Story: Independent City Hall Reporting


Chris Roberts has been one of the more independent reporters here at Spot.Us. His tenacity produced the stories below, each a golden nugget of city insight.

None of this would have been possible without editorial support from SF Appeal and of course the Spot.Us community members who donated. 


Listen to an audio interview with the reporter.Blog Talk Radio

What Recession? Jury Awards Pre-recession Sale Price In Hugo Hotel Eminent Domain Suit.



As real estate aficionados may know, the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency has for years been trying to get its hands on the Hugo Hotel, a large, empty but somewhat-artsy former tenement building at Sixth and Howard Streets, whose owners have for decades poo-poo'd every potential buyer who ventured their way.

The owners -- the Patel family of Hillsborough, CA, who somehow managed to form an Oregon-based corporation that, legally, owns the property -- had turned down offers of $4.6 million from a private owner in 2005 and an offer of $3.25 million from Redevelopment in 2007. With every offer spurned, and nobody getting younger, Redevelopment finally filed an eminent domain lawsuit in order to demolish the Hugo and build affordable housing.

On San Bruno Ave, Massage Parlor Tolerated, Pot Club Not So Much

Recently, some medicinal cannabis folks calling themselves the "Green Goddess Collaborative" tried to open up a pot dispensary in a vacant storefront at 3015 San Bruno Avenue. They abandoned that plan after Tuesday, when about 150 people attended a neighborhood meeting and the "vast majority" vocally, vehemently opposed the addition of a pot club to their neighborhood, according to Portola Neighborhood Steering Committee chair Ling Liang.

Muni Sets Bar High For TransLink Use -- 120,000 Daily Riders By Next Year

This summer's been a summer of milestones for TransLink, the universal smart-card technology that, once fully implemented, will allow Bay Area transit riders to carry just one fare card -- just one! -- for trips involving cable cars, ferry boats, BART trains and whatever else regional transit authorities can muster.

TransLink's been available on Muni as part of its trial phase for about a year. In June, TransLink users accounted for about 4500 of Muni's 600,000-plus daily boardings; by August, that number had jumped to 7300, according to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's Carter Rohan.

That's a jump of nearly 57 percent, Rohan pointed out, but the MTA is nothing if not ambitious.

Final Muni Route Changes To Begin In November, Wehther Cow Hollowers Like It Or Not

There's been much ink spilled over the past year over bus route changes proposed by the Municipal Transit Agency (the beloved Transit Effectiveness Project), likewise there has been reports of organized opposition against proposed changes to the 41-Union.


Union Streeters' concerns fell on deaf ears, as the SFMTA board approved the changes. The route changes will happen in November. (The Appeal's requested a complete list of the changes from Muni spokesperson Judson True, but has yet to receive it.)

Drugs, Family Life Conspire to Ruin Mayor's Once-Formidable Jogging Route

San Francisco's Tenderloin -- a loud, dirty disgusting rathole; a lovable, delectable urban historic district. It's all things to all people, but we have never heard it praised by jogging aficionados (though we have seen folk take off and run through the neighborhood for various reasons).


But according to a quote from SF Chronicle scoopmeisters Matier & Ross, the TL was a favored place to jog for none other than Mayor Gavin Newsom in the heady early days of his term. Gavin stopped his runs down the likes of Larkin and Leavenworth, though, when he was advised by the Police Officers Union head to "jog somewhere else" if he didn't like the open-air drug dealing.

Legal Expert: Newsom Merely A Jerk, Not Criminal, In Leak Case

Any torch-and-pitchfork-toting progressives eager to string Mayor Gavin Newsom up from the nearest Maypole for leaking a confidential memo to the SF Chronicle last week might be sorely disappointed: Newsom abused the attorney-client relationship he has with City Attorney Dennis Herrera and puts Herrera in a difficult spot going forward, but the Mayor did not break the law by handing the memo to the media, as Peter Keane, dean emeritus of Golden Gate University's School of Law related to The Appeal on Wednesday.

Motion To Lift Bike Plan Stalling Injunction Filed

...earlier today, City Attorney (and cyclist!) Dennis Herrera's office wheeled over thousands of pages worth of bike plan-saving legalese to San Francisco Superior Court.

There, a motion to dismiss the injunction that has for three years halted the Bicycle Plan in its tracks is now in Judge Peter J. Busch's hands, upper desk drawer or wherever he keeps motions.

If You Are Reading This, Learn Chinese and Volunteer For the Census

What's got Pan so upset -- and what dragged City Attorney Dennis Herrera and Board of Supervisors President David Chiu out to the same press fete this afternoon? As has been said before but the above gentlemen said it again today, but there could be as many as 900,000 people living in San Francisco, not 793,000 or whatever, and they're not being counted because the US Census only sends out its forms in English and Spanish (and sometimes just English), leading Chinese, Korean, Tagalog and pig Latin speakers to toss the forms into the recycling rather than fill them out, return them, and watch the Federal government make it rain upon them afterward.

What's that you say? Money? Indeed: monolingual English speakers and SFGate commenters are affected by this, too -- as has been said before, the city might have lost out on as much as $30 million a year since 2000 in federal cash, monies it would have received if San Francisco's official books included more people, or specifically, more folks of minority descent. So it matters very much if the 14 folks crammed into a two-room apartment on Jones are all counted.

Don Your Tin Hat: New Muni Faregates Will Track Your Movements

It's no Skull and Bones or Illuminati quite yet, but the San Francisco Municipal Railway is getting closer to an all-seeing-eye of its very own -- in as soon as two years, Muni will be able to track you, dear rider, wherever you board, wherever you exit, wherever you pay! (Cue the maniacial bwa-ha-ha here).

Newsom Camp's Move To Leak Confidential Memo Continues To Raise Questions

The leak, a clear political maneuver, may backfire on Newsom

What's a political junkie to make of last week's leak of a confidential City Attorney memo, wherein Mayor Gavin Newsom's office first denied, then the Mayor himself admitted to handing a "confidential" legal opinion - which more or less stated that "we could possibly be sued if we continue to flout federal law like we already doin multiple ways" - to the San Francisco Chronicle?

It's but a few days on, and both (legitimate) legal analysis and a possible "formal investigation" are forthcoming but at least two facts have become clear:

1. Newsom or a Newsom handler told his staff to leak the memo to score political points.

2. And it hasn't (yet) worked.

Whistleblower, Mayoral Confidante Fearful for Self, Family Safety.


Paulette Brown is not what you would call a fearful woman. Since her 17-year old son Aubrey Abrakasa was gunned down in broad daylight outside of their Western Addition home three years ago today (the killer(s) are known to the Mayor, DA, and SFPD yet cannot be brought to justice as no witnesses will testify) she's done everything she can to bring attention to the case: she's talked to media, she's testified on a nearly daily basis at the Board of Supervisors, and when her schedule allows, she sits outside of City Hall and the Hall of Justice with placards, posters and photos of her son in various stages of life (and death, Aubrey's coroner photo is one of them).

The End Of An Era: Brightly Colored FastPass To Be Replaced by TransLink

Hang on to your FastPasses, kids -- in a year at the earliest, they will likely join GameBoys, Betamax and Walkmen: antiquated relics of a technology stone age.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency will replace all existing fare gates at its Muni underground stations with TransLink-only fare gates by fall 2010 at the earliest, according to a memo sent to the Board of Supervisors. While no final decision's been made, this likely means the end of magnetized FastPasses as well, according to Muni spokesman Judson True.

Freshly Approved New PUC Building Costs More Than You Think

If William Randolph Hearst were both a green-technology nut and alive, he might find much to like with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission's proposed $346 million green technology Playboy Mansion new headquarters, funding of which cleared a Board of Supervisors Committee on Wednesday.

The 13-story, glass-heavy monument to water filtration, glass and -- uh, from what we can tell -- glass has been covered much in local media, so we won't reinvent the windmill here, except to reiterate: it's been a pet project of Gavin Newsom's since it was announced in 2007, it replaces a vacant lot at 525 Golden Gate which in turn replaced a long-vacant state building, and it will allow the SFPUC to move out of leased office space on Market Street -- thereby SAVING YOU MONEY since your water bill will no longer be paying off someone else's rent (though to be sure, such environmentally-friendly San Simeons do not come free).

Can't stop, Won't Stop: Mirkarimi Takes Aim At Newsom's Security Deal (again)

File under the We "Shall Overcome (someday) department: Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi introduced legislation Tuesday which would require all city officials to publicly disclose security costs connected with out-of-city campaign-related travel, and reimburse the city for those costs.

This comes some weeks after Mirkarimi tried several times to get Mayor Gavin Newsom's office to reveal how much the city is dishing out to pay for the cops who accompany Newsom everywhere: to Rhode Island, to Orange County, to long, lonely drives to weddings in exclusively disgustingly rich rural Montana.

Too Easy: SF Porno King in SUV, ahem, Hit From Behind in Last Week's Muni Crash

Go ahead and make your own jokes, because we're here just to report the news -- one of the occupants of the silver Nissan SUV at the center of last week's Muni crash was a local gay pornography studio owner and Castro District celebrity.

F Market Crash Witness: No One Was Talking To The Driver

The operator of the F-Market train which collided with an SUV on Market Street last week was distracted by a conversation with a passenger, according to Muni statements and media reports -- a fact disputed by that passenger, who told a Board of Supervisors committee hearing Monday that the conversation ended at least five minutes before the collision.

"I am here to set the record straight," said the witness, Norman Tanner. "I am the person who was talking to the driver... no one was talking to the driver at that time (of the collision). I don't know how that got out there."

Pot, Hugues, Marina: Chief George Gascon, The 15-Minute Interview

If San Francisco's new chief of police is planning a major overhaul of his new department, he is not letting on. That said, freshly-sworn-in George Gascón-- who officially becomes the city's top cop at midnight tonight, when Heather Fong's tenure expires -- was cordial and open with reporters on Friday, in his second appearance before local media but first since his swearing-in.

"My top three priorities? Reducing crime, reducing crime, reducing crime," said Gascón, who, while he does not have a contract as SFPD's chief, again insisted he is not in the running for the chief's job in Los Angeles, recently vacated by his friend and mentor.

Failure To Observe 250 Foot Gap Rule May Have Contributed To F Market Crash

All street-level San Francisco Municipal Railway rail vehicles -- including street-level Muni metro light rail vehicles on the J,K,L,M and N lines, and F-Market historic street cars such as the ones involved in
Monday night's accident -- are required by agency rules to keep a 250 foot safety gap between one another, MTA staff and the drivers' union president confirmed Tuesday.

Operators can be approved by street supervisors to approach closer than 250 feet to another Muni vehicle in the case of a delay or other situation, Muni spokesman Judson True said. But oftentimes drivers will neglect this rule without approval, a practice that needs to stop, Transit Workers Local 250A president Irwim Lum said.

No Elephants at the Zoo Again, Ever

The zoo's been elephant free since 2005, after half of the zoo's elephants died or were euthanized and the survivor was trucked off to the Sierra foothills (where it later collapsed and died). That led city supervisors to pass a law saying the zoo may not have another elephant until the zoo builds a 15-acre enclosure.

Subverting Expecations, Pot Commission Confirmations Divisive, Ornery

There's a commission for almost everything here in San Francisco, and the committee watch-dogging cops cracking down on cannabis-connected crimes - the Community Oversight Committee Regarding Enforcement of Marijuana Offenses, or "lowest priority commission," as one applicant for a seat called it - is an example of just that "everything."

Gas-Guzzlin' City -- $25M Annually Spent On Fuel

San Francisco spends $25 million a year on gassing and diesel-ing up its fleet of city-owned cars and Muni buses -- which consume more fuel per year than the national average -- and plans to continue to do so, but supervisors approved an out on Wednesday that could allow both for fuel-cost savings and an increase in use of biofuels.

The Office of Contract Administration (OCA) asked a Board of Supervisors committee on Wednesday to approve a $50 million two-year contract with Western States Oil for the nine millon gallons of petroleum city vehicles consume annually.

The Drew School Expansion To Move Forward, Despite Neigbors' Protests


Drew School Rendering-thumb.jpgIs your faith in the city's progressives strong enough to move mountains? How about 109-year old homes -- can the city's lefty supervisors move a three-unit, rent-controlled, pre-quake woodframe house, to save it from the wrecking ball?

Not on Tuesday they couldn't. But they did try.

At issue was 1831-1835 Broderick Street, whose owner is The Drew School. The Drew, a private college preparatory high school, bought the building, next door to its main campus at California and Broderick Streets, in 2005 for a cool $1.9 million, according to property records.

SF's Bike Plan Hits The BoS, But Don't Expect A Quick Fix(ie)

The Bicycle Plan pedals its way into the Board of Supervisors's chamber today, but its freewheeling odyssey is still far from over.

At issue today is NOT whether or not the MTA can finally begin striping bike lanes, placing bicycle racks and telling motorists to go fuck off please be prepared to share the road, but whether or not the city has finally done its due diligence under California law and performed an adequate environmental impact report.

Pay No Attention To The Vacant Lot in HP: Mayor, Chronicle Team Up To Bury Examiner Story (which itself was buried in the Examiner)


mn_hunters_point_0003_jc1.jpgNever in your life try and tell yourself that Mayor Gavin Newsom and his vaunted, expensive five-person press corps don't know how to handle the media.

On the very day that the San Francisco Examiner planned to run a two-page "cover story" (so titled on the top of the pages where it ran, buried deep within the Thursday paper and advertised nowhere on the cover) detailing how the city may be forced to alter its Hunters Point Shipyard redevelopment plans to NOT include a 49ers stadium, the San Francisco Chronicle had an exclusive story on what will be there -- something called a "United Nations Global Warming Center," 80,000 squre feek of wonks telling each other stuff like "BOO COAL" and "HOORAY SOLAR!"

For Wonks Only: Fairfield Homeowner Sweeps City Hall Bake-Off


We've never tried methamphetamine, but we think we might know what it's like, for we've lost ourselves and our afternoon to the worst sugar rush since that one Halloween (the last time a Halloween vomit session wasn't alcohol-induced, we might add).

Yes, we were one of the "media"-types present for the supervisorial culinary showdown, the bake-off between former City Hall coworkers, onetime adversariesbut longtime friends John Avalos and Chris Daly.

More Shocking Daly Revelations!

Personal reasons" Over, Supervisor And Insurance Commissioner Candidate Returns To Committees

Video: "Smoldering" Underground Cable Causes Stir At City Hall


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