Tuesday, March 27, 2012

2012-03-27 "California cities most densely populated in U.S." by John King from "San Francisco Chronicle"
California is home to the rugged Sierra Nevada, bucolic vineyards, wave-stroked beaches - and the most densely urbanized areas in the nation.
That's the finding of the U.S. Census Bureau, which on Monday reaffirmed a counterintuitive truth: The cities of the West, barely considered cities at all by many East Coast pundits, often are more densely populated than such skyscraping metropolises as New York and Chicago.
Los Angeles is the nation's most densely urbanized area, with a population of nearly 7,000 people per square mile. The 3.28 million people living in and around San Francisco and Oakland are runners-up, with a density of 6,266 people per square mile.
San Jose places third, with a density of 5,820 people per square mile and a population within its urbanized area of 1.66 million.
 These numbers are shaped by commute patterns and geographic features rather than municipal boundaries. But they make sense to people who see in them an affirmation of how the West Coast has evolved since the 1800s.
"It's a legacy of how in our minds' eye we have always separated California into 'urban' land and 'productive' land and then wilderness, the cathedrals of nature," said Jon Christensen, executive director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University.

Not like New York -
That's different than such regions as greater New York, which has 18.35 million people in its urbanized area. The 3,450- square-mile area is centered on the vertical island of Manhattan - but it also takes in much of Long Island and forested swaths of Connecticut, areas that feel remote but in fact are tied directly to the core.
"What defines 'urban areas' is not density per se, or residential units, but an integrated job market," said Gregory Ingram, president of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in Cambridge, Mass. "Think about the spectrum of (types of) places. ... We have clear ideas of what's at either end, but the suburbs kind of muddy things up."
California, by contrast, has much more rigid lines of separation.
Villages didn't slowly take on a suburban identity, as is often the case in older parts of the country; here, tracts were unrolled across farmland after World War II. Sprawl in turn was hemmed in by state and regional parks or land so steep that development is prohibitively expensive.
The east sides of Marin and San Mateo counties are part of San Francisco's urbanized area, for example, but not the protected western areas of each county.
"In the Bay Area, we have these things together cheek by jowl," Christensen said. "You have a lot of cities packed up against each other, and then the other types of land are very close by."
History also shapes the urbanized areas. Because the area lines were mapped in large part decades ago, San Francisco-Oakland includes portions of southern San Mateo and Alameda counties that now are part of Silicon Valley. But their numbers are credited to the traditional urban hubs to the north, rather than neighboring San Jose.
"The question of where an urban area ends is imprecise," Ingram said. "You sit around a conference table and decide, and then that's what gets replicated over time."
Of the 486 "urbanized areas," only three of the 10 most densely populated are not in California: New York-Newark comes in fifth, "Urban Honolulu" eighth and Las Vegas-Henderson, Nev., 10th.

Small, but dense -
According to demographers at the Census Bureau, an urbanized area consists of any concentration of 50,000 or more people. That's how Delano, surrounded by farmland in the Central Valley 30 miles north of Bakersfield with a population of 54,372, is ranked as the nation's fourth most dense urbanized area, ahead of New York-Newark.
The most intriguing nugget found in the density measurements might be the hints that the American norm of growth - ever outward, with densities in a constant decline - might be coming to a halt in certain desirable locales.
That's the case in the San Francisco-Oakland urbanized area, which on the eastern side of the bay stretches from Hercules to Fremont: The population increased 1.6 percent between 2000 and 2010 even as the geographic boundaries shrank slightly.
New York-Newark also grew slightly more dense: Its population is up 3.10 percent, its land area just 2.9 percent.
Similar bumps were recorded in the urbanized areas of Miami, Houston, Washington, D.C., Seattle and San Diego. In the latter - where new condo towers and townhouses fill the once-forlorn downtown - the population went from 2.67 million in 2000 to 2.95 million in 2010. The square miles included in the area, by contrast, dropped from 782 to 732.

Graphic by Todd Trumbell from "San Francisco Chronicle"

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

2012-03-20 "The Politics of Urban Farming"
An urban farming revival is sweeping across the United States, sparking a flood of conversation, and sometimes conflict, among communities large and small. Some regard urban farming as the hope of the future, while others target it as an elitist pastime of hipsters. While many agree that the food system in the United States is broken, there’s difficulty when it comes to making a consensus about the nature of the breakage, and how best to fix it. Urban farming is one possible approach, if it can be done well.
The discussion sparked by urban farming opens up an opportunity to talk about food politics in the United States, as well as the race and class issues tied up in food security and who has opportunities to participate in urban farming. As a core necessity, food represents a sum greater than its parts, and becomes an axis of a much larger conversation about autonomy for marginalised communities.
Some coverage of urban farming acts as though it’s an entirely shocking and new concept when this isn’t actually the case. People have been producing food in urban environments for centuries. With the development of crowded tenements at the turn of the 20th century it became more difficult for people to grow their own food, and some turned to markets for the bulk of their food supplies, but not all did.
For that matter, even the government has been involved in urban farming. In the Second World War, ‘victory gardens,’ a form of urban farming, were widely promoted and heavily used. Used as a combination food security, propaganda, and community-building tool, some victory gardens were quite large and productive, and included people who hadn’t been involved in food production before.
And in low-income communities, urban farming has always been present to some extent. Thus it’s surprising that in the current battle in numerous cities over ordinances prohibiting livestock or cracking down on farming, people seem to be forgetting that one of the reasons these ordinances were passed in the first place was to push ‘undesirables,’ like immigrants producing their own food, out of the community. The historical context of urban farming becomes important when discussing its present and future; the concept was not, in fact, invented by white hipsters.
Local food production has a number of clear benefits, which is why urban farming has become more popular as people work to increase awareness of the possibilities. It can be more cost-effective as well as environmentally friendly to produce food locally and independently, and urban farms also provide a mechanism that connects people with the source of their food. In an era where many urban dwellers have never actually seen vegetables growing, urban farms allow people to learn about food sources; and they may provide nutrition education as well, allowing to learn about how to use the food they’re producing.
Urban farming can increase the sense of independence, especially in low-income communities, and may create access to fresh foods where none was available. Detroit in particular has seen a renaissance of urban farms as people take over empty lots and convert them to agricultural purposes. Urban farms can turn into community hubs, making them organising and gathering spaces that empower members of a community—especially when they are the ones setting up and managing their farms.
The potential community benefits of urban farming are vast, as such gathering spaces can extend far beyond farming. At many urban farms, people meet for educational sessions covering a range of topics, including trainings in useful skills, radical book clubs, and other activities. Members of urban farming collectives, as well as volunteers, may find that farming becomes an entry to radical politics as they learn more about the food system and the interconnected web that capitalism has drawn around it.
There are also issues with urban farming, which are often glossed over in conversations about its capacity as a tool for social change. One is the sense of white saviour complex which can hang heavy over some installations, where outsiders enter a community as ‘teachers.’ They may not consider the context in which they are operating, and do not necessarily work with the members of the communities they’re ‘helping.’ This can create divides and tensions, rather than the desired spirit of cooperation and interdependence.
When people of different classes and racial groups impose their values on communities in the guise of assisting them, it’s a grim reminder of the legacies of colonialism. These ‘urban farms’ become nothing more than playthings for people who want to boast a sense of social awareness, rather than tools created by their own communities. Many are established with a lack of cultural sensitivity; urban farms may be producing foods people don’t traditionally eat or know how to use, for example, or the values promoted at a farm don’t mesh with those of the community.
Some white, middle class urban farmers also evoke a specific ideal of urban farming, one that is pretty and neat and organised, with chicken coops costing thousands of dollars and neatly arranged containers or beautifully dug beds with crisply maintained edges. Urban farming can be messy, may involve the use of scrap and donated material by people making do with what they have. As a collective endeavor, it sprawls outside of borders and lines, and not necessarily in an artfully deliberate way.
The sanitised, hipster version of urban farming is so far from the reality, and the necessity, that it can be offputting to people who are struggling for acceptance of urban farming in settings where this kind of high-gloss version of farming is not an option. City councils, for example, may use such farms as a model of what urban farms are supposed to look like, making it impossible for low-income groups to start their own farms because they lack the finances to establish a plot that will meet city ordinances.
There are also space issues in many urban areas, where it can be hard to install urban farms because there isn’t enough room. Owners of empty lots are not necessarily willing to see them converted into farms, even temporarily, and the lots may contain heavily contaminated soil. Soil testing is a requirement in most areas, and this can be very costly, another potential barrier for urban farmers. If the soil is contaminated, people may need to seek a different site or create enclosed beds. This requires the construction of containers and the use of safety measures to ensure that people don’t get sick eating the very goods they farm, adding cost and labour to the investment needed for an urban farm.
Urban farmers are facing sneaky barriers like Monsanto’s steady takeover of the seed supply in the US, which is stripping individual farmers of autonomy and the ability to save and exchange seeds. With a recent move to purchase a number of seed companies that specialize in home gardening and small farming cultivars, the firm heavily controls the distribution mechanism in agriculture from industrial to the fire escape garden.
Urban farms can become a form of resistance for those who work through seed exchanges to cultivate, save their own seeds, and develop independent from Monsanto. But they can also become victims of large seed companies, by unwittingly purchasing their products and walking into legal traps; Monsanto has a long history of aggressively suing for patent violations, creating situations where people incur legal liability simply for growing something. There can be a fast learning curve as people enter urban farms and start learning about the complex social and political issues going on around them, such as restrictions on so-called ‘cottage foods’ produced at home and on small urban farms that make it hard to sell them at farmers’ markets and other venues.
As a pathway to food independence, urban farms have huge potential. Some are models of sustainability and effectiveness, involving members of a community working together to create the garden they want and need, reaching out to people in the area to offer food education, fresh produce, and more. Others are nothing more than idealistic experiments with no real foundation; there is a potential for truly radical politics in urban farming, but that requires pushing through fears, both among the community at large and among the people working on the farm.
Urban farming is very much an example of the underclass taking control of a system that has been used for abuse; people are yanking power away from the hands of corporations and reseating it in their own communities. They are defying an utterly broken system with their own new model, and must do so against considerable opposition. Fighting the food system is an uphill battle when the current iteration has so much to lose if people start growing their own. It can start to seem overwhelming for participants, especially in areas where neighbours may be hostile to urban farms because of manufactured worries about smell, property values, and other issues.
Sweet and sanitised urban farms turn a radical political act into a commodity that can be bought, sold, and traded like so many other things under a capitalist system. These ‘farmers’ buy all their supplies from companies that have taken advantage of the resurgence in urban farming to create a market, one which yields substantial profits for them. They contribute to the further commodification of urban farming by changing it from grassroots rebellion to product. An entire industry including everything from chicken consultants to custom gardening beds has arisen to meet an artificially created need while people in low-income neighbourhoods work in solidarity with each other to defy the system.
As urban farming is commodified, it becomes more expensive, and more difficult, for people working on the ground. The same sanitised farms become models for cities adjusting their ordinances to accommodate the demands of yuppies who want to be able to keep chickens in their back yard. Urban farms that don’t meet these models may be frowned upon and labeled eyesores, because they don’t comply with the capitalist system.
As is common with radical movements, urban farming walks a thin line as it becomes popular. People who fancy themselves symbols of resistance buy seed bombs from mail order catalogs while others gather on squatted urban lots contaminated with heavy metals in an attempt to change their communities from within.

Monday, March 19, 2012

2012-03-19 "Economy Rebounding Big Time In S.F., Says S.F. Business Org" by Jay Barmann from "SFist
A new biennial report [http://www.bayareaeconomy.org/publications-list/] by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute [http://www.bayareaeconomy.org/] declares that the San Francisco Bay Area is now the 19th largest economy in the world, and our innovation-driven, $535 billion economy is one to be envied. A whopping 40% of all venture capital in the country is invested here, and 15% of the country's patents come from here. ALSO, "More than half of the 100 top clean tech companies call the Bay Area home. [AND] Seven of the 10 biggest social media companies in the world are headquartered in the Bay Area."
Granted, the Bay Area Council is a cheerleading org for local business whose primary goal is to advocate for public policy changes and "improve the competitiveness and vitality of the Bay Area region." They note also in their report, which covers the local economy's performance "in the wake of the Great Recession," that our schools continue to underperform, and budget cuts to education aren't helping. And they admit the region's unemployment rate continues to be a problem — though our workforce has become more efficient (i.e. we all work a lot more, and there are fewer jobs), which has boosted profits.


2012-03-19 "Fairfax councilman to speak in Napa on chain stores" from "Napa Valley Register"
A town councilman from Fairfax in Marin County will be in Napa Friday to explain the ins and outs of the Fairfax chain store ordinance and discuss why corporate chains should be regulated.
The presentation by Larry Bragman, organized by the Napa County Green Party, is at 7 p.m. Friday at the Slack Art Collective, 964 Pearl St., Suite B. Doors open at 6:30. It is free and open to the public.
The idea of regulating chain stores in Napa emerged in December when the grassroots group Napa Local formed in response to the announcement that Starbucks was interested in opening downtown, across the street from the locally owned Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company.
Napa Local members have been pushing the City Council to adopt an ordinance regulating chain stores in downtown Napa, similar to the law in Fairfax.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

San Pablo Bay AVA

Click on the image for a closer view of the list of agriculture operations in the Suisun Valley AVA

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

2012-03-06 "Community Speaks for Unique, Diversified Local Commerce"
City of Napa City Hall, 955 School St, Napa, CA
Join Napa Local, downtown Napa merchants, and other concerned residents of our city and valley.
City Council needs to hear that our community is concerned for the future of our downtown. Will we allow corporate chains to practice predatory business by moving in front of other long-time local businesses? What are major economic beneftis of local business?
What will our downtown look like in 10 or 20 years? Will it be a strip mall or a unique downtown for Napa Valley?
We would like City Council to officially discuss this by adding it as an item to their agenda.
We come to city council to share our concerns about the dangers of unchecked formula business proliferation.We want to revitalize Downtown, culturally and economically, for ourselves and for our visitors.
"The large corporate chains, will come in; but we, as a community, should not allow that trend to happen unchecked and uncontrolled. The future of downtown Napa should not merely be sold to the highest bidder without consideration of the impact."
Please be present to show support and if you would like, come up to the mic during public comment and share your concerns.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

2012-03-01 "Republic Windows Workers Consider Employee-Owned Co-Op" by Laura Flanders from "The Nation"
Three years ago, a worker occupation in Chicago saved a factory and sent up a flare of resistance. Three years on, workers at the same factory are illuminating not only how workers might resist layoffs but also what they might do next.
“Last time it took six days. This time it took about eleven hours.” That’s union representative Leah Fried describing winning another reprieve last week for the factory formerly known as Republic Windows and Doors.
In December 2008, days after receiving a $25 billion federal bailout, Bank of America cut off Republic’s credit, leading management to fire all 250 workers without pay or notice. With layoffs approaching 500,000 a month around the country, Republic’s workers and their union, the militant United Electrical Workers, voted to resist. They occupied the plant and stayed, winning the hearts of downcast Americans everywhere and inspiring even an incoming US president. Bank of America backed down, giving the factory time to find a new buyer, which it did, a company called Serious Energy.
Last Thursday morning, workers heard from Serious Energy that once again, the plant was to close at once with no notice and no severance. This time mobilization was speedy. As soon as word went out, allies started arriving. Former Republic employees, Occupy Chicago, ARISE, the Chicago Worker’s Collaborative, Jobs with Justice and Stand Up Chicago showed up primed with pizzas and tents and created a supportive cordon as workers negotiated with police. No need to wait for media to catch on; a live stream fed video to the world from the start. As workers inside prepared to bed down for the night, Serious Energy backed down, announcing a ninety-day stay.
“It’s come full circle.” Says Fried. It’s not just that, three years after the occupation at Republic, “Occupy” has acquired a Twitter handle and a whole new frame of reference. “It’s that, in the last few years, there’s been a real shift in our movements towards direct-action tactics,” says Fried.
Now workers are back at work and they and the company have ninety days to find a solution that doesn’t bring them back, three years hence, to this same place. That picture too, is looking different.
In early 2009, Fried and Republic worker Armando Robles, president of UE Local 1110, set out on a national speaking tour. I had a chance to speak with them on GRITtv, in the studio with Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis. Looking back at that segment now, I’m reminded that at that time, workers were occupying plants in Ireland, England and France. Militant tactics were in evidence all across Europe, as they had been for years already in the global South. Lewis and Klein’s film, The Take, documents the Argentinean response to factory closures—not just occupations but, in some cases, worker-ownership of the plants.
US workers needed stronger organizations, the GRITtv panel agreed, also social movements capable of supporting worker struggles. (So far so good. We have more of both than we did in 2008.) They needed something else too: ways for workers to become owner-operators of their own plants.
Today the workers in Chicago are pursuing exactly that. As it happens, later the same day that they appeared on GRITtv, Klein and Lewis introduced Fried and Robles to The Working World, which helps start and maintain worker-cooperatives. They started talking, and the talks have never stopped, reports Fried. Now they’re talking with The Working World about potentially setting up a fund for donations such that workers could make a bid on the struggling windows and doors plant, and run it as a worker co-op.
They are on an exciting track. If we are going to create an economy of justice, we need not just new popular pressure and new politicians; we need new models of production, distribution, marketing and ownership. In 2009, weatherization money in the Democrats’ stimulus package helped Serious Energy keep Republic afloat. That was stimulus done right. But it wasn’t enough. Now business isn’t booming and Serious wants out. If the plant were operated without fat CEO salaries and with very differently invested shareholders, would the decisions now being made, be different?
Participants in the worker-owned co-op movement believe so. From the venerable Park Slope Food Coop to Madison’s Union Cab, thousands of cooperatives exist in the United States. They're relatively apolitical as yet. As Cheyenna Weber, a co-op activist with the New Economy working group at Occupy Wall Street, puts it:
“This kind of militancy is pretty outside the experience of the average American white worker, but that doesn't seem to be the case with workers with roots in the global South. (That's true here in NYC, too, where many of the Latina worker co-ops have experience in cooperative cultures prior to forming.)”
One small factory in Chicago could be ground zero not once but twice for a power shift. In 2008, the factory was saved by the workers’ own defiance, their organization and their ability to tell an effective story about bailout injustice at just the right political moment. President Obama had been elected but not yet inaugurated. Voters still loomed larger on his— and the nation’s—landscape than the bankers and bullies of the establishment. As a candidate, Barack Obama trod the picket line with striking hotel workers. President-elect Obama spoke out in support of Republic, but as Naomi Klein pointed out on GRITtv back then, “the Republic workers won without help from any president.”
In the run-up to another election, the same workers are summoning our attention. They’re prompting us this time to consider not just rebellion but rebuilding. If people want to sign up for action alerts they can do so at the UE union website. If they want to discuss worker cooperatives—let’s do it right here in this space. Stay tuned for news of that worker fund. The little factory that fought back just might be the factory that leaps forward. What’s happening where you are? Tell us. Laura@GRITtv.org. Let's talk about it.