Day: May 28, 2022

Applications for new housing in San Francisco hit new low

By J.K. Dineen, San Francisco Chronicle, May 2, 2022

San Francisco Planning Department has received applications for just three projects totaling 62 units being processed during the first four months of the year, according to city preliminary project applications data.

“[P]lanners are expecting several large projects to be submitted in the next few months [but] developers and construction industry leaders say it reflects [negative economic conditions] giving pause to lenders and property owners who might otherwise be lining up future developments.

“The dearth of new projects represents a significant drop from past years. In the boom year of 2015, city planners processed 17 applications totaling 2,084 units during the first four months of that year.

“[I]f the number of new applications coming in doesn’t jump in the coming months, San Francisco could feel the slowdown in 2025 and 2026.

“Chris Foley, a veteran city broker and developer who is in the early stages of planning a major residential project at 620 Folsom St., said … ‘You are looking at $1,000 to $1,100 a square foot in hard costs alone — that’s not even including fees or land values.’

“Planning Department Chief of Staff Dan Sider said the focus has been on getting projects as ready as possible, even if developers are hesitant to start work. The city has about 70,000 units in its pipeline, about 10,000 of which are in ‘preconstruction,’ meaning they could get going quickly under the right circumstances.

“Ted Chandler, managing director of the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust, said his group is ready to invest in San Francisco housing development.

“While acknowledging that the spike in material costs and interest rates has created a slowdown, Chandler said it’s a good time for his group to invest.”

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

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Inside the DIY effort to deliver tiny homes to homeless people

By Lauren Hepler, San Francisco Chronicle, May 1, 2022

“Jay Samson [is] the [NASA] engineer behind grassroots emergency housing effort Simply Shelter.

“Every other weekend for the past year, Samson has gathered friends, co-workers, and volunteers to build the boxes with … slanted walls, small triangular windows, locking doors, and solar charging stations. Once complete, the shelters are hand-delivered to homeless neighbors — all without asking permission from cities, police, or agencies that administer California’s multibillion-dollar homeless-services budget.

“With six micro homes now scattered around San Jose and Santa Cruz, Simply Shelter is part of a wave of homeless aid spearheaded by ordinary residents during the pandemic.

“Alex Londos, the 41-year-old Santa Cruz climate activist who designed the ‘Micro Tiny Homes’ that inspired Simply Shelter [said,] ‘It’s not a solution for the homeless problem. … It’s a really good solution for people who are suffering.’

“Simply Shelter was born after Samson saw an interview with Londos about the first two micro homes he built in Santa Cruz in late 2020. A plan to work together emerged: Build more shelters, canvas cities to find residents in particularly dire, and start moving people in. The hope was that small units in good condition wouldn’t attract much attention from police, but wheels mounted on the units provided a way to move people quickly if needed.

Across … [Santa Cruz County] … which was home to … 2,167 homeless residents as of 2019, costly legal battles over encampments and new laws limiting camping and sleeping in vehicles have stirred debate. A 2019 grand jury report titled ‘Big Problem, Little Progress’ tallied 279 year-round homeless shelter beds and 16 in-patient mental health beds in [the county].

“[Samson is] working to establish partnerships to help with underlying challenges, like addiction resources and connections to housing, and considering whether to turn Simply Shelter into a nonprofit.”

Read the full article here(~5 min.)

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California approves bullet train link from Central Valley to Bay Area

By Lauren Hernández, Ricardo Cano, Dustin Gardiner, San Francisco Chronicle, April 29, 2022

“The High Speed Rail Authority Board unanimously approved plans and environmental clearance for the segment between San Jose and Merced on [April 28]. Now, the agency estimates the line will open for service in 2031, though the project has faced repeated delays and cost overruns.

“The train system could take riders between Fresno and San Jose in about an hour, a roughly three-hour drive by car today. Dan Richard, a former chairman of the Rail Authority Board who resigned in 2019, said the extension will help California address a jobs-housing mismatch between the disparate regions.

“The section approved … will connect San Jose’s Diridon Station and a station in downtown Gilroy to the five-station Central Valley segment from Merced to Bakersfield, the project’s initial 171-mile stretch.

“Rick Harnish, executive director of High Speed Rail Alliance, a national advocacy group, said the move underscores how the Rail Authority has not lost sight of its ultimate goal of connecting coastal and inland areas — and creating a system that spans physical and economic barriers.

“ ‘This is the first rail crossing of Pacheco Pass, which changes the economic geography of the state,’ Harnish said, referring to the mountain range between the Central Valley and Silicon Valley. ‘This is a huge step forward.’

“A second phase in the Bay Area — from San Jose to San Francisco — is expected to gain its environmental clearance this summer, according to the authority. It’s projected to open for service in 2033.”

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Rohnert Park purchases 30-acre property it plans to redevelop into future downtown

By Bay City News Foundation, Local News Matters, April 29, 2022

“Rohnert Park city officials took a big step toward a future downtown this month when the city’s $12.5 million offer was accepted on a 30-acre parcel at the corner of Rohnert Park Expressway and State Farm Drive.

“ ‘This is a bold step toward creating downtown Rohnert Park,’ said Mayor Jackie Elward in a city news release. ‘With this purchase we are taking charge of our destiny.’

“A surplus in the city’s general fund and cash on hand will fund the purchase, according to the news release, which added that the city also could obtain grants to offset some of the costs.

“ ‘We’ve been working for a downtown for years,’ Councilmember Pam Stafford said. ‘We’ve approved plans and built infrastructure, and we’re still waiting. The time has come to blaze our own path.’ ”

Read the full article here(~1 min.)

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Here’s the U.S. state each Northern Section county is most like

By Nami Sumada, The Chronicle, April 26, 2022

“The Chronicle identified the state (other than California) that best matches [each California county] in terms of its demographics, including race and ethnicity, age and income, as well as voting behavior and election results. It’s not the only way to think about similarity across places, but it’s an illuminating one.

“Based on these characteristics, San Francisco is most like Massachusetts. The two areas have similarly small shares of Black residents (5 percent in S.F. and 6.5 percent in Massachusetts), Hispanic residents (16 percent in S.F. and 13 percent in Massachusetts) and lower-income households (15-16 percent in each area earn less than $25,000 per year).

“The region most represented across the 58 California counties is the Northeast, with 22 matching with states in the area.”

The analysis showed Alameda and Santa Cruz counties, in addition to San Francisco, most similar to Massachusetts; Contra Costa, Marin, San Mateo, and Napa counties most similar to New Jersey; Humboldt most similar to Rhode Island; Lake County most similar to West Virginia; Mendocino County most similar to Florida; Monterey County most similar to Alaska, San Benito County most similar to Colorado; Santa Clara County most similar to Hawaii; Solano County most similar to Maryland; and Sonoma County most similar to Connecticut.

Read the full article here.

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Why Americans are leaving downtowns in droves

By Derek Thompson, The Atlantic, April 25, 2022

“The metros of New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, Minneapolis–St. Paul, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. … shrank by a combined 900,000 people [in 2021] according to an analysis of census data by the Brookings scholar William Frey.

“In every urban county within the metros of New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, immigration declined by at least 50 percent from 2018 to 2021.

“Nearly 5 million Americans have moved since 2020 because of remote-work opportunities, according to Adam Ozimek, the chief economist for the Economic Innovation Group, a think tank in Washington, D.C.

“[Yet] … housing prices are going up in almost all of these metros [and] rents are up in every city on the above list, except for San Francisco.

“The … simpler answer is inflation. That is, cities really are struggling with population loss, but urban rents and housing values are rising along with national inflation, which is surging toward 10 percent.

“America’s superstar cities might be in a little more trouble than we think. … Mass-transit ridership has collapsed from its pre-pandemic highs in New York, Boston, the Bay Area, and Washington, D.C. … In San Francisco, vacant office space has nearly quadrupled since the pandemic to 18.7 million square feet. … America’s downtown areas support millions of jobs that can’t be made remote — in retail, construction, health care, and beyond.

“With rising prices and shrinking populations, with emptier downtowns and bustling residential neighborhoods, with booming leisure and busted offices, the near future of America’s richest cities could be pretty weird.”

Read the full article here. (~5 min.)

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Bay Area hopes for more than 100 new park projects by 2030

By Kurtis Alexander, San Francisco Chronicle, April 19, 2022

“[A new global initiative, also implemented by the federal government and California,] known as 30 by 30, aims to conserve 30 percent of the world’s lands and water by 2030. It’s a bid to not only protect natural areas and biodiversity but to slow the planet’s warming by ensuring enough plants and soil remain to suck up carbon.

“With new sources of state and federal funding becoming available, a coalition of 67 Bay Area nonprofits and public agencies on [April 19] rolled out a $700 million plan for how they’d like the region to contribute to the effort. The document is a wish list of more than 110 projects that supporters say could become reality when the new money is released.

“In the Bay Area, some proposals are geared toward wildlife, such as building highway crossings for mountain lions and other animals around San Jose and Gilroy.

“There are also cultural endeavors, such as developing a network of outdoor community hubs on ancestral Lisjan Ohlone lands in the East Bay.

“In the Bay Area, nearly 30 percent of the land is currently under protection, according to Together Bay Area. But the organization believes that because of the biodiversity here, more conservation is needed.”

Read the full article here(~5 min.)

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Meet a local planner: Zachary Dahl, AICP

Meet a local planner: Zachary Dahl, AICP

Image of Zachary Dahl

Born and raised in the small northern California town of Fort Bragg, Zachary Dahl, AICP, had a passion and interest in urban planning from a young age. He is currently the Deputy Community Development Director at the City of San Mateo, CA. Dahl has over 20 years of public and private experience in planning. His previous roles include planning and building director with the Town of Los Altos Hills and planning services manager with the City of Los Altos. He holds a bachelor’s degree in city and regional planning from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Dahl was active in APA leadership roles at both the state and national levels and he helped organize the first student planning conference at San Jose State in 2003. Dahl now volunteers to support ULI’s Urban Plan, an educational program for high school students that opens them to concepts and ideas of planning, development, and economics.

What motivated you to pursue a career in planning?

My grandfather was a civil engineer, my great uncle was the visionary architect Charles Moore, and my parents are an artist, contractor, and photographer. All of them fueled my passion for and interest in urban planning. I didn’t actually know about city planning but was very interested in attending Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to study either architecture or engineering. I loved bridges and thought maybe I could be an engineer who would one day design another Golden Gate Bridge!

My grandfather was a strong role model. I loved visiting his office and seeing photos on his wall of the buildings his company had built, including Hartford’s General Hospital. I never got to meet my uncle Charles Moore who passed away when I was 11. But I’d heard so much about him, read his books, and visited his buildings. One of his buildings, Sea Ranch Condominium #1, is still in the family. I love visiting there; you can feel his presence in that building.

I came across urban planning while going through Cal Poly’s course book and fell in love with the profession.

Tell us more about your involvement with APA

At Cal Poly, I joined the Associated Students in Planning (ASP) through the city and regional planning department. Through ASP, I became aware of APA and got involved with the local Central Coast Section. Later, I was nominated as Cal Poly’s Student Representative on the Central Coast Section Board for my final years of college. As a student rep, I attended my first national APA conference in New Orleans in 2001 — an amazing experience. I also connected with the Student Representative Council (SRC) and was nominated as the Region VI Representative. The 2002 conference in Chicago left me disappointed with APA’s effort to involve students. The few student-focused activities felt like APA didn’t really care about supporting students — their future members. Student discounts and registration assistance were minimal, and many fees were the same as for professionals.

After the conference, I raised these issues and concerns with my connections at APA. A number of people in APA’s leadership responded, and I was subsequently appointed to APA’s election reform task force. I believe the task force planted some serious seeds, because it now seems that APA is doing a better job of engaging and supporting students.

What was it like to serve on national’s election reform task force?

I had lobbied to be on the APA’s membership task force, as this was at the core of the issues I raised and cared about, so it felt a little like tokenism to be appointed to the election reform task force. But it was a positive experience. I got to meet with other planners from around the country and work with them to improve APA’s election processes. Still, when you’re a student in a room with seasoned professionals, it’s hard to find your voice. I was just a planning student with probably half-baked ideas. But, along with several other students on the SRC who kind of rattled the cage, I like to think we pushed APA to invest more effort into its student membership.

And you also helped organize the first student planning conference?

After graduation, I moved to Santa Cruz and got plugged in with the Northern Section of APA California. I had a friend at San Jose State (my predecessor on the SRC Council), who was on the Northern Section Board. We were both passionate about planning and politics, and had lots of big ideas about how we were going to effect change. Both of us felt that the APA could do better for students, which resulted in the idea of having a student-focused planning conference.

The conference came about mainly through a group of SJSU students in their urban planning program. My SRC predecessor was one of the leaders, and we collaborated to put together a day-long conference. It included a mobile workshop, speaker panels, and a keynote speaker. All things considered, we students did a pretty good job. I have to give credit to Hing Wong, FAICP, and the Northern Section Board, who provided our group with a grant to cover conference expenses. Students who attended paid only a small admission fee, $5 or so.

You switched from private to public sector. When and why?

I might have stayed in the private sector longer. I was exposed to projects and did things that probably were way above my pay grade and my experience level at the time, but in 2007 I began to worry about where the economy was going. Obviously, I didn’t foresee the crash, but it felt like something bad was going to happen. I was looking at my company’s workload and thinking about our vulnerability if the economy cooled. Our projects depended on development, and a drop in project volume would put me at risk. I had wanted to gain some experience in the public sector, which I saw as stable; so I made the switch.

I feel every professional should spend time on both sides of the counter, experiencing the planning profession through different lenses. As a professional, you benefit when you’re able to think about something through both of those lenses.

What planning challenges are you are coming across in San Mateo?

The biggest challenges are in housing and the way the regulatory landscape is shifting. It’s a shift we won’t fully see until the dust settles (if it ever does). Local jurisdictions have to implement within the framework of all the State legislative requirements that are coming out. It’s kind of like the legislature is saying, here you go, figure it out, we don’t have all the details, but don’t get it wrong or you could be exposed to a legal challenge from the State, a developer, or an advocacy group.

Tell us more about ULI “UrbanPlan” and your involvement

It is an engaging educational program for juniors and seniors in high school, plugged into the economics or government curriculum. Students, grouped into development teams, are tasked with responding to an RFP from a city to redevelop a large parcel of land in an urban context. The students use large Legos to develop a 3D mixed-use development and strategically place parks, commercial, office, and residential uses. The exercise touches on many things we do as planners, like dealing with neighborhood opposition, financial constraints, and jobs/housing targets.


Image of facilitator with students in 2015
Teacher Wendy Holm talks to students during UrbanPlan Facilitation Day at Boston Latin School in Boston, Massachusetts, on Wednesday, January 14, 2015. Photo: ULI UrbanPlan

There are two facilitations where volunteers coach the student teams and help them think comprehensively about the RFP and build the model. Then my colleagues and I volunteer as a faux city council where the student teams present their proposed development, and we select the group that put together the best proposal. At the end, we provide all of the groups with feedback, and the students get to ask questions about the work we do. It’s a really fun and rewarding experience.

How do you balance work and life?

It’s always a challenge to keep up with the demands of work without letting it take over. My non-work time is focused on my family as my wife and I raise our two sons, ages seven and four. That is so rewarding and fulfilling, and as they grow up, I get to enjoy more activities with them. Just the other week, I took them to their first Giants game. When I do have spare time, I enjoy the outdoors, gardening, hiking, carpentry, golf, and traveling.

Any advice for budding planners?

Don’t try to climb the career ladder too quickly. There’s a lot of value to spending time at each rung, and it will hurt a lot more going down than climbing up. If you climb too fast, you may get in over your head, setting yourself up to fail.

Also, build your professional network, and never be afraid to reach out to someone. Fostering connections is important, and your network will help you build and broaden your outlook. If there’s a planner who intrigues you, reach out and say, hey, can we get coffee and talk about the work you are doing?


Interviewer Dhawal Kataria, AICP, is a transportation planner at Kittelson & Associates and a guest writer for Northern News. All interviews are edited.

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When you have to forget everything you know about Planning

When you have to forget everything you know about Planning

Creating a Sustainable Urban Development Plan for the Greater Banjul Area, The Gambia

By Holly Pearson, AICP

I remember the precise moment I realized I had to unlearn all my expertise, everything I thought was the right way to approach an urban planning exercise. It was about two months into my contract as a senior urban planning analyst with the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), working with a team of planners and engineers to synthesize background research and stakeholder input into a comprehensive plan for the Greater Banjul Area (GBA), capital city region of The Gambia in West Africa. I had been hired for the project based on my years of experience with comprehensive planning in the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as a few international planning projects I had worked on in Latin America with Ecocity Builders.

Map base: Google maps

In October 2021, I was on an official UN mission to the Banjul area. The Gambia, which carves out from Senegal a narrow sliver of land following the boundaries of the Gambia River watershed, has a current population of just over 2.5 million — roughly equivalent to the combined population of San Francisco and Alameda Counties. The capital city region, consisting of the municipalities of Banjul, Kanifing, and Brikama, plus a handful of smaller communities and villages, is home to 55 percent of the country’s population.

Like many African city-regions, the GBA is urbanizing rapidly, and much of the development is informal and unplanned. The goal of our UNOPS project was to prepare a sustainable urban development plan for the GBA that addressed the numerous challenges facing the region. These include major land use conflicts between the Port of Banjul and the adjacent urban core of the capital city, poor infrastructure, unregulated development, insufficient housing supply, informal settlements, loss of agricultural and open space lands, environmental degradation, and local climate change impacts.

My epiphany occurred during a stakeholder workshop with officials from national and local governments, the Port, tribal leaders, utility companies, and other key groups. I had prepared my part of our presentation on the existing draft policy framework for the GBA Development Plan, which included a point about strengthening both the process and regulatory context for review of proposed new development projects and the capacity of the local governments to carry out these reviews. My UNOPS colleague, Talía Rangil Escribano, who had been based in The Gambia working on the project for a little over a year, pulled me aside. “It’s not the local governments that issue approvals for development projects,” she whispered. “It’s DPPH,” the Department of Physical Planning and Housing.

UNOPS’ Talía Rangil Escribano, second from left, with Holly Pearson, AICP, center, at a strategic issues workshop. Photo ©UNOPS

I looked back at my slides, thinking on my feet about how I could quickly edit my presentation. DPPH is a division of the national Ministry of Lands and Regional Government. I suddenly felt a bit embarrassed about my error and my lack of familiarity with the structure and roles of government entities in The Gambia. But that moment didn’t just prompt a literal step back to think about how to revise my talk for that day’s workshop — it also prompted a big metaphorical step back from all my knowledge, all my assumptions, all my biases — formed by my education and my work experience in the wealthy, powerful, and orderly countries of North America. It suddenly hit me with the force of a Gambian monsoon storm — I didn’t really understand anything about how things worked in this small West African nation.

I am no stranger to unfamiliar political contexts or rough conditions in less developed parts of the world. My passion for travel and cross-cultural experience has taken me to some three dozen countries on six continents. Yet somehow none of my previous international travel, study, or work experience had quite prepared me for The Gambia. Known as the “Smiling Coast of Africa,” The Gambia is rustic, friendly, and rich in its culture and biodiversity. It is considered a low-income country, ranking number 172 out of 189 countries worldwide in terms of the UN Human Development Index. My brief time there was profoundly eye-opening in many respects.

I had already read the statistics as part of the preparatory work for the development plan: nearly 27 percent of households in the GBA do not have piped water and nearly 32 percent lack proper sanitation service. Yet during a day-long reconnaissance tour around the GBA with my UN colleagues, I was surprised and fascinated by what I observed. Outside of the old capital city of Banjul, most of the roads in this region of 1.4 million people (except for the major highways) are unpaved.

Image of Brikama Nyambai Road
Brikama Nyambai Road, July 2019. Photo: Kreuzberger, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikipedia

My visit coincided with the end of the rainy season, and in the city of Brikama (pop. 731,000 in 2013) and other parts of the southern end of the GBA, many city streets lack drainage infrastructure and were inundated with water. Bicycles, tuk-tuks, taxis, donkey carts, and pedestrians crisscrossed through the muddy water. Outside the Brikama branch office of the DPPH, a small herd of goats grazed the overgrown vegetation next to a heap of abandoned, rusted, old cars. At a small home-based childcare facility on the outskirts of Brikama where we made a brief stop, there was no running water.

In the heart of old Banjul, next to the massive seaport, warehousing and logistics facilities have encroached into residential areas, and freight trucks lined the city streets — there were no apparent rules or regulations for truck parking. Along the main north-south commercial thoroughfare that connects Banjul, Kanifing (pop. 323,000 in 2003), and Brikama, informal businesses encroach into the public right-of-way, competing for space with pedestrians and traffic. The main form of ‘public’ transportation is privately owned vans and minibuses that circulate through the city picking up and dropping off passengers. The “system” is highly efficient but completely unregulated, with no safety standards and no checks or authorizations required for vehicles or drivers. The region’s sole formal solid waste disposal facility, the Bakoteh landfill, is located in the heart of Kanifing, surrounded by residences, and bordering a large creek.

During my stay in The Gambia, I was told an amusing story by our UNOPS programme director, Agathe, about a discussion she had with a potential donor agency from the European Union. Agathe is a French urban planner with experience in several countries who aptly describes herself as a “planner for unplanned places.” The EU donor group had approached her about their interest in investing in a bus rapid transit system for the GBA — a flashy project featuring the newest, greenest, transportation technology. “I just had to turn my head aside slightly and laugh,” Agathe recalled. “I told them, ‘Perhaps you don’t realize that most of the roads aren’t even paved.’”

For me, that anecdote about the well-intentioned yet misguided EU donors came to embody what often happens when planners, engineers, economists, and other professionals from the Global North engage in urban sustainability work in the Global South. Once I humbly admitted to myself that I didn’t really understand anything about how to plan a city in The Gambia, I began relying heavily on the expertise and advice of my two Gambian counterparts, my planning team colleagues Felicia and Madiba. I asked them endless questions: What government entity is responsible for this? What is the procedure to accomplish such and such? What is the legal context in The Gambia for XYZ? They answered my questions and pointed me to relevant legislation, which I studied in exhaustive detail. And then I went back to Felicia and Madiba, puzzled: “So I read through the regulations for development control that are on the books. Why aren’t they enforced?”

That was the one question that no one could answer.

Image of IT training certificates for Mariama Jobe and Elizabeth Gomez-Talia
UNOPS’ Talía Rangil Escribano, right, with community members Mariama Jobe and Elizabeth Gomez, who completed IT training under UNOPS’ Greater Banjul 2040 project. Photo ©UNOPS

Back in the United States, I sought advice from an old friend who worked for many years with the US Agency for International Development, promoting democracy and governance initiatives in post-conflict places like Rwanda and Afghanistan. “Tye,” I said, “I want to write the policy chapter of this plan to be very simple — not to try to take on every challenge, but just to facilitate the government authorities really moving the needle on a few of the most critical issues. But how do I write a plan and an implementation strategy that they will follow and use, given the government’s inertia and the entrenched practice of weak enforcement?” Tye nodded with understanding, then offered, “What if you didn’t try to figure out how to change the public institutions and practices to be more effective, but rather used as your starting point the assumption that things aren’t going to work as intended? That the government systems won’t be strong and efficient?”

Tye’s suggestion set me into motion to fundamentally rethink my approach to the GBA development plan. Chaos, informality, and lawlessness were not likely going away anytime soon. My job was to figure out how to get those dynamics to work in favor of sustainable outcomes instead of against them. I realized the need to simplify the plan’s approach and build on things that are already working in the GBA (no matter how confusing and disorderly they might seem to my “first-world planner” mind).

In March 2022, my UNOPS colleagues and I delivered the final Greater Banjul Area 2040 Development Plan to the Gambian Ministry of Lands and Regional Government for formal adoption, along with a roadmap for implementation of the plan. As our team wrapped up the project and reported on its outcomes to our funder, the African Development Bank, I felt proud of what we had accomplished and cautiously hopeful about the future of the GBA region. Most of all, I was profoundly aware and appreciative of how the experience of planning for a West African city had shifted my professional perspective and opened my worldview.

Holly Pearson, AICP, is an independent planning consultant working on international initiatives and projects in northern California. From 2007 through 2015, she was a planner for the cities of Oakland and San Francisco, and from 2014 through 2021, she worked for Ecocity Builders and Michael Baker International.

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What a Planning grad student learned at NPC22

What a Planning grad student learned at NPC22

By Snow Zhu, UC Berkeley, May 23, 2022

After two years of virtual conferences, planners from around the country descended on San Diego earlier this month for the national APA conference. I was one of the lucky attendees — and especially excited, as I had never been to an APA conference. With my first year of planning graduate school nearly completed, I was eager to learn and connect with others in the field. Below are a few standouts from the many interesting panels and events offered.

Image of UC Berkeley planning graduate students
UC Berkeley planning graduate students Whitney Francis, Joann Martinez, and Snow Zhu at the San Diego Convention Center. Photo: Snow Zhu

Policy and programs towards an inclusive economy

In this panel, representatives from the City of Brooklyn Park, a northern suburb of Minneapolis, described several case studies on equitable economic development. The presentation began with two goals: 1) to share strategies for economic inclusion and 2) to start conversations about racial equity and inclusion in economic development. Breanne B. Rothstein, AICP, the city’s economic development and housing director, described their efforts toward inclusive economic development.

The first portion of the presentation focused on workforce development programs aimed at increasing BIPOC employment in high-demand, high-wage employment in the fields of IT, nursing, and construction. The programs found success by engaging youth (BrookLynk) and leveraging American Rescue Plan Act funds.

The second portion covered the financing process for equitable development. The Economic Development Authority has made efforts to invest in mixed-income and affordable housing projects such as Autumn Ridge, Brook Gardens, and Brook Landings. These projects are funded through tax increment financing, an affordable housing trust fund, and state and federal tax credits. Rothstein noted that the city has a new program to support local aspiring developers and developers of color.

Rothstein also recognized that the city’s efforts would be incomplete without recognizing the need to evaluate their own hiring and procurement processes. She explained that “partnerships with community-based organizations achieve far more robust and impactful engagement results.” For example, a local firm, NEOO Partners, which was also represented on the panel, was selected to manage the second phase of a community engagement process for the 80-acre Brooklyn Center project.

National City “Market on 8th” tour

While deciding what panel to attend next, I saw that the newly formed APA Asian Pacific Islander Interest Group was hosting a tour of Market on 8th, a new public market and community space in National City, California. The 9,000 square-foot market is the first of its kind in the area and that Saturday afternoon, I was feeling curious (and hungry). I emailed the interest group email, and the group chair, Hing Wong, FAICP, kindly replied within minutes that I was more than welcome to join.

Pedro Garcia (left) and Joel Tubao (right) describe the development process for the Market on 8th project. Photo: Michael Tactay
Pedro Garcia (top left) and Joel Tubao (top right) describe the development process for the Market on 8th project. Photo: Michael Tactay

When I got there, people were chatting in a large indoor seating area and enjoying everything from mango sago (a popular Hong Kong dessert) to tacos. I sensed some planning magic in this place and wanted to learn more about how it came to be. First, Joel Tubao, the developer of Market on 8th, described his family’s roots in San Diego’s South Bay and his desire to work collaboratively with the community and the city to create projects like this. For projects that are innovative (and therefore riskier), he credited the city for its proactive planning and development process. For instance, National City had prepared an EIR for the area’s specific plan that expedited the process significantly.

Pedro Garcia, National City’s economic development manager, emphasized that creative solutions are important to making projects like Market on 8th a reality. For instance, the city improved pedestrian crosswalks in the area to make it less of a corridor, and created an environment where a project like Market on 8th would be more likely to succeed.

In my work as an urban economics consultant, a frequent topic is how to incentivize a desired type of development, whether my firm is working with a developer or a city. It was really valuable to hear directly from Tubao and Garcia about their strategies for successful projects.

Less can be more: Data for Affordable ADUs (California)

After attending another housing panel — where I discovered just how different the legal planning framework and policy tools available to planners can be state-to-state — I was relieved to be back in a California-centric landscape. I have heard a lot about ADUs over the years. As an undergraduate researcher at the Center for Community Innovation, I combed through the municipal codes of Bay Area cities for ADU guidelines. And recently at work, I learned that SB13 exempts ADUs smaller than 750 square feet from impact fees.

Now, at the conference, I wanted to learn more about effective codes and programs that have been adopted to support the construction of ADUs. This ADU panel was put together by Lauren Ashley Week, currently pursuing a dual Juris Doctor and Master of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Michigan. The panel featured:

  • David Garcia, Policy Director, UC Berkeley Terner Center for Housing Innovation
  • Darin Ranelletti, Policy Director for Housing Security, City of Oakland
  • Evita Chavez, Associate Initiative Officer, Partnership for the Bay’s Future, San Francisco Foundation
  • William Huang, Housing Director, City of Pasadena

Darin Ranelletti’s presentation on Oakland’s Keys to Equity pilot included a list of community partners that were essential to the creation of the project. Photo: Snow Zhu, Presentation Slide: Darin Ranelletti
Darin Ranelletti’s presentation on Oakland’s Keys to Equity pilot included a list of community partners that were essential to the creation of the project. Photo: Snow Zhu, Presentation Slide: Darin Ranelletti

Ranelletti described Keys to Equity in Oakland. The program “provides design, permitting, construction, and financing services to Oakland homeowners who would like to build an ADU on their property.” The city worked with community partners such as Richmond Neighborhood Housing Services to cater the program to communities of color. Ranelletti explained that cost was not the only barrier to building an ADU for homeowners of color; they also needed the skills of a project manager to navigate the planning, construction, and financing process. He credited the many organizations the city worked with to put together the program, which even in pilot mode, is already proving to be a promising model for other cities wishing to launch a similar program.

A variety of opportunities in Planning

The APA conference emphasized something I had begun realizing in graduate school: planning offers us so many opportunities to work on pressing issues in housing and economic development. I have already reached out to several people I met at the conference, and have come back to school and my workplace with a renewed sense of purpose.

Thank you, APA California Northern Section and Economic & Planning Systems (EPS) for funding my conference attendance. I hope to see everyone again next year!

Image of Snow ZhuSnow Zhu is a city planning graduate student at UC Berkeley and an Associate at Economic & Planning Systems. She has worked with public and private sector clients on a wide range of development, finance, and policy challenges. You can reach her at

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