Month: January 2020

SB 50 is dead – voted down by State Senators representing affluent suburbs, including the Peninsula

From Ethan Elkind, January 30, here.

“The opposed senators largely cluster along the affluent coastal and suburban areas. This dynamic is particularly apparent in the San Francisco Bay Area, where representatives of the urban core supported the bill (including bill author Sen. Scott Wiener and Sen. Nancy Skinner). But the senators representing the suburban, high-income Silicon Valley communities (Sen. Jerry Hill), affluent East Bay suburbs (Sen. Steve Glazer), and the Napa area (Sen. Bill Dodd) were all opposed.” (See below for statement from Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo.)

Elkind closed with, “Given the long-term problem and entrenched opposition to change, the fact that such a landmark bill only fell three votes short is quite an accomplishment. Since the problem will only get worse, the political pressure to act will increase. That means that something like SB 50 will ultimately pass in California. It will be too late for those priced out in the near term, and possibly too late to address our 2030 climate goals, which will require reduced driving miles from housing closer to jobs and transit absent major technological innovation. But it will happen, because reforming our land use governance is the only way to solve this problem.”

Earlier Thursday, from Gennady Sheyner, Palo Alto Weekly.

He reported on the negative votes from LA and San Mateo, and quoted from Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins, below.

“Bob Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles, criticized the bill for the provision that created a two-year implementation delay and argued that getting the bill ‘right’ is just as urgent as passing it.

“ ‘If I’m a developer contemplating a project, this bill gives me a huge incentive not to build now but to sit on my hands for three years,’ Hertzberg said. ‘Why build two stories when you can build five stories later? And in LA, you cannot pick a worse time to inadvertently put sand in the gears.’

“Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, voted against the bill. He did not speak during the Wednesday debate but said in a statement after the vote that he does not believe SB 50 addresses California’s crucial need for affordable housing.

“He also said he hopes the bill can ‘undergo a full legislative process this year and be positioned to obtain broader support from our colleagues and our community.’

“ ‘We need clearer parameters on the housing creation required for local governments and our communities, and on the flexibility allowed to local governments to locate housing where it works best for our communities,’ Hill said in a statement. ‘We also need a realistic view of the parking needs created by new housing. To require none ignores reality and worsens existing parking shortfalls in the very transit corridors where the legislation seeks to foster new housing. I could not in good conscience vote in favor of this bill as presented today,’ he added.

“Immediately after the Thursday vote, Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins, a supporter of SB 50, assured her colleagues and state residents that the debate over increasing California’s housing supply isn’t over and that the Senate will pass a bill to alleviate the state’s housing shortage this year.

“ ‘To those of you who have concerns about SB 50, you have effectively shared how it will impact local communities and I thank you for that, but now it is time for all sides to step up,’ Atkins said. ‘SB 50 might not be coming forward right now, but the status quo cannot stand.’ ”

Read more from the Palo Alto Weekly here.

How we define “housing density” is a big part of the problem

By Michael Kimmelman, The New York Times, January 28, 2020

“… [O]pposition to density has only stiffened as the gulf widens between the 1 percent and everyone else. Well-to-do NIMBYs, congenitally opposed to new developments, have lately been joined by anti-displacement tenant activists — advocates for poor and working-class residents who might ordinarily want more housing but have come to fear that nearly all development brings gentrification that prices the most vulnerable out of neighborhoods. In cities like New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston, this new alliance means even initiatives promising some subsidized housing have become lines in the sand. …

“Jane Jacobs preached what ‘Housing Density’ enumerates: New York’s lower-density housing developments failed to achieve the quality of life that high-density neighborhoods provide.

“Jacobs wasn’t focused on gentrification, and New York is not Palo Alto is not Barcelona is not Hong Kong: Density is not one size fits all. Urbanism isn’t a mere kit of parts. That said, the implications today are still plain for rezoning legislation like [California’s] S.B. 50 and for efforts like Mayor de Blasio’s proposal to densify select public housing sites by building new mixed-income private developments on their land. …

“Solving what ails American cities also requires urbanists and activists to acknowledge that not all real-estate development is automatically bad. It demands rethinking some anti-densifying rules and regulations. And it will depend on a shared understanding of what density actually means.

“ ‘Housing Density’ is not a bad place to start.”

Read more here.

Northern News February 2020

Northern News February 2020

Northern News


A publication of the American Planning Association, California Chapter, Northern Section

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Northern Section announcements

Director’s note: What’s your Superpower?

By James Castañeda, AICP. Now more than ever, we planners, as agents of change, need to exercise our problem-solving superpowers.

Northern News adds editors

By Naphtali H. Knox, FAICP, editor. The Northern Section Board’s executive committee has appointed three associate editors.

Who’s where

In this segment, we cover eight job changes from around the Bay Area: James Castañeda, AICP; Elizabeth Caraker, AICP; Nisha Chauhan, AICP; Ellen Clark, AICP; Coleman Frick; Evan Kenward; Carolyn Neer, AICP; Matthew Stafford, AICP. Congratulations all!

SFUFF starts Sunday; some events are free

By Fay Darmawi. SF Urban Film Fest aims to leverage the power of storytelling to spark discussion and civic engagement around urban issues. SFUFF focuses on what it means to live together in a city and how to make urban planning more equitable and inclusive.

Planning news roundup

SB 50 is dead – voted down by State Senators representing affluent suburbs, including the Peninsula

Senate Bill 50, in a Senate vote late Wednesday afternoon, fell three votes short of the 21 it needed to advance to the State Assembly. Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins, a supporter, said, ‘SB 50 might not be coming forward right now, but the status quo cannot stand.’

How we define “housing density” is a big part of the problem

By Michael Kimmelman, The New York Times, January 28, 2020. “Jane Jacobs wasn’t focused on gentrification, and New York is not Palo Alto is not Barcelona is not Hong Kong: Density is not one size fits all. Urbanism isn’t a mere kit of parts. That said, the implications today are still plain for rezoning legislation like [California’s] SB 50.”

Future of SB 50 up in the LA air

By Liam Dillon, Los Angeles Times, January 23, 2020. A coalition of groups representing low-income communities now opposes Senate Bill 50. That’s a blow to efforts to advance the bill before the Jan. 31 deadline for it to pass the Senate.

Long term effects of disasters

By Lily Jamali, KQED News, January 22, 2020. Three-quarters of new addresses listed in Paradise, CA, are for P.O. boxes, not homes — indicating these Camp Fire survivors haven’t gone far. But hundreds have left and moved east of the Rockies (map).

Small affordable housing project saved by city loan

By Gennady Sheyner, Palo Alto Online, January 19, 2020. HCD rejected a grant of $10.5 million for a 59-unit development that will target low-income residents and include units for adults with developmental disabilities. The city stepped in to bridge the gap with a $10.5 million loan made up of impact and “in lieu” fees.

Hundreds of SoCal homeless individuals and low-income families to receive safe, affordable housing

By Joseph Ronson,, January 16, 2020. A nonprofit affordable housing and service provider in Los Angeles and Ventura counties will utilize $24 million from HCD to build three new projects with 147 homes for low-income families, some of them homeless.

Yes, this study found that new housing drives down nearby rents

By Adam Brinklow, Curbed SF, January 15, 2020. Three years after a building’s completion, the adjusted effects on rents in the surrounding neighborhood hover around zero.

Growing cities up: California’s SB 50 is a model for addressing the urban housing crisis.

By Christopher S. Elmendorf in, January 14, 2020. The revamped SB50 has changed from the original in many ways.

Why affordable housing is facing a perfect storm

By Kelsi Maree Borland,, January 13, 2020. Housing costs are being driven up by more than just supply and demand.

Sprawling homeless camps well beyond San Francisco

By Eric Westervelt, NPR, January 13, 2020. Homelessness — a hard-to-fix national problem — is particularly severe in California. The state’s homeless population jumped 16 percent in 2019. A January 2020 HUD report notes that California’s homeless population of more than 150,000 accounts for 53 percent of all unsheltered people in the U.S.

SB 35 invoked to build 91 townhomes in Saratoga

By Janice Bitters, San Jose Spotlight, January 9, 2019. Sand Hill Property Co. previously invoked SB 35 at the Vallco Shopping Mall redevelopment in Cupertino, promising half the residential units to those earning less than the median income. Sand Hill is now pursuing a much smaller SB 35-compliant development with 10 percent of the units for very low-income residents.

The housing crisis is a problem for everyone — even wealthy homeowners

By Ally Schweitzer, WAMU American University Radio, January 9, 2020. High housing costs affect those who can’t afford to buy or rent. They also impact employers, local governments, the neighborhood coffee shop, and even well-to-do homeowners as traffic worsens, employers struggle to find workers, and cost-burdened people buy less.

Will reuse developer exit the Concord Naval Weapons Station?

By Annie Sciacca, Bay Area News Group, January 8, 2020

“One day after the Concord City Council decided not to step in to settle their dispute with local labor over how much of the $6 billion redevelopment of old Navy land should be done by union workers, developer Lennar Concord LLC and Five Point declined to say or speculate what its next move will be.

“The proposed development would be the biggest in Concord’s history and one of the largest in the region, slated to cover 2,300 acres with 13,000 housing units and millions of square feet of office, retail and campus space.

“When both Lennar and the Contra Costa Building Trades Council indicated they were at an impasse over union labor, the council was asked to step in and decide whether the labor agreement offered by Lennar satisfies city-approved terms.

“On Wednesday, the council instead instructed both sides to keep negotiating and established non-binding guidelines that include hiring a certain number of local workers, running an apprenticeship program, offering assistance and workforce placement/training to veterans, and maintaining a prevailing wage standard. The unions had suggested most of those guidelines.

“ ‘I’m not sure this gives us guidance to get out of impasse,’ Lennar executive Kofi Bonner told the council at the end of Wednesday’s meeting. ‘One wonders how one goes forward.’

“Although Lennar representatives wouldn’t say what will happen next, a city staff report suggests the company might walk away from the project if forced to use more union labor.”

Read more here.

If you care about California’s housing crisis, give SB50 a chance this time

By Kerry Cavanaugh, editorial writer, LA Times, Jan 7, 2019

“Whatever you think of SB 50, it’s pretty much the only serious proposal on the table that deals with the root causes of the state’s housing shortage, including the decades-long failure to construct enough homes to keep up with population growth and the zoning restrictions that dramatically limit the number of homes that can be built. If the bill fails to leave the Senate, then California’s most ambitious effort to spur housing construction will be dead, again, for another year.

“[Wiener’s] amendments to SB 50 [aim to] alleviate … the … criticisms … that … the bill robs well-intentioned communities of the opportunity to accommodate denser and more affordable housing near transit on their own terms. … Now SB 50 allows cities two years to adopt their own plans to … increase the amount of market-rate and affordable housing built near transit and job centers.”

Read more here.

Meanwhile, in Palo Alto, “Councilwoman Lydia Kou refused to vote for new Mayor Adrian Fine — a proponent of SB 50 — on the grounds of his support for the proposed legislation. Reiterating earlier criticisms, Kou called the bill ‘one-size-fits-all’ and said any amendments would be ‘lipstick on a pig.’ On Monday, Fine said he plans to make housing one of his top priorities as mayor. ‘We’ve been averaging about 50 to 60 (new homes) per year,’ Fine said. ‘In my opinion, that’s not good enough.’ ” Fine, age 33, holds an MCP from UPenn.

Oakland 2100 – The Game
Oakland 2100. Photo: Sarah Allen, AICP

Oakland 2100 – The Game

By Sarah Allen, AICP

Oakland 2100 is a public engagement game that combines a wooden relief map of downtown Oakland with Legos of various colors to allow participants to identify where and how they would like growth to occur over the next several decades. Different sizes and colors of Legos represent different land uses and densities and allow for creative and real-time collaboration to determine how best to accommodate growth.

Organized and initiated by project team Noah Friedman, Steve Pepple, and Courtney Ferris, this temporary traveling exhibit and game was played in several locations in 2019 including the Jack London Farmers Market, SPUR Oakland, Oakland Impact HUB, a branch of the Public Library, the West Oakland Youth Center, and the Jack London Business Improvement District. The project culminated October 4, 2019, at the downtown Oakland office of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) where several youth and student groups were hosted to play. This final evening to showcase the game coincided with a First Friday Art Murmur event at the AIA office.

Photo: Sarah Allen, AICP

This “game” offered a serious method of engagement to identify community desires and values related to design and urban planning; however, the biggest benefit may have been to education, collaboration, and understanding. For example, the activity set rules to make the development process more realistic with some real-life challenges that developers, residents, and the city face on a daily basis. Participants were guided to understand and negotiate the physical, financial, and political constraints within which the built environment is shaped.

Photo: Sarah Allen, AICP

While the results of the events may not be formally used in producing plans and ideas for how to move Oakland forward — the game was neither produced nor endorsed by the City — the effort proved a useful tool to inform the community. Allowing for creativity and play engaged constituents and led to a better understanding of how cities are planned and developed. The ultimate goal, it seems, was to start a conversation about the trade-offs involved in each land use decision and to show community members how to participate in shaping the future of their built environment. You can find out more here.

Sarah Allen, AICP, is APA California–Northern Section’s Regional Activity Coordinator (RAC) for the East Bay. She began her career with the city of Lafayette’s planning department as an intern 13 years ago and is now a senior planner, working on current and long-range planning projects, including the development of a public outreach strategy for the impending General Plan Update.

Meet a local planner — Ron Golem

Meet a local planner — Ron Golem

By Catarina Kidd, AICP

Ron Golem is Director of Real Estate and Transit-Oriented Development for Valley Transit Authority in San Jose. Before heading to VTA in 2015, he was a principal at BAE Urban Economics for 16 years and a project manager and realty specialist with the National Park Service (Presidio) for seven years. He holds a master’s in city planning from UC Berkeley.

How has your career evolved over the years?

In my twenties, I was working in various aspects of real estate including asset management, leasing, and property management. After graduate school, I worked for the National Park Service in the Presidio before moving on to consulting and then finally to VTA. Each experience has a trade-off. In an agency, you work many different aspects of a project from concept to outcome, which can be dynamic and challenging. In consulting, you have a more defined role with incredible depth, and you apply your expertise to many projects.

Tell us about your current role.

I lead the real estate and transit-oriented development (TOD) programs at VTA. The real estate program includes acquiring land or rights for our transit projects and leasing programs for cell sites, paid parking, and advertising. For the TOD programs, we have identified 25 sites totaling more than 200 acres in Silicon Valley. TODs require entitlements, community engagement, developer selection, and agreement negotiations. Basically, my portfolio includes anything outside of the “fare box recovery.”

How is all the work completed?

As with other public agencies, we have a lean team of a few in-house staff, on-call consultants, and contract project managers.

With both private and public sector experience, what is your advice on selecting and managing consultants?

It is always about finding the right people and fit. You assess the person based on accomplishments and experience. When selecting a consultant for a project that involves a group dynamic, have an interview panel with knowledgeable people and establish a thoughtful process on how to reach a consensus.

For example, when conducting interviews for a large consulting assignment to study our stations, I searched for a cohesive and collaborative team. You must evaluate the subcontractors as well. The personalities should collaborate rather than compete. Those are the kinds of things you look for and communicate to your panel.

What motivates you in your day-to-day work?

I have a vision as to what can be, and I work toward that vision. In order to put the pieces into place, you need to build support. If you have a sense of where you want to go, you will see how the pieces fit into the bigger picture. That ultimate vision makes the day-to-day work interesting.

When not working, what inspires you?

You know you are a planning nerd when you put yourself in planning, even when not at work. I have served on Urban Land Institute’s (ULI) advisory panels. ULI works with organizations, usually cities, on solving large scale planning issues. These are week-long or three-day events with a panel of expert advisors that span planning, finance, development, and other disciplines. You jump in and think about different issues and help come up with a strategy. Your perspective broadens when you are able to apply your skills in a different environment.

What is a challenge you are currently tackling?

The BART to San Jose extension, which is a complex $5.5 billion project spanning six miles, five miles of which are tunnel. We must consider the type of TODs to build on top and around the entire station area. This includes coordinating with the cities and advancing TODs on private land. The vision includes both buildings and high quality environments. In the larger context, concerns around displacement, affordable housing, and business impacts require community engagement and support. Another big challenge is getting federal funding for the project.

Do you have any advice for new planners starting their careers?

Planning is an interesting field because there are areas in which you can specialize. But you can also be a generalist. Think about the skill set that allows you to be effective. A planning background is key. Basic business level understanding of finance, economics, and development can go a long way. Also, communication and engagement skills make you an effective generalist who can work in many situations.

Any specific thoughts about the planning profession?

This is an amazing time to be a planner! We are at such a pivotal moment in our state in terms of how it has evolved and developed. When you look at the current problems around housing, climate change, and wildfires, all these issues have big planning components. The state’s residents are not succeeding and things are not working very well. Planners can come up with solutions to address these challenges within the political and legal framework.

Interviewer Catarina Kidd, AICP, is senior development manager at FivePoint and a guest writer for Northern News. All interviews are edited.

Here are the Northern News survey results

Here are the Northern News survey results

By Naphtali H. Knox, FAICP

More than a thousand planners and related professionals read APA California’s Northern News. We want to make it better. To that end, on Tuesday, January 14, 2020, I emailed to 4,667, “I hope you’ll take this two-minute survey to help Northern News.” The primary purpose of our three-question survey was to learn who our readers are so we could better focus the news to your needs. Those opening the email totaled 1,412, or 31.5 percent. Of those, 256 (18.1 percent) clicked the link to the survey. And of those, 235 (16.6 percent) took the survey.

To what extent are the respondents readers of Northern News?

Ninety-four percent of the 235 respondents had read Northern News in 2019. Nearly half of all respondents were avid readers, selecting eight to 10 issues as their answer. Fourteen respondents did not read Northern News in 2019.

This is an APA publication. How many of our readers are APA members?

Our emailing lists primarily comprise APA members, but we also mail to many nonmembers who asked to be added. Of the 235 respondents, 190 (80.8 percent) are members of APA Northern Section. (See Question 1, below.) Another 13, or 5.5 percent, are APA members somewhere other than Northern Section. Thirty-two respondents, or 13.6 percent, are not APA members.

Where do our readers work?

We wanted a better sense of the apportionment of our readers among local governments, other public agencies, and the private sector. As the results of Question 2 above show, 82 respondents (35 percent) work for cities or counties, and another 34 (14.5 percent) work for other public agencies such as districts, states, federal government, military, ports, and public universities.

In total, 116 of the respondents, or 49.5 percent, worked for public agencies.

Another 84, or 35.8 percent, worked for private firms or are self-employed. And 31 of the respondents, or 13.2 percent, were currently not employed. Those included full-time students and retired persons.

Comments from the respondents

Forty-four of the 235 respondents added comments in the space provided. Among those, 24 were positive, eight were negative, and 11 were informative but neutral.

Of the 24 positive comments, three remarked about the format of the news magazine. One wrote, “I do like receiving the electronic Northern News.” Another said, “Northern News is an outstanding publication: informative, timely, factually accurate, visually appealing. Please keep up the good work.” And a third read, “Format is good. Able to read quickly which is good. Thanks for your work.”

The other 21 positive comments were generally appreciative of the service provided by Northern News: “Gives us local planning news from a different perspective” with “headlines that grab us.” “Always an interesting read” with “substantive and informative articles” “that are useful day-to-day.”

The eight negative comments centered on the format used by Northern News until May 2016: “I miss the PDF,” “find the new format confusing,” and “read more in the PDF.”

So, what’s next for Northern News?

My three associate editors and I will take into account the survey results as we seek and accept feature articles. For one thing, we’ll continue to reach out to non-city-county agencies and districts in interviewing subjects for “Meet a local planner,” as Catarina Kidd, AICP, has been doing since March 2018. We’ll also reach out more broadly to encourage articles from private firms and non-city-county agencies, and from the far northern and southern reaches of our Section.

And you?

Whether or not you responded to the survey, we invite you to send your comments to the editors at If you liked or questioned a particular article or our choice of articles, let us know (including why). If you’d like Northern News to covering a particular area of urban planning that interests you, let us know.

In the end, it is you who write our articles. Northern News can only be as good as you make it. We hope you will contribute an article or viewpoint.

Building a community of tiny homes for homeless veterans in Sonoma County

Building a community of tiny homes for homeless veterans in Sonoma County

From HUD USER, PD&R Edge, September 24, 2019

Veterans Village consists of 14 tiny houses on the Sonoma County administrative campus in Santa Rosa, providing permanent supportive housing to formerly homeless veterans through the HUD-VASH program. Credit: Ramsay Photography

An hour north of San Francisco, Sonoma County is pursuing novel ways of addressing homelessness. One such effort is Veterans Village, a project that is currently in a two-year pilot phase in the city of Santa Rosa. The project, consisting of 14 tiny homes built on county-owned land, houses chronically homeless veterans who receive supportive services and rental assistance. At the heart of this project’s success, according to project developer Community Housing Sonoma County (CHSC), is its sense of community, cultivated through programmatic elements along with carefully considered site and building design. Built by CHSC with general contractor Wolff Contracting, Veterans Village demonstrates the potential benefits of applying innovative solutions to persistent social problems.

Rents in Sonoma County, as in much of California, have increased rapidly in recent years, fueled by a vacancy rate of approximately 1.5 percent. As a result, the county’s high rates of homelessness mirror those found in the rest of the state and are roughly three times the national average. The most recent Point-in-Time count for the county found 207 homeless veterans, 70 percent of whom were unsheltered. Recognizing the need for creative action, the county commissioned a study in 2015 to compile a diverse toolkit of strategies to help policymakers address homelessness from multiple angles. One of the strategies was to use tiny homes as permanent housing for homeless individuals in Sonoma County, with the report noting that despite modestly higher costs compared with multifamily buildings, tiny homes might be a more suitable option for individuals who may find denser group living a prohibitively stressful experience. After releasing a request for proposals in 2016, the county selected Veterans Village from among the half-dozen submissions as the winning bid.

Designed for community

Veterans Village was constructed on a portion of the Sonoma County administrative campus, which eliminated the cost burden of land acquisition. The 14 fully furnished units are arranged along gently curving paths encircling a garden. The arrangement promotes a sense of community, with views of neighboring homes from each unit, while still ensuring that residents maintain a sense of privacy and a space of their own. Each unit also has a small front porch to further mediate between public and private spaces. Units are 250 square feet and are fully accessible because many residents are coping with significant medical issues. Accessible features include roll-in showers and adaptable kitchen sinks as well as a site plan that eschews stairs. Exposed gabled ceilings in the units add a sense of height, and features such as sliding bathroom doors add a feeling of modern design quality. An additional building on the site provides a small community room and houses the mailroom and laundry facilities.

Two resident peer house managers (veterans who formerly experienced homelessness and are CHSC employees) perform important community-building functions at Veterans Village, including making weekly runs to the local food bank. The house managers orchestrate food pickups for residents in the community room and serve as leaders and mentors. All these features, according to Paula Cook, executive director of CHSC, demonstrate that thoughtful, community-oriented design and programming can add meaningfully to the success of a project that provides homes, not merely housing. As Cook put it, “It doesn’t feel like just a place to live.”

Units are 250 square feet in size, come fully furnished, and are accessible. While each home is private, spaces like each house’s front porch enhance the social lives of residents. Credit: Ramsay Photography

A single source of public funding supported development, with $1.9 million coming from the Sonoma County Community Development Commission’s County Fund for Housing. Cook stressed the critical importance of additional fundraising activity, especially the donated time and labor from Wolff Contracting, owned by Marine veteran Michael Wolff. Cook describes the efforts of Wolff Contracting, which took the unusual step of working through the rainy winter season to expedite the onsite building construction, as a labor of love. The company’s work helped ensure that Veterans Village could open in February 2019, housing people during the area’s most inhospitable season. Intake is conducted by the local Veterans Affairs medical clinic and residents must meet the eligibility requirements of the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program, which provides funding for case management as well as rental support.

As a pilot project, Veterans Village is demonstrating how alternative models of housing can offer their own particular strengths. Although Cook acknowledges that a tiny home development such as Veterans Village may not be the densest way to build, “from a therapeutic perspective, it’s ideal.” The project’s initial status as a two-year pilot was crucial to its development because it allowed the project to take advantage of an exception to the normal review requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act. Although Veterans Village may need to be relocated at the conclusion of the pilot phase in 2021, it is treated as permanent housing. Should the structures eventually be relocated, all current residents will continue to have their housing needs met by CHSC. In the meantime, the project will continue to encourage community among veterans as an important component in the larger effort to counter homelessness in Sonoma County.

Director’s note: What’s your Superpower?

By James A. Castañeda, AICP

James CasteñedaThe ice break­er at the APA Cali­for­nia Chap­ter re­treat last week was pre­sent­ed as two ques­tions: “What makes you ex­cited about 2020,” and “What’s your super­power?” Your Director-Elect Jonathan Schuppert, AICP, and I scratched our heads. Jonathan answered “visions and clarity” made him excited for 2020, whereas I was excited about “new opportunities and challenges.” As to “superpower,” Jonathan claimed “superb organization skills” (I can attest to those). Mine was “the power to keep running” in the face of immense challenges.

I see those skills and strengths in the collective leadership of the Northern Section. Last year, the Board set out to bring clarity and focus to our organization’s structure and operations to make us a more effective and resilient board to the benefit of our membership. With our combined “superpowers,” we managed to move the needle quite a bit, and it was with great pride that I reported that outcome during the chapter retreat.

Much is yet to come in 2020

No doubt 2019 was an engrossing year for planners in the Northern Section as we continued to navigate challenges in housing, equality, and resiliency in the communities we serve. Now more than ever, the planning profession is front and center in these issues, and 2020 will most certainly require planners, as agents of change, to exercise their problem-solving superpowers. Isn’t this an exciting time to be a planner? We should all be looking forward to the challenges we’ll face in laying the foundations for equitable and resilient change, growth, and evolution.

My own Big Change

This year also brings significant change for me. After 14 years with San Mateo County and living in the Bay Area, I’m moving on. I’ve accepted a land use planner position with Sheppard Mullin, starting in their Los Angeles office mid-month. This exciting opportunity is bittersweet because I am leaving behind my friends, my work colleagues, and my APA family. Since 2011, I’ve proudly served Northern Section as a board member, starting as Peninsula RAC and concluding as Section Director.

When I arrived in in the Bay Area in 2006, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had moved here from my first job in Arizona, just a year-and-a-half out of college. But I could never have anticipated all that I would experience here, where in a sense, I “grew up” in my planning profession. Without a doubt, this is where I became a planner.

Continued leadership in the Section

My departure to LA means I will be resigning the Directorship, but I leave the board in the competent hands of your Director-Elect Jonathan Schuppert, AICP. Not only has he been a dedicated Board member since 2013; he’s also my close friend and confidant. I expect his superpowers will help lead the board and the section as you face 2020’s unknowns and beyond.

Acknowledgements and thanks

As my chapter with Northern Section comes to a close, I’d like to acknowledge several people who have been instrumental during my time on the board. Immediate Past Director Sharon Grewal, AICP, whom I served alongside during her Directorship, has been an inspiration. She had confidence in my leadership abilities and encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone. Northern News Editor Naphtali Knox, FAICP, has been a constant in my time on the board. He made my monthly Director’s notes shine, and encouraged me to keep putting my words out in the world. And thanks to Hing Wong, AICP, who nine years ago encouraged me to be part of the Northern Section leadership.

I wish everyone success and joy in 2020 and beyond. Thank you for allowing me to serve you. It’s been an honor.  —James