Northern News


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

Making great communities happen

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