- Gabriel Metcalf – President and CEO, SPUR
- Cari Tuna – President, Good Ventures
Note: These notes give an overview of the major points made by Mr. Gabriel Metcalf.
Cari Tuna spoke with Gabriel Metcalf of SPUR to follow up on a grant made by Good Ventures in May 2014. Conversation topics included SPUR’s current focus areas and future goals, its recent Oakland expansion, and methods of assessing advocacy impact.
Mr. Metcalf believes that the technology boom in San Francisco has both good and bad impacts on the city, but is more positive than negative. SPUR is currently collaborating with Mayor Ed Lee and others to develop strategies to effectively take advantage of the opportunities provided by the growth of the innovation economy to address problems in the city and to improve residents’ lives.
SPUR advocates for increased infrastructure investment, particularly improved public transit. San Francisco’s voters and elected leaders are largely supportive of this cause, so there is an opportunity now to make progress.
Improving upward economic mobility
There are currently significant opportunities in the Bay Area for people to be upskilled and increase their income across many economic sectors. SPUR aims to create systems that enable more people to take advantage of these opportunities so that the benefits of the growing economy are more broadly distributed. One example: the building trades sector currently provides great opportunities for upward economic mobility for non-college-educated workers. Is that a model that can be replicated in other sectors?
SPUR’s first strategy in this area was a campaign last year to raise the minimum wage.
Typically, the non-basic sector of a city’s economy (i.e. businesses that serve primarily local customers) is about three times the size of the basic sector (i.e. business that brings money into the community by serving external customers).
Mr. Metcalf believes that San Francisco’s housing policy has caused housing to become very expensive – one of the main downsides of the innovation economy’s growth – which means that San Francisco can make housing more affordable by changing its own policies with regard to housing and development.
SPUR launched a new office in Oakland in February. Oakland and San Francisco significantly affect each other, and SPUR’s focus areas in San Francisco are also relevant in Oakland. The Oakland expansion represents the biggest risk SPUR has taken to date, both in terms of expense and potential impact on SPUR’s reputation.
SPUR believes its presence can benefit Oakland in several ways:
- Currently, it is difficult for Oakland’s civic culture to bridge the gap between activists and the business community. SPUR can provide a forum for constructive dialogue between those sectors.
- As a group focused on good governance, SPUR offers skills and knowledge that could help increase Oakland’s public sector capacity.
- SPUR can help Oakland take on a larger role in regional issues where it has so far been underrepresented.
SPUR’s Oakland expansion will also:
- Provide Oakland’s Planning Department with technical assistance in developing a strategy for downtown Oakland.
- Provide advice on creating a Department of Transportation (which Oakland currently lacks).
- Develop a strategy to promote affordable housing near Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) stations. Market-rate housing prices are not high enough for a property tax only on new developments in a given year to generate adequate funding for affordable housing. A broad-based property tax would generate significantly more revenue and would not disincentivize development. San Francisco has both a broad-based property tax to fund affordable housing and tax on new development.
- Advocate for a second Transbay Tube for BART.
During its first couple of years in Oakland, SPUR will do foundational work to learn about the area, build relationships, and begin developing policy positions. During this time, SPUR will host frequent educational forum events (like those that it runs in San Francisco), which will likely start in the fall. It will be important for SPUR in Oakland to show humility and willingness to learn. SPUR’s previous expansion to San José provided useful experience for this project.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf’s Chief of Staff, Tomiquia Moss, previously worked for SPUR.
SPUR raised $500,000 in start-up funding for its Oakland launch. SPUR had some difficulty raising these funds. Mr. Metcalf views Good Ventures’ unrestricted grant as contributing to this Oakland funding.
Mr. Metcalf believes that assessing the impact of policy change requires a rigorous logic model. For example, SPUR’s work in Oakland could be evaluated by a few potential outcomes:
- Creating more jobs in the city of Oakland would raise more revenue for the city’s government. This in turn could be used to hire and train more police and social workers, potentially leading to a reduction in crime.
- Even if the population of Oakland increases significantly (e.g., by tens or hundreds of thousands of new residents), some combination of Neighborhood Stabilization Programs (which have already been implemented in San Francisco) and home ownership by Oakland residents could likely help avoid displacement of the current population. This could help keep the cost of living in the Bay Area more affordable.
- Implementing progressive transportation planning, both through more expensive, long-term projects (e.g., BART) as well as shorter-term projects (e.g., putting in bike lanes or implementing progressive parking policies), could result in fewer people driving and more people traveling by foot, bicycle and public transit. Oakland has so far made less progress in this area than, e.g., Berkeley.
Mr. Metcalf believes that these outcome goals will take quite a long time to be realized, even in the best case scenario. But the logic model should guide progress toward the above outcomes.
Future goals and projects
SPUR plans to advocate for shifts in regional transportation funding e.g., from highways to public transit. Mr. Metcalf is hopeful that SPUR’s ability to influence policy on such issues will increase.
Mr. Metcalf has been learning about public safety policy. Oakland needs more police (San Francisco has more police per capita than Oakland). Mr. Metcalf is hopeful that current tensions in the US between police and the African-American community could be improved with effective leadership and strategy.
SPUR is working on issues related to climate change and preparation for sea level rise. SPUR hopes to work with partners to produce a typology of shoreline conditions for the Bay Area to contribute to revisions to the San Francisco Bay Plan by the Bay Conservation and Development Commission.
There is currently not enough advocacy capacity from SPUR and similar groups to counterbalance opposition from homeowners to new development on an ongoing basis. Mr. Metcalf believes that building more permanent advocacy capacity will be necessary.
Mr. Metcalf is hopeful about the idea of a ballot measure to allow proposed housing that complies with zoning regulations (“as-of-right” development), but believes that this would be only a very partial solution because of suboptimal zoning in many areas of San Francisco.
Other people to talk to
- Chris Field, co-chair of Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; Professor for Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies, Stanford University.
- Enrico Moretti, Professor of Economic, University of California, Berkeley. Professor Moretti’s book, The New Geography of Jobs, presents research at the intersection of labor mobility and land use reform. Professor Moretti argues that the US GDP could be 12% larger if zoning were less restrictive in highly productive areas.