Growing Bay Area Need Not Use More Water, Report Says

The Bay Area can house millions more people without increasing its water use, according to a new report from the urbanist and water-use think tanks SPUR and the Pacific Institute. This could be done by continuing to improve water conservation efforts while concentrating on developing infill housing to prevent urban sprawl.  

Uber and Lyft vehicle

Officials Demand Reform on Uber, Lyft Assault Reports

Two key elected officials have criticized the California Public Utilities Commission’s inconsistent collection of information on passenger complaints about assaults and threats on Uber and Lyft rides and called for reforms. A leading researcher on sexual assault added that the commission’s methodology was out of line with accepted practice and that it suggested a “lack of concern” about monitoring the incidents.

Workers at the initial sort deck inside Recology’s sorting facility at Pier 96 in San Francisco pluck items that cannot be recycled or pose a threat to equipment from a conveyor belt.

Reduce First, Then Recycle: Sorting Out SF’s Waste

In recent years, the mills and foundries that receive recyclables from Recology have stopped accepting bales of material with more than 1% impurities, so the sorting facility at Pier 96 must work to a very high standard. Through a recent tour of the sorting center, “Civic” reported on what happens when things that cannot be recycled end up there, and what should be done about material that is difficult to recycle, like plastic bags.

Three people stand and hold flowers and other harvest from Hummingbird Farm.

Urban Community Farm Adapts as Exceptional Drought Hits Home

Tere Almaguer, an environmental justice organizer with PODER, talked with “Civic” about how the group has adapted to years of inconsistent rainfall. Almaguer said California’s exceptional drought conditions have already had visible effects on the farm, like flowering plants that grew shorter and bloomed later this year than previously. Hummingbird Farm will also be experimenting with an alternative water source: Drawing water from the air.

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, a key source for water in San Francisco. Photo courtesy of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

SF Water Use Efficient, but State Restrictions Would be Challenging, Official Says

San Francisco’s residential water use is among the lowest among large cities in California, said Steven Ritchie, assistant general manager for water for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. Ritchie joined “Civic” to explain how the city sources and uses its water, and why it is fighting state restrictions on the use of Tuolumne River water.

Joe Eskenazi, managing editor at Mission Local

Journalist Uncovers Potential Fire Danger in Earthquake Safety Retrofits

In an effort to keep certain buildings from collapsing during an earthquake, thousands have received city-mandated seismic retrofits. But as Joe Eskenazi, managing editor at Mission Local, revealed in a recent special report, some of these upgrades left gas lines encased in concrete, which raises concerns about post-quake fires or explosions. 

“The real problem is if it breaks and the gas leaks out inside the building, where it’s leaking out quote-unquote under slab,” meaning under the concrete foundation. “Then all you need is some manner of spark, and then you have an explosion,” Eskenazi told “Civic.” 

It’s unclear how many of the 4,000 retrofits completed in the city have potentially problematic encased gas lines, which makes it difficult to measure exactly how catastrophic the aftermath of an earthquake could be. “If even just a small percentage of the retrofits have a problem like this in an earthquake situation, that could be a significant number of fire risks throughout the city,” Eskenazi said. “Even a small portion of these having this risk could lead to a terrible situation following an earthquake, because all the emergency services are going to have enough to do after an earthquake.”

In a second special report, he surfaced complaints that engineers have been making for years about shoddy construction work on such retrofits, which they allege were brushed off by the building inspection department.

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Reporter Investigates Firing of Utility Regulator’s Director After She Uncovered Missing $200 Million

After she pointed to millions of dollars in uncollected fees for public services and alleged serious mismanagement problems, the executive director of California’s utility regulator, the California Public Utilities Commission, was fired. Commissioners said Alice Stebbins had misled the public about missing funds and accused her of favoritism in hiring. But an investigation by the Bay City News Foundation and ProPublica looked into the dismissal, and found the director had been right about the missing money.