Where Are the People?
Open JFK Drive = Return to Normal
Ted Loewenberg
Ted Loewenberg

Tuesday morning, I left the Haight for my daily bike ride, when I reached JFK Drive near Stanyan St. I noticed that for as far as I could see to the west, the only visible persons were about ½ a mile away, near the concourse turn-off. By the time I reached the DeYoung, a couple more people crossed the street on their way out of Golden Gate Park. I kept peddling, seeing a few other cyclists riding east on JFK, and finally reached Crossover Drive to turn off toward MLK, to the south. Bumping over the terrible pavement in front of me, I thought, “What a waste for drivers going to work. There is all this roadway vacant but for a few folks, that could be used to make the trip to work, or shopping just a bit faster and shorter.”

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On weekends, there are a lot of people out on the pavement of JFK (but not the sidewalks) through the hours of 10 am to 4 pm. On weekdays, however, there simply isn’t a crush of bikers, walkers, skateboarders, roller bladders, and more demanding a little piece of blacktop as they move about. Sidewalks on either side of the drive were completely empty, as walkers now stroll down the roadway.”

On MLK, there were about 14 vehicles queued up at the traffic light at 19th Ave. and east on MLK. On Lincoln, eastbound, the usual plethora of cars, trucks and buses paraded toward the center of San Francisco. MLK is now closed off at Sunset Blvd. to the west. That section too is barely being used by persons seeking recreation. Even the Great Highway is not brimming with hordes of persons seeking a peaceful walk by the Pacific, on the average work day.

We, the taxpayers of San Francisco, have paid to build and maintain the roads through our parks, and over the past many decades, residents have been able to use their roads for their needs. We have also paid for the many walkways and hiking paths, to make the many features of our parks available to those passing through, or stopping to smell the roses, rhododendrons and fuchsias. The museums at the Concourse depend upon the roads to make it possible for everyone to get to a nearby parking space to see the precious art and nature exhibits held there. Even the rather garish Ferris wheel temporarily planted near JFK depends upon tourist traffic that gets to the Park by car. Persons with disabilities have little choice about how they can enjoy the Park’s bounties. They are most dependent upon cars for mobility and the necessary close parking in the garage. With car traffic restricted on JFK, along with the parking options on the drive, the Concourse features are literally out of reach for many.

Rec and Park maintains that there is significant demand for recreation space in Golden Gate Park, and that the closure of JFK in the pandemic has revealed that pent-up demand. As one who rides the mile and a half between Crossover and Stanyan about 5 times a day, I can say that on weekends, there are a lot of people out on the pavement of JFK (but not the sidewalks) through the hours of 10 AM to 4 PM. On weekdays, however, there simply isn’t a crush of bikers, walkers, skateboarders, roller bladders, and more demanding a little piece of blacktop as they move about. Sidewalks on either side of the drive were completely empty, as walkers now stroll down the roadway.

One might argue that with car traffic mixed in on weekdays, safety is compromised by the presence of cars. Accidents, historically, are quite rare on JFK where it is closed these days. San Francisco Chronicle stories last week suggested that between 2014 and 2019, there were 30 “traffic accidents” on the now closed portion. While I haven’t found the source for this claim, I believe it is unusually high. Furthermore, most of that period the street was re-painted with bike lanes and parking zones (at a cost of about $600,000). If there were “accidents” of that rate, they were mainly from collisions in the narrow 5 foot bike lanes. The “bike lanes” were mostly used for anything but cycling, such as moms with carriages, walkers, SFPD vehicles, ambulances, fire trucks, skateboarders, runners, cops on horseback, Rec & Park people, and still more, too many to mention. Those bike lanes were ripe for “door-ing” people on bicycles when the passenger side doors opened randomly and surprisingly in the path of bikes. There were very few motor vehicle accidents, if any, involving cars and other users of the Park. There are also about eight STOP signs in that 1 and ½ mile section, along with at least 4 speed bumps, meaning that vehicles are hard pressed to race the length of JFK for thrills. Mixed use on JFK is not a public safety threat, as I see it.

It makes a lot more sense to me to put the City’s resources to broader use, including motorists, to help make our crowded urban setting a little more enjoyable. Whether one is traveling to the Park, or simply through the Park, everyone deserves the right to use the roads to best suit their needs. It is time to get back to normal.

May 2021


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...
Rate Increase Disguised in Cuddly Sheep’s Garb

What's behind PG&E's Time Of Use Pricing camouflage?

Ted Loewenberg
Ted Loewenberg

Elizabeth Warren premised her presidential run on the idea that Americans struggle to get ahead in a system that is rigged against them. The outcomes are predicable: You are more likely not to succeed if you are in the lower 50% of the nation’s economy. Unfortunately, the San Francisco Public Utility Commission, a “service” of city government providing water, sewer and power to residents and businesses, is also gaming electricity rates against the people. How so?

You probably received a letter from PG&E informing you that in July, the rate you will pay for electricity used from 4 to 9 pm every day will increase, under a plan called “Time Of Use” (TOU) Pricing. PG&E justifies this by claiming that the electric grid is most stressed during these hours. By raising the cost of electric service, it will make you aware that you are paying more, and thus you will defer using as much as possible to non-peak hours. That’s not only good for the grid, but also for the environment, says the utility giant. All those fossil fuel emitting greenhouse gases will be reduced. Because, allegedly, renewable energy is less available as the sun goes down. (Save that thought for later.) Theoretically, from 4 to 9, you’ll maximize this social good by sitting in your dark, cold home, without TV, the internet, radio, stereo, and going hungry until 9:00:01. Then you can crank up your electric stove, furnace, incandescent lights, washing machine, dishwasher at 9:01 to resume your life. Finally, about 1 am, you’ll drop into bed exhausted, after consuming cheaper “fossil fuel generated” electricity taking care of the housework.

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The promise of TOU metering is that the customer can adjust their usage to use electric devices when the cost is lower, during the day. That’s not really possible. For those working households, the consumers are paid to perform their jobs, and not wash their linens at home.”

The SFPUC and PG&E executives behind the controls know you won’t be a 5 hour hermit. Rather, you’ll continue your life as you used to and burn the same amount of electricity. Only, now it will cost more. You may save a nickel or a dime by using the “Delay Start” function on your dishwasher, but don’t expect to be able by year’s end to pick up a few Apple shares with your savings.

The promise of TOU metering is that the customer can adjust their usage to use electric devices when the cost is lower, during the day. That’s not really possible. For those working households, the consumers are paid to perform their jobs, and not wash their linens at home. Retirees have some flexibility to shift their habits. Families have almost no chance for altering the rhythms of their lives and their children’s habits. In short, the SFPUC must do the work to devise a reasonable schedule for its customers to discourage electrical consumption.

The brief, and slight benefit of signing up for the TOU billing is that the first year your bill will be guaranteed to cost less than your current annual billing. In the event it is not, next year PG&E will rebate the overage! Who knows what to expect for the following years? However, look at who benefits from you paying more than you expected: PG&E. At this time next year, the company will have borrowed free money from the ratepayers. Million$ of dollar$. Just when this monopoly enterprise suffers from owing billion$ of buck$ for setting the state on fire, this change gifts them with free ca$h. Your ca$h.

SFPUC's Dilemma

Not only does the SFPUC have to declare a better TOU schedule for its customers, but it must also hold hearings on the change in rates. No mention of this scheme was made when Clean Power SF set their rates initially, in 2017. It knew that this was coming, as the California PUC mandated the concept on all of the state’s electrical providers in 2015. Without hearings at the SFPUC Commission, imposition of this price increase seems to set a precedent that customers have no say in the rate setting process. Furthermore, to the best of my knowledge, this was never discussed at the SFPUC’s Citizens Advisory Committee, of which I was a member. Presentations were made about the rationale behind the pricing of power, along with the goal of being less expensive than PG&E’s price which also includes “profit.”

Other than that, the Time Of Use electric metering in San Francisco is problematic. First, PG&E rates only applies to its customers, and not the customers of Clean Power SF. The company only performs meter reading and billing functions for the SFPUC, while maintaining the grid infrastructure. It has very few customers left in the City. Most of us are electric customers of SFPUC, and use either a mix of renewable and fossil fuel sources, or 100% renewable sources. That is, the Community Choice Aggregators (CCAs)  … such as San Francisco’s Clean Power SF … are responsible for developing their own TOU schemes. The City apparently has decided to simply parrot PG&E. That’s your public servants commitment to your best interests. The advantage of being part of a CCA has essentially vanished!

The problem here lies in the fact that PG&E wants you to be flexible in power consumption by minimizing your electric use precisely when you need it most. This past winter, the population of Texas learned what “flexible pricing” really means. Even though they were told it will never happen that demand would be so great that the supply of energy could be drained, Texans got whacked by sky-high power bills for desperately needed power when the temperature dropped to freezing lows. All it took was the perfect storm. When will San Francisco get hit by the perfect storm or earthquake? Dirty Harry asked, “Do you feel lucky today?”

An Alternative Approach

A more effective reduction on the grid would be had by charging more during normal business hours, when all those offices and businesses are running their HVAC systems, their computers, their elevators, their lights and their equipment like machines, refrigerators, and other heavy duty systems. In addition, the SFPUC needs to invest in storage technology as well as to encourage the use of wind generation, a constant in San Francisco. Our SFPUC public servants must combine the residents’ needs with an effective reduction of electrical demand, in a way that doesn’t inflict financial damage on residents. Especially when lower income households of will suffer the most from the increased cost of power just when the family needs it the most.   

Do residents want more efficient use of electricity at the lowest rate possible? Sure! Do residents want environmentally sound practices along with innovative storage devices to generate, deliver and save electricity? Sure! Do residents want the SFPUC to be transparent in addition to working in the best interests of their customers? Without fail! What’s your response, Ms. Barbara Hale, Director of the Clean Power SF Enterprise?

Ted Loewenberg is a San Francisco resident.

April-May 2021


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