Month: December 2020

Audit slams California for wasting billions in bonds

By Jennifer Wadsworth, San Jose Inside, November 19, 2020

“In a report released earlier this week, State Auditor Elaine Howle cites a particularly egregious instance in which one agency squandered $2.7 billion in bonds that could have funded thousands of below-market-rate homes.

“‘The state does not currently have a sound, well-coordinated strategy or plan for how to most effectively use its financial resources to support affordable housing,’ the audit reads. And the agencies in charge of addressing the issue have no ‘clear plan describing how or where its billions of dollars for housing will have the most impact.’

“One of the most alarming findings in the audit involves the state’s Debt Limit Allocation Committee, which works with three other agencies to issue loans, tax credits, and bonds to affordable housing developers.

“From 2015 to 2017, however, Howle found that the committee let $2.7 billion in tax-exempt federal bond revenue simply evaporate. The debt allocation agency, a subsidiary of the State Treasurer’s Office, then tried to cover its tracks.

“The committee came under new leadership once California Treasurer Fiona Ma took office in 2019 — two years after the bonds expired. Since then, Ma has reportedly instituted a policy of redirecting leftover bond funds to other uses.”

In the audit report, Howle suggests a number of solutions for the state’s multifamily housing development process, such as creating a new workgroup to steer funding to multifamily housing projects from the debt limit committee and its tax-credit-reviewing counterpart.

Read the full article here. (~5 min.)

Related: After meeting on November 19, California’s Debt Limit Allocation Committee, which controls the allotment of bonds, voted to allocate all $600 million of private activity bonds formerly awarded to Fortress Investment Group’s Las Vegas tourist train to affordable housing needs. Read Romy Varghese’s coverage of the decision in Bloomberg here. (~1.5 min.)

Return to Northern News here.

Northern News December 2020-January 2021

Northern News December 2020-January 2021

Northern News


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Planning news roundup

Northern Section counties receive over $543 million for transportation projects

By Jasmine Lee, Daily Californian, December 7, 2020. State funding will support multi-modal transportation infrastructure, including BART upgrades.

Housing measure puts San Mateo in production quandary

By Sarah Klearman, CP&DR, December 6, 2020. San Mateo voters narrowly extended existing height and density caps, potentially precluding a push for more housing.

Richmond council approves controversial shoreline mixed-use project

By Annie Sciacca, Bay Area News Group, December 3, 2020. The state has approved a site remediation plan, but activists and residents want a more thorough removal of soil.

‘Overdue’ ordinance requires SF landords to report vacancies

By CBS SF Bay Area, December 3, 2020. Vacancy data may be used to reduce speculation on rental units.

West Coast cottage reforms lead to explosive rise in permits

By Nisma Gabobe, Sightline Institute, December 2, 2020. In 2018 and 2019, cities across the West Coast successfully promoted accessory dwelling unit reforms to address the housing crisis.

Livermore development fight over new major solar farm

By J.K. Dineen, San Francisco Chronicle, November 30, 2020. Livermore’s experience could become more common as California pursues 100 percent zero-carbon electricity.

San Francisco, trade unions at odds over modular construction

By J.K. Dineen, The San Francisco Chronicle, November 27, 2020. Trade leaders argue that cutting housing costs should not sacrifice workers’ wages.

Ambitious Sonoma Coast project paves way for ‘managed retreat’

By Rosanna Xia, Los Angeles Times, November 27, 2020. A Bay Area glimpse into the future for other coastal communities facing sea-level rise.

Do California ag counties hold solutions to Monterey County farmworker housing crisis?

By Kate Cimini, Salinas Californian, November 23, 2020. As farmworkers and their families dangerously overcrowd available housing, California’s coastal counties look to streamline production of safer housing.

ABAG launches energy evaluation tool for climate action planning

From ABAG, November 19, 2020. The tool uses one of the largest sets of disaggregated building energy data available in the nation.

Audit slams California for wasting billions in bonds

By Jennifer Wadsworth, San Jose Inside, November 19, 2020. The sweeping audit uncovered mismanaged and lapsed funds that could have supported affordable housing.

Megaproject planning in a pandemic
Orientation map for Downtown Station Area Plan

Megaproject planning in a pandemic

By Timothy Rood, AICP, and José Ruano, December 2, 2020

Equitable transit-oriented development

The 250-acre area around San José’s central rail station, Diridon Station, presents an outstanding opportunity to advance the vision of integrated uses and travel efficiency. Planning for this vision began a decade ago, but significant changes on the ground in recent years required amending an area plan adopted in 2014. The City began the amendment process in November 2019, following more than a year of extensive public outreach. Additional public input was desired and planned — then the pandemic intervened. Here’s what the City has done and is doing to reach all stakeholders, including populations that are typically underrepresented in planning processes.

Diridon Station. Credit: City of San José


The pattern of land uses across the 180 square miles of the City of San José — the Bay Area’s largest city in both land and population – is much like a quilt, a classic Euclidean pattern of distinct patches of residential, commercial, and industrial uses. San Jose’s rapid expansion after World War II — when land was relatively cheap and gridlock had yet to become a concern — resulted in separated low-density zones with low-slung buildings. Other Bay Area cities, often the employment centers for San Jose’s vast residential areas, developed in similar patterns, spurring the prevalence of car travel and surface parking within San Jose and across the Bay Area.

Currently, solo drivers make about 80 percent of trips within San José. Modern urban planning in San José, beginning with the Envision San José 2040 General Plan that was approved in 2011, seeks to remedy the separated land uses and reduce car travel and surface parking by planning for redevelopment of lower-intensity, primarily commercial properties in urban villages and other growth areas with more intense and mixed land uses. By 2040, the goal is to make three times as many trips as today by walking, transit, bicycle, or other alternatives to single-occupancy vehicles.

The 250-acre area around San José’s central rail station, Diridon Station, presents an outstanding opportunity to advance the vision of integrated uses and travel efficiency. Diridon Station, at the western edge of Downtown San José, is now being planned through an interagency partnership as the West Coast’s largest multimodal rail station, where planned BART and California High-Speed Rail service will converge with existing commuter rail, light rail, and bus services. These agencies project an eightfold increase in daily passengers coming through Diridon Station. Following an intensive two-year study and public engagement, the agencies reached consensus on a preferred concept for a redesigned, integrated rail station that could reconnect the surrounding neighborhoods and minimize impacts.

To address the lands around the station, the San José City Council adopted the Diridon Station Area Plan in 2014 after five years of extensive community outreach. The plan envisioned the incremental transformation of the area — now dominated by parking lots and old industrial buildings — into a dynamic, mixed-use, urban neighborhood anchored by a world-class transportation hub, a planned major league ballpark, and the SAP Center, better known as the “Shark Tank.”

Orientation map for Diridon Station Area Plan. Credit: City of San José

Market conditions changed, however, and the ballpark plans fell through. But the largely undeveloped land close to an international airport and a growing downtown did not go unnoticed. Google, LLC, began buying up properties and in 2017 stepped forward with a proposed Downtown West Mixed-Use Plan for 80 acres around the station. This was a game-changer: It’s rare for a private developer to assemble property at this scale, unusual for a large redevelopment project to have an owner-occupant, and uncommon for tech companies to locate in a city center. With up to 7.3 million square feet of office (twice the size of Cupertino’s Apple Park); up to 5,900 housing units; and up to 500,000 square feet of retail and other active uses, Downtown West would be a mixed-use development at a scale seldom seen in any U.S. city.

The project’s approval hearings before the City Council are planned for Spring 2021.

Downtown San Jose (top), SAP Center (lower left), and Diridon Station (bottom right corner). Credit: City of San José

Amending the Diridon Station Area Plan

Between the withdrawal of the ballpark proposal, the new rail station concept, the proposed Google Downtown West project, changes in the BART project, and a 2019 City Council decision allowing greater building heights, clearly the 2014 Diridon Station Area Plan needed to be amended. The City began the amendment process in November 2019, following more than a year of extensive public outreach on goals for the broader Diridon Station Area, and the authors have been privileged to be managing the effort as staff in the City’s planning division.

Along with staff from the City’s transportation, parks, and public works departments, we began by going through the 2014 plan line by line to identify what was still valid and what needed updating. The City also initiated studies and implementation plans on affordable housing and parking – the latter being a concern to the Sharks given the City’s obligations under the SAP Center lease.

Downtown San Jose Skyline from Arena Green, immediately east of SAP Center. Credit: City of San José

The work resulted in draft amendments that adapt the 2014 Plan to current conditions and reflect the City’s goal to advance equity as development and investment occur. Major changes include expanding the Plan boundary, adding development capacity, increasing building height limits, and updating sections on land use, urban design, open space, and mobility. The draft amended plan affirms the original goals and objectives but updates the vision to be more mixed-use, with housing and jobs closer together in more places, increased building height limits to help support equitable development, and new trail links and open space concepts. The proposed amendments build on the new urban design direction of the 2019 San José Downtown Design Guidelines and Standards, which received the APA California 2020 Award of Excellence in Urban Design.

Similar to the Downtown West Project, the City Council will hold hearings in Spring 2021 before adopting the plan amendments.

Engagement during a pandemic

As part of the 2018 community engage­ment process, the City Council appointed 38 organizations to a Diridon Station Area Advisory Group (SAAG), which met regularly over a two-year period. The City also set up a website as a public clearing­house of infor­mation and held a variety of events and activities to engage the general public.

City leaders and staff wanted to hear from all segments of the San José community, including downtown businesses, developers, transit riders, and affordable housing, labor, and environmental advocates. An additional round of focused outreach was conducted with residents living in and around the station area, including the Diridon Area Neigh­bor­hood Group (DANG), a coalition of representatives from nearby neigh­bor­hood asso­cia­tions.

To reach populations that are typically underrepresented in planning processes, the City established a small grant program and partnered with seven community-based organiza­tions to assist with outreach and engagement. The City also offered many of the meetings and materials in Spanish and Vietnamese, the two most prevalent non-English languages in the area.

During 2020, the engagement process necessarily evolved with the Covid-19 crisis. The City extended the engagement process timeline and transitioned to digital tools, including virtual meetings, online surveys, and recorded video presentations posted to the project website. “Virtual office hours” on various topics allowed informal Q&A with project staff on a drop-in basis, ideal for those busy with work and household obligations during the pandemic.

Engagement events originally envisioned as in-person gatherings were instead held as Zoom meetings and webinars, frequently using advanced features including audio channels for different languages, polls, and facilitated breakout rooms. Online procedures had to be developed for all City meetings and hearings, including timers for public comment, procedures for administering the speaker queue, and technical assistance for participants if needed.

Key engagement lessons learned

The advanced features of Zoom can be challenging for new users, requiring patient facilitation and a lot of behind the scenes support. Also, many of the advanced features exclude telephone-only participants, who can listen and provide audio comment but cannot participate in polling or interpretation due to software limitations. Posting presentations as PDFs in advance made it easier for participants to follow along, particularly during online poling.

What’s next

It will take decades for full buildout of the transit projects, once funded; for realization of Google’s Downtown West, once approved; and for full im­ple­menta­tion of the amended Diridon Station Area Plan. For the Downtown West project, individual building designs will be reviewed for conformance with the approved standards, and other station area development will go through the typical public review and hearing process once the area plan is adopted. The City will track measures for affordable housing and avoidance of displacement, among others, to ensure this megaplan fulfills its potential as a global model of equitable transit-oriented development. Stay tuned!

Timothy Rood, AICP, and José Ruano

The authors work for the City of San José Department of Planning, Building and Code Enforcement. Timothy Rood, AICP, is the Division Manager overseeing the Diridon Station Area Plan amendments and review of Google’s Downtown West project. He holds M.Arch and MCP degrees from UC Berkeley and an AB in architecture from Columbia University. José Ruano is the project manager for the Diridon Station Area Plan amendments. He holds an MS in city and regional planning from Pratt Institute and a B.Arch from UC Berkeley.

Return to Northern News here.

Meet a local planner – Elizabeth “Libby” Tyler, Ph.D., FAICP

Meet a local planner – Elizabeth “Libby” Tyler, Ph.D., FAICP

By Catarina Kidd, AICP

Elizabeth “Libby” Tyler, Ph.D., FAICP, is Planning Manager at the City of San Pablo. She holds a Ph.D. in Regional Planning from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, an MLA in environmental planning from the University of California, Berkeley, and a BA in environmental conservation from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Tyler serves as Ethics Director on the APA California – Northern Section board and is on the steering committee for PHEAL (Planning for Health, Equity, Advocacy and Leadership). She is Vice Chair of APA national’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee. Tyler is a charter member of APA, having joined in 1978 as a student.  She was the first woman in Illinois to be recognized as a Fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners in 2008.

How can planners be more inspired? 

I think planners should take a broad view of planning. You are a world citizen, not just on the clock at your job. When you travel, locally or otherwise, you are learning and viewing things with informed eyes. To further your practice, be intentional and volunteer or choose things to work on that especially interest you.

Examples of that curated experience?

Planners are such versatile professionals. There is so much to be done right now with new conversations about planning and public health and the need to build more equitable places. And we need to start assessing racist practices in planning and how they can be corrected. If not planners, who can do this work? There is no room for cynical or limited thinking such as, “I am just a cog in the wheel,” so I can’t effect change. If you are feeling cynical, stretch yourself. Take even a little side-step in your career and you will never regret it. If you look for opportunities, you can find the impact you were meant to have. 

You recently joined the City of San Pablo. What are your goals there?

Developing planning staff, supporting economic opportunity for our residents, and accelerating housing production — which requires updating the General Plan and Housing Element. Also, many properties in the city are not zoned to accommodate more intensive development, and I’d like to see that change. 

Recent accomplishments?

We just completed the ADU ordinance for San Pablo. Our ADU production has more than doubled over the past year. People are investing in their homes in a way that is adding value to the city and offering residents more choices. 

Your planning work has been diverse. 

I was fortunate to work in both the public and private sectors and in planning education. My longest tenure — 17 years — was as Community Development Director for the City of Urbana, Illinois. I also taught planning as an adjunct lecturer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

What project stands out and why?

Rebuilding public housing sites in Urbana for more affordable housing. With innovative work and careful community engagement, we were able to change the way planning for affordable housing was done. It was a big stretch for me to work with HUD and to obtain grant funding so the work could be accomplished — but the outcomes were important, and there are now two new beautifully designed affordable communities in the city, including Crystal View Townhomes and the adjacent Highland Green Apartments.

Crystal View Townhomes, Urbana. Housing Authority of Champaign County, IL. Credit: Brinshore. Photo: @balloggphoto

Your comments on retirement?

I retired from a job (Urbana), but not from making a difference. I enjoy having the freedom of being selective and giving more love to things that bring me satisfaction. Those include teaching, consulting, and working with new planners. When I was that overworked mid-career planner, I imagined a total release with retirement. But retirement is not an all or nothing proposition, and for me, it does get better with time. People are becoming more creative in retirement. Planning is a great field for retirees who want to be creative.

What mindset has made you successful in your career?

I would think of three key approaches for success in the planning field:

  • Dare to be versatile.

Since planning is such a broad field, you have an opportunity to be many things — an environmental planner, a transportation specialist, a housing expert, or an economic developer. You can actually do it all if you wish.

  • Realize you can make an impact. 

If you can make things better than they would have been, you can make a huge impact, incrementally, over time. Project reviews, daily administration, outreach — they all add up. You make things better even if you are not in a position with great visibility. 

  • But don’t overplay your hand!

The community must be in charge. Planners who want to put their personal mark on something miss the point. Keep your ego in check. Find the tools and the right people to work on a project — it might not be you. Maybe it is your staff or a community leader — and if so, let them shine. The important thing is not who is doing what but doing what is right for the community.

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






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Activating the Civic Commons in San Jose’s Guadalupe River Park

Activating the Civic Commons in San Jose’s Guadalupe River Park

By Justin Flynn and SJSU fall semester DUP graduate students, December 2, 2020

The Guadalupe River Park (GRP) is a three-mile, 254-acre linear park along the western edge of downtown San José. It lies between the Mineta International Airport and Diridon Station, a major transit hub within the planned site of Google’s mixed-use Downtown West project. Our class of 14 urban planning graduate students at San José State University spent the fall 2020 semester helping several partners — CommUniverCity, Guadalupe River Park Conservancy, and SPUR to measure the impact of prioritizing our public spaces, with a focus on the Guadalupe River Park, as part of the national Reimagining the Civic Commons Initiative. This initiative is supported by The JPB Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, William Penn Foundation, and Knight Foundation (organizations that are both national and local supporters). Richard Kos, AICP, and Jason Su, who is also executive director of the Guadalupe River Park Conservancy, led us in this effort.

Photo: Aleisha Wright.

RCC has aided successful public space activations in nine cities, primarily in the East Coast and Midwest. San José will be their first on the West Coast. Four RCC pillars — civic engagement, socioeconomic mixing, environmental sustainability, and value creation — guided these activations, fostering a sense of unified civic identity and pride while strengthening communities financially and environmentally.

Our graduate research team conducted its GRP activities in two phases, beginning with observations of physical conditions and surveys of park users. Our goal was to observe how many people visit the park, the areas of the park most visited, and the demographics of park users. Our survey asked what the users liked about the park and wanted to see improved, where they lived, and their level of engagement with the park. The surveys were conducted under challenging conditions — pandemic and wildfire smoke — but a surprisingly high 153 park users were each willing to spend five to 10 minutes answering our questions.

Diego Mora conducts survey in GRP, October 14, 2020. Photo: David Moore.

Survey results

More than half of surveyed park users visited the park more than once a week, and more than 60 percent stayed for at least an hour. Survey respondents often highlighted the park’s much-desired natural setting in the middle of the Bay Area’s largest city; this aligned quite strongly with RCC’s “Access to Nature” goal of attracting those who live within a 10-minute walk of a park or public open space. They also highly value GRP’s trails for exercise and recreation and staff efforts to keep the park clean in challenging times.

Light at the end of the tunnel: Coleman Ave underpass. Photo: Aleisha Wright.

When asked about things they would like to see improved, many users expressed concern about the large numbers of unhoused residents in the park. Most users were sympathetic to the needs of these residents. Some pointed out efforts by staff to place trash and restroom facilities near encampments, but others reported that access to these amenities can be unpredictable.

Several respondents mentioned illegal dumping of trash and waste into the Guadalupe River, which could be the result of a lack of convenient and legal disposal alternatives.

Questions pertaining to safety revealed that only 29 percent of respondents would feel safe walking the park at night.

GPRC’s Jason Su addresses students in the park. Photo: Aleisha Wright.

Surveyed users of the park skewed male (61 percent) as were 73 percent of observed but un-surveyed users. Safety perceptions could account for some of this gender imbalance, as one female respondent succinctly remarked: “Too many men, people are afraid to come.” The nearby location of LifeMoves, a men’s shelter whose residents use the park as a safe space for rehabilitation, likely also shaped users’ feelings and our findings. Another factor is that the Rotary PlayGarden, which would normally bring more families to GRP, is closed during the pandemic.

As civic engagement is one of the pillars of the RCC initiative, we asked a series of questions designed to gauge the level of user engagement with the park’s amenities and local politics. We found that almost half of respondents (43 percent) had recently talked to a friend or posted on social media about GRP. While only 7 percent of respondents had joined an advocacy group or attended a public meeting about the park, 84 percent said that GRP had a somewhat or very positive impact on the neighborhood.

Photo: Aleisha Wright.

A second RCC pillar is the ability of civic assets to foster socioeconomic mixing, something strongly evident in Guadalupe River Park.

  • About 40 percent of respondents reported their ethnicity as white, while 22 percent replied Hispanic or Latino, the second largest self-reported ethnic group.
  • According to 2010 Census data, the median annual income for the neighborhood was $117,828.
  • Just over 60 percent of respondents reported meeting a stranger or friend of a friend for the first time in the park.
  • Just over a quarter of users had come to GRP from outside San José. One family told us that GRP lies halfway between their home city and the hospital where they had to make frequent visits, so they would make the multi-hour round trip into a family day trip and spend hours at the park.

A third RCC pillar is the link between transportation and environmental sustainability. Our survey revealed that 45 percent of park users arrived on foot, 40 percent drove, 9 percent bicycled, and 6 percent reached the park via public transportation. Our cyclist count may be low because we had difficulty flagging down cyclists to complete our survey. Nevertheless, we concluded that, even during the pandemic, the majority of surveyed park users arrive by means other than driving.

Wayfinding sign on West Santa Clara Street. Photo: Aleisha Wright.

Our recommendations

Our team generated several recommendations, many of which are already being carried out by the Guadalupe River Park Conservancy, Reimagining the Civic Commons, and other partners. These include:

  • removing — and subsequently preventing — trash and waste in the river and park;
  • hiring local artists through organizations like POW! WOW! San José to create public art works to bolster the park’s identity;
  • improving the network of walking and cycling trails in and around the park; and
  • improving the wayfinding and signage to orient users and unify the sense of identity for the park and its subareas.

We also encourage the programming of more events, gatherings, and cultural installations with artistic and functional seating post-pandemic.

Taken together, these improvements could enhance the park’s local image and reputation, strengthen its role in furthering the RCC’s four pillars, and serve as a centerpiece in transforming downtown San José into a vibrant “24/7” urban core. A full report on our findings, recommendations, and conclusions will be available on the San José State University’s Dept. of Urban Planning website,

The SJSU student team, top to bottom, left to right: Aleisha Wright, Angelina Perez, Boshi Fu, Chris Hall, Christian Poncetta, David Moore, Diego Mora, Izanie Love, Jana Ruijgrok Neubauerova, Jia Hong Situ, Justin Flynn, Lacei Amodei, Leslie Trejo, Wei-Chi Chu.

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An overview of historical reports on HUD User

An overview of historical reports on HUD User

From HUD User, November 17, 2020 

A collection of 1,750 scanned historical reports and archived publications is now available to the public on 

Since its creation as a HUD office in 1973, the Office of Policy Develop­ment and Re­search (PD&R) has sponsored and dis­sem­i­nated ground­break­ing research. Among PD&R’s first tasks was mar­shal­ing the work of econ­o­mists to an­alyze exist­ing hous­ing sub­sidy pro­grams, design­ing evalua­tion processes for new pro­grams, and developing the Annual Housing Survey — an effort to collect data on demographics, income, tenure, rent and mortgage payments, utility costs, and housing conditions from a sample of housing units and occupants. PD&R has continued to pursue a mix of housing studies, technology research, program evaluations, surveys, demonstrations, and other types of research, amassing a substantial archive of reports and documents with ongoing relevance. In addition to this trove of research, PD&R serves as the custodian of housing documents that predate PD&R and even HUD itself. 

Now PD&R reports that initially were available only in print as well as the historic documents are available through the Historical and Archived Reports database at, providing the public with access to original reports and research. The collection includes 1,750 scanned historical reports and archived publications that address a range of topics and originate from a similarly eclectic body of sources, from long-defunct international conferences to still-extant local government divisions. HUD librarian Eric Erickson described the document preservation efforts in a July 2020 PD&R Edge article. 

The oldest records in the archive date back to 1910: a copy of How to Know Architecture: The Human Elements in the Evolution of Styles by Frank E. Wallis and “The Housing Awakening,” a collection of essays about slums in the United States from the National Housing Association. Records from the 1920s include papers of the then-biennial International Housing and Town Planning Congress. And beginning with the “First Annual Report of the Federal Housing Administration” in 1935, the archives contain each subsequent Federal Housing Administration (FHA) annual report through FHA’s merger with HUD in the 1960s. 

The collection offers records of interest not only to academics and researchers in the fields of architecture, planning, demography, and other topics of scholarly inquiry but also to laypeople seeking insight into the lives of the people of the past. For example, in the 1951 publication Housing Preferences of Farm Families in The Northeast, Cornell University researcher James E. Montgomery provides detailed insight into the typical characteristics of farmhouses in this region at that time and the extent to which their occupants found them satisfactory or wanting. In the 1960 research report National Housing Policies Since World War II: a Comparison of Sweden, West Germany, United Kingdom, and the United States, Paul F. Wendt offers a European perspective on mid-century housing policy, which may be useful to policy-minded users today. 

Many of the documents in the archive are entries in serial publications. Some, such as HUD’s four-volume guide for participants in the 1970 Operation Breakthrough home construction technology demonstration project, have been preserved in the archive in their entirety. Others, such as the late-1930s series of more than 50 technical digests by the National Bureau of Standards in the U.S. Department of Commerce, are only partially present, with a small number of missing installments. 

PD&R invites readers to explore the wealth of documents in the archives for insight into how housing conditions and policies have changed over time and how lessons from the past can inform policies today. 

The original article is here. 

Return to Northern News here. 

Share your #PlanningPositivity story and join us December 16th!

Share your #PlanningPositivity story and join us December 16th!

While November typically brings us together for a holiday celebration, this year we’re connecting in a different way for our annual gathering. In addition to a night of (virtual) celebration, we are asking each of you, and all of our members, to share what made this year special for you and your teams, your families, your communities.

Share your stories of #PlanningPositivity on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Then join us on December 16th at 6:30 pm for a virtual event with fun games and conversation to celebrate and wrap up our month-long #PlanningPositivity campaign!

Log on NOW or follow our social media sites on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram to share your #PlanningPositivity photos, memes, videos, news, and stories using the hashtag — positive, wholesome, radically amazing, or just plain good planning-related events, experiences, projects, or ideas that occurred in 2020 that you want to celebrate together. Together we will bring to light the good in our lives to share with others and spread the joy we still know exists in the world. So…

  • Share your stories of #PlanningPositivity using the hashtag.
  • Tag others and share with your own networks to spread the light farther.

We know this year has been difficult. Let’s celebrate what’s made it special.

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Planners must care, especially now

Planners must care, especially now

By James Rojas, November 14, 2020

Community engagement is a big business. It can be part of a formal planning process every few years when formal, adopted plans are updated. But community engagement happens all the time through organizing. If we are to build trust between our communities and the governments that provide their services, we planners need to learn how to bridge the gap between our formal, infrequent engagement and the ongoing community organizing.

As a Latino, I find traditional urban planning community meetings disingenuous at best, confusing or contentious at worst. I believe community engagement needs to celebrate people, lift their spirits, and remove any doubt the participants, especially Latinos, might have about government and planning.

Most of my collaborators are women of color who have a genuine concern for the wellbeing of their community. They want a social, collaborative approach to planning. Some want what we call community visioning. Others want to organize around environmental issues in the community. 

Many of these people have been left out of the formal planning processes of municipal governments and private consulting firms. In too many places, their issues, concerns, and voices have never been heard. 

If we, as planners, want these communities to trust us in what we propose, we have to share our planning power or concede it. We need to be there, in and with the communities we represent and serve. That means we cannot appear every five to seven years. Instead, we have to build the planning capacity of our communities, lift them up, and encourage their interest and involvement, if not self-determination.

I argue that solely using words is a very limited way of understanding place and planning for communities. We need to expand our toolkit beyond words to feel the essence of communities and capture the nuances that create great places.

To sum up, as Al Zelinka, the Riverside City Manager and a colleague on the California Planning Roundtable stated, “Civic engagement should be a conduit for community building through shared vision, shared responsibility, and shared benefits.”

We also need to trust communities to undertake their own community engagement, and share problem solving with community members. 

An example of power-sharing is the East Oakland Neighborhoods Initiative, a partnership between the City of Oakland Planning Bureau and 12 community-based organizations focused on equity-based planning for deep East Oakland. The community organizations conducted a year of outreach to identify the primary concerns, goals, and priorities of East Oakland residents and stakeholders.

James Rojas is an urban planner, community outreach specialist, and artist with Place It! He holds an MCP from MIT and a B.S. in interior design from Woodbury University. You can reach him at





Return to the Northern News here.

Director’s note: Nearing the end of the longest year

Director’s note: Nearing the end of the longest year

By Jonathan Schuppert, AICP, December 8, 2020

As what feels like one of the long­est years of my life winds down and I near the end of my term as Sec­tion Di­rec­tor, I can’t help but think — what a year this has been! I start­ed 2020 — what was sup­posed to be my sec­ond year as Di­rec­tor-Elect — with news that our then Sec­tion Di­rec­tor, James Castañeda, AICP, was step­ping down and mov­ing out of the region.

My ex­pedited transi­tion into the role of Section Director was quickly followed by the growing concerns of Covid-19 and a life of shelter­ing-in-place. This change-on-top-of-change reminds me of the need to be flexible and to follow through on what I stated in my first Director’s note: “Commit to being a little terrified every day.”

I have indeed been “a little terrified every day,” but I have also been thankful for, and amazed at, the willingness of folks to help, come together, and find meaningful solutions. I saw that in the world around me, including with our amazing board members.

I feel honored to serve (virtually, of course) with board members who consistently rise to the challenge and push the envelope to serve our members and advance our profession. We are fortunate to have such a dedicated and creative group, and I couldn’t be prouder of the resilience they showed in these challenging times.

While we’ve had to change the format of our events and how we communicate with each other, we’ve adapted. We continue to provide quality programming and we’ve expanded our reach.

We paused some events — or course-corrected — to adapt to the “new normal”: We helped plan the Chapter’s first virtual conference, which highlighted issues around diversity, housing, and the future of our profession. And we’re planning our first virtual holiday party, celebrating #PlanningPositivity to focus on the many great things that happened this year.

Our incoming Section Director, Florentina Craciun, AICP, has served on the Board since 2012 in a number of capacities, including Membership Director, East Bay Regional Activities Coordinator, and Awards Program Co-Director. She has big things planned for our Section in the coming two years and will guide us into our “newer normal” post-pandemic. Joining her are incoming Director-Elect Michael Cass, and continuing Administrative Director Veronica Flores, who were elected to two-year terms beginning January 1, 2021. All will serve through December 31, 2022, as will I, as Immediate Past Director.

We want YOU to join the Board

Do you want to be more involved with APA in the coming year? Are you ready to use your skills to benefit our Northern Section? Consider joining the Board. We need a treasurer to serve out the remainder of Michael’s term (through 2021). We also have several vacant board and committee positions waiting for you. For additional information on these positions and how to apply, please contact Florentina Craciun, AICP, at

Happy Holidays!

I hope to see you at our first virtual holiday celebration, where you can reconnect with your peers and have some fun as we embrace #PlanningPositivity!

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Call for nominations, Northern Section Treasurer

Call for nominations, Northern Section Treasurer

Do you want to be more involved with APA? Do you want to serve your fellow Northern Section members? Consider joining your Northern Section Board as Treasurer!

In general, the Treasurer’s duties include preparing an annual budget, keeping track of all Section accounts and funds, submitting financial reports to the Section Board, and submitting a year-end financial report to the Chapter. As a Section member, you may nominate yourself or another Section member by providing a candidate’s statement (max. 500 words) and a résumé by Sunday, January 3, 2021.

Treasurer candidates should have a working knowledge of accounting procedures, including posting debits and credits into accounting software, balancing accounts, and reconciling statements. The Treasurer shall (1) Prepare an annual Section budget for submittal to the Section Director; (2) Receive and be held accountable for all Section accounts and funds and properly authorize the disbursement of said funds, including those received through an electronic transfer website; (3) Collect or designate a person responsible to collect money at events that require a fee; (4) Work with any bookkeeper or other finance professional hired to assist with prescribed financial duties, such as tax and annual reporting requirements; (5) Submit financial reports to the Section Board; and (6) Submit quarterly financial reports, including an end-of-year financial report, to the Chapter.

Upon election, the Section Treasurer will complete the remainder of a term that concludes on December 31, 2021. Candidates must be an APA member current in dues and reside and practice planning within the Northern Section.

Submit a candidate’s statement summarizing qualifications (maximum 500 words) and a résumé to Section Director-Elect Florentina Craciun, AICP, at by Sunday, January 3, 2021. Questions? Contact or

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