people commuting from the suburbs to Market Street.

LF: Lots of people, particularly low income, are commuting from suburb to suburb. BART is over capacity and it doesn’t serve the needs of the Bay Area’s population today.

SB: Right. So if you’re working a night shift, BART kind of sucks.

LF: When I was studying for my qualifying exam in planning, the last Transbay service was like at 12:02. If I missed it, I had to walk miles to get a bus that ran all night. So I’ll be advocating for extended service, but I understand there are real issues with maintenance. BART has to have buses, at least, that run all night.

SB: You’re talking about a dedicated service?

LF: Yes, to help people work swing shifts, night shifts and weekends.

SB: What are some other things you hope to work on with BART?

LF: The platforms at rush hour; they get backed up onto the stairs. It’s a matter of time before someone falls–we need to manage the capacity.

SB: Sounds like you would support peak pricing, like commuter railroads back east.

LF: Part of BART’s problem is it’s not quite commuter rail, but it’s not quite a subway either. You can do peak hour pricing, but BART’s already expensive. The pricing structure looks like commuter rail, so you end up creating further inequities for people who don’t have other choices. Lower income people have the least flexibility, but you’re now asking them to pay more. BART doesn’t even have monthly passes, so if you moved to a peak-ride cost, you have to first do something about passes.

The other problem, especially for low income people, is BART is connected to 28 other transit systems. It’s outrageous that when you transfer from BART to Muni you get a discount, but not in the other direction. AC transit used to have the reduced fare for transfers, but they had budget problems. So that was something that just got eliminated.

SB: Travel to Europe, to a city such as London, and you have one card and one fare and you can ride anything. We have Clipper–but there are still so many different agencies with different fares. Why can’t we get the fare structure more rational?

LF: The Europeans have the advantage that the government structure is more centralized. The government can say “you’re going to do it this way.” But here–and it’s the same with land use planning–every jurisdiction does whatever it wants.

SB: Which is why we have a suburban-style McDonald’s with a drive through on Ocean on a major transportation corridor?

LF: Or the one near me on Haight and Stanyan. But even near a BART station, usually, once you get back to ground level, it’s not BART’s jurisdiction. But it’s not as if BART always does a great job either. Look at the plazas at 16th and 24th and Mission. Read more…

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Advocates Renew Push for West Alameda Estuary Bike and Pedestrian Bridge

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Cyndy Johnsen (glasses) and Lucy Gigli in the coffee shop "office" of BikeWalk Alameda. Photo: Streetsblog.

Cyndy Johnsen (glasses) and Lucy Gigli in the coffee shop “office” of BikeWalk Alameda. Photo: Streetsblog.

There are few places in the Bay Area where the expression “you can’t get there from here” more aptly applies. Stand at the estuary at Jack London Square, and one can see the west Alameda piers clearly, just a half-mile away. But try to get there and it turns into a two-mile-plus circuitous trek that requires back tracking towards Oakland to the entrance of the tunnels. By bike or on foot, it means a miserable, loud, and uncomfortable journey through the Posey Tube, with its narrow sidewalk and railing.

“We know a bridge is the only solution that is really going to solve Alameda’s west-end traffic problem,” said Lucy Gigli, President of the volunteer organization BikeWalkAlameda, in a meeting with Streetsblog at Julie’s Coffee & Tea Garden on Park Street, one of the organization’s unofficial offices. “It’s the most favorable solution that will meet the long term goals.”

That’s why Gigli, Cyndy Johnsen (another advocate and volunteer with the group), and BikeEastBay are pushing for a bike and pedestrian bridge across the estuary–one similar to the Bay Farm Island Bicycle Bridge, which spans the San Leandro Bay inlet to the Oakland Estuary. That bridge, which was completed in 1995, is roughly 860 feet long and cost $3.5 million. It is also the only bike-and-pedestrian drawbridge in the U.S. The bridge to Jack London would be longer, of course, and, according to an initial study, would cost roughly $60 million. “People say it’s too expensive, but people don’t really know; some say if it’s just for bikes and peds, who’s going to use it?” said Johnsen.

But the arguments for building the bridge are clearly delineated in BikeWalkAlameda’s material:

  • The Posey Tube/Oakland Connection is identified as the number one priority in the City of Alameda Bicycle Master Plan.
  • Pedestrians and bicyclists are limited to the Posey Tube walkway, which is so narrow that it cannot accommodate wheelchairs, bike trailers, or two passing bikes even with the increased width created in 2016.
  • Tube capacity is limited and congestion is growing.
  • A ride or walk through the Tube exposes one to sooty walls and smelly, toxic fumes.
  • For this short crossing, bus access is limited and costly ($2.10); the bus capacity for bicyclists is limited to only two or three bikes per bus.
  • During peak hours, bike racks are often full, which makes the service unreliable for bicyclists.
  • The bus and shuttles do not provide alternatives to the tubes and are subject to traffic delays.
  • The Estuary Crossing and Target shuttles have limited hours and 30-minute headways.

From the shortline of Jack London Square, west Alameda is tantalizingly close, but getting there by bike or foot is an ordeal. Photo: Streetsblog.

From the shoreline of Jack London Square, west Alameda is tantalizingly close, but getting there by bike or foot is an ordeal. Photo: Streetsblog.

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More Grumbles at Final Hearing on Taraval Changes

Some 60 people came to address a Friday morning hearing on proposed changes to the L-Taraval. Photo: Streetsblog.

Some 60 people came to address a Friday morning hearing on proposed changes to the L-Taraval. Photo: Streetsblog.

SFMTA, at long last, held its final hearing on the proposed Muni Forward safety and speed improvements to the L-Taraval. The two-hour meeting, which started at 10 a.m. at City Hall, was attended by some 60 people.

Streetsblog readers will recall the last large hearing for Taraval was held in February and, as with many of these big public hearings, there were outbursts, groans, and grumbles.

This meeting was more under control, thanks to Mike Hanrahan with the hearings section of SFMTA. “Two minutes is plenty of time if you’ve thought about what you want to say,” he said to the audience, prepping them for the comment period. He then introduced Michael Rhodes, who gave some brief background on the project and explained some amendments. Almost immediately, grumbles came from the audience and someone tried to ask a question. Hanrahan reminded them the comment period is coming up and, “We can’t have interruptions.” Read more…

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Streetsblog Talks with Supervisor Jane Kim, Part II

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D11 Supervisor Jane Kim at her desk in City Hall. Photo: Streetsblog.

D6 Supervisor Jane Kim at her desk in City Hall. Photo: Streetsblog.

Two weeks ago, Streetsblog did a Q&A with San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim. Kim was on a trip to New York and arranged to do the interview by phone. Unfortunately, the connection was intermittent, there was some miscommunication, and the interview had to be cut short. A few days later, Kim asked Streetsblog if we could continue the conversation. Fair enough. (Since Kim is in a tight race for the California State Senate seat for District 11 with Supervisor Scott Wiener, Streetsblog will do another interview with him as well).

In this follow up, Streetsblog talked with Kim about the State Senate, the search for a new police chief, Transbay and more topics of importance to livable streets advocates. But first on her mind was Tuesday night’s marathon budget negotiations, which didn’t turn out entirely as she would have liked.

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Streetsblog: So the Board was here past 10 pm–the budget passed and there will be a sales tax increase on the November ballot.

Jane Kim: I supported the point-five sales tax measure, because it’s a swap out of our existing sales tax.

SB: But not the .75 percent increase that passed?

JK: I wanted the city to look at alternative revenue. It [a sales tax] is ultimately a regressive tax. I don’t want to depend on that for essential city services,

SB: What else then?

Read more…