| April 2010
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Next Stop, Muni Reform
I'm a bicycle commuter and occasional Muni rider and car-sharing user. I can't recall the last time I used a parking meter, except as something to lock my bike to. Like Josh Wallaert, whose letter appeared in the March issue, I support livable walkable cities and believe transit is a key part of that equation.
However, I am not in favor of extending parking meter hours, selling taxi medallions, increased parking ticket fines, nor the other gimmicks brought forth to fund Muni. And I reject the implication that people who share this opinion are therefore anti-transit.
The real problem with Muni is not on the revenue side. Rather, it's that city leaders were able to avoid making responsible choices during the boom times and now the world has settled into a new economic reality that can't support those past plans. According to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's annual reports, in 2003 salaries and benefits for all SFMTA employees totaled $464 million with 4,436 employees. In 2009, that increased 65 percent to $768 million, though the head count only increased 8 percent to 4,816.
Everyone deserves a decent wage, but the pay, benefits, work rules, and overtime of the boom years seem wildly out of place in the current environment. Riders have paid their share in increased fares, San Francisco taxpayers are certainly paying their share, and pity those who don't curb their wheels when they park. It's now time for the Muni employees, both union and management, to do their part. I recently discovered that Muni operators are guaranteed the second highest wage in the country. Guaranteed. No matter what their performance, no matter what the service level to their riders. No matter what, it's guaranteed.
Respected groups like Rescue Muni, which helped write the MTA provision in 1999, and SPUR have started to recognize that without some substantive reform on pay and work rules, Muni will continue its spiral downward. And that's something that no one wants to see happen.
Preserve Neighborhood Character
The meeting held Feb. 25 to discuss lifting the ban on new restaurants in Noe Valley (which had been in place since 1987) was a sham. Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who proposed the new legislation, conducted the meeting. Many neighbors of mine who had their hands raised, including neighborhood organizer and friend Peter Gabel, were not recognized by Dufty to speak.
The restriction has operated to preserve the character of Noe Valley as a residential neighborhood. Its commercial strip serves the residents, and it attracts relatives and visitors who shop at the high-end boutiques and can grab food at their choice of bustling eateries.
The Planning Department representative told us that if a new space was granted use as a restaurant, it could not revert to any other use for three years. With sky-high rents, many restaurants are doomed from the start. Hence, this legislation would limit other kinds of businesses from coming into our neighborhood.
There already are 18 full-service, 10 self-service, and three vacant restaurants along 24th Street (extending a quarter-mile radius on Castro and Church streets), plus a variety of takeout and specialty food shops. Speak out, folks, to preserve our neighborhood's character.
Cyclists Breaking Bad
Can anything be done to protect us who walk in the neighborhood from dangerous bicyclists?
On Friday night, March 19, as my husband and I walked to 24th Street, I was nearly creamed by a woman on a bicycle who ran the stop sign at 24th and Sanchez. I had looked both ways and was about 10 feet into the crosswalk when she sped past, missing me by about a foot. It gave me the shakes to think about being hit and the potential for injury at my age.
Can't the police start ticketing this type of dangerous lawbreaking?
Here's a suggestion for the Voice April Fool's issue: a story on how the Nutraceutical Corporation has decided to donate its Real Food Company building for use as a Noe Valley community center with co-op nursery school and senior lunch program.
A letter from the company's CEO could state:
"It has come to our attention that with the imminent closure of the Noe Valley Ministry for earthquake upgrading, there will no longer be a location that functions as a community center for Noe Valley.
"In order to demonstrate our good will toward the community, we have decided to donate the Real Food building to the Noe Valley Farmers' Market as a goodwill gesture. Hopefully, this will help put to rest all the feelings of betrayal and outrage that the closure of Real Food for six years has generated."
The Leaks in Bottled Water
I was surprised to see in the February 2010 Rumors column that one of the top five sellers at the Noe Valley Whole Foods store was bottled water.
According to the Sierra Club, more than 30 billion plastic water bottles are discarded each year, but only 15 percent are recycled. The bottles can take 1,000 years to decompose, meanwhile contributing to the vortex of plastic waste in the Pacific Ocean, which is harming wildlife.
The Pacific Institute estimates that in 2006, producing the bottles for American consumption required the equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of oil, not including the energy for transportation. Bottling water produced more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide, and it took three liters of water to produce one liter of bottled water. The water used for bottling often depletes underground wells, wetlands, and other sources needed by nearby communities and wildlife. Studies frequently reveal a wide range of pollutants in bottled water.
San Francisco tap water consistently ranks high in quality. I would encourage anyone who currently buys bottled water to stop into any one of the many neighborhood shops that sell reusable water bottles. I have bought them for friends at Just for Fun and Starbucks and have seen them in See Jane Run and other stores.
Reusable water bottles and shopping bags are the low-hanging fruit of environmentalism--something everyone can easily do without having to make a lifestyle tradeoff.
Bar the Barricade
I just learned about a proposed barricade that would close a half block of Noe Street near 24th Street. (See front-page story in this issue of the Voice.)
I strongly disagree with the wisdom of putting up barricades to block traffic along streets in this neighborhood. It's not just Noe Street that would be affected, but Jersey Street also, as well as Castro--which is already a crowded street during the daytime. Jersey Street in my block between Noe and Sanchez is not only very narrow but congested at times. Street parking is hardly ever available during the day or in the evenings--even for residents who live here.
I cannot imagine how much congestion would be created by closing off part of Noe Street. There's the usual daytime traffic coming out of Whole Foods and turning right onto 24th Street; the extra congestion created along 24th Street--an already congested street between Church and Diamond; and what about emergency vehicles such as fire, police, and ambulances? They would not be able to get across Noe Street and would be forced to go around to Castro and then onto Jersey Street, or across 24th on Sanchez onto already congested side streets. The closure also would affect Muni and the commuter buses that we all worked so hard to get off of the neighborhood side streets and into the bus zones.
To maintain a good flow of traffic in the neighborhood, we need ALL of the streets open all the time!
Paper with Your Coffee?
Editor's Note: The Voice and Bernie's Cafe ran a free coffee promotional ad in the March 2010 issue. Among the responses was the following:
Dear Noe Valley Voice,
Love, love, love your neighborhood newspaper. I don't live here but have friends that I visit here, and when I see the Voice, of course I pick up and read it.
I always enjoy the historical articles about those who have come from far and wide to live in Noe. Love Martha's Coffee (what a gold mine that must be!).
Would you send me a coupon for Bernie's Coffee--I will certainly discover a new corner of your wonderful corner of San Francisco.
Some Thoughts on New Restaurants
Jean Amos, a resident of Noe Valley since 1977, tells why she has little appetite for legislation sponsored by Supervisor Bevan Dufty that lifts the cap on new restaurants along the 24th Street.
Back in the 1980s, one of the main reasons we in the neighborhood established a moratorium on new restaurants on 24th Street was because we wanted a diversity of businesses in our small neighborhood commercial district. The most basic lesson in city planning studies tells us that a vibrant commercial corridor has a healthy mix of shops to service the surrounding residents.
An argument put forward for more restaurants is that people want 24th Street to be as exciting as Valencia Street. This is a real canard. The reason it's fun to walk around Valencia Street is that there is a wonderful funky mix--lots of homegrown shops, local artist storefronts, and old-fashioned services in grotty old buildings. Why? Because the rents are still affordable. Folks, that was 24th Street 25 years ago. We were what people love now about Valencia Street.
But the neighborhood has changed. We are now a very wealthy area with homes selling for over a million dollars and people sometimes buying those homes for cash. The commercial district reflects that. Bell Market is gone, as are most of the startup little businesses. Not many can afford the rents the landlords on 24th Street want for their storefronts.
There are several reasons why allowing restaurants to fill those shops is not a good idea. First, once there is a beer-and-wine or a full-bar license attached to a space, it will never go away. The profit on booze is extraordinary, so why would the landlord renting that space ever accept less rent than the huge markup a restaurant can supply?
There is also the issue of how many restaurants Noe Valley can support. If more and more restaurants move in, only some of them will survive, and we will see the high turnover found in other restaurant-dense areas as each new aspiring owner gives it a hopeful try.
Some of the merchants want our vacant spaces filled with more restaurants because it will bring in more tourists, who eat out three meals a day. Others talk of how bad restrictions are in general but then reassure us that Taco Bell and KFC will not be allowed in because the zoning restricts them! How about the possibility of a bunch of inexpensive ethnic steam-table places moving in? How do we pick and choose? And who is going to put in the time to monitor the applicants and to gather the people to testify, show up, and sit for hours at the Planning Commission, and write letter after letter to the nonexistent enforcement staff at City Planning?
I love 24th Street and am down there sometimes twice a day. A little flower store can never compete with a little specialty hot-dog place that sells beer. We once counted 50 places where food could be purchased along 24th Street. I would rather have the little flower store. More restaurants in Noe Valley is not a move toward Valencia Street. It's a move away from it.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
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CLARIFICATIONS AND CORRECTIONS
In our March tribute to Ed Burke, "Marathon Man Reaches End of Long Run," the Voice wrote that Burke worked for the San Francisco Water Department for 20 years. We've now learned he spent 20 years as a meter reader and another four years as a supervisor in the department. The story also said no services were held following Burke's death last October at the age of 91. No funeral services took place in San Francisco, but a Catholic mass was held at Nazareth House nursing home in San Rafael. Finally, we made an error in a photo caption. The little boy pictured with 2-year-old Burke was not a mere "friend," but Ed's older brother Francis Burke.
The Voice also accidentally dropped a photo credit in the Store Trek section of last month's issue. Pamela Gerard should have been credited for her outstanding photo of Rachel Aram and Tara Lihn, of Cardio-Tone fitness center on 24th Street.
We apologize for these mistakes.
THE NOE VALLEY VOICE
1021 Sanchez Street
San Francisco, CA 94114, or
P.O. Box 460249, San Francisco, CA 94146
The Noe Valley Voice is an independent newspaper published monthly except in January and August. It is distributed free in Noe Valley and vicinity, on or before the first Friday of the month. Subscriptions are available at $30 per year ($25 for seniors) by writing to the above address.
The Voice welcomes your letters, photos, and stories, particularly on topics relating to Noe Valley. All items should include your name, address, and phone number, and may be edited for brevity or clarity. (Unsigned letters will not be considered for publication.) Unsolicited contributions will be returned only if accompanied by a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
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