Polishing SPUR - Page 4

A downtown ally is building a new home. It's also trying to create a new image

"Those who disagree with a conclusion SPUR reaches object to us presenting our ideas as objectively true rather than as values based," Metcalf notes in the May SPUR report "Civic Planning in America," in which he surveys other similar organizations.

"And in truth, evidence and research seldom point necessarily to one single policy outcome, except when viewed through the lens of values. We want to stop sprawl. We want housing to be more affordable. We want there to be prosperity that is widely shared.... Perhaps it's time to grow more comfortable with using this language of values," he writes.

Paul, who's now program director for the Haas Jr. Fund and has served on the SPUR board for seven years, says the group is indeed changing. "Over the last six to eight years I've noticed a real shift on the board," he said. "We have really intense and interesting discussions about issues. People feel they can speak their mind."

Okamoto, a partner in the Okamoto Saijo architectural firm, thinks this is the result of a fundamental shift in planning tactics, due to a more recent and deeper comprehension of the coming environmental crises. "Global climate change is moving things. I think SPUR's going in the same direction," he said. Okamoto joined SPUR "because I'd like to see if I could influence the organization toward sustainability. Now we have a new funded staff position for that topic."

And yet the fact remains that only 5 of the 71 board members — about 7 percent — can be described as prominent progressives. At least half are directly connected to prominent downtown business interests.

And a list of SPUR's donors is enough to give any progressive pause. Among the 12 biggest givers in 2006 are Lennar Corp., PG&E, Wells Fargo, Westfield/Forest City Development, Bechtel, Catellus, and Webcor.

In the past 10 years SPUR's staff has doubled, signaling a subtle shift away from relying mainly on the research and work of board members. One of the newest positions is a transportation policy director, and that job has gone to Dave Snyder, who helped revive the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition in 1991, founded Livable City, and spent seven years on SPUR's board before taking the job.

Having occupied the new post for a year, he said, "If I left, it wouldn't be because I didn't like SPUR. The debates we have at the staff level are more open than I expected."

Proposition A, the November transportation reform measure, is one example of the group's new approach. The group voted a month earlier than usual to endorse a measure that was directly in opposition to the interests of one of its biggest funders, Gap billionaire Don Fisher (the Gap is also a member of SPUR). According to Walker, when the SPUR board vetted the endorsements the number of no votes for Prop. A was in the single digits. "I was so surprised," she said.

SPUR opposed Proposition H, a pro-parking countermeasure largely funded by Fisher, and worked with progressives on the campaign.

Metcalf noted it was the ground troops who made all the difference. "We don't have [that kind of] power, and there are other groups that do. We wrote it, but we didn't make it win. The bike coalition and [Service Employees International Union Local 1021] did," he said.

Sup. Aaron Peskin, who brokered much of the Prop. A deal, called it a sign of change for SPUR. "They probably lost a lot of their funders over this."

Radulovich is still dubious. He jumped ship after witnessing some disconnects between the board and its members.