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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Whether or not you responded to the survey, we invite you to send your comments to the editors at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
From HUD USER, PD&R Edge, September 24, 2019
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.”
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.
By James A. Castañeda, AICP
The 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
James Castañeda, AICP, is moving to Los Angeles, taking a position as senior land use planner with Sheppard Mullin, an international law firm with 15 offices and 875 attorneys. He had been with San Mateo County since 2006, most recently as Planner III (current planning) and as Program Coordinator for SFO’s Community Roundtable. Castañeda holds a BS in city and regional planning from New Mexico State University. He joined the Northern Section Board in 2011, and had been Section Director since January 2019. You can read his final Director’s note in this section of Northern News.
Elizabeth Caraker, AICP, is now Planning Manager at The Presidio Trust. The Trust prepares a variety of planning and environmental documents to guide the management of park resources. Caraker had been with the city of Monterey for 11 years, most recently as the housing and community development manager. Before that, she worked for RBF Consulting, and for the city of Marina as planning manager. She holds a master of community and regional planning from the University of Oregon, and a BS in food science from Cal Poly SLO. Caraker was Northern Section’s Regional Activities Co-coordinator for Monterey Bay for four-and-a-half years, from April 2008 through November 2012.
Nisha Chauhan, AICP, has been appointed to the Board of Directors of Keep Oakland Beautiful, a local nonprofit committed to creating and sustaining a beautiful, clean, green, litter-free Oakland. Chauhan is a senior planner with Alameda County, where she manages land use and environmental projects. She holds a certificate of completion in land-use and environmental planning from UC Davis and a BA in environmental studies from UC Santa Cruz.
Ellen Clark, AICP, is now Community Development Director for the City of Pleasanton. She served as Pleasanton’s deputy director of community development/planning manager for the prior two years. Clark began her planning career at Design, Community & Environment (now PlaceWorks) in Berkeley, followed by positions as a senior planner and principal planner for the Town of Mammoth Lakes, and planning director for the Town of Moraga. She has 20 years of experience in public and private sector planning. Clark holds a bachelor’s degree in geography from the University of Cambridge. She lives in Oakland with her family.
Coleman Frick was promoted to Senior Planner at the City of Concord, where his work will focus on long-range planning and policy. Previously, he held positions at Town of Moraga for three years, in SFMTA’s Sustainable Streets Division for one year, and as an urban forester in the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation for four years. Frick holds a master of city and regional planning from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and a BA in environmental studies from Eckerd College, Florida.
Evan Kenward is now a Project Lead for Bikes Make Life Better, a San Francisco-based employee bicycle program management company. He has previously worked in various roles within active transportation planning, most recently at Alta Planning + Design. Kenward serves as a steering committee chair for the San Francisco chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a non-profit organization aiming to pass national carbon pricing policy. He holds a master of urban planning from San Jose State University and a BA in communication from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Carolyn Neer has been appointed Co-Director of Northern Section’s Emerging Planners Group. She is Associate Project Manager at David J. Powers and Associates, San Jose, having recently moved there from Rincon Consultants, Oakland. Neer holds a master of urban planning from San Jose State and a bachelor’s in history from UC Berkeley. In her spare time, she enjoys backpacking, biking, and baking.
Matthew Stafford, AICP, is now a Transportation Planning Analyst at Facebook. Previously, he was an associate at Nelson\Nygaard’s Seattle office, where he focused on transit planning projects for cities and private clients. Stafford holds a BS in urban and regional planning from Cal Poly Pomona. In his free time, he enjoys hiking, traveling, and riding his bike around town.
By Gennady Sheyner, Palo Alto Online, January 19, 2020
“A 59-unit residential development, entirely of below-market-rate units, won unanimous approval a year ago, becoming the first affordable-housing project that Palo Alto has approved since 2013. [But the development] failed to receive a $10 million HCD grant that it had requested.
“Given the funding shortfall for the project, which has an estimated price tag of $46.3 million, the city council was asked to fill the gap. On January 13, it did just that, voting unanimously to approve a $10.5-million loan for [the El Camino Real project] Wilton Court. …
“The development will target residents with incomes between 30 percent and 60 percent of area median income — less than $70,260 for a family of two. Monthly rents in the development will range from $659 for a one-person studio to $1,442 for a one-bedroom apartment for two people. The project also includes 21 units for adults with developmental disabilities.
“The council’s vote makes Palo Alto by far the largest financial contributor to the development, with a total investment of $20.5 million. …
“Sheryl Klein, chairwoman of the Palo Alto Housing board of directors, lauded the council’s action. ‘It’s extraordinary what they’ve done, really incredible.’ …
“Palo Alto’s $20.5 million contribution will come primarily from impact fees the city charges developers. This includes $11.7 million from commercial fees, $0.6 million in residential impact fees, and $7.7 million from residential in-lieu fees, which are paid by housing developers who wish to avoid the city’s inclusionary-zoning requirements.
“Under the terms of the loan, the funding will be repaid after the development is built through payments made from any residual receipts beyond the project’s operating expenses.”
Read more about this project here.
By Joseph Ronson, LifePulseHealth.com, January 16, 2020
“The State of California’s Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) recently awarded Many Mansions a total of $24 million for the purpose of developing new affordable housing to help address California’s housing crisis. The award, under the State’s Multifamily Housing Program (MHP), was for three affordable housing development projects.
“Commenting on the awards Alexander Russell, Executive Vice President of Many Mansions, said ‘this funding will give a home to 147 families that are living on the streets or in substandard/overcrowded housing.’ With community support, these families will also receive services such as tutoring and college scholarships for the kids, and life skills and job training for the adults so that they can build a brighter future.
“Many Mansions owns and operates 17 affordable housing complexes (with nearly 600 units) in Ventura County and has a number of new affordable housing communities in development throughout Los Angeles County. Many Mansions manages the apartment homes and provides critical services such as free after-school programs, summer camp, scholarships, job training and more for its residents.”
Read more here.
“But there’s a catch when it comes to SF”
By Adam Brinklow, Curbed San Francisco, January 15, 2020
“Traditional thinking holds that housing shortages drive up prices, and thus creating new housing relieves demand and pushes prices down.
“But in the Bay Area, especially in SF and on the Peninsula, contrary thought holds that factors like inflation and appreciation will always work faster than we can build. Indeed, neighborhood activists often insist that new housing drives rents up by gentrifying new areas and making them attractive to even more high-priced development, at the expense (literally) of existing residents.
“In December, the Upjohn Institute … published findings about the effect of new housing on housing prices in large U.S. cities, including in San Francisco.
“Generally speaking, the results were that for three or so years after a building’s completion, the adjusted effects on rents in the surrounding neighborhood ‘hover[ed] around zero,’ per Zillow data, and then afterward declined, by an average of about five percent.
“The big catch — and the reason why these numbers are unlikely to resolve the arguments in SF — comes in the form of the most common bugbear for any statistical outing: sample size.
“The team started with nearly 1,500 buildings to study. However, after narrowing that pool down with a variety of additional standards, they ended up with just 92.
“And how many of those final buildings were in San Francisco? By the time all was said and done, just one.
“So while this research does suggest that most housing markets react to traditional supply and demand incentives the way one would expect, the possibility that San Francisco (for whatever reason) is a special case remains frustratingly unresolved.”
Read more here.