Month: October 2012

2012 Legislative Year in Review

2012 Legislative Year in Review for Land Use Planners

By Alexandra Barnhill, Legislative Director, APA California–Northern

September 30th marked the end of another busy California legislative session. While it is not possible to summarize all the actions taken on bills that are relevant to land use planners, some of the most significant developments are described below.

Redevelopment-related bills vetoed as “premature.” The loss of redevelopment as a tool for economic development has deeply impacted local governments. Numerous bills were drafted this session to create a replacement tool for redevelopment; however, none of them secured the Governor’s approval.

  • SB 214 (Wolk), AB 2144 (Perez), and AB 2551 (Hueso) would have modified the cumbersome rules for the establishment of Infrastructure Financing Districts (IFDs) by local governments.
  • AB 345 (Torres) would have made changes to the Community Redevelopment Law regarding redevelopment agencies’ use of the Low and Moderate Income Housing Fund.
  • SB 1156 (Steinberg) would have allowed local governments to establish a Sustainable Communities Investment Authority to finance activities within a specified area.

Though these bills were not signed into law, the Governor indicated via his veto messages that he is committed to working on revitalization efforts in upcoming sessions. For now, Brown wants local agencies to focus their efforts on the winding down of redevelopment.

Although the Governor does not yet broadly support the use of IFDs for redevelopment, one exception was made. Brown signed AB 2259 (Ammiano), which creates an IFD for San Francisco’s upcoming America’s Cup yacht race. This, along with the veto messages, signals that IFDs or other redevelopment replacement tools may be approved in the future.

Parking Reform measure fails. AB 904 (Skinner) would have imposed a single statewide parking standard for both nonresidential and residential infill and close-to-transit projects across California. Facing strong opposition, the author dropped the bill. Similar proposals also failed to gain support in prior sessions. APA California conceptually supports reduced or “smart” parking requirements near transit-rich areas and has agreed to work with the bill’s sponsors to develop a new parking proposal for 2013. Northern California APA will be hosting a forum representing all stakeholders’ views on this topic on November 9, 2012. More information on the workshop is available at

Wildfire Prevention Planning bill approved. After many unsuccessful attempts, Senator Kehoe finally secured adoption of a bill that requires local governments to plan for wildfire hazards. Senate Bill 1241 amends the Planning and Zoning Law, requiring cities and counties to review and update their safety element. The Office of Planning and Research will draft guidelines for how plans should identify and address fire danger. Then, local agencies must amend their safety element by 2014 to include detailed surveys and maps identifying areas of high fire severity zones and addressing the risk of fire in State Responsibility areas.

Housing Element Law clarified. Last year, SB 244 (Wolk) amended the Planning and Zoning law to require cities to update their land use element to plan for disadvantaged unincorporated communities within the city’s sphere of influence. It was unclear under the law whether local governments were required to undertake new studies or analysis to satisfy this obligation. SB 1090 (Committee on Governance and Finance), the Local Government Omnibus bill, contains a provision that clarifies that the responsibilities of each city to update their General Plan is based upon available information, such as the data and analysis provided by a LAFCo.

Solar Energy Permit bills signed. Under current law, local agencies must administratively approve applications to install solar energy systems and only charge a building permit fee that reflects the estimated reasonable cost of providing the service. The Governor signed into law two new bills relating to solar residential building permit fees:

  • AB 1801 (Campos) clarifies that a local agency’s solar residential building permit fees are an issue of statewide concern and must be based on the costs to issue the permit, not the value of the solar system or other factors.
  • SB 1222 (Leno) places a cap on building permit fees on what local agencies can charge applicants to install solar residential systems unless the agency can justify their “reasonable costs” with detailed findings. This bill was controversial because it may establish a precedence of legislation placing arbitrary caps on permit fees for specific types of projects.

Together with the Office of Planning and Research’s California Solar Permitting Guidebook and the County Planning Directors’ California Solar Planning Guide, these legislative developments provide a base of information for local agencies to appropriately permit residential solar systems.

Cottage Food Operations bill approved. Under the gut-and-amend bill AB 1616 (Gatto), cities and counties must permit cottage food operations in residential dwellings by right. Alternatively, the agency may grant such operations a non-discretionary or use permit, so long as the operation complies with certain limited restrictions such as concentration, parking, and noise. The bill also effectively shifts the enforcement obligation of cottage food operations from local heath departments to local planning departments. APA California has a number of concerns about the bill and is seeking clarification regarding this bill’s implications for local regulation of the point of sale of cottage food products, application of home occupation standards, and permit fees.

CEQA only modestly reformed. In late August, SB 317 (Rubio) was introduced as a gut-and-amend bill that would have made significant changes to the enforcement of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). While the bill was ultimately killed, this effort highlighted the deep divide between labor and other groups seeking CEQA reform and environmental groups who are opposed to the weakening of CEQA.

Several modest changes to CEQA were able to survive the legislative process. Most notably, a handful of new exemptions were approved, such as AB 1665 (Galgiani) for railroad crossings, AB 1486 (Lara) for roadway improvements, and AB 2245 (Smyth) for bicycle lanes.

Unless otherwise provided for in the law, the statutes enacted by this new legislation take effect January 1, 2013.

Alexandra M. Barnhill is a Partner in the Oakland office of Burke, Williams and Sorensen, LLP. You can reach her at

Parking Policy Workshop

AB904 would have created parking minimums in certain areas of communities with transit service. It was not acted on during this year’s legislative session.  Join your fellow planners and policy makers to discuss ways to improve the proposed legislation at the Joseph P. Bort Metro Center in Oakland on November 9th. Workshop comments and recommendations will be forwarded to state legislators and the APA California Chapter Policy and Legislative Committee.  This event is co-sponsored by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). The full event announcement is on the upcoming events page.

November 2012

  • Lessons learned from LEED to lean. We can promote pedestrian mobility and wellness with mixed-use zoning models. Peter Pirnejad. PAGE 1
  • What’s inside: complete contents, PAGE 2
  • Your help wanted to plan Chapter Conference in 2015 in Northern Section. Hanson Hom, AICP. PAGE 3
  • 2012 Legislative Year in Review for land use planners. Alexandra Barnhill. PAGE 13
  • Where in the world. Two photos by Barry J, Miller, FAICP. PAGE 16

To read or download the PDF, click here.

The Annual Holiday Party!!!

Save the date for the Section’s Holiday Party – November 30, 2012. This year’s event will be held at Mua in Oakland from 7-10 PM. (several blocks away from 19th ST BART). $30 per APA member, $35 per non-member; $15 for students and unemployed.

We are still looking for donations for the annual California Planning Foundation (CPF) drawing which will benefit students pursuing planning degrees. If you wish to donate please see the event announcement for more information.

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San Francisco Takes the Leading Edge

After many years of the SF Environment’s path-breaking accomplishments, including the formative 1996 Sustainability Plan whose foundation is still at the leading edge, SF Planning is also accelerating sustainability with completion of recent plans, formation of a multi-agency sustainability-ecodistrict program, and exploration of promising frameworks.

Over the past five years, some of San Francisco’s major projects have included award-winning sustainability plans. They set the stage for the current sustainability and EcoDistrict initiative. These plans include:

  • Treasure Island
  • Bayview-Hunters Point Shipyard and Candlestick Point
    • Sustainability Plan (click: Development Projects | Hunters Point Shipyard & Candlestick Point | Sustainability | then scroll to the bottom of the page and click “Sustainability Plan.”)
  • Transit Center District Plan (home page)
    • The Plan (19 MB PDF) (see Chapter 6, District Sustainability)
  • Park Merced

A year ago, SF Planning convened a multi-agency team to advance citywide sustainability through coordination and collaboration. The team includes SFPUC (water, wastewater and power), SF Environment, Capital Planning, Public Works, and the Redevelopment Successor Agency. To deepen their sustainability planning capacity, they participated in the Portland Sustainability Institute’s EcoDistrict training this past May.

The team engages in on-going dialogue with monthly program development meetings and presentations to create a common basis for collaboration and program development. Key presentation topics have included transformative energy and water infrastructure, infrastructure ownership models, new business models for smarter cities, optimizing district-scale energy and water systems, and integrated water resource management (click here; scroll down). This cross-silo group’s evolving EcoDistrict approach encompasses the district scale, neighborhood scale, and industrially zoned land. Coordinating private development and public infrastructure improvements through new modes of finance and stakeholder governance to create the next generation of sustainable urban infrastructure and planning capacity is this group’s emerging focus.

Other SF Planning initiatives include applying an EcoDistrict approach to the Central Corridor Plan (scroll down) and a pilot neighborhood (upcoming), exploring the Living Building Challenge (LBC) and the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development (FSSD), and participating as a partner city in the International Biophilic Cities Research project. The LBC is an award-winning strategic framework (see BFI announcement too) to achieve net zero and restorative building and community impacts, from the room to regional scale. Also under assessment, and related to the LBC, is The Natural Step’s 20-year old transformative FSSD. It integrates tactical initiatives into a powerful strategic approach for ultimate citywide sustainability. The FSSD includes stakeholder process to catalyze needed public and private sector economic innovation that eliminates environmental impacts or transforms them into restorative effects. As a result of eliminating environmental impacts, sustainability becomes a platform for the economic innovation that creates the ecologically sustainable regenerative economy that underpins a sustainable society in the biosphere.

This past May, SF became a partner city of the Biophilic Cities Research Project, which, coincidentally, is a key component of the LBC. The biophilic hypothesis, for which there is accumulating evidence, is that humans are hard-wired to need connection with nature and other forms of life for their health. Biophilic planning and development provides that connection by infusing a city with an abundance of nature. As Professor Beatley more eloquently states, biophilic city planning and design “is about redefining the very essence of cities as places of wild and restorative nature, from rooftops to roadways to riverfronts. It is about understanding cities as places that already harbor much nature and places that can become, through bold vision and persistent practice, even greener and richer in the nature they contain,” thus meeting our human need for connection with nature.

In a related initiative, SF Planning may collaborate with SF Environment in launching their urban biodiversity program, of which two SF Planning projects may be key components: Green Connections and the Urban Forest Master Plan. A key challenge of formulating urban biodiversity programs is the degree to which pre-development ecosystems should serve as the value and decision basis for formulating the program compared to a more creative hybrid approach. The latter approach would reflect pre-development values but include new elements to forge an ecosystem that includes the built environment. Enriching, extending, and harnessing natural ecosystem services to the urban area’s metabolism and economy could be part of the design challenge of urban biodiversity programs. In addition, global warming’s likely substantial reduction in the water supply of the western United States presents the crux design constraint.

Invitation:  Are you advancing innovative sustainability planning in your city? Feature it in the Plan-It Sustainably column of the Northern News, and/or post a longer description with links on this blog. Send your idea or post to Scott Edmondson, or simply author a guest post. What is or is not working? Join the conversation; add value; move the Section’s sustainability needle!

Monthly Resources:

Sustainability Committee Update:

(NOTE: This is a cross post from the shorter Plan-it sustainably Column, Northern News, November 2012 <<link forthcoming>>, by Scott T. Edmondson, AICP, co-director, Sustainability Committee, APA, CA Chapter, Northern Board).

Canadian Cities at Sustainability Tipping Point?

Are Canadian cities at a sustainability tipping point after 12 years of on-going innovative integrated community sustainability planning? And if so, what’s the secret?  That was the topic of TNS Canada’s Exchange Network of sustainability practitioners monthly Dialogue on September 24, 2012. The webinar was entitled,

The Emerging Vision for Canadian Municipalities – Reflections and Barriers to the Implementation of Integrated Community Sustainability Plans (ICSP’s).

As an introduction to the webinar, the TNS Canada office posted the following description in the invitation e-mail. It describes the Canadian strategic approach to sustainability that has emerged over the past 12 years:  stakeholder dialogue, deepening understanding, increasing capacity, on-going innovation and implementation, transformation, and acceleration towards sustainability.

Over the past 10 years municipal governments and community groups have engaged thousands and thousands of Canadians to create Integrated Community Sustainability Plans (ICSPs ) that describe bold new visions for our cities and towns.  Many of these plans are in the process of being implemented; changing the way that we plan and design the places we live work and play. Collectively these individual plans are adding up to a new vision for Canada. A new vision for Canadians. At the same time municipalities are experiencing challenges as they try to implement their plans.

Earlier this year, we interviewed municipal experts from across the country and gathered for an intimate dialogue to explore what’s needed to spark the sustainability transformation in our communities. Transformational change requires questioning and evolving our mental models, the short-hand filters we use to make sense out of the world.  It requires re-thinking, deep learning, and integration of new ways of being in the world.  It’s hard work.  It requires commitment, care, purpose, and support. It is deeply rewarding.  The visions that Canadian municipalities have created are bold enough so that reaching them will require this type of transformational change.  What does it take to create the conditions for transformation?  Are our communities ready to undertake this journey together?

During this webinar we will provide a summary of our research and dialogue to date, and ask your for feedback as we synthesize the findings from this research into a final report. 

We are also embarking on a new research project that will review the state of sustainability plan implementation in Canada. This research will help to identify some of the new tools, resources and next practices from leading communities. During the Dialogue we will provide you with more information on this new project. 

An email sent summarizing the webinar discussion and providing some resources to the Exchange Network member practitioners stated the following:

The majority of Dialogue participants were sustainability practitioners working in municipalities. Bringing their own personal experiences and perspectives from across Canada, the group engaged in a great conversation on the current challenges facing Canadian communities.

 John Purkis, Senior Advisor and Senior Manager, Sustainable Communities Program, TNS Canada, led the webinar. John believes that Canada is nearing the tipping point of revolutionizing how all Canadian communities are developed because municipalities across the nation have made real progress in developing and implementing ICSP’s. However, not everyone on the call was so optimistic. As with many organizations, municipalities face resource and political constraints that can often derail even the most well-intentioned sustainability efforts.

The group discussed tools that have helped them overcome barriers to implementing ICSP’s. The resources mentioned are listed below:

Strategic Question Assessment: Accessing Actions Using Whistler2020 Worksheet” This 2 page document is a “back-of-the-envelope worksheet that outlines four strategic questions to help you assess any type of action, project, initiative and proposal using Whistler2020 to inform your decision-making.” Although this tool is based on Whistler’s context, it may be useful for other sustainability practitioners looking to embed sustainability into their everyday decision making.

Passing Go: Moving Beyond the Plan”, Dr. Amelia Clarke Dr. Clarke’s presentation, published with The Federation of Canadian Municipalities, provides success factors for ICSP implementation. Canadian success stories are included.

Bob Willard’s customizable ‘The Sustainability Advantage Worksheets’ Drawing on his experience working for IBM, Bob Willard created worksheets for you to calculate the business case for a sustainability initiative. Plug in your numbers to either the worksheet for Large Enterprises or the SME Version of the document. For more information, please see Bob’s website.

Slide deck from the Dialogue John Purkis’ slide deck, which includes initial findings from research John is conducting for Infrastructure Canada which reviews the state of implementation of ICSP’s in Canada.

What has your and your city’s experience been with sustainability planning? What difficulties did you face and which tools and responses do you feel would be most effective?  Please comment below.