Month: May 2020

Bay Area billionaires are breaking my heart

By Farhad Manjoo, The New York Times, May 13, 2020

“Santiago Villa [is] one of [Mountain View’s] few remaining mobile-home parks. … In January, its residents, who rent the space on which their mobile homes stand, petitioned the City Council to include trailer parks in Mountain View’s rent-control rules.

“They’re worried that wealthy Googlers looking for a kitschy pied-à-terre near the new campus will push them out. … Last year, the same City Council prohibited RVs and trailers — many of them used as homes — from parking on the street; a petition to overturn the RV ban will be on the ballot in November.

“We have one of the world’s highest concentrations of billionaires, and yet we have not been able to marshal our immense wealth and ingenuity against our most blatant and glaring challenges — including the lack of affordable housing and entrenched homelessness.

“ ‘Housing is health care,’ explained Abigail Stewart-Kahn, director of the San Francisco Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. Now, the connection was inescapable — people who lacked housing were also outside of the health care system, and during a pandemic, their presence on the streets created a risk for everyone else in the city. ‘What this has shown us all is that everyone’s health is intertwined,’ she said.

“While the number of coronavirus cases and deaths remain low, the full gloom of the coming recession descend into view, and … in the absence of more help from the state and the federal government, or from the region’s billionaires, the Bay Area’s needs simply outmatch its capacity to meet them.

“Margot Kushel, a physician and scholar of homelessness at UCSF, suggested that this was the ‘nightmare scenario’ for inequality in San Francisco: low-income jobs disappear, so more people lose their homes, but because the tech industry keeps doing well, home prices remain high, and housing slips further out of reach for everyone else.

“But I wouldn’t be surprised if we — the people of the Bay Area, our lawmakers, our billionaires and our ordinary, overburdened citizens — end up squandering this moment. Rebuilding a fairer, more livable urban environment will take years of difficult work. It will require sacrifices from the wealthy. It will require a renewed federal interest in addressing the problems of cities. It will require abandoning pie-in-the-sky techno-optimism.

“This isn’t a problem that will be solved by flying cars; it will be solved by better zoning laws, fairer taxes and, when we can make it safe again, more public transportation. We will have to commit ourselves to these and other boring but permanent civic solutions.

“We cannot go back to the way things were. But as the immediate danger of the pandemic recedes, it will be all too easy for many of us to do exactly that.”

Read the full op-ed here.

Housing, the environment, the virus, and public transportation

By Sajuti Rahman, associate editor, May 15, 2020 

Monterey water board waylays affordable housing, by Dennis L. Taylor, Monterey Herald, May 13, 2020

A decision by Monterey Peninsula water officials” to deny use of water from what “the district holds in reserve … leveled a severe blow to the city’s ability to construct new housing units. In effect, one state agency is demanding Monterey provide more housing while another agency is prohibiting the city from building more units because of water. … The general manager of the water district told [Water Demand] Committee members that the State Water Resources Control Board sent an email ‘expressing its concerns’ with Monterey’s request. In total, six shovel-ready projects around the city would generate 303 units with an average of 77 percent affordable housing, but without additional water, only 92 could be built.”

The pandemic demonstrates how vulnerable US transit systems are, by Angela Pachon, UPenn Kleinman Center for Energy Policy, May 6, 2020 

“Transit agencies will need to operate with a reduced ridership while continuing to offer an affordable service. Despite the financial pressure to cut expenditures, ongoing efforts to update routes and better integrate different travel modes to attract riders should continue. Decision-makers must also consider that transit in the US will be the only travel mode for the poorest among us, a population that cannot afford to live near their workplaces to cycle or walk.  

Pandemic underscores transit accessibility difficulties, by Abigail Cochran, StreetsBlog Cal, April 21, 2020 

“People with disabilities, like everybody else, need to access essential goods, like food and medicine, and services like medical care. The $2.2 trillion relief bill signed into law on March 27th appropriates $25 billion to transit agencies to cover expenses related to the coronavirus response. Go here to read how on-demand transportation providers (like ride-hail services and taxis), transportation agencies, and public health authorities are rethinking strategies to properly serve people with disabilities during the pandemic and beyond.  

Mexico City smog defies coronavirus lockdown, by Raul Cortes Fernandez, Reuters, April 27, 2020  

“While city dwellers around the world take some consolation in improved air quality thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, festering garbage dumps, dirty diesel-fueled generators, and frequent forest fires have ensured Mexico City’s air remains smog-filled. Carlos Alvarez, head of an environmental group, said the area had some 400 open-air dumps and 50,000 industrial generators in hotels, offices, and businesses, many of which were still operating despite the quarantine. Now, experts worry that COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, could prove more lethal in Mexico City than elsewhere.” Read more here. 

Options to phase-out fossil fuel production in California, by Ethan Elkind, April 29, 2020 

“California is the seventh-largest oil producing state in the country. Yet continued oil and gas production contrasts with the state’s aggressive climate mitigation policies. Berkeley Law’s Center for Law, Energy, and the Environment (CLEE) just released the 66-page report (PDF), ‘Legal Grounds: Law and Policy Options to Facilitate a Phase-Out of Fossil Fuel Production in California.’ The report analyzes steps California leaders could pursue on state- and privately-owned lands. Read more about the options discussed among state leaders related to fossil fuel phase-out with less harm to jobs and local economies.” 

Northern News June 2020

Northern News June 2020

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CalChapter 2020 Conference will be virtual

Julia Lave Johnston, President of APA California, announced that the Chapter’s 2020 conference this Fall will be held online. The conference will nevertheless remain an “opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to our organizational values.”

Director’s note: Rethinking our public spaces and health

By Jonathan Schuppert, AICP, May 13, 2020. Is everything upside down, or is it suddenly right side up?

Are congested streets and highways just around the corner?

By Naphtali H. Knox, FAICP, editor, May 9, 2020. Post COVID-19, SF could see a huge spike in vehicular congestion “unless transit systems can resume safe, high throughput operations quickly.” Plus 12 photos of the near total absence of vehicles on Bay Area bridges and SF streets during the Friday afternoon getaway March 27.

Who’s Where

News about Alesia Hsiao, AICP; Amy Lyle; and Patrick Streeter, AICP

Planning news roundup

San José General Plan review and Station Area Advisory Group reconvening

Via email from Leslye Corsiglia, SV@Home, June 11, 2020. The SAAG will meet for the first time since January. All are welcome. Take the opportunity to offer feedback on the City’s most recent analyses and proposals related to the Diridon Station Area Plan. The General Plan Four-Year Review Task Force is also restarting, with the first video meeting June 25.

Bay Area billionaires are breaking my heart

By Farhad Manjoo, The New York Times, May 13, 2020. Rebuilding a fairer, more livable urban environment will take years of difficult work. It will require sacrifices from the wealthy.

Housing, the environment, the virus, and public transportation

Brief synopses of articles of interest to urban planners in addition to our longer summaries in “Planning news roundup.”

Caltrain faces ‘existential crisis’

By Isabella Jibilian, San Francisco Examiner, May 8, 2020. Unlike BART and Muni, Caltrain is not funded by sales or property taxes. It depends on fares and parking fees to say afloat.

Second SB 35 ruling lets Vallco project proceed

By Marisa Kendall, The Mercury News, May 7, 2020. Ruling ends a years-long battle over massive redevelopment of failed shopping mall in Cupertino. Decisions in two SB 35 cases say cities must apply objective design and planning standards in a very clear way.

Will telecommuting yield the best long-term environmental benefit of COVID-19?

By Ethan Elkind, May 4, 2020. Working from home seems the most likely candidate for a pandemic culture-changer that reduces emissions.

Mobility: Who is moving and why?

By Riordan Frost, Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, May 4, 2020. Seven questions and answers about potential changes in residential mobility.

California shrinks; still most populous state

By Associated Press, May 2, 2020. California has been creeping toward 40 million residents without ever quite getting there.

Milan mayor: ‘People are ready’ for green change

By Laurie Goering, Thomson Reuters Foundation, May 4, 2020. Milan comes out of COVID-19 lockdown with a climate-conscious attitude, encouraging other cities to follow.

The last time VMT dropped this sharply? WWII gas rationing

By Jeff Davis, Eno Center for Transportation, April 8, 2020. Gas rationing wasn’t rolled out to the whole country until December 1, 1942. But the VMT reductions were obvious as soon as rationing started in the East six months earlier.

Density isn’t easy, but it’s necessary

By Bruce Schaller, CityLab, May 4, 2020. Americans have always had difficulty with urban density, but in a crisis, we need what cities can provide. (Schaller is the former deputy commissioner of traffic and planning at the New York City Transportation Dept.)

Can we sustain a world without traffic?

By Adie Tomer and Lara Fishbine, Brookings, May 1, 2020. If leaders encourage telework, alter revenues structures, and retrofit roadways, the nation can emerge from the pandemic with stronger and safer transportation.

Caltrain faces ‘existential crisis’

By Isabella Jibilian, San Francisco Examiner, May 8, 2020 

Empty platforms. Empty trains. Empty coffers. 

Caltrain is facing a $71 million deficit over the next financial year, as ridership has plummeted due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Although the railroad received nearly $50 million in relief through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act — funding that so far has stopped the bleeding — Caltrain should prepare for a looming existential financial crisis staff said at a board meeting May 7.

A southbound Caltrain arriving at San Carlos station

Transit systems across the nation are facing decreased demand amid COVID-19, but Caltrains existence is more tenuous than most. Unlike BART and Muni, Caltrain is not funded by sales or property taxes. It depends on fares and parking fees to say afloat. 

Following the outbreak of COVID-19 and shelter-in-place orders, ticket sales have been down more than 95 percent, according to Derek Hansel, Caltrains chief financial officer.  

Once shelter-in-place orders are lifted, revenues wont necessarily bounce back. Some riders will choose to commute to work via car as a means of maintaining social distance. Some workplaces will not open; [some will] encourage their employees to continue to telecommute. [And] maintaining social distance on public transit will be difficult and expensive. 

In the short term, Caltrains hopes are pinned on receiving more aid. The CARES Act will distribute a second round of funding, though Caltrains share has yet to be decided. 

In the longer term, board members and staff are considering turning to tax revenue to supplement the farebox, by placing a $108 million measure on the November ballot. 

Read the full article here.

Second SB 35 ruling lets Vallco project proceed

By Marisa Kendall, The Mercury News, May 7, 2020 

“Plans to turn the old Vallco Shopping Mall into a housing, office, and retail complex can proceed after the developer won a decisive victory in court May 6. 

“Concluding a lengthy battle over the project — which would bring 2,402 apartments, 400,000 square feet of retail, and 1.8 million square feet of office space to Cupertino —Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Helen Williams ruled city officials did not err when they approved the development and gave it fast-track status. 

Approved Vallco proposal. Source: City of Cupertino, https://bit.ly/2ZaY6US

 “ ‘This is a gigantic win for housing advocates specifically and a huge win for proponents of development in general,’ said J.R. Fruen, co-founder of the housing advocacy group Cupertino 4 All, which was not a party in the litigation. 

“Cupertino approved the Vallco project in 2018 under Senate Bill 35, which requires cities to approve and expedite certain residential and mixed-use developments. Friends of Better Cupertino sued the city, claiming officials had failed to do their duty by approving a project that didn’t meet the standards of SB35. 

“But in a 62-page ruling, Judge Williams made clear the project qualified for the special status and that the claims of Friends of Better Cupertino — which she said multiple times misinterpreted the law and made convoluted arguments — didn’t have merit. The group claimed the project was disqualified because it is located on a hazardous waste site, exceeds the city’s height limits, does not have sufficient space designated to residential development, and lacks a park. 

“Williams also rejected their argument that a city has a duty to deny a faulty SB35 project application. That means community groups like Friends of Better Cupertino have no grounds to block SB35 projects in court, Fruen said. Although Williams’ trial court decision does not set legally binding precedent, it likely will influence other judges, he said. 

“The Vallco ruling comes a week after Williams ruled in favor of another SB35 project in Los Altos, finding the city had no grounds to reject that development,” Kendall writes. 

In that April 28 ruling against Los Altos, the Court held “that Developer’s project was deemed to comply with applicable standards under SB 35 and that the City must rescind its decision to deny and instead approve and permit the project at the requested density.” In addition, the parties agreed “to rescind the existing [city] decision and permit the project within 60 days as compared to remanding the matter for further consideration.”

Bill Fulton, writing in CP&DR, notes that “Both cases revolve around the question of how cities must apply objective design standards in an SB 35 case — and the rulings suggest that cities apply objective design and planning standards in a very clear way in order to stay out of legal trouble.”

This is a developing story. “It is unknown at this point whether either of Judge Williams’s rulings will be appealed,” wrote Fulton on May 10. “The Los Altos City Council was scheduled to meet in closed session Monday night [May 12] to consider an appeal. As for the Vallco project in Cupertino, the neighbors’ case is just one of several fronts on which the battle is being fought. Subsequent to the events discussed in Judge Williams’ ruling, Cupertino changed its general plan to eliminate the 2 million square feet of office space contained in the project, and the developer subsequently filed both a lawsuit and a claim against the city.

You can read Marisa Kendall’s Vallco article here. 

Will telecommuting yield the best long-term environmental benefit of COVID-19?

By Ethan Elkind, May 4, 2020 

“There’s one potential bright spot for the climate that may outlive this current era: working from home. Prior to the pandemic, only 4 percent of U.S. employees worked from home, according to Global Workplace Analytics. But now more than half of the 135 million people in the U.S. workforce are in a home office. 

“The firm estimates that at this rate, by the end of next year, 25 to 30 percent of the total U.S. workforce will be telecommuting, the carbon equivalent of ‘taking all of New York’s workforce permanently off the road,’ said Kate Lister, president of the firm. 

“From a greenhouse gas perspective, it means many fewer driving miles from commuting. Otherwise, approximately 86 percent of Americans drive to work, according to the National Household Travel Survey. If just 25 percent of Americans began teleworking even one day per week after the pandemic, total vehicle miles traveled would fall by 1 percent, which is actually a significant amount of the more than 3.2 trillion miles driven in the U.S. in 2018. The numbers could go much higher if more people telecommuted multiple days per week. 

“And why might these work-from-home habits stick, as opposed to other environmental friendly measures taken during the pandemic? Simple: working from home is more convenient and more productive for most people. But prior to the pandemic, many managers weren’t comfortable allowing the practice, believing (falsely) that it would hurt bottom lines. 

“But now that everyone who can work from home is forced into this arrangement without calamity, my guess is that this manager resistance will fade.  

Read the full article here

Mobility: Who is moving and why?

By Riordan Frost, Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, May 4, 2020 

“For the past five years, just over 40 million Americans moved each year, according to American Community Survey data.  

“Most moves are local, either within the same county or within the same state.  

“People move for a variety of reasons, but the most common motivator is housing.  

“Mobility rates are about half what they were in the 1940s — when one in five Americans moved each year — and have been steadily declining since the mid-1980s. Local moves have been declining the most, especially among young adults, but all age groups have been moving less than in the past.  

“There is little consensus as to why Americans are moving less, but three factors seem to be playing a role  demographic change, housing affordability, and changes in labor dynamics.  

  • “People move less often as they age, and as millennials (America’s second-largest generation) age out of their most mobile years, some decline in mobility should be expected.  
  • “The housing affordability crisis (discussed in detail in our recent report) could also be depressing mobility, with high costs discouraging moves into unaffordable areas.  
  • “The rise in dual-earner households, as well as increases in rates of working from home (especially during and possibly after the COVID-19 pandemic) could be having a downward effect on mobility, as both dual-earner households and remote workers have lower mobility rates than single-earner households and commuters. 

“Since the COVID-19 pandemic is still unfolding, it is difficult to assess its possible impacts on mobility. It could be that mobility is going to spike after the quarantines end and people move to cheaper housing (if available) after losing income from a job loss. Mobility could also spike as a result of evictions or foreclosures if substantial payment assistance is not provided before the temporary bans on evictions and foreclosures end.  

“It could also be that mobility will decline further as people become less likely to buy or sell homes, especially during the quarantines but also afterwards due to higher economic uncertainty. Working from home is likely at record high levels right now, and if even a small portion of this shift proves to be permanent, it could mean fewer people moving for job-related reasons as well. 

Read more here. 

California shrinks; still most populous state

By Associated Press, May 2, 2020 

“The nation’s most populous state shrank a bit in the second half of last year, according to official figures released May 1. It still tops second-place Texas, which has about 30 million people. 

“California had a population of 39.78 million as of January, the state Department of Finance said, down from its previous report of 39.96 million residents in July. 

“But Doug Kuczynski of the department’s Demographic Research Unit said the two numbers aren’t directly comparable because of various adjustments and because each figure represents a point in time.  

“By the department’s reckoning, California added about 87,500 residents during the last full calendar year, comparing January-to-January figures. But even that comparison shows population growth of just 0.2 percent, which continues slow growth trends since the Great Recession.  

“The figures predate the current recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Growth slowed to near zero or declined in most coastal counties, grew slightly in the San Francisco Bay Area, and remained robust in the Central Valley and counties east of Los Angeles. 

“Los Angeles County lost residents for the second straight year, but it remains the nation’s most populous with more than 10 million residents. 

“More people left California between July 2018 and July 2019 for the first time since the 2010 census, leading to the state’s slowest recorded growth rate since 1900. 

Read full article here.

Milan mayor: ‘People are ready’ for green change

By Laurie Goering, Thomson Reuters Foundation, May 4, 2020 

“Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala has pushed in recent years to make his northern Italian city more climate-smart, including setting an ambitious aim to electrify all public transport by 2030. 

“He estimated that 70 percent of Milan residents now back virus-accelerated plans to switch 35 km (22 miles) of street space to priority use for bicycles and pedestrians in the city of 1.4 million. 

“Temporary new bike lanes on May 4 were helping ease pressure on the city’s public transport system, as construction and factory workers headed back to work and drivers limited passenger numbers to try to maintain spacing. 

“Milan, among the European cities hit earliest and hardest by the coronavirus pandemic, is one of dozens of cities around the world aiming to use a post-lockdown economic restart to bootstrap environmental measures. 

“Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, chair of the C40 network of cities pushing swift climate action, said that when the time came to reopen and rebuild, ‘our efforts will define our cities for decades to come.’ 

“Milan’s leaders also are asking companies to allow more working from home and to stagger hours for employees who do come in, to avoid crowding on transport and in other public places. 

“So far, climate-friendly efforts associated with lifting the lockdown  such as expanding bike lanes and sidewalk space for pedestrians  have been relatively inexpensive, the mayor said. 

“Still, finding resources  and the will  to get green shifts underway now is crucial to reduce risks from the next big threat of climate change, he said. 

Read more here.

The last time VMT dropped this sharply? WWII gas rationing

By Jeff Davis, Eno Center for Transportation, April 8, 2020

“No one is quite sure how much vehicle miles-traveled (VMT) has decreased [as a result of pandemic stay-at-home orders]. All we have so far are estimates based on anonymized cell phone data and some anecdotal information from toll bridge and turnpike collections. But a drop of at least 40 percent in non-truck VMT would not be surprising.

The “B” sticker was issued primarily to business owners and was worth about eight gallons a week. Image: https://bit.ly/2zM1f1k

“[For] some pre­cedent into what happens when government forces a drastic reduction in VMT … the World War II experience in gasoline rationing may provide some interesting parallels.

“WWII gas rationing was never really about saving gasoline. The U.S. had plenty of oil production and refinery capacity as of 1941. The problem was rubber. Natural rubber was (and is to this day) the only way to make high-pressure airplane tires.

“FDR ordered gasoline rationing in the 17 Eastern Seaboard states on May 12, 1942 [as a way to save rubber. But] a blue-ribbon panel [appointed by the president and] headed by Bernard Baruch [reported that] ‘Gas rationing is the only way of saving rubber. Every way of avoiding this method was explored, but it was found to be inescapable. That is why the restriction is to be nationwide. Any localized measure would be unfair and futile.’

“Accordingly, President Roosevelt ordered the gas rationing program extended to the whole country on November 6, 1942, with the effective date later postponed to December 1, 1942.

“But once gas rationing in the East started in mid-May, the results were obvious.

1st Half of May 1942 (vs 1941) 2nd Half of May 1942 (vs 1941)
Non-rationed States -13.6% -16.9%
Rationed States -18.0% -45.0%
U.S. Total -15.9% -31.5%

Nationwide “passenger car VMT in 1943 [showed] a 43 percent reduction from the 1941 peak. VMT started to pick up in 1945 as the war wound down. Truck traffic also dropped, but not so sharply — a 15 percent drop in 1942 followed by another 9 percent drop in 1943.”

 

Credit: Eno Center for Transportation

The full article presents interesting data, including a considerable bonus effect on safety:

“The drop in VMT, the removal of most single males ages 18-35 from the pool of domestic drivers, and the nationwide 35 mile an hour speed limit imposed by the Office of Defense Transportation in September 1942 all had a marked effect on traffic safety during World War II. Highway fatalities dropped from just over 38,000 in 1941 to around 23,000 per year in 1943 and 1944.”