Day: August 14, 2021

Northern News September 2021

Northern News September 2021

Northern News


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

Making great communities happen

Northern Section news, views, and announcements

Planning news roundup

Assembled by Richard Davis, AICP Candidate, associate editor

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Major changes to minimum parking standards could be ahead in San Jose

By Bryanna Paz, KALW, August 11, 2021. City officials argue this will reduce the number of single-occupant vehicle commuter trips.

Humboldt County, ‘where climate and Covid migration converge’

By Sarah Holder, Bloomberg CityLab, August 9, 2021. With climate change, Covid, and a housing crunch, Humboldt County has become a refuge for people in high fire risk areas.

California Supreme Court denies review in Berkeley Shellmound case

By Wendel Rosen LLP, August 2, 2021. Justices uphold Court of Appeal’s view that projects qualifying under SB 35 are protected from local historic preservation controls.

Blue Ribbon Task Force approves transit action plan reform in the Bay Area

By Curtis Driscoll, San Mateo Daily Journal, July 29, 2021. The plan calls for improving service, evaluating funding, and completing a business-case analysis of potential transit network management reforms by mid-2022.

Largest solar plant in Bay Area opposed by Livermore farmers and environmentalists

By Mark Chediak, Bloomberg Green, July 29, 2021. To meet its goal of a carbon-neutral grid by 2045, California will need to triple its annual solar and wind installations.

The solution to Mendocino’s water shortage might involve a very old train

By Kurtis Alexander, San Francisco Chronicle, July 29, 2021. If an emergency fix like the old train is agreed upon, there are still questions about the long-term viability of Mendocino’s water supply.

Building trades push for union workforce in affordable housing bills

By Manuela Tobias, East Bay Times, July 27, 2021. The State Building and Construction Trades council claims non-union construction workers “barely float above the poverty line.”

Op-Ed: “It’s hard to have faith in a state that can’t even house its people”

By Ned Resnikoff, New York Times, July 26, 2021. Homelessness is a humanitarian disaster and a threat to democracy. The cost to overcome it will be high, but the cost of inaction is far higher.

State takes initiative to promote 230-unit Marin housing project

By Richard Halstead, Marin Independent Journal, July 24, 2021. The project is one of ten following an executive order to create an inventory of state-owned parcels suitable for expedited housing development.

‘Present-day redlining’: Black Bay Area homeowners say their properties are being undervalued

By Lauren Hepler, San Francisco Chronicle, July 23, 2021. The federal government has already vowed to recommend appraisal reforms.

Urban farm housing project moves forward in Santa Clara

Stephanie Lam, San Jose Spotlight, July 22, 2021. The developer estimates that the project will account for roughly 10 percent of Santa Clara’s low-income housing target.

Alameda may provide tiny cabins, motel rooms, for homeless residents

By Peter Hegarty, East Bay Times, July 21, 2021. Alameda is still exploring how to implement new permanent housing for the area’s unhoused people.

Bay Area refineries must dramatically cut pollution, Air District says in historic vote

By Ted Goldberg, KQED, July 21, 2021. Air district staff said the rule change will save lives and millions of dollars in health costs.

Visual report: How sea level rise threatens the Bay Area’s roads

By John King, San Francisco Chronicle, July 16, 2021. Sonoma County’s Highway 37 provides a dramatic example of flooding vulnerabilities in the Bay Area’s highway system.

This is how much single-family zoning is costing San Franciscans

By Susie Neilson, San Francisco Chronicle, July 12, 2021. A pair of University of Pennsylvania researchers quantified increased land costs due to “restrictive zoning” in SF and other US cities.

SF clashes with scooter company over permit violations: City wins

By Carly Graf, San Francisco Examiner, July 7, 2021. Scoot is out. Two scooter companies remain as options to cover transit service gaps left by the pandemic.

Wealth, class, and remote work reshape California’s boomtowns

By Sarah Parvini, Los Angeles Times, July 2, 2021. Higher-earning migrants also are creating new jobs for working-class locals.

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Meet a local planner: Dr. Don Bradley

Meet a local planner: Dr. Don Bradley

Photo of Donald W. Bradley in a causal zip-up sweaterDonald W. Bradley, AICP, Ph.D., is a Planning Commissioner for the City of San Carlos. He has served on APA’s Northern Section Board since 1984, most notably donating his time to teach and lead AICP Exam preparation classes for countless planners since 1990. His distinguished career spans more than 60 years and has taken him around the world on large-scale and complex planning projects. After earning an MS in city and regional planning from USC, he served in the United States Air Force as a base planning officer, retiring as a colonel in the California Air National Guard. He holds a Ph.D. in planning from the University of Michigan (1979), a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Pacific Graduate School of Psychology (1994, now Palo Alto University), worked as a practicing psychologist, is a Fellow in the American Psychotherapy Association, and taught at a number of universities. He received an APA Northern Section Award of Excellence in 2009.

Interviewer Catarina Kidd, AICP: Your undergraduate degree is in architecture. How did you become interested in planning? 

Bradley: At USC, I took a class on the history of cities. I loved that planning involved the physical, design, social, economic, and political aspects of a whole region, affecting millions of people over decades. I stayed on at USC and was one of the first 10 students to get a master’s in planning there.

What else influenced your early career?

After completing my master’s degree in 1962, I entered the USAF as a second lieutenant. I had the option of training to be a pilot, but knew it would involve dropping bombs on people. I couldn’t do that. I instead chose to be a base planning officer and served at Pope Air Force Base in Fort Bragg, NC, during the Vietnam War.

What impact did traveling have on your work?

Traveling has been an important part of my life and practice. I visited many garden cities and new towns in the UK, and I prepared a plan for Ciudad Guyana in Venezuela. My time in the Michigan and California Air National Guards enabled me to visit all 50 states, Europe, and Vietnam. I came back to northern California to design a clinic at Moffett Field. After that active duty tour, I became a community planner for the US Navy and prepared a plan for Adak Island in the Aleutians.

Why did you get a Ph.D. in clinical psychology?

I believe we need to merge planning and psychology. Day-to-day life affects our minds and behavior, i.e., it is psychological. Do you have trees, parks, and adequate medical care? How quickly can you get to resources? So, elements that affect our health must be included in our planning. After my Ph.D. program, I spent a decade at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View working with mental health patients and on the interdisciplinary relationship between public health and urban planning.

You worked full time while pursuing your Ph.D. How would you advise planners who may be thinking about, but fear such a challenge?

We never know what we can do until we try. I guarantee that you have to be brave to try something like that. But if it doesn’t work, don’t keep at it; try something else. Honestly, I wonder how I did it — working, going to school at night, with really young children, traveling. If you analyze it, there is no way. But if you are curious and passionate, try it, and it may well work out. Knowledge comes from taking such a step.

In what ways can we enrich our planning careers?

Urban planners shouldn’t stick to just one thing; don’t work solely for cities. Maybe serve on a planning commission. Work for a variety of employers: a developer, or a one-person shop, or a planning consulting firm. If you are in private practice, spend some time in a city or county agency. Add dimension to what you are doing.

The different perspectives will make you more effective. When I worked with addicts — some were suicidal — their struggles changed my perspective, and I became more progressive after that experience.

How did you manage to teach throughout your career?

After serving at Ft. Bragg, I stayed in North Carolina as the planning director at the City of Southern Pines. I then used the GI Bill to start a Ph.D. program in planning — with a teaching fellowship — at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Next, I taught full time at Michigan State University. Teaching at Northwestern Polytechnic University (in Fremont, CA) for a dozen years enabled me to teach in Korea and China.

You have been the AICP Exam prep coach for three decades, but doesn’t your volunteer work extend well beyond that?

Volunteering is my passion. I believe in giving back to the profession. I volunteered to work in Africa and prepared plans for the capital of Eritrea when it became independent from Ethiopia in 1993. I have been on the San Carlos Planning Commission and the city’s Residential Design Review Committee for the past five years. I also serve as a chaplain in a veterans’ organization, and I was the first president of PEN, the California Planners Emeritus Network.

Bird colonel in camo and cap playing trumpet
Colonel Donald Bradley of the California Air National Guard sounds taps on Veterans Day, November 11, 2012.

So, what does retirement mean to you?

Life should be more than working, even if you love to work. I am busier than ever. I have two daughters and three sons, ages 44-57, who live all over the country. I enjoy Corvettes, Jaguars, and playing my trumpet in a band. I never thought I would retire, but I replaced “working” with “learning.” We all can learn as we go along.

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

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Municipalities pay millions to religious groups wrongly denied zoning approval

Municipalities pay millions to religious groups wrongly denied zoning approval

By Noel W. Sterett, July 30, 2021

As we look to address the vestiges of historic wrongs done to various minorities in our communities, we should not ignore the persecution of religious minorities and their houses of worship. Mosques have been attacked. Synagogues have been vandalized in several major cities. Jewish Americans have even been excluded from certain neighborhoods or entire towns.

Discriminatory zoning is still a vibrant practice that disproportionately affects Jewish Americans. While Jews make up roughly 2 percent of the American population, nearly 15 percent of all reported federal religious land use cases involve Jewish assemblies or institutions.

The first zoning codes were developed in the 1920s, and in 1926, the Supreme Court ruled that zoning codes were generally a proper exercise of the government’s police power. Many zoning codes were created for benign reasons, others for overtly bigoted ones, but for the next 60 years, zoning codes expanded in scope and proliferated, largely unchecked by the courts.

In 1985, in Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, the Supreme Court finally struck down a zoning code for discriminating against the intellectually disabled in violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. But the decision did little to slow zoning and land use as one of the most powerful and effective ways to direct the future of a community.

As zoning powers expanded, religious and racial minorities were often the ones that suffered. Local zoning boards were increasingly vested with discretionary authority over who went where and on what conditions. Religious assemblies in particular found themselves up against unequal and burdensome regulations that made it nearly impossible to locate in their community. Some codes excluded new religious assemblies and institutions altogether. Others imposed unequal permitting requirements that subjected religious groups to zoning approval procedures that added time and costs to their projects.

In 2000, Congress responded to the mounting evidence that municipalities were abusing their zoning powers by enacting the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and for the past 20 years, RLUIPA has helped thousands of religious groups overcome zoning barriers. In several widely reported cases, courts have ordered municipalities to pay millions of dollars to Jewish groups that were wrongly denied zoning approval.

But it still remains a relatively unknown and under-enforced statute. Far too many municipalities still know nothing about RLUIPA, and far too many religious groups suffer because they don’t know that a strong federal civil rights law is available to them. For every reported lawsuit, there are likely many others that were never filed because of a lack of familiarity with RLUIPA.

In some cases, the Justice Department has had to intervene to enforce RLUIPA’s provisions. In Hollywood Hills, Florida, local authorities harassed a synagogue’s congregation with parking tickets and then revoked its initial zoning approval, calling the synagogue “too controversial” and saying it would “never fit in Hollywood Hills.” After years of litigation, the city settled the case by paying the synagogue $2 million in damages and attorneys’ fees. As part of the settlement, the city also agreed to train its employees and leaders on the requirements of RLUIPA.

In one of our Michigan cases, an Islamic community center was denied zoning approval for a new mosque even though it met all the code requirements. There was tremendous opposition from neighbors, and one planning commissioner even said that if the mosque was a church there would be no problem approving it. Ultimately, after a lawsuit was filed, the City eventually settled the case and allowed the mosque to be built — albeit years after it should have been built.

If we are to ensure that all Americans can find a safe place to flourish and worship in our communities, we need to increase awareness of RLUIPA among our city officials so that its terms are not violated. Our municipalities must acknowledge and respect the rights of all Americans to assemble and worship in our communities.

Noel W. Sterett is an attorney and partner with Dalton & Tomich, PLC. He has practiced law for 14 years and devotes much of his practice to defending religious property rights in courts across the country. You can reach him at

A version of this article was previously distributed by Religious News Service.

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“Eliminating” single-family zoning?

“Eliminating” single-family zoning?

By Tom Pace, Community Development Director, Sacramento

We have heard many conversations, seen many initiatives, and witnessed significant pushback, about proposals to “eliminate” single-family zoning. Requirements for ADUs are already pushing our neighborhoods to higher densities. Various studies, and books like The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein, discuss and dissect the structural discrimination caused and perpetuated by single-family zoning. Yet today’s segregation was not necessarily caused by the single-family homes that were built, but by the redlining that kept specific ethnic groups and races out of the neighborhoods where those houses lie.

At the same time, we must recognize that one size — one solution — will not fit all cities or neighborhoods.

What is the City of Sacramento doing about the problem?

Our city plans to allow duplex, triplex, and fourplex units in our current single-dwelling zones.

This is a big piece of the missing middle housing puzzle.

We are not eliminating single-family housing; we are increasing housing opportunities in our most desirable neighborhoods. But we are eliminating most, if not all, of the exclusive aspects of single-family zoning.

Our approach will allow people who can afford it to rent in a nice neighborhood — but who don’t have the credit rating or downpayment savings to actually buy a home there. And by using existing land and infrastructure to serve the construction of new and smaller homes, we are helping to create market-rate affordability.

Initially, we focused on rental units, but with SB 9 it may be possible for vacant lots and apartment buildings to be subdivided and sold, creating additional ownership/affordability options.

How are we proposing to accomplish this?

We start with the General Plan. It has a new Guiding Principle, adopted in January of this year, to allow a greater variety of housing types.

Currently, we are developing specific goal and policy language to implement the guiding principle. We will follow this with zoning code amendments and updated design standards. We also intend to eliminate all parking requirements citywide, but allowing new and different types of housing is the number one issue raised.

Once we get the general plan adopted, we expect more heavy lifting. The zoning code will assume all resulting units will be built by right — in alignment with SB35 and with Sacramento’s ministerial approval policy.

Anticipated issues

  1. Parking. We plan to eliminate minimum parking. Doing so will be critical to allowing more units and to keeping them affordable. New approaches to on-street parking regulation and parking supply management will be needed.
  2. Bulk and scale. Highrises, etc., will not be the case with the development standards and development types we are exploring. We plan to update our development standards to ensure that new and expanded buildings are compatible with existing neighborhood scale.

    Duplex (double driveway) on a single lot in a 1970s single-family subdivision in Palo Alto. Photo: Naphtali H. Knox, FAICP, 1985
  3. Affordability. Inclusionary housing and zoning ordinances do not typically cover small-scale developments. Smaller units are key — they are a potential way for the market to provide “market-rate affordable housing” and also help with bulk and scale concerns.
  4. ADUs. Still to be determined are the interactions with ADU provisions and regulations, since we currently allow two ADUs per lot.

Why is Sacramento motivated to do this?

  1. Race and class. Single-family zoning is rooted in racism and class-ism. We see this in the Supreme Court decision that called apartments “parasites in single-family neighborhoods.” We will be eliminating a glaring example of historical, structural discrimination.
  2. AFFH. We need to affirmatively further fair housing by increasing affordable housing opportunities in high-opportunity neighborhoods.
  3. RHNA capacity. Do we need to do this for RHNA capacity? Maybe not on paper, but in reality, yes, I think so. This may vary by community, but from a statewide perspective, probably yes, especially because meeting RHNA is by itself not enough to solve the full extent of the housing problem.

Along with ADUs, the additional and smaller unit types will allow existing homeowners to generate income — new income streams — from their property. This could help elderly owners stay in their homes, or allow middle-aged parents to help their kids with a place to live.

  1. The environment. TODs and commercial corridors are often the first places to which we look for added density, but most of the land in our communities is not in those places. If we truly want walkable neighborhoods, we need a little bit more density to support shops, community amenities, and efficient transit.

What will these neighborhoods look like? Look at the 1920s neighborhoods that were built before zoning and that have not changed.

  1. Ethics. The biggest reason for doing this, in my mind, is that it is the ethical thing to do.

What is our basis for single-family zoning? It’s the police power to protect public health, safety, and the general welfare. How is it that we can use that power to prevent the construction of duplexes, triplexes, or fourplexes? How do those harm the public?

“Protecting” single-family neighborhoods feels and sounds wrong to me. From what and from whom are we protecting them? Banning small multi-unit dwellings has caused greater harm to the public than could come from allowing them.

Politics — the unexpected and inexplicable

Our general plan policy is already leading to lawn signs. For our policies to be successful, we may very well require campaign-style efforts by community supporters. City staff and planners cannot make this happen by themselves.

Photo of the authorTom Pace is Director of Community Development for the City of Sacramento. This article is based on his presentation on the subject to the California Planning Roundtable on July 16, 2021. Except for a two-year stint as deputy director of community development for Stockton (2015-2017), Mr. Pace has been with the City of Sacramento for all of the 21st Century. You can reach him at

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Why zoning for Middle Housing doesn’t make it so

Why zoning for Middle Housing doesn’t make it so

By David Driskell with Ian Carlton, Tyler Bump, and Michelle Anderson, August 11, 2021

You can’t always get what you want.

Over several decades, detached, for-sale, single-family homes, and larger rental apartment buildings have dominated new construction. This has been driven by a combination of land use regulations, lending practices, construction litigation risk, and market forces — leaving duplexes, triplexes, townhomes, and small apartment or condo buildings largely out of the mix. In response, many communities and the State of California are looking at ways to reintroduce neighborhood-scaled “missing middle” housing in existing single-family neighborhoods, driven by the desire to provide more diverse and more affordable living opportunities, including more affordable for-sale housing.

At the state level, Senate Bill 9 is currently the highest-profile effort to open up single-family neighborhoods to more diverse housing. Similar to the state’s recent ADU legislation, it would create a way to subdivide lots and to build duplexes, either through conversion of existing homes or new construction. It would, in effect, replace single-family zoning with duplex zoning in much of the state. Not surprisingly, SB9 is getting a lot of attention and opposition.

A two-story duplex
This two-story duplex was built on a single lot in a 1980s single-family subdivision of a former school. The small subdivision has another duplex. Photo: Naphtali H. Knox, FAICP

Driven by desires for greater affordability, choice, inclusion, and equity, plus a strong need for more housing overall, Sacramento, San Jose, San Diego, Berkeley, and other cities in and beyond California are contemplating a wide range of changes to single-family zoning to drive different outcomes, including middle housing.

Proposing changes to single-family zoning is not for the faint of heart. Few neighborhoods embrace change. Current residents like where they live and don’t see why they should sacrifice and change to accommodate newcomers. That attitude may be shifting as more homeowners experience the impact of the housing shortage (as they look to downsize, or their kids look to move), but rezoning single-family neighborhoods remains the third rail of land use planning.

We have been working with jurisdictions to help them understand whether taking this bold step will help achieve their goals. The results are not always what you might expect.

If you zone it, will they come?

It takes more than a zoning revision to facilitate change on the ground. Property owners, investors, builders, and buyers have to align around the opportunity and be willing to make the effort, and all will need to see a higher economic return before shifting from ‘what is’ to ‘what could be.’ There are zone districts in every community that neither produced the development envisioned nor fulfilled their potential until conditions changed and development interests responded.

Over the past months, we analyzed potential “middle housing” rezonings for several Bay Area and Central Coast communities. While we cannot share the specifics of the analyses, we can share our insights:

The results were similar in each case. Even with the opportunity to create two or more units on a property, single-family homes are often the most economically feasible option, whether by retaining an existing home or building a new one.

While many variables (such as local housing prices and demand, land and development costs, and jurisdiction-specific development standards and processes) determine the potential, we found that the overall impact of switching from “single-family” to “duplex/triplex/townhome” does not have the outcome some hope for and others fear.

Different housing types are arrayed on a long city block, from detached single-family houses at one end to mid-rise apartments at the other end
“Middle housing” encompasses a wide range of housing types in between detached single-family homes and mid-rise apartment buildings. While these housing types were more commonly built in the past, very few have been built in recent decades. Credit: Opticos Design

In one analysis completed for a strong market jurisdiction considering expanding existing medium-density zoning to adjacent areas, we found the expansion would be unlikely to create market-feasible opportunities for middle housing types in the rezoned areas. In fact, in a process that is already underway, older duplex and triplex units are being purchased and converted to luxury single-family homes, and the jurisdiction will likely see a continued loss of existing middle housing in current medium-density zones.

A similar conclusion was reached when the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at UC Berkeley worked with Mapcraft Labs to complete a statewide analysis of the potential impact of SB9. Their study found that the proposed SB9 legislation would enable newly feasible development (i.e., add financial feasibility where it was previously infeasible) on just 1.5 percent of parcels with existing single-family homes statewide. And only a portion of those physically and financially feasible development opportunities would actually be realized because they are largely dependent on individual property-owner decisions. While some regions and jurisdictions would see more opportunities (and some would see fewer), there is no evidence that the legislation would lead to wholesale change in single-family neighborhoods. On the contrary, the analysis suggests that many neighborhoods would see no change at all.

But why would that be?

The reasons vary. Housing submarkets differ widely, as do the specifics of any parcel or neighborhood and the local regulations that enable or inhibit development. That said, there are several important, high-level dynamics behind the not-really-that-surprising results.

First, there are a lot of wealthy households in California generally and the Bay Area specifically, and they like living in single-family homes. Combine that with a finite supply of single-family homes in highly desirable neighborhoods close to jobs, services, and amenities, and you have the price escalation we have seen in the past decade as well as the analysis results described above. People who can will pay a premium for a single-family home. Duplexes, triplexes, and townhomes may not be cheap, but they are generally smaller and offer less privacy. And they may not be as easy to finance, so they do not bring the top dollar commanded by a larger single-family home. In many communities, the strongest housing trend is in replacing older “modest” single-family homes with larger, high-end single-family homes. Even with a change in the underlying zoning to allow more units, that trend is unlikely to change soon.

Second, even luxury single-family rentals can produce enough income to out-compete other housing types and justify second home purchases by households with the means. This varies widely across jurisdictions and locations, but in many communities, high-end single-family rentals are hot. Even where short-term rentals (less than 30 days) are not allowed, the monthly rental income for a high-end single-family home ($8k and up) can outperform the economics of either for-sale or rental duplexes. In communities where short-term rentals are allowed, luxury single-family home rentals are often the hands-down winner.

Third, and on the supply side of the equation, the complexities and realities of development standards, fees, and processes can undermine the physical and economic feasibility of multi-unit developments despite the best intentions. Depending on the lot size and configuration, the combination of parking standards, setback requirements, height limits, FAR, minimum lot size requirements, and/or lot coverage limits can make a multi-unit development economically infeasible. Fees can be structured to advantage multi-unit developments, but scale benefits are rare. While some SB9 provisions and local code changes can reduce or eliminate some of these challenges, the complexities of implementation can be a significant deterrent to multi-unit development compared to a single-family home.

What’s a planner to do?

While planners can’t control the market, they can help ensure that market realities and development economics are front-and-center when crafting (or even just considering) zoning and development standards to achieve community-desired outcomes. (If you’re going to touch the third rail, be sure it’s for a good reason!)

Every jurisdiction has specific context issues that will shape the housing solution that works best for them; but if you want to give middle housing development an edge in the marketplace, consider these actions:

  • Link structure size limits to the number of units to be created. If the structure is for a single-family home, it should have a smaller maximum size than if it is going to be for two or more units. This can help respond to the issue of older homes being bulldozed and replaced with large new single-family homes, creating more bulk but not more housing. At a minimum, scale and building size limits for middle housing should not be more restrictive than for new single-family detached homes.
  • In medium-density zones, make single-family a conditional or prohibited use. While existing single-family homes would remain, this change can head off the loss of older multi-unit housing to single-family development while also encouraging middle housing when properties transfer and redevelop.
  • Stop controlling density through units-per-acre. Many people think that controlling “dwelling units per acre” (DUA) will result in attractive low-density or mixed-density neighborhoods. But a low DUA can result in plenty of bulky, oversized single-family homes. Raise the DUA and expand the allowable range so that middle housing types are achievable — and/or shift to form-based standards to control building bulk while allowing multiple units within the building envelope. (And don’t require larger minimum lot sizes for multi-unit developments.)

    This diagram shows six structures of roughly the same size, but each structure has a different number of units, varying from one to four
    The City of Portland’s Residential Infill Project created new rules to allow more housing types in many residential zones and allow larger building envelopes for structures with more units. Credit: City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability
  • Focus middle housing in areas where it’s most desired. There’s a growing part of the market that is happy to choose smaller housing units in locations that are walkable and rich with amenities, close to neighborhood commercial districts and to great transit. These areas are where middle housing is likely to perform well compared to residential areas where car travel dominates.
  • Revise parking standards to facilitate multi-unit development. If your zoning says a triplex is allowed, but your parking standards require 1.5 or 2 spaces per unit, it’s unlikely that a triplex is feasible on most residential parcels. That’s true physically in terms of the space required, and true economically based on the cost of structured parking. As a starting point, consider reducing or even eliminating parking requirements for middle housing within walking distance of major transit and services. Another approach is to establish off-site parking policy and let the market determine on-site parking.
  • Ease the process for middle housing. Permitting time and costs can affect all types of development, but it shouldn’t be more onerous to gain approval for middle housing than for a single-family home. That’s especially important while the market is first responding to new middle housing opportunities. Minimize discretionary review for middle housing and avoid conditional use restrictions for middle housing in lower density zones.

The bottom line

Successful middle housing outcomes are possible, but they won’t happen just because we add them to the list of allowed uses. As in most rezoning, change will be incremental. Take the long view. Pay careful attention to the market dynamics that drive development decision-making as you craft land-use policies that — over time — can create more integrated, more affordable neighborhoods, with a diversity of housing.

To craft middle-housing zoning for your jurisdiction, use the many great resources out there, and learn from your peer cities.

  • One of the more comprehensive policy projects, adopted in Portland, OR, in 2020, has online resources worth visiting — and a recent article in Sightline tells the story of how the policy went from idea to reality (avoiding eight brushes with death along the way).
  • A great website launched in 2016 by Opticos Design, Missing Middle Housing, and a book of the same title by Daniel Parolek, provide a great introduction to the topic, case studies, and detailed guidance for crafting regulatory frameworks that enable and encourage middle housing outcomes.
  • And if you’re a planner in a Bay Area jurisdiction, consider joining the Missing Middle Work Group launching in late August. It is sponsored by ABAG under their REAP-funded Housing Technical Assistance Program, and features experts from both Opticos Design and ECONorthwest.

The four authors

Author David Driskell (left) is a founding principal at Baird+Driskell Community Planning. He recently returned to the practice after two decades teaching participatory planning at Cornell University; serving as Executive Director of Planning, Housing, and Sustainability for the City of Boulder, CO; and serving as Deputy Director for Planning and Community Development for the City of Seattle. You can reach him at

Co-author Ian Carlton (second from left) is co-founder of Oakland-based MapCraft Inc. and directs ECONorthwest teams in the customization of MapCraft’s web applications for public and private sector clients to aid their policymaking, urban planning, and investment decision making. You can reach him at

Co-author Tyler Bump (near right) is a Project Director at ECONorthwest with a professional focus on the intersection of land use planning and real estate investment, particularly in advising clients on middle housing implementation. He has worked with the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development to help develop statewide model code and minimum compliance standards for HB2001, Oregon’s landmark statewide middle housing bill, and supported middle housing code implementation for cities across the West Coast. You can reach him at

Technical contributor Michelle Anderson (far right) is a Project Manager at ECONorthwest who specializes in real estate, land use, and affordable housing policy. She brings her experience developing affordable and conventional multi-family housing to her work conducting development feasibility analysis for public sector clients to support equitable development outcomes. You can reach her at

Ed. Note: A one-hour Zoom class on The Missing MiddleHow to build homes for the Middle Class — will be held September 14 at Noon.

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States buying hotels for short- and long-term housing for wildfire survivors

States buying hotels for short- and long-term housing for wildfire survivors

By Julie Strupp, July 27, 2021 

A three-story motel with five blue entry doors on each floor faces a parking lot in which a single red truck is parked
This hotel in McMinnville in Yamhill County, Oregon has been converted under Project Turnkey into transitional housing. So far 75 percent of clients there have navigated to permanent housing. (Photo courtesy Providence and Oregon Community Foundation)

The climate crisis is already exacerbating the housing crisis. Last year, wildfires burned and damaged about 17,700 structures in the US. It was one of the most destructive seasons on record, and frighteningly, part of an upward trend. Wildfires are already contributing to housing shortages in California and Oregon. Texas, Washington, and Colorado have also lost a significant number of buildings to fire in recent years. In the past decade, climate change-fueled natural disasters drove internal displacement worldwide and forced 20 million people from their homes each year, per the UN.

That’s why some wildfire-prone areas are reworking emergency pandemic housing initiatives to shelter residents affected by extreme weather. Oregon and California are renting and purchasing hotels to house residents who have lost their homes to wildfire, as well as unhoused people living in fire-prone areas. They’re also converting some of the units into transitional and permanent affordable housing, depending on the needs of the community.

“In one single investment, you can add emergency shelter and also address the root cause of long-term lack of affordable housing,” says Megan Loeb, program officer at Oregon Community Foundation. The foundation oversees the state’s Project Turnkey, which launched in October 2020 to convert hotels to various types of housing. She adds that hotels and motels can almost immediately shelter people — plus they’re more welcoming to families and LGBTQ people, and safer during a pandemic, than congregate housing.

As pandemic initiatives demonstrated, hotels and motels are much easier to adapt than, say, office buildings, and retrofitting is a faster and cheaper solution than building from scratch. Plus, repurposing existing structures like hotels is more environmentally friendly. Even people living in encampments who are loath to go into shelters tend to be more open to staying in hotels, advocates say. Many hotel owners are open to selling, given how COVID-19 has decimated the tourism industry, and owners are generally reimbursed well, according to Bloomberg.

California’s Project Homekey launched last June with $846 million in state and federal emergency funds to purchase hotels and establish permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness. Over six months, it created 6,029 new units of permanent housing. On July 12, Gov. Gavin Newsom expanded the program with $12 billion over two years to create another 42,000 units — the largest such investment in state history.

Seeing California’s success, Oregon launched a Project Turnkey in the wake of the 2020 Labor Day fires, the state’s most destructive blaze on record. In one weekend, 4,500 homes were lost, many of them affordable. The wildfire devastation plus the ongoing pandemic meant shelters were full and also dangerous. The state was already mulling a program like Turnkey, and the fire created a new urgency. As part of a larger wildfire relief package, Oregon allocated $65 million for nonprofit partners to purchase and renovate 18-20 hotels, with the goal of housing 1,000 people for up to a year, providing them with tailored supportive services, and funneling them into other permanent housing. $30 million of this was for six rural counties hardest-hit by the fires, and the remaining $35 million for shelter throughout the state for anyone experiencing homelessness.

“Project Turnkey really represents the state’s biggest investment in direct homeless services,” says Rep. Pam Marsh (D-Ashland), a key champion for Project Turnkey whose district was hard-hit by the fires. “I think this can be game-changing, because we’re able to give communities real assets that will be centers of activity for homeless services. Once you have a foot on the ground, more things are possible.”

In its first phase, Turnkey added almost 900 beds over 19 properties in 13 counties in less than eight months — a roughly 20 percent increase in Oregon’s supply of emergency year-round shelter beds. The program partners are gradually adapting the hotel units into permanently affordable housing, adding amenities like kitchenettes to bring them up to code, according to Loeb. At the end of April 2021, Oregon passed a bill that eases the ability to convert hotels into shelter and housing. In June 2021, Oregon approved another $9.7 million for Turnkey to fully fund approved projects and create 132 more units of emergency housing.

“[Project Turnkey] addresses about one-tenth of the need in Oregon. It’s a very important piece of the puzzle, but it’s only a piece,” says Gina Nikkel, Executive Director of the Association of Oregon Counties, which has been involved with Project Turnkey since its inception. She says many of the Turnkey clients have experienced trauma, and stresses the importance of wraparound services in helping the project succeed. “Those displaced by COVID might need food brought to them, those hit by wildfires might need services to help them rebuild their home or to find permanent affordable housing, and those with mental health issues or addiction also need specialized help.”

Temporarily housing people in hotels isn’t a new idea, but the practice accelerated during the pandemic as cities rented out hotels to shelter the homeless and give hotels a boost. Converting them into permanent shelter is more novel, but King County near Seattle — where the coronavirus first began to spread in the US — is one making a large investment. The county ran a successful “hotels to shelter” experiment that it’s reworking to address chronic homelessness, with $350 million to buy and convert hotels into long-term housing. It just purchased its fourth hotel.

Adding to the urgency of this moment, the CDC’s eviction moratorium is set to expire at the end of July. Housing advocates have been sounding the alarm about a potential wave of evictions, and Black and Latinx tenants and small landlords will likely be hardest-hit. Wildfires and other natural disasters tend to impact marginalized communities the most — including people of color, low income people, and people with disabilities — who tend to be more exposed to dangerous conditions and have fewer resources to turn to afterward. Essentially, extreme weather multiplies existing housing shortages and inequalities, a 2019 Center for American Progress (CAP) study shows.

It’s important to consider affordable housing and climate change together, according to Guillermo Ortiz, formerly a housing and climate researcher with CAP who worked on the report. After a natural disaster, typically “this housing is not replaced on a one-to-one basis. Often the little affordable housing you have is being destroyed by these extreme weather events.”

“Policy issues are looked at in silos, but the problem with climate change is that it affects everything,” Ortiz says. “When we’re thinking about climate resistance plans, housing should absolutely be part of the discussion.”

Santa Barbara, California, is attempting to do exactly that. It recently approved a pilot initiative to lease a hotel and provide wraparound services for homeless residents living in “fire-prone encampments” for 120 days. In May, the city saw a streak of 18 small fires in densely vegetated homeless encampments. Amid this was the Loma Fire, which was reportedly set on purpose by a person using methamphetamine. It forced the evacuation of a neighborhood, ultimately consuming nine acres and sparking panic among residents that a similar blaze in different conditions could burn the city.

“The Loma Fire was really the impetus to make something happen now,” said Jeff Shaffer, a housing advocate in Santa Barbara with S.B. Alliance for Community Transformation who is involved in the project. He says two weeks in, the county has already housed 39 people in the Rose Garden Inn and put them on the path to permanent housing — and there haven’t been any complaints from the neighbors. He chalks this up to extensive relationship-building.

“You’ve got to get the community behind it so they’re not opposing it, and you’ve got to get the people on the streets on board so they’re supporting it. These are the two key things,” said Shaffer. He says it’s important to ask people experiencing homelessness what they want, and to ensure that business owners and other community members feel heard and understand the program. Depending on his audience, he emphasizes the cost-saving benefit of housing the homeless, or the ethical mandate to do so. “That balance ultimately helps us push our solutions through when we need to.”

This article was originally published in Backyard, a Next City newsletter exploring scalable solutions to make housing fairer, more affordable and more environmentally sustainable. Republished with permission.

Julie Strupp is a DC-based multimedia journalist driven to produce solutions-oriented public service reporting. She previously wrote about housing, transportation, climate, LGBTQ+ issues and more, for publications like Greater Greater Washington, DCist/WAMU, Streetsblog, Washingtonian magazine, and others.

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Locals win state and national APA Awards

Locals win state and national APA Awards

As they have every year, northern California planning programs and projects have again been recognized for their excellence. Here’s a rundown of who won state and national awards in 2021.


Award of Excellence

Transportation Planning Award – Richmond Ferry to Bridge to Greenway Complete Streets Plan, City of Richmond

Academic Award – Community Priorities for the Alum Rock Avenue Corridor, Department of Urban & Regional Planning, San Jose State University

Award of Merit

Grassroots Initiative Award – Rebuilding our Downtown, a Community Led Initiative to Rebuild Santa Clara Downtown, Reclaiming Our Downtown

Public Outreach Award – La Honda Public Access Working Group – Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District

Urban Design Award – The Balboa Reservoir Design Standards and Guidelines, Van Meter Williams Pollack Architecture | Urban Design

Hard-Won Victories Award – City of Half Moon Bay Local Coastal Land Use Plan Update, City of Half Moon Bay


From Planning magazine

“The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency won APA National’s award for Advancing Diversity and Social Change in Honor of Paul Davidoff for [its] dedication to reaching underrepresented communities through the Bayview Community Based Transportation Plan (Bayview CBTP).

“To ensure that trusted community partners were not tokenized during the process, planners worked directly with staff from each organization at every step of public outreach. Their input led to recommendations [such as] offering interpreters, full meals, and childcare at all stand-alone workshops. Innovative engagement techniques also included a Youth Transportation Summit, a documentary film developed by Bayview youth, and community recalibration of a GIS-based Equity Index tool.

“ ‘The value of planning,’ said project planner and engineer Ariel Ward, ‘is building relationships with people. It is serving people. …The heart of any good planning effort should be people.’ ”

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Northern Section congratulates our 24 successful May 2021 AICP Examinees

Northern Section congratulates our 24 successful May 2021 AICP Examinees

From APA Interact

“APA congratulates the 543 dedicated planners who passed the rigorous AICP Certification Exam in May. We now welcome (so far) 277 new AICP members and 119 AICP Candidates from this exam cycle.”

Kudos to all for your hard work and commitment to the planning profession.


Here are the names of our 18 new AICP members and six AICP Candidates. If you see an error or omission, please let us know at

Alexander Barton, AICP
Joshua Bevan, AICP
Lyne-Marie Bouvet, AICP
Paola Boylan, AICP
Erik Calloway, AICP
Beibei Chen, AICP
Annelise Dohrer, AICP
Claudia Garcia, AICP
Douglas Moody, AICP
Lu Pang, AICP
Alene Pearson, AICP
Allison Riemer, AICP
Emily Schwimmer, AICP
Samantha Suter, AICP
Caroline Swinehart, AICP
Andrew Trippel, AICP
Angela Xiong, AICP
Kaitlin Zitelli, AICP


Emilio Flamenco, AICP Candidate
Dhawal Kataria, AICP Candidate
Shu Pan, AICP Candidate
Gavin Lohry, AICP Candidate
Allison Quach, AICP Candidate
Quinn Wallace, AICP Candidate

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Snapshots of APA ethnicity and gender

Snapshots of APA ethnicity and gender

From APA National, July 6, 2021

“To support development of equity, diversity, and inclusion-related initiatives,” APA has provided “demographic breakdowns … of our [section’s] membership compared to APA’s overall membership.”

These two images are among five provided in APA’s PowerPoint, which is intended for easy presentation to any chapter members who might benefit from the information.

Among the notable demographic differences between national and our section, Northern Section’s membership is more female, Chinese, and Asian than the national APA membership, but is less Black and less White.

National plans to provide updates on a regular basis to help us understand who our members are as “a step toward promoting diversity and inclusion in the planning profession.”

Note: The categories used in this survey are consistent with those used by the U.S. Census.

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You are the Ace in the Hole; don’t count on anyone else
Career Advice

You are the Ace in the Hole; don’t count on anyone else

By Steve Matarazzo, August 1, 2021

I have been a practicing urban planner in California since 1972. Most of that time I’ve been in the public sector — the last seven years as adjunct staff to public agencies. Although I have been continuously employed, with only a few breaks for vacations and occasional illness, there have been times when my unbroken chain of employment was threatened. Those included (1) a major fiscal disruption in local government revenue caused by Proposition 13 (1978); (2) a major recession in the early 1980s which also reduced local government revenues; (3) the last major recession before the Pandemic (2009); (4) the dissolution of Redevelopment in 2011; and (5) the current Covid pandemic.

At one particular time during one of those crises, I was anxiously pondering my next employment move because budgets were being cut and I held a relatively low rank in the executive order. Some of my anxiety eased when I remembered something one of my previous bosses said to me when I left his employ. As I departed that former agency, he said to me (and I am paraphrasing only a little), “Steve, if you ever need a job, there will always be an opening for you here, for as long as I’m around.” Since that time, I felt I had an ace in the hole should the need arise.

Fast-forward a few years following that grand gesture to when I expeditiously needed a job. I phoned my “sure thing” and stated my dilemma. In the kindest of terms, he said to me, “Steve, I would truly like to help you, but there are no openings, and the budget is very tight right now. I wish you only the best.” I understood, of course, and realized there was nothing he could do.

I also realized that in employment and in life in general, there is no ace in the hole, other than you yourself. The only ace is you: Only your personal, educational, and professional qualities will advance your career and fulfill your life.

Steve Matarazzo is Chief of Planning at 4-LEAF, Inc., and lives in Aptos, California. He holds a master’s in urban planning from San Jose State University and a bachelor’s in environmental studies from UC Santa Barbara. You can reach him at



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