Day: August 22, 2020

Northern News September 2020
Birthplace of Silicon Valley, 1938

Northern News September 2020

Northern News


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

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Planning news roundup

The price of saving Paradise

By Laura Bliss, Bloomberg CityLab, August 25, 2020. “The fire was a monumental event and altered people’s way of thinking about things,” including whether the entire community should be surrounded by defensible space.

SF sees historic shift in housing inventory

By Andrew Chamings, SFGate, August 15, 2020. The convergence of coronavirus and the high cost of homeownership in San Francisco may have caused residents to leave for California’s less costly regions.

SF finally approves 1,100 homes at Balboa Reservoir

By Trisha Thadani, San Francisco Chronicle, August 12, 2020. The new project includes 550 affordable units, of which 150 are reserved for City College teachers and staff.

New research: Advancing environmental justice while rebuilding existing locally unwanted land uses

By Miriam Solis, Planetizen, August 11, 2020. A case study of a San Francisco wastewater plant considers the consequences of redeveloping, rather than siting, a locally unwanted land use.

Portland passes the ‘most pro-housing reform’ to low-density zones in US history

By Michael Andersen, Sightline Institute, August 11, 2020. Portland’s new upzoning reforms allow for a wide range of “middle housing” citywide and removes parking mandates from most residential land.

Report: Single-family zoning dominates Bay Area housing, presenting barrier to integration

By Marc Abizeid, UC Berkeley’s Othering & Belonging Institute, August 11, 2020. From the first-ever analysis of the proportion of single-family zoning in every Bay Area jurisdiction comes five general policy approaches to help address racial residential segregation.

Minor reparations

By Roxane Gay, Work Friend, The New York Times, August 9, 2020. It is absolutely unacceptable that your agency is asking you to spend your own money to improve the agency’s thinking and efforts around diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Sales tax to fund Caltrain will go before voters

Bay City News Service, Mountain View Voice, August 8, 2020. The tax would generate the necessary funding to operate the imperiled system if ultimately approved by two-thirds of voters across three affected counties.

Study: Marin to experience worst traffic delays from sea level rise

By Will Houston, Marin Independent Journal, August 7, 2020. A new Stanford study shows the North Bay may receive less flooding compared to other parts of the Bay Area, but the flooding occurs at critical connections where few alternative routes exist.

How do households describe where they live?

By Shawn Bucholtz, The Edge, August 6, 2020. New survey data collected by HUD and the US Census Bureau shows most people view themselves as living in suburbs, even those who live in central cities.

Nonmembers ask APA to support defunding the police

By Brentin Mock, Bloomberg CityLab, August 6, 2020. A letter with hundreds of signatories from across the planning field argues that planning decisions have historically contributed to police violence and harassment of Black people.

Bay Area cities reluctantly approve housing in face of state laws

By J.K. Dineen, San Francisco Chronicle, August 5, 2020. From San Bruno to Castro Valley to Lafayette, major Bay Area housing approvals have been compelled by SB 35 and SB 330.

Sausalito confronts historic inequities, considers affordable housing on its waterfront

J.K. Dineen, San Francisco Chronicle, August 5, 2020. After a general plan change, Sausalito residents argue whether to expand light industry or allow some senior or affordable housing.

Opinion: We must plan racial justice in our cities

By Dorothy Walker, Streetsblog USA, August 3, 2020. Dorothy Walker, founding president of APA, says cities’ local land-use decisions are “ripe for transformation” to lower barriers to housing for the “disadvantaged, disenfranchised, and the community at large.”

Revised SB 35 Guidelines near completion

William Fulton, CP&DR, August 2, 2020. The Department of Housing and Community Development has released a draft of updated guidelines for implementing SB 35 locally.

After 250 Years, Tribe regains Big Sur ancestral lands

By Kyle Edwards, Native News Online, July 29, 2020. The Esselen tribe plans to use the land to revitalize, and educate the public about, its culture, traditional ceremonies, and history.

Caltrans’ Low Carbon Transit Operations grants go to three North Coast jurisdictions

By Nazy Javid, KRCR News, July 29, 2020. The grants support free fares to populations that include low-income residents, youth and college students.

Inflection point: What we do when significant change occurs 

Inflection point: What we do when significant change occurs 

By Andrea Ouse, AICP, August 17, 2020 

“The real property above described, or any portion thereof, shall never be occupied, used, or resided on by any person not of the white Caucasian race, except in the capacity of a servant or domestic employed thereon as such by a white Caucasian owner, tenant, or occupant.” —Declaration of Restrictions, recorded February 17, 1954. 

I remember, while researching a project file as an entry-level planner for a Bay Area community, finding the above provision in the Codes, Covenants, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) recorded on the subdivision. Despite discovering this 20 years ago, I still recall the feeling of disgust in the pit of my stomach. The developer of this subdivision was celebrated in the community as an American success story, resulting in the City naming a community center and a major boulevard in his honor. This was an inflection point for me — I’ve carried a copy of those CC&Rs around since that day. Although the Fair Housing Act of 1968 rendered this racist provision unenforceable, the stench of it remains in that community to this day.

With a national discussion occurring throughout the country, I decided to focus on racial equity and how planners can approach, normalize, and prioritize allyship in our work.

For context and to help me frame a very complex, multi-dimensional issue, I sought out my friend and California Planning Roundtable colleague, Jeanette Dinwiddie-Moore, FAICP, and the owner of Dinwiddie & Associates. She is a highly respected contributor to our profession and has been a strong voice for BIPOC planners for many years.

As planners, our work is both expansive and granular. We are also often the agents driving the changes voiced by the community. Meanwhile, our recent, continuing, and collective national conversation on racial bias has generated incredibly pertinent and valuable content.

The American Planning Association has been at the forefront of a coordinated commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion in all forms, and for many years. For example, APA California continues to lead in efforts to train members in implicit bias and cultural competency, and the chapter annually sponsors successful Diversity Summits at its conferences.

Are we doing enough? No. We have a renewed moral and ethical imperative to learn about, acknowledge, and address systemic racism in the communities we serve.

As I’ve learned, and as confirmed by Jeanette, many land-use policies, regulations, and processes have intensified racial segregation, poverty, environmental injustice, poor health outcomes, and gentrification. Recognizing and accepting the role our profession has played in developing and perpetuating the toolbox used to build and maintain those inequalities over the past century is an important first step. But only our daily actions will be able to truly propel the societal reckoning.

I recognize planners are limited in what we can do to dismantle racism and discrimination. Our country was built, in part, on the principles of economic growth and continental expansion through the occupation of Native American land and the use of slave labor — that is, by exploiting the powerless. Though antiracist movements and legislation of the 1950s and 1960s compelled policymakers to outlaw most forms of explicit discrimination, racism continued to underserve specific populations both covertly and overtly.

Among the key takeaways from my conversation with Jeanette was that our profession has little impact on certain economic factors, such as the wage inequality that leads to lower rates of homeownership among minorities. We can commit, however, to listening to the historically marginalized communities and learning about the unconscious bias and larger structural forces that have influenced discriminatory land-use decisions of the past. Oral histories and personal narratives can be important, especially those specific to the outcome of social, economic, and environmental injustice that have negatively impacted Black and Brown neighborhoods and communities.

Jeannette’s wealth of experience piqued my intellectual curiosity about the most effective means to influence a community’s equitable future. More than just calling for action, or recognizing racial disparities throughout society, planners can be mediators, acknowledging failings of the past with a vision of racial and economic equity. We can strive to continually communicate equity as a standard for our communities.

That means that the norms we professional planners have adopted and propagated over decades should be examined through a new, more inclusive lens. We have an ethical obligation to recognize and learn from the impacts of our profession’s past. We must actively listen to and engage with underserved communities that may be distrustful because past actions of our profession marginalized them. By acknowledging past offenses or neglect, we can promote inclusivity at all levels.

I chose this professional path to work for the greater good, and with diverse peoples and needs in mind. Maybe you did too. This moment of inflection gives us permission to combine that overarching view with self-reflection and meaningful engagement. Rather than saying we are only technicians, we should hold ourselves, and the communities we serve, accountable for the impacts of the decision-makers’ decisions.

There’s never been a better time for us to completely reimagine our entire system of planning and building. In the process, we will unify our purpose and advance our profession. A new and more empathetic approach to community engagement and policy development will hear the voices that have historically been disregarded.

So let us hone our active listening and seek out the areas in which we can build trust with all of those marginalized groups who have been shut out of establishing the community’s vision. Driving such a societal shift will require of us great stamina, fortitude, and a dedication to seeing through the long struggle toward more equitable short, medium, and long-term outcomes.

Jeannette reminded me that the AICP Code of Ethics cites principles that include seeking social justice by planning for the needs of the disadvantaged, while promoting racial and economic integration. The time is now to put those words into action. Let’s begin this task.

Return to the September issue here.

ANDREA OUSE, AICP, is Director of Com­munity and Economic develop­ment, City of Con­cord, California, a position she has held for three years after an equivalent position with the City of Vallejo. Ouse was Sec­tion Director in 2015 and 2016 for APA California–Northern Section. Her degrees include a master in public administration from California State University–East Bay and a bachelor of science in city and regional planning from Cal Poly–San Luis Obispo. 

Key characteristics of vibrant places

Key characteristics of vibrant places

By Noah Friedman, August 18, 2020

One of the most common questions clients, communities, and policy makers ask me — an urban designer and planner — is, “What makes a vibrant place?” And what exactly does “vibrant” mean?

Simply put, to be vibrant is to be full of energy, enthusiasm, activity, and life — in other words, healthy and alive. The presence and amount of vibrancy is a reasonable proxy for a city’s general health and well-being. Now, as ever, understanding what makes vibrant places — where we can come together — is essential to the future of our cities.

We’ve used Vibemap — which combines geolocated data, machine learning, and user input — to identify five key characteristics of vibrant places.

Vibemap is a city discovery app that launches September 7. It shows people where they want to be based on their vibe (a unique character or “spirit of place” that is intuitively felt) and their interests. It connects people to places, events, and experiences that match their vibe.

Understanding city vibrancy is central to Vibemap’s mission of bringing people together in new ways and experiencing the magic of showing up in real life. It’s no surprise that some of the most popular places in cities where people want to be are also the most vibrant.

Vibrant places come about as a result of hundreds, if not thousands of small and seemingly unrelated decisions over long periods of time. It’s the coming together of socio-economic factors, geographic setting, and physical characteristics that help determine the character of a place.

Below are five key characteristics that are present in most vibrant places.

  • 1. Flow: As with any organism that is “pulsing with life,” the robustness and health of the flow of people is paramount to establishing the vibrancy of a city. Connectivity — ease of and access for people — is the lifeline of urban activity. Thus major public transit stations with high frequency of service are at the heart of vibrant places. Major light rail or bus stops are smaller (but also important) nodes of neighborhood vibrancy.
The many scooters available at Oakland’s 19th Street BART Station attest to the sheer volume of people that use this station daily. Image: Noah Friedman
  • 2. Well-loved public places: People are drawn (and will come back) to places that make them feel safe and welcome. Well-loved public places are open, inclusive, and welcoming with a wide variety of vibes. Typically these places are special destinations within a larger network of connected paths and places, making them desired and valued by people in the surrounding areas. Neighborhood parks, plazas, and slow streets provide vital and convenient places for city life to unfold daily. Some of the most well-loved public places — public parks and waterfronts — can be regional and citywide destinations.
Lake Merritt is a public place well-loved by people of all vibes, and has been an essential space for rejuvenation and for people to come together during the pandemic while staying safe. Image: Noah Friedman
  • 3. Cultural amenities: Cultural centers are places that are open to everyone, where people go for cultural exchange. These places are very “vibey”: lots of people of many different backgrounds and interests and with different types of vibes come together in places like theaters, art museums, and urban plazas. Other, smaller scale cultural centers are sprinkled throughout cities and neighborhoods in the form of schools, libraries, and community centers.
People of all backgrounds make cultural centers “vibey” places. Shown here in April 2020, the Fox Theater was still messaging its audience even though its doors were closed: “Stay safe and healthy! Back soon!” Image: Noah Friedman
  • 4. Places and events: A critical defining characteristic of a vibrant place is the amount and density of unique businesses and events in that place. Vibrant places tend to have more “active” ground floor businesses and event venues in close proximity. Vibrancy is dynamic, however; it changes throughout the day and year. The level of activity in any place results from many factors, including its “online or social media” presence, which in turn can have a dramatic impact on how it is perceived, and thus, on its popularity.
Impact Hub Oakland is a non-profit co-working space located in The Hive. It is adjacent to a Red Bay Coffee, Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream, Drake’s Dealership, People’s Barber & Shop, and Calavera Mexican Restaurant. This cluster of ground floor businesses has created a hub of human activity. Image: Noah Friedman
  • 5. Vibe: Every place has a unique character or “spirit of place” that is intuitively felt. Whether it’s known as “genius loci” or a “tutelary” spirit, this concept — found in almost every culture around the world — refers to the overall sentiment of a place, i.e., a place’s vibe. In this digital age, we constantly leave our feelings about places on social media, on review sites, and on local blogs. By collecting this sentiment data, Vibemap can determine the sentiment, feeling, or vibe of a place. What is so exciting about this layer is that vibes cut across most identities and are oftentimes shared by people of wildly different backgrounds.
It is no coincidence that Frank Ogawa Plaza is the place where people go to express their concerns about social inequity and systemic racism. People are constantly leaving clues here to help us understand the true spirit of this place and the people of Oakland. Image: Noah Friedman

Vibemap combines these five attributes of vibrant places into a database and mapping platform. It gives a real-time analysis of what is happening in a city — identifying how a city’s vibrancy constantly changes hour-by-hour, day-by-day, and according to what people are looking for from their city. Using machine learning, Vibemap is identifying affinities between the vibrancy of a place and people’s interests in order to connect people to the small businesses, happenings, and special places that match their unique understanding of what a vibrant city means to them. It offers up a more inclusive way of understanding city vibrancy, one that changes based on the qualities you value in your city.

As individuals, we can ask Vibemap to take us where our interests lie. For us as planners and urban designers, Vibemap’s data is useful to redefine a traditionally static version of vibrancy and to help create a more inclusive understanding of what makes our special places — and our cities — great.

Return to the September issue here.

NOAH FRIED­MAN has worked for near­ly 20 years in archi­tecture, urban de­sign, plan­ning, and develop­ment at Perkins+Will, SOM, and Pyatok Architects. He currently is using his skills to help strengthen human connection and increase social consciousness at Friedman holds a master’s degree in urban design from UC Berkeley and a bachelor’s in architecture from the University of Oregon. He will be speaking on Visualizing Density at the California APA conference, September 15, 4 pm. You can reach him at


Planning profession trends under Covid-19

Planning profession trends under Covid-19

By Mark Rhoades, AICP, August 19, 2020 

The end of summer vacation and the beginning of the school year bring stark reminders that Covid-19 is forcing much change on our communities 

It brings us to an important moment in the planning profession — an “inflection moment,” as Andrea Ouse, AICP, writes in this issue. The changes show everywhere, from public processes and online data management to housing legislation and implementation, and the need for change is emphasized by our acknowledgement of institutionalized racism as raised by Black Lives Matter. We have all seen and participated in heroic efforts to get our communities’ processes online to create a new public participation process.  

Covid-19 and public process  

The shelter in place emergency of Covid-19 gave a steroid boost to online participation and data management that has fundamentally and irreversibly shifted the workplace and local government processes. 

It forced local agencies to develop new ways of engaging the public in land-use processes. Many local agencies pivoted to online decisionmaking to keep the housing and discretionary process moving. Zoom and GoToMeeting became the primary public process platforms for decisionmaking, proving that the public’s business doesn’t need to be conducted in person 

As a result, the planning profession is participating in a worldwide beta test of efficient and inclusive processes conducted via cell phones and home computers. Smartphones, Zoom, and GoToMeeting have not only made it much easier for more people to participate, they also have reduced the potential for rancorous debate while invalidating any previous requirementthat someone show up in person to be acknowledged at a hearingLocal governments that weren’t already fully online for applications are finding that in-person visits to planning agencies are less and less necessary. 

At the same time, governments and other employers realized that people can effectively work from home. This could steer development away from “offices” and provide more land for housing.  

Black Lives Matter, land use, and institutionalized racism 

The parallel surge of the BLM movement during the pandemic — on the heels of books like Natalie Moore’s “The South Side,” Richard Rothstein’s “The Color of Law,” and Randy Shaw’s “Generation Priced Out” — was a wakeup call to planners. It laid bare how we as a profession helped racism through exclusionary land use and zoning policies, growth caps, a prevalence of, and emphasis on, single-family zoning, discretionary project review, landmarks preservation, and other structures we thought were well meaning 

These structures, led and nurtured by federal, state, and local planning decisions, massively suppressed the housing supply in communities that most needed it. Now California suffers from a statewide dearth of affordable housing. While housing supply, or the lack thereof, has been a political decisionhousing affordability is an economic outcome based on numerous market-based factors. 

Planners should not confuse the two. Rent control programs are band-aids because they don’t address the problem of supply — as demonstrated in Berkeley and Santa Monica, where housing is unaffordable because supply lagged despite decades of rent control. For exampleBerkeley approved fewer than 200 new dwelling units between 1970 and 1995. 

The focus on institutionalized racism follows recent state legislative efforts to remove local agencies from making a host of decisions on new housing. The State Density Bonus Law and the Housing Accountability Act have significantly reduced the allowance for public input on many kinds of housing development projects. This does not excite cities used to lengthier and more discretionary processes. Planners are stuck in the middle trying to be responsive to local political decisionmakers and community participants, while also trying to comply with more, and more aggressive, state laws. More by-right zoning, implementation tied to policy development, and limitations on housing discretion will be implemented much more broadly statewide in the coming months and years.  

Bills like SB 330, SB 35, and AB 2162 are examples. Local control and the politicization and focalization of land use are primary reasons for the 50-year lack of housing production. The State and Councils of Government will be pushing for much larger increments of new housing. CEQA is being pushed aside, as housing opponents are unable to use it to challenge qualifying housing projects in urbanized areas.  

The widely recognized inequities of single-family and very lowdensity zoning are also being targeted by the stateWe see this in the advent of compulsory requirements for ADUs and Junior ADUs, which are essentially eliminating single-family zoning across the state. The trend to more intensively using urbanized land byright, particularly in urbanized and transit-oriented areas, will continue to grow.  

Where do we go from here? 

As many locales begin the difficult process of reexamining their land use policies with BLM in mind, everything about our profession is up for re-examinationAnd as the legislature and local agencies work toward greater housing equity and supply, they will also be looking for ways to make digital access the norm in planning operations. Planners should take this time to listen and to advise their decision-makers on the best paths forward. Your energy and courage will be required in all of this. 

Return to the September issue here.

MARK RHOADES, AICP, has been a prac­tic­ing urban plan­ner in Cali­fornia for more than 30 years, in­clud­ing 10 years as City Plan­ning Manager for the City of Berkeley. He is a member of the California Plan­ning Round­table, which just released “Planning to House California – Beyond 2020.” Rhoades studied urban planning at Cal Poly Pomona and UC Berkeley, and holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and urban studies from UC Riverside. He was editor of Northern News from 1994-1996 and Section Director of APA California–Northern from 1999–2000. He now focuses on housing policy and implementation, primarily through the Rhoades Planning Group. This is the fifth in a series of articles from our past Section Directors. 


Director’s note

Director’s note

By Jonathan Schuppert, AICP, August 19, 2020

Stronger together …from afar

I started as Section Director half a year ago in what feels like a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent world. I saw 2020 as a year of vision and clarity. Now, looking back at my first Director’s Note, I can’t help but reflect on where this year has taken us so far. While not at all how I imagined it, this has been a year for re-eval­uat­ing prior­ities, val­ues, and fu­ture di­rec­tions.

Back then, my chal­lenge to every­one, in­clud­ing myself, was to commit to being a little terrified every day, which is what I was challenged to do on my first day at Facebook three-and-a-half years ago. I certainly am meeting that commitment, and I expect you are too, as we deal with ever-changing information on safety, a supply chain that struggles to meet the demand for essentials, and a jarring shift in the way we work, learn, and interact with others.

While we live in a time where hugs, handshakes, and being less than six feet apart from anyone not in our social bubble or “qauranteam” (especially without a mask) is temporarily a thing of the past, we’re fortunate to have the technology to stay connected while not physically close. We can hold a little device to see and talk to anyone nearly everywhere. We have social media to keep up with each other and to share in some of life’s moments. And we hold public meetings in new ways that we hope will broaden and increase participation.

We’re also at a point where we can’t ignore the injustices in our society and our role as planners to move us toward a more equitable and inclusive society. We still have a lot to learn and even more work to do, but we can and we must.

And even though we’re physically apart, we’re stronger together now because of our resilient nature and collective efforts, even if imperfect. It hasn’t been easy, but we are thriving even as we learn valuable lessons.

What lessons have you learned that you will share with others? How will you take the information about the new realities and turn it into action?

The APA California Conference is virtual and nearly here

Schools are starting to open — well, at least laptops are starting to open with students and teachers connected virtually — and it’s the beginning of conference season. In case you haven’t already heard, the APA California Conference will be virtual this year for the first time ever.

I was really looking forward to seeing Riverside and learning about the great things happening there. Instead, I’m looking forward to reconnecting virtually with my planning colleagues, learning about best practices around the state, and conversing about major issues, including housing, transportation, racism and bias in planning, and new ways of planning for the future — all without having to book a hotel, arrange for travel, or even leave the kitchen.

Find out more about the conference and register here. I hope to “see” you there!

Return to the September issue here.

In memoriam, Brian Mattson, 84

In memoriam, Brian Mattson, 84

Brian Mattson passed away of a heart attack on July 18, while working in the garden at his home in Novato. He was 84.

Bay Area planners may remember him as the Planning Director in Novato until 1984 and then Community Development Director in Vallejo where he retired a few years later.

“He was a proponent of good planning principles in the face of development pressure from strong real estate interests,” recalled Hanson Hom, AICP, who worked under Mattson in Vallejo. “He had a passion for creating equitable communities and better environments, which he balanced with a sense of humor. And he reinforced strong planning values and the importance of ethics in our profession. Those, along with a conviction to do what’s right, shaped me over the course of my entire career.”

During his time as planning director in Novato, Mattson was active in the Bay Area Planning Directors Association, and was a member of the Sonoma State University Advisory Committee that advised on the school’s planning curriculum.

“Brian was my first boss as I started my profession as a city planner in Novato,” recalled Diane Henderson of San Rafael. He hated being called ‘boss,’ and he led by example. He taught “kindness, courtesy, and professionalism as he guided Novato’s development during challenging political years. He always was willing to go the extra mile to do the right thing,” she said.

Brian Wayne Mattson was born December 25, 1935, in Watersmeet, an unincorporated community located within the Ottawa National Forest in the western part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, some 45 miles south of Lake Superior. After graduating from Michigan State University (East Lansing) with a degree in landscape architecture, he earned a master’s degree in public administration from California State University-Hayward. Over the course of a 40-year career in public service, he was planning director for Manitowoc, Wisconsin; Spokane and Yakima, Washington; Klamath Falls, Oregon; and Novato and Vallejo, California.

Mattson was known for humble leadership and the ability to navigate political issues during challenging times for urban growth. He took pride in mentoring planners and advising on ethical and professional dilemmas.

He is survived by his wife of 65 years, Evelyn Mattson; his sister, Nancy Severtson; and four children: Greg Mattson (also a planner), Tammy Dunn, Andrea Doney, and Sandra Schondel-Mattson, and eight grandchildren.

Return to the September issue here.

San Francisco landlords lose lawsuit

San Francisco landlords lose lawsuit

This article, a version of which was originally published in Next City, is republished with permission

By Jared Brey, Next City, August 7, 2020

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a law in June that implemented a permanent ban on evicting tenants for rent payments they miss because of the pandemic, as Next City noted at the time. Soon after, landlords sued the city, saying the law was an unconstitutional taking of their property. But a judge ruled this week that the law “is a ‘permissible exercise’ of the city’s power,” according to a report from the Courthouse News Service. The property owners that filed the suit say they’re trying to protect their rights.

“My clients are fighting for the very principle that when a landlord rents a property, the tenant has to pay rent or the tenant has to move,” Andrew Zacks, an attorney for the landlords, told Courthouse News Service. “That’s the hallmark of what a landlord-tenant relationship is. San Francisco is trying to upend that … Most landlords don’t want to evict and would much rather work something out with tenants, but tenants don’t have an incentive to work anything out.”

Many landlord lawsuits lean on the notion of constitutional “takings,” the idea that a policy deprives property owners of so much value that it violates their basic right to ownership. Landlords sued on those grounds after New York expanded its rent control laws last year, as Next City reported. Eviction moratoriums have sparked property-owner lawsuits in other states as well, including Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, and Kentucky, according to The Real Deal. And San Francisco’s more permanent policy does not free tenants from having to pay rent back, as the Courthouse News Service noted. But it “takes eviction off the table,” as Supervisor Dean Preston, who sponsored the law, put it, according to the report. Superior Court Judge Charles F. Haines found that it was not an overreach, though the property owners plan to appeal, the report says.

“The ordinance does not compel any uncompensated physical occupation of property or otherwise give rise to a facial taking of property, and as a reasonable exercise of the police power to promote public welfare it does not facially violate the Contracts Clauses of the federal or California constitutions,” Haines wrote in his ruling.

This article is part of Backyard, a newsletter explor­ing scalable solutions to make housing fairer, more afford­able and more environ­mental­ly sus­tain­able. Subscribe to the twice-weekly Backyard newsletter.

Return to the September issue of Northern News here.

Affordable housing in Silicon Valley puts focus on sustainability
Edwina Benner Plaza, Sunnyvale. Credit: Bruce Damonte

Affordable housing in Silicon Valley puts focus on sustainability

From HUD User, PD&R Edge, August 3, 2020

Named in honor of the first woman to serve as mayor of a California town, the development adds 66 units of affordable housing in Sunnyvale. Credit: Keith Baker

Edwina Benner Plaza in Sunnyvale is providing much-needed affordable housing while advancing sustainability-minded design. A combination of on and offsite renewable energy sources are meeting all of the building’s electricity needs and work with other design elements to achieve net-zero operating emissions. Edwina Benner Plaza is also notable for its efforts to address another urgent issue in California: housing for individuals and families with a history of, or at risk for experiencing, homelessness. (Endnote 1)

Bringing affordability to the heart of the Technology Sector

Developed by MidPen Housing, the project consists of 30 one-bedroom, 18 two-bedroom, and 18 three-bedroom apartments, plus amenities such as a community room with kitchen, computer lab, fitness center, children’s playground, and secured bike parking. Funding for the $44 million development came primarily from equity generated from the sale of 9 percent low-income housing tax credits. Additional funding sources included the city of Sunnyvale; Santa Clara County, where Sunnyvale is located; and HUD’s HOME Investment Partnerships Program. To qualify, residents must earn no more than 60 percent of the area median income, and preference for most of the units is given to people living or working in Sunnyvale. Property income funds programming onsite — such as youth afterschool and summer programs, financial literacy courses, vocational training, health and wellness programs, computer assistance, and help accessing other local resources and services — that is available to all residents. (Endnote 2)

In addition to providing affordable workforce housing, Edwina Benner Plaza is helping to address homelessness in the heart of Silicon Valley. The area’s high cost of housing has been an ongoing and severe challenge, and decreases in housing affordability correlate with an increased risk of homelessness. This finding is borne out in Santa Clara County, where, at the time Edwina Benner Plaza opened, an estimated 7,500 men, women, and children experienced homelessness on any given night. The development, supported by project-based vouchers, reserves 13 units for formerly homeless households referred by the county’s Office of Supportive Housing and 10 units for families at risk of homelessness. Peninsula Healthcare Connection provides additional supportive services and case management for formerly homeless residents. (Endnote 3)

Edwina Benner Plaza is the second MidPen Housing project in Sunnyvale to target residents who are currently homeless or at risk of homelessness. (The developer opened the nearby Onizuka Crossing Apartments in 2016. Half of the 58 units there are reserved for formerly homeless individuals.)

Advancing Green Building

Sustainability played a major role in the design, including the landscaping and the photovoltaic panels that provide half of the building’s electricity needs. Credit: Bruce Damonte

Solar rooftop panels generate approximately 50 percent of Edwina Benner Plaza’s electricity requirements. Community-based provider Silicon Valley Clean Energy supplies the remaining 50 percent from renewable sources. These efforts, combined with the development’s electric, rather than gas-powered, hot water heater — and a high-efficiency heat pump for cooling — mean the development produces zero operating emissions, earning it Platinum certification under the GreenPoint Rated system. According to Matthew Lewis, senior project manager at MidPen Housing, the value realized through energy efficiency is passed on to residents, albeit indirectly, in the form of increased funding for onsite services.

Edwina Benner Plaza residents also receive free Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority passes to encourage them to use more sustainable transportation options. And the landscape uses native plants and includes a stormwater planter to help control storm runoff. (Endnote 4)

Project designer David Baker Architects sought to ensure that the development would support not only the well-being of the environment but also the well-being of residents. As an aid, the development’s layout pushes service and storage spaces toward the side of the building fronting a highway. This arrangement shields the living spaces of the building from noise, enhancing the enjoyment and use of private balconies and the shared outdoor space. To further enhance the appeal of being active in the building’s courtyard play area, landscape architect Fletcher Studio used bold colors and patterns to make the confined space feel more expansive and create visual dynamism. (Endnote 5)

Bold colors help activate the shared courtyard space, encouraging active use of the communal amenities. Credit: Bruce Damonte

Edwina Benner Plaza’s name honors the first woman to serve as mayor of a California town. During her 28 years on the Sunnyvale City Council, Edwina Benner, who began her working life in a cannery, held the mayoral office twice, from 1924 to 1926 and again from 1938 to 1940. Nearly a century later, her life and impact are being honored through a series of memorial plaques donated by the Sunnyvale Historical Society. Mr. Lewis reports that the success of Edwina Benner Plaza demonstrates to other developers the feasibility of all-electric affordable housing projects. It also is influencing MidPen Housing’s ongoing and planned projects.

Endnote 1: California Tax Credit Allocation Committee. n.d. “2018 & 2019 Sustainable Building Method and Minimum Construction Standards for Energy Efficiency.” Accessed 17 June 2020; Correspondence with Matthew Lewis, senior project manager, MidPen Housing. 11 June 2020; MidPen Housing. n.d. “Affordable All-Electric Workforce Housing Opens in Sunnyvale near Jobs and Transit.” Accessed 17 June 2020; City of Sunnyvale. 2017. “Approve Loan and Regulatory Agreements with MP Edwina Benner Associates, LP for a Loan of $7.43 Million in Housing Mitigation Funds and a Loan of $600,000 in HOME Funds for Edwina Benner Plaza Affordable Housing Development at 460 Persian Drive,” 28 February. Accessed 17 June 2020; San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association. 2020. “What It Will Really Take to Create an Affordable Bay Area.” Accessed 18 June 2020.
Endnote 2: MidPen Housing. n.d. “Affordable All-Electric Workforce Housing Opens in Sunnyvale near Jobs and Transit.” Accessed 17 June 2020; Correspondence with Matthew Lewis, senior project manager, MidPen Housing, 11 June 2020; County of Santa Clara. n.d. “About the County.” Accessed 17 June 2020; City of Sunnyvale. 2017. “Approve Loan and Regulatory Agreements with MP Edwina Benner Associates, LP for a Loan of $7.43 Million in Housing Mitigation Funds and a Loan of $600,000 in HOME Funds for Edwina Benner Plaza Affordable Housing Development at 460 Persian Drive,” 28 February. Accessed 17 June 2020.
Endnote 3: City of Sunnyvale. 2014. “Housing Element of the General Plan, January 31, 2015 – January 31, 2023.” Accessed 17 June 2020; United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. 2019. “The Importance of Housing Affordability and Stability for Preventing and Ending Homelessness.” Accessed 17 June 2020; MidPen Housing. n.d. “Affordable All-Electric Workforce Housing Opens in Sunnyvale near Jobs and Transit.” Accessed 17 June 2020; City of Sunnyvale. 2017. “Approve Loan and Regulatory Agreements with MP Edwina Benner Associates, LP for a Loan of $7.43 Million in Housing Mitigation Funds and a Loan of $600,000 in HOME Funds for Edwina Benner Plaza Affordable Housing Development at 460 Persian Drive,” 28 February. Accessed 17 June 2020; County of Santa Clara Office of Supportive Housing. n.d. “Mission Statement.” Accessed 17 June 2020; Victoria Kezra. 2016. “Low-income housing project has grand opening in Sunnyvale.” Mercury News, 13 October. Accessed 17 June 2020.
Endnote 4: Correspondence with Matthew Lewis, 11 June 2020; MidPen Housing. n.d. “Affordable All-Electric Workforce Housing Opens in Sunnyvale near Jobs and Transit.” Accessed 17 June 2020; Fletcher Studio. n.d. “Edwina Benner Plaza: Integrating Play and History.” Accessed 17 June 2020.
Endnote 5: David Baker Architects. n.d. “Edwina Benner Plaza.” Accessed 17 June 2020; Correspondence with Matthew Lewis, 11 June 2020; Fletcher Studio. n.d. “Edwina Benner Plaza: Integrating Play and History.” Accessed 17 June 2020.

Return to the September issue of Northern News here.

Alameda County Heat Vulnerability Map

Alameda County Heat Vulnerability Map

By the Alameda County Office of Sus­tain­abil­ity, August 19, 2020

Hello, planners! Alameda County has launched an interactive map to illustrate the social and environ­mental factors that contribute to community heat vul­ner­abil­ity in our county.

The map shows the neighborhoods and demographic groups disproportionately affected by heat waves. We hope this map will be useful to city planners, county agencies, and neighborhood and community organizations in Alameda County to support their efforts to assess and respond to the impacts of extreme heat. For those in other counties, the model may be useful to you.

The map is best viewed on a computer. It can take a minute for the map to initialize.

For this ArcGIS storymap, you’ll navigate through tabs which show (1) an overall heat vulnerability index, (2) built environment data, (3) demographic data, (4) health data, and (5) project background and additional resources.

For most tabs, descriptive text at the left of the map includes yellow links that you click to populate the map. (If on a mobile device, click on the “i” at the top right to see text.) For example, under the Health tab, click the yellow links to see map layers including the prevalence of cardiovascular disease and exposure to poor air quality.

For questions regarding the Heat Vulnerability Map, please contact the Alameda County Office of Sustainability here.

Return to the September issue here.

Who’s where

Who’s where


Mayank Patel is now the Associate Planner for the City of Newark, where he’ll be focusing on current planning and contributing to long-range planning efforts such as the City’s Old Town Newark Specific Plan and NewPark Place Specific Plan. Patel had been the senior planner for the City of Orinda, where he worked on the Downtown Precise Plan. Before entering the world of municipal plan­ning in 2015, he was an urban designer at PlaceWorks. He holds a master of urban and regional planning from UC Irvine and a BS in landscape architecture from UC Davis. 

Sarah Yuwiler is now the Asso­ciate Plan­ner for the City of Brentwood. She pre­viously was an assis­tant planner for the City of Concord. Yuwiler holds a BA in environ­mental studies and plan­ning from Sonoma State University. She currently resides in Pittsburg.  

Return to the September issue here.