Month: March 2020

Scott Weiner has another bill to build denser housing in California

By Alexei Koseff, San Francisco Chronicle, March 9, 2020

“After failing to pass legislation to open up less densely populated parts of California to multifamily housing, state Sen. Scott Wiener is trying again with a ‘lighter touch’ plan aimed at suburbs.

“The San Francisco Democrat today introduced SB902, which would essentially eliminate single-family zoning across the state by allowing multi-unit housing in nearly all residential neighborhoods. Unlike [SB50], Wiener’s new proposal would cap the number of units that could be built in the smallest communities at two [per lot], three in midsize cities.

“SB902 would create a right to build or convert homes into small multifamily housing in any residential neighborhood in the state, outside of areas at high risk of wildfires.

“In unincorporated areas and cities up to 10,000 people, the bill would allow duplexes on any property. It would permit a building with up to three units in a city with between 10,000 and 50,000 people, and up to four units in a city with more than 50,000.

“The legislation would not make changes to local height or design standards — a major source of anxiety for many opponents of SB50.

“But the new bill does create an option for cities to rezone residential parcels for apartment or condominium projects up to 10 units, without having to go through the formal environmental review that Wiener said can add five to 10 years to the process. Unlike his previous measure, allowing such construction would be up to cities — it would not be a state requirement.

“The provision would apply to neighborhoods near public transit and in high-income areas with access to jobs and good schools. Cities could choose to adopt the change for any qualifying area through an ordinance.

“The League of California Cities, which led opposition to SB50, declined to discuss Wiener’s latest proposal before its members had a chance to review the language. But the organization shared a ‘blueprint for more housing’ that it released last week, which suggested that California should provide options for changes to local regulations. Among more than a dozen it suggested was ‘allowing up to fourplexes in single-family zones.’

“Led by Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins of San Diego, the Senate Democratic caucus is working on a new housing production bill to replace SB50, which left the Democrats bitterly divided. That forthcoming measure could remove some of the urgency for Wiener’s SB902, though he said his bill would be complementary to whatever the Senate leadership comes up with.

“There is significant political space to make change and move the dial around housing this year,” he said.”

Read the full article here. More information about the League of California Cities Housing Production Proposal referred to in the article can be found here.

San Jose’s Measure E passes; will fund homelessness services and affordable housing

By Richard Davis, associate editor

San Jose’s Measure E, a property sale transaction tax intended to fund homelessness services and affordable housing, has likely passed. Ballots were still being counted as of March 12.

According to SV@Home, “The Mayor’s March Budget Message included recommendations for the allocation of Measure E funds, which are expected to begin being collected in July. The Mayor’s recommendations follow the initial spending plan approved by the City Council in December that allocates Measure E funding as follows:

  • “45 percent for extremely low-income households (below 30% of area median income);
  • “35 percent for very low-income (VLI) and low-income (LI) households (30-80% of AMI);
  • “About 10 percent for moderate-income households (80-120% of AMI) and below-market rate housing; and
  • “10 percent for homeless prevention activities.

SV@Home, a membership organization, bills itself as “the voice for affordable housing in the Silicon Valley.”

In addition, “most of the new funding from Measure E will be used to expand current resources for developing affordable housing,” according to SV@Home.

Related priorities identified by Mayor Sam Liccardo include:

  • “Identifying sites for additional Bridge Housing Communities (small home communities for the homeless);
  • “Immediate ramping up of public and private investment in homelessness prevention,
  • “New programs aimed at homeless students;
  • “Additional investment in policies and programs to promote accessory dwelling units (ADUs); and
  • “Continued work on establishing a navigation center for people experiencing homelessness in the City.”

SV@Home’s full March 12 coverage of housing-related ballot measures in Santa Clara County’s recent election can be found here.

Northern News April 2020

Northern News April 2020

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UBC expert: How coronavirus will impact future cities

By Lou Corpuz-Bosshart, UBC News, March 23, 2020. Regional housing inequality needs to be addressed. It makes no sense to continue a trend where increasingly the rich live in Vancouver and wage earners who provide services to the city are being forced further and further east.

Tackling transportation emissions in California — or ignoring them

By Melanie Curry, StreetsBlog Cal, March 5, 2020. Early in March, two California Senate committees held a joint hearing on reducing GHG emissions from transportation, the state’s highest-emitting sector.

“Grieving for my sick city”

By Michelle Goldberg, The New York Times, March 17, 2020. “When the Corona virus emergency is over, people are likely to emerge into fundamentally changed cities, with economies in crisis, and beloved restaurants, businesses, and cultural institutions gone for good. I wonder if our cultural romance with urban living will recover.”

As residents grapple with smog, Vietnam pushes renewable energy

By Michael Tatarski, New Naratif, March 16, 2020. Vietnam is often portrayed with bountiful economic opportunities for people across classes. But the construction and development that boosts economic growth is affecting health and quality of life, leaving people to deal with the situation according to their means.

Cities fighting climate woes hasten “green gentrification”

By Adam Rogers for, February 23, 2020. Scholars say newly constructed flood-fighting infrastructure has promoted gentrification. In 2017, Northern News covered efforts in North Richmond to foster shoreline resilience without displacement.

Antioch, CA, ‘Last bastion of the good commute’ in the Bay Area

By Candace Jackson, The New York Times, February 25, 2020. The Times’ Real Estate section highlighted Antioch for its relatively affordable housing and BART access. We have included a response from Antioch’s Community Development Director at the end of the article.

Transportation Trends for 2020 (and what cities can do about them)

William Riggs, PhD, AICP, LEED AP, a professor of management at USF, reviews emerging trends in mobility and recommends city practices to foster positive aspects of these trends.

San Jose opens first tiny home community for formerly homeless residents

By Maggie Angst, Bay Area News Group, February 27, 2020. Forty tiny homes and supportive services dedicated for the homeless have opened near the San Jose Flea Market, about three miles north of downtown, on a site owned by the Valley Transportation Agency.

San Francisco debates when, where, and how to build affordable housing

By Sasha Perigo, San Francisco Examiner, March 8, 2020. San Francisco voters passed Proposition E, “The Balanced Development Act,” which ties the City’s cap on approved office space construction to its progress on the State’s affordable housing goals.

Report: SF must build taller, expand into western neighborhoods

By Adam Brinklow, Curbed SF, March 9, 2020. San Francisco’s Planning Department released a Housing Affordability Strategy that identifies the current state of the City’s housing, and three core strategies.

Scott Weiner has another bill to build denser housing in California

By Alexei Koseff, San Francisco Chronicle, March 9, 2020. Senator Wiener’s SB 902 would allow by-right development of multi-unit housing in single-family zones statewide, while scaling the number of allowable units to city size.

San Jose’s Measure E passes; will fund homelessness services and affordable housing

By Richard Davis, associate editor. San Jose voters have likely passed Measure E, a new funding source for affordable housing and homelessness support programs funded by a property sale transaction tax.

Dozens of homeless find housing in downtown San Jose

By Marisa Kendall, East Bay Times, March 6, 2020. Villas on the Park — permanent supportive housing partially funded by the county’s $950 million affordable housing bond — has opened in downtown San Jose.

Dozens of homeless find housing in downtown San Jose

By Marisa Kendall, East Bay Times, March 6, 2020

“Villas on the Park officially opened its doors, providing permanent housing to more than 90 people who previously had been sleeping in cars, on the streets, or in other unstable situations.”

The facility “provides ‘permanent supportive housing,’ which includes services for residents such as medical and mental health care, case management, job training and résumé building, skills workshops, and social activities.”

“It’s one of three such buildings for the homeless that have opened in San Jose in the past seven months — a big shift in strategy for a city that, before last year, didn’t have any developments like it.”

Credit: Dahlin Group, Villas on the Park

“The Villas on the Park team started meeting with the community in 2015, hoping to convince neighbors the project would be a good thing. In the beginning, hundreds of people were opposed. By the time the plan went before the City Council, not a person objected.”

Ray Bramson, chief impact officer of Destination:Home, a non-profit developer of permanent supportive housing, “hopes that once neighbors see attractive, finished projects like Villas, they will let go of old stereotypes.”

“The project was partially funded by Measure A, Santa Clara County’s $950 million affordable housing bond, which has funded 21 projects since it passed in 2016. Other funders include the city of San Jose, Housing Trust Silicon Valley, the Santa Clara County Housing Authority, and Bank of America.”

Read the full article here.


Due to concerns about limiting in-person events during the coronavirus outbreak, NORTHERN SECTION is cancelling the annual ethics/law training event previously scheduled for March 21, 2020, at the Alameda County Training and Education Center in Oakland.

If you still need Ethics credits, you may view the webinar on the Ethics Cases of the Year presented earlier this year and claim your CM credits at

We hope to reschedule the event later this year and/or to offer an online version of the Law topic.

Questions? Contact Ethics Director Libby Tyler at

Local planner responds to news article on “Green gentrification”

Local planner responds to news article on “Green gentrification”

By Avery Livengood, AICP

I WAS DISAPPOINTED BY AN ARTICLE in the latest Planning news roundup which implies that cities’ investments in green infrastructure are causing gentrification and displacement (“Cities fighting climate woes hasten ‘green gentrification’ ”). The article lacks a critical lens, and does a disservice to planners throughout the Bay Area who are looking for best practices and precedents to help implement the new Municipal Regional Stormwater Permit.

The news summary highlights a study in Urban Climate (and described in the referenced WIRED article) that identified spatial relationships between green infrastructure projects in the city of Philadelphia and displacement of lower-income and minority households. I worked on Philadelphia’s Green Stormwater Infrastructure Implementation Program for four years, so perhaps the shortcomings of the analysis are more apparent to me than to other readers.

The referenced study did not distinguish between infrastructure that was funded by the City and the far greater volume of green infrastructure installed to meet strict regulatory standards on new development.

It should not surprise anyone that neighborhoods with more development projects are correlated with gentrification and displacement. The green infrastructure, in this case, is incidental to development. Indeed, the study authors note that … gentrification may not occur subsequently to [green resilient infrastructure] siting … but in conjunction with it.” Unfortunately, this caveat is lost in both the WIRED article and the Planning news roundup synopsis.

This is not to say that public investments in greening do not contribute to gentrification; I do not have evidence to support or refute that relationship. My concern is that the article points to a single, biased study to characterize Philadelphia’s green infrastructure program as a detriment to the City’s vulnerable communities. Philadelphia has undertaken its green infrastructure program with great thought and consideration to balancing affordability for ratepayers, the cost-savings associated with greening private spaces, the costs and benefits of greening public spaces, and the feedback of residents who will be impacted. I organized a session at APA’s 2018 National Planning Conference on this very topic, to share lessons-learned and solicit ideas from planners facing similar challenges (see Aligning Consent Orders and Community Needs).

Planners who are doing this work need tools to better understand and communicate the trade-offs involved in designing and implementing green infrastructure programs. I hope this article spurs a more nuanced conversation on this topic, and does not turn Bay Area planners away from a great precedent out east.

Avery Livengood, AICP, CFM, is a senior environmental planner at the Delta Stewardship Council, Sacramento, where she works on updating the agency’s plan to restore the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta ecosystem. Previously, Avery worked as an environmental planner supporting implementation of Green City, Clean Waters, the Philadelphia Water Department’s long-range plan to improve water quality using green stormwater infrastructure. She holds a master of city and regional planning from UNC Chapel Hill, a master of environmental management from Duke University, and a B.A. from UC Berkeley.

The editors respond: Ms. Livengood makes a valuable point about the difference between city-led and developer-led green infrastructure. The Wired article points to a scholarly opinion piece with 10 co-authors in PNAS that establishes the tension between gentrification and green infrastructure. In turn, that article — with East Boston as a case study — cites many supporting articles on green gentrification in Brooklyn, New York City, New Orleans, and Sapelo Island, Georgia. The PNAS article notes: “We applaud efforts to mitigate the risks from impending climate change and to build climate-resilient cities. But our research reveals problematic and unintended risks and impacts associated with green infrastructure — especially private sector projects that neither prioritize nor address vulnerable communities.”
RAPID Climate Action Network starts up

RAPID Climate Action Network starts up

By Mindy Craig

There are lots of big visions and strategies for acting on climate change. But what should be a priority, and what can be done to catalyze immediate action?

In January, BluePoint Planning launched the RAPID Climate Action Network as a way to amplify and accelerate action for climate change. The effort was born out of the numerous climate emergency resolutions and the lack of actual action related to the emergency.

The RAPID Climate Action Forum, hosted by BluePoint, ReScape California, and BayREN in San Francisco on January 23 provided the motivation and foundation for the Network. Five RAPID Action Platforms were designed, with teams now meeting to achieve six-month goals in these areas (links open PDFs):

The model for the forum and post-forum engagement — clarifying existing work and making it actionable — can be scaled and replicated in California and nationally. In response to the demand to host more forums, we are actively planning one in Sacramento, another in Boulder and Denver and with the City of Boulder, Colorado, and a third in Contra Costa County with a consortium of nonprofits.

I am interested in the need for rapid action, sharing the concept, and inspiring engagement from planners who are very often left out of the discussion. The Forum process can help.

You can check out the Network website here.

Mindy Craig is Owner and Principal at BluePoint Planning, which she founded in 2011. Before that, she was a principal at MIG, 2000–2011.


BluePoint Planning is a for-profit DBE consulting service based in Oakland, California, that provides policy and strategic planning, facilitation, communications, and financial feasibility services.


RAPID Climate Action Network is in the process of becoming a nonprofit project to coordinate and convene nongovernmental activities related to climate change.

Meet a local planner – Martin Carver, AICP

Meet a local planner – Martin Carver, AICP

By Catarina Kidd, AICP

Martin Carver, AICP, is Managing Partner of Zero­City, LLC in Santa Cruz, Cali­for­nia. He holds a master of city and regional planning from Cor­nell Uni­ver­sity and a BA in en­viron­men­tal studies ­/politics from UC San­ta Cruz. As a volunteer, he has served as a board member for Tierra Pacifica Charter School, Insight Santa Cruz, and Bloom of the Present.

What is your professional focus? 

We work with muni­ci­pal­ities, school districts, and uni­ver­si­ties to achieve net zero green­house gas emis­sions using com­mu­ni­ty-scale renewable energy projects. I work with a partner to combine comprehensive city and climate action planning with implementation of energy projects. The time has come to think bigger about collective efforts with public/private partnerships to increase renewable energy production and move beyond the modest “one-rooftop-at-a-time” approach.

What led you to this work?

Around 2000, I began consulting with my own firm, Coastplans. This was mostly general plan work, advance planning, housing elements, and CEQA documents. In 2015, as a result of the recession’s impact on my firm and my clients, my private practice was reinvented with a partner, and became “ZeroCity, LLC.” The firm offers energy planning, which is what I have focused on for the last five years.

What are the concepts in this particular specialty? 

We saw a need for local cities to gain a foothold in energy development and community choice aggregation. In the Central Coast area, I served on the formation committee of Monterey Bay Community Power. Even before PG&E’s power safety shutoffs started, we thought the technology and economics were there for local microgrids with which local cities could sustainably provide more reliable and cheaper power.

What is a microgrid?

Essentially, a combination of solar, batteries, and wind power feeds into your own poles and wires, and not into PG&E transmission lines. There could even be room for building one or two additional wind turbines to feed into the microgrid, and opportunities for nearby landfills to provide gas. The prices for power are set by how much it costs to produce energy. To be competitive, microgrids cannot charge more than PG&E.   

Most cities have opportunities in terms of public rights-of-way and excess land around water treatment plants and other facilities that can potentially host microgrids. The microgrids form a basis for a new municipal finance, a new way for cities to fund operations. 

Any recent examples? 

I put together a team and am currently working on a plan to provide power to major customers in the Gonzales Industrial Park, which hosts tenants such as Del Monte Foods, Taylor Foods, and Constellation Wines. These are multi-billion dollar companies with large energy needs. Microgrids are an approach that makes sense and sets them on a path of sustainability. We are now in the final stages of negotiating a public-private partnership, and the key factor for viability, private money, has come to the table. With Phase 1 producing as much as 80 Gigawatt hours (GWh) a year, it would be one of the largest microgrids in California. 

Where can we learn more about energy sustainability?

Over the past several years, I have written several papers about the foundational ideas, recent developments, and analysis of microgrid programs. They can be found here:

What advice do you have for new or mid-career planners?

Think about what draws you in. I always gravitated to long-range planning in private consulting. I started my post-graduate planning career in Sacramento at Mintier-Harnish where I learned about housing elements, general plans, and CEQA. I also worked for the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission and the Monterey County Resource Management Agency’s Long-Range Planning Team. In addition, I worked on the Marine Science Campus Coastal Long-Range Development Plan, the Science Hill Master Plan, and the Silicon Valley Center/NASA Ames Campus Master Plan, all through the University of California. All of these were rewarding experiences. 

It’s good to do both public and private sector work — it rounds you out. The idea that you just stay in one organization or job for 20 years doesn’t fly anymore. Truthfully, I never did that well in public sector offices and their politics. I always wanted to focus on the work, and consulting matched with my personality and work style. You should consider those factors when deciding your path.

Talk about your experience dealing with recession and business cycles. 

It’s important to understand the economics of planning as a business. When the 2008 recession began, it became obvious that housing markets drive city planning. Not entirely, but a lot of it. So when the bottom drops out, there are no consulting jobs, no agency planner jobs. I was lucky because I had a large general plan project underway through 2011 that kept me whole for that time. 

After 2012, there was no work for the year, and it was a pretty tough time for me and for many planners, public and private. I took on temporary work with the County of Monterey for a few years. In 2015, I started getting calls from former clients. Since then, there has been a lot work; however, there is always the possibility of a downturn. Be sure to have enough resources and savings to stay afloat during the hard times, and know the lean times will pass.

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

Planning grad: Welcome to the working world

Planning grad: Welcome to the working world


By James A. Castañeda, AICP, June 2015

I was asked to participate in a panel discussion at the American Planning Association’s conference in Seattle (“Planning Grads in the Working World”) and offer some advice to emerging planners entering the field.

I felt some trepidation: Exactly what sort of guidance could I offer?

I remembered all the times that things didn’t go right. Perhaps the best advice I could give people entering my line of work is to be prepared for negative experiences. I have many stories about projects that didn’t go as planned, applicants who despised our work, and the endless challenges I faced.

But I also recalled the opportunities I had, the challenges I met, the obstacles I overcame, and the fulfillment my years as a planner has brought.

The real world started for me right after I graduated from college, when I was hired by Maricopa County, Arizona, as an assistant planner. An alert and eager graduate, I joined the Board of Adjustment team, working on variance cases in the unincorporated Phoenix metro area. Unsurprisingly, my early staff reports looked like they were bleeding, the result of copious red-ink edits from my supervisor. But as I refined my technical writing skills, I was trusted to sit in the hot seat and present my cases to the Board of Adjustments.

Eventually I moved to California and took on the challenge of being a planner for San Mateo County. It was a different ballgame. I was thrown into various planning projects — from basic, staff-level plan checks, tree-removal permits, and front counter work, to public-hearing projects. Some of my earlier experiences were transferable, but there was still a lot of learning to do. For a while, it was hard not to feel I was in over my head, but I embraced the challenge, got up to speed on zoning regulations, and learned all the little things from my new and helpful co-workers.

Most of my experience in California has centered on current planning, and while it had been my goal to practice in the Long Range division (the actual planning that most people think of when they talk about urban planning), the work in current planning has been valuable and plays a crucial part in identifying policies that need fixing.

Over time, I’ve been trusted to work on our more complex and controversial projects, including better ways to collaborate with stakeholders. I became the program coordinator for the venerable SFO Community Roundtable, which advocates for aircraft noise reduction over communities on the San Francisco Peninsula.

Thinking back on my 11 years as a public planner, here’s my advice to emerging professionals who are getting ready to be planners in the real world.

  • Have empathy. After reading tons of regulations and writing endless reports, you might forget who’s benefiting from your work; so remember to be patient with the audiences who might not live and breathe planning.
  • Don’t forget your inspirations. You may not have the most glamorous assignments when starting out, but don’t lose sight of why you became a planner — to help improve the places where people live.
  • Hold on to your passion. You may not have a lot of hard skills to offer in your first interview, but genuine passion speaks volumes. And your love for planning counts. I was a C+ student who took seven years to receive an undergraduate degree, as I switched my major from computer science to music education to civil engineering before discovering city and regional planning. When I finally figured out that this is what I always wanted to do, I was hooked and never looked back.
  • Feed your ambition. Your first job in planning might not be not what you were expecting, but keep working toward the place you think you should be. Stay hungry.
  • Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. You won’t know a lot of the answers at first — that’s expected. But don’t shy away from opportunity. You’ll figure out everything else along the way.
  • Don’t be afraid to fail. It took me longer than many of my colleagues to get out of school, and it took three tries for me to pass the AICP exam. The important thing about goals is not how long it takes to reach them or how many times you fail. What’s important is that you succeed in the end.
  • Don’t be afraid to question how things are done. If it doesn’t make sense to you, you might be the lever that can lead to change.
  • Share ownership of process. The most successful collaboration with community members happens when you give them a role beyond their writing angry letters. Welcome them into the process.

Never lose sight of who you are, what you’re doing, and, most importantly, why you’re doing it.

James A. Castañeda, AICP, was Northern Section’s Communications Director at the time he wrote this. He went on to become the Section Director, a position he held until February 1, 2020 when he exchanged his long time position in San Mateo County for a new post in Los Angeles.