Author: Francine Farrell

BOOKS: Evolving community engagement toward the hands and senses rather than the loudest voices

BOOKS: Evolving community engagement toward the hands and senses rather than the loudest voices

Reviewed by Asher Kohn, AICP, April 13, 2022

Photo of Dream Play Build flyer

“Cities are deeply personal,” write James Rojas and John Kamp in the preface of their recently-published book on community engagement, “Dream Play Build: Hands-On Community Engagement for Enduring Spaces and Places.” This simple declaration, that urban planning is about managing senses and emotions as much as it is concerned with geometry and space, is the foundation of an original and thought-provoking book on improving community engagement methodology. The urban form is not just land uses and circulation patterns, of course, it is “individuals who have to compromise through space,” according to the authors. Why not put at the forefront of community engagement the individuals who will be affected by future development and how they will experience the new spaces?

For many planners, community engagement is a system that feels broken. Few schools train their planning students in how to pursue engagement, and as Rojas and Kamp point out, many planners treat engagement like school: brief lectures about planning concepts followed by seminar-style conversations. For academically-trained planners, this may be the most familiar way to talk about about a plan, a project, or the profession. It has diminishing returns, however, especially now, as equity in engagement takes center stage.

Rojas and Kamp recommend that planners instead engage with their senses.

Dream Play Build outlines two engagement programs: model building and site exploration. These programs serve to step back from planning policies and issues and instead allow the community to focus more on emotional reflections. The authors point to “emotions …, moods, and atmospheres” that can be elicited by using abstracted models (hair curlers for buildings and ribbons for bike paths, for example) to represent their neighborhoods, present and future. In their site explorations, the authors ask, “What do you hear? What do you feel? What do you see? What do you smell?” The book gives implementation instructions on how to turn these qualitative feelings into useful planning data, while allowing the community to skip the jargon.

Photo of Found objects, post-Covid Bay Area modelWhereas community engagement may deal with the tools that are needed (to consider infrastructure, for example), the Dream Play Build approach focuses on solutions the community wants to see — “parks that were inviting to a diverse range of residents,” to name one. The crux of their proposal, according to Rojas and Kamp, is that traditional community engagement rewards people who have the time and skill to develop oral arguments and who have mastered the language of planners. The book quotes one transportation planner as saying that “the general town-hall-meeting format” causes people to “double down once they have stated their opinion and it’s been affirmed by others.” By comparison, building models and exploring places lead to consensus on shared experiences — rather than a gradual surrender to the loudest opinions. In many ways, Dream Play Build asks planners to think like activists — advocating and building consensus for a planning solution — rather than as planners forced to defend a side in tense community fights.

This is a radical approach, to be sure. For many of its readers who are professionals, 170 pages may not be enough to convince them to throw out years of engagement practice. Two pages of notes cover Chapters 1  through 5. A deeper bibliography, with more examples to help practitioners, would help to onboard them to Rojas’ and Kamp’s process.

In addition, and perhaps befitting the book’s “Play More, Talk Less” approach, suggestions for online engagement would be helpful. The book criticizes online-first engagement practices, exacerbated, they say, by algorithms that thrive on polarizing communities. It would perhaps have been better to recognize that many jurisdictions require their planners to drive engagement not just in person, but on their laptops and phones as well, and make recommendations accordingly.

“Trust” appears only 11 times in this book, yet it seems to be an underlying theme. If planners trust the communities in which they work — and are “less deterministic and prescriptive,” as voiced by a practitioner in South Colton — the communities will see glimpses of the future they want. Trust begets trust, and by opening engagement to the hands and the senses instead of only to the loudest voices, Dream Play Build proposes a revolution — not just in how community engagement is undertaken, but in the set of skills required to engage those most affected.

This revolution is intimidating. But in fixing a broken system, it may be planners who ought to be intimidated, not the public.

Photo of Asher KohnAsher Kohn, AICP, is a Planner with M-Group. He holds a master’s in city/urban, community and regional planning from the University of Illinois (Chicago), a JD from Washington University (St. Louis), and a BA in history from the University of Maryland. You can reach him at

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With historic federal investment incoming, regions must collaborate on planning

With historic federal investment incoming, regions must collaborate on planning

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on by Adie Tomer, Jennifer S. Vey, and Caroline George on March 10, 2022

Thanks to historic commitments by Congress and resilient local economies, the next five years have the potential to be a grand era of reinvestment in metropolitan America. The American Rescue Plan Act (ARP) and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) have committed billions of dollars for communities to modernize their infrastructure networks, ranging from older water systems to cutting-edge broadband. Meanwhile, the House and Senate are set to make big bets on innovation-focused growth centers and targeted industries. State and local budgets also performed better than expected through 2020 and 2021, leaving additional fiscal resources available for economic and community development.

Periods of intense investment like this don’t come around often. Communities and the country need projects and policies that deliver transformative, long-term value. That’s where planning comes into the picture.

Most metro areas already have established economic and workforce strategies, transportation plans, and comprehensive housing and land use plans to prioritize what industries to invest in, where to develop real estate, and what infrastructure is needed to connect them. But if metro areas can coordinate those long-range plans around common goals, the chances of delivering lasting value go up. If not, expensive projects could fail to maximize outcomes — or worse, end up working against one another. Either way, a generational opportunity would be wasted.

Unfortunately, there are few existing mechanisms or incentives to encourage this sort of coordination. Even though the federal government formally promotes regional economic strategy-building, there is no requirement that different plans talk to each other. Coordination also isn’t required between state and metropolitan plans, or between plans developed by neighboring jurisdictions within the same metro area. The situation gets considerably more complicated in the country’s largest metro areas, which are home to the most jurisdictions, the most diverse industries, and the widest array of investment alternatives.

The federal government helped start this next great wave of metropolitan capital investment, so it should ensure that investment will be used to best effect. We recommend Congress establish a new planning coordination program within the Economic Development Administration (EDA), which would support local governments and business organizations in metropolitan areas of at least 1 million people to formally integrate objectives and priority projects across multiple long-range plans. For a relative pittance compared to the costs of capital projects, the federal government can incentivize metropolitan partners to develop the coordination template America needs to make good on its investment ambitions.

The bones of America’s planning paradigm are strong. Cities, counties, and special-purpose governments like utilities use tools such as zoning codes and capital budgets to decide where public dollars are spent and attempt to influence where private investments occur. Metropolitan planning organizations and councils of government convene local governments to plan regional investments, particularly interjurisdictional transportation like highways and transit lines. The private and civic sectors play a role too, often working with local governments to design long-range economic development strategies, including how to deliver more inclusive career pathways, what big bets to make on innovative industries, or drafting master plans for specific districts.

The federal government is also an established partner in many planning exercises. Since 1991, federal surface transportation law mandates that metro areas designate a regional government to lead transportation planning and, at least every five years, develop a long-range transportation plan. Laws administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) mandate the creation of three- to five-year consolidated plans to qualify for agency grants. The Department of Commerce and the EDA use the certification of a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) or equivalent plan every five years to qualify for a range of EDA grants. The Department of Labor funds workforce development boards to define and act on regional workforce priorities. And these are just a sampling of federal planning requirements.

Yet for all the planning taking place, there is often little coordination among these various processes, and the result is formal plans that often directly contradict one another. In some cases, those contradictions may occur between the local and regional levels. This is the case when a regional entity like the Association of Bay Area Governments in metropolitan San Francisco wants to build more housing, but locality after locality limits housing construction. In other instances, the conflict may be within different planning documents written by the same local government or regional entity; for example, most large American cities have been unable to match their land use and development practices to their climate goals. Even timing can be a conflict: A metro area’s major planning cycles can fall on different years, with different offices and staff leading them, making coordination all the more difficult.

This is a missed opportunity. With so much complementarity between infrastructure, real estate, and economic and workforce development, making sure formal plans talk to one another can increase the odds that metropolitan development leads to agreed-upon outcomes—advancing particular industry sectors, for example, or enhancing local commercial corridors. That means ensuring that policies and strategies identified in these plans—focused on businesses, transit, land use, education, marketing, parks and public space, etc.—are aligned toward these specific ends.

Now is an ideal time to support this kind of coordination with federal incentives. The federal government knows this is a good idea — it’s why HUD, the EDA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Transportation all run offices and programs to promote the concept. Even the Government Accountability Office has affirmed the need, particularly within economic development. The federal government also has the regulatory power to compel regional and local actors to work together across different disciplines. What regions require are the resources and staff time to help them do it — and the mandate to make it multiple people’s job. Now, with EDA reauthorization conversations starting in Congress, there is a legislative vehicle to address the need.

The new EDA planning coordination program we propose would provide grants to support staffing resources within those entities responsible for regional planning. Since CEDS already includes industrial and infrastructure goals, CEDS authors within a given metro area could be the primary recipient(s) and make sub-awards to transportation, housing, workforce, and other regional planning entities. The grants would cover staff time to regularly convene regional actors, coordinate with the public (including a steering committee), and revise formal plans. The core output of the program would be evidence of those revisions, including adjustments to overarching goals, capital projects, and other policies.

Ideally, Congress would help the EDA improve its staffing to support these new regional activities. Staff in the EDA’s regional offices are vital conduits for explaining how federal programs work, sharing best and failed practices from across the country, and communicating needs back to EDA headquarters. Likewise, the EDA’s Washington, D.C. office should receive more staffing to consolidate all the lessons and experiences into a common knowledge hub for nonparticipating regions, smaller places, or peers across the economic development and research communities.

Some metropolitan leaders are already experimenting with new ways to merge regional planning and major investments. In Kansas City, the bistate KC Rising initiative between Missouri and Kansas brings together the business, government, and civic communities to align their efforts around seven common pillars. And the multisectoral board of the Greater Portland Economic Development District in the Pacific Northwest used their CEDS process to formally adopt a new set of integrated values and principles. These are the kinds of emerging models that a new EDA program can support — and that the EDA should seek, collect, and share with other regions to inform their planning work.

Congress should finish the job it started when it approved historic levels of investment in metropolitan America by supporting a coordination program like the one recommended here. Planning is far cheaper than capital projects or tax incentives — and it is money well spent if it ensures physical investments lead to better projects with better outcomes that advance regional prosperity, resiliency, and opportunity.

Adie Tomer is a Senior Fellow at Brookings Metro. Jennifer S. Vey is a Senior Fellow at Brookings Metro and Director of the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Center for Transformative Placemaking. Caroline George is a Senior Research Assistant at Brookings Metro.

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Ban on Short-Term Rentals required Coastal Commission approval

Ban on Short-Term Rentals required Coastal Commission approval

This article was originally posted by Perkins Coie LLP in California Land Use and Development Report, May 10, 2022.

By Cecily Barclay and Kaela Shiigi

The Court of Appeal held that absent a distinction between short- and long-term rentals, both are permitted under city zoning ordinances, and any ban on short-term rentals that changes the status quo is an amendment that requires Coastal Commission approval. Darby T. Keen v. City of Manhattan Beach 77 Cal. App. 5th 142 (2022).

The City of Manhattan Beach enacted zoning ordinances banning short-term rentals in 2015 and instituting an enforcement mechanism in 2019 without seeking the Coastal Commission’s approval. The City had originally intended to seek Coastal Commission approval but withdrew its application after the Coastal Commission expressed that it did not support a full ban on short-term rentals in the Coastal Zone. The City justified not seeking Coastal Commission approval by claiming that the existing zoning ordinance from 1994 already banned short-term rentals.

A property owner petitioned for a writ of mandate to enjoin the City from enforcing the 2015 and 2019 ordinances after the City tried to enforce the ban on his property. He claimed that the City should have sought Coastal Commission approval.

The Court of Appeal held that the City ordinance banning short-term rentals was invalid because the City failed to obtain the Coastal Commission’s approval. The court reasoned that the City’s zoning ordinances prior to 2015 allowed short-term rentals because the code did not distinguish between short- and long-term rentals. This meant that rentals of residential properties for any time period were allowed. The court also rejected the City’s argument that short-term rentals should be treated as hotels under the City code, concluding that the homes that are typically rented out as short-term rentals did not fall under the code’s definition of a hotel.

The court also dismissed the other arguments the City relied on to justify the ban. The court rejected the claim that the concept of permissive zoning applied, under which zoning ordinances prohibit any use they do not expressly permit, noting that the City’s pre-2015 ordinances did permit short-term rentals. It likewise rejected the argument that the court should defer to the City’s interpretation of its own ordinances, finding that their plain language did not support that interpretation. The City’s 2015 ban on short-term rentals amounted to an amendment of the City’s existing ordinances to ban short-term rentals, which required Coastal Commission approval.

Image of Cecily BarclayCecily Barclay, Partner, focuses her practice on land use and entitlements, real estate acquisition and development, and local government law. She is a lead author of Curtin’s California Land Use and Planning Law. Barclay holds a JD from Harvard Law School and a BA from UC Berkeley.

Image of Kaela ShiigiKaela Shiigi focuses on environmental and energy law issues. Prior to her career in law, she was an environmental scientist at AECOM. Shiigi holds a JD from the UC Berkeley School of Law and a BS in environmental sciences, also from UC Berkeley.

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How cap-and-trade keeps people in their homes in East Oakland

How cap-and-trade keeps people in their homes in East Oakland

Podcast, April 6, 2022

The California cap-and-trade program is building up cash while lowering carbon emissions. Next City looks at one way the money is being put to use [in East Oakland].


Photo of Next City webinar copyCalifornia’s cap-and-trade program collected more than $2 billion from polluters in 2021 alone, and cities are using that money for a range of programs, including one in Oakland that sends counselors to help people stay in their homes.

[Essentially, cap-and-trade is a tax on carbon emissions. Thirty-five percent of cap-and-trade money must go to disadvantaged communities through a competitive grant process. “Disadvantaged” refers to those disproportionately affected by air pollution. The money can be used for amenities, some of which might cause “climate gentrification.”]

The Oakland initiative — Better Neighborhoods, Same Neighbors — targets a five-square mile neighborhood for $28 million in improvements, including a 1.2-mile-long community trail, expanded bike-share, 2,000 trees, and the creation of one of the largest urban aquaponics farms in the country.


In this [32 min.] podcast, Next City Executive Director Lucas Grindley talks with Housing Correspondent Roshan Abraham about his story on the team of housing counselors dispatched to ensure that those improvements don’t lead to the displacement of East Oakland residents.”

[$846,000 of the $28 million will go to the team, which has a goal of contacting 14,000 people by the end of the Better Neighborhoods four-year grant cycle. The team wants to empower East Oakland residents by making them aware of resources available, and showing them how to navigate the system. The counselors support tenants who receive eviction notices and help them respond to summonses (140 currently need such support). The team also conducts tenants rights workshops and offers legal cafes and housing cafes.]

[In the podcast, we] meet one of the counselors, Bee Coleman with East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative [EBPREC]. One resident told Coleman that she felt the housing counselors had answered her prayers and ‘you were sent by God.’

“That was her takeaway after having been alone, literally, in the fight for years, and feeling like she did not have support,” said Coleman.

You can listen to this half-hour episode on Apple or Spotify, or via megaphone here.

Republished with permission. Bracketed paragraphs are paraphrased from the podcast.


Read in greater detail in Next City an earlier 4 min. piece by Roshan Abraham, “How Oakland anti-displacement advocates use carbon emissions cash.”

The Chronicle covers how an East Oakland grass-roots effort is using money from the same $28 million to help residents tackle climate problems. Planting Justice, along with Oakland’s Parks and Recreation Foundation, is currently working to plant 1,000 fruit trees at residences. The effort is part of the Community Greening project, which aims to plant a total 2,000 trees in the next two years.

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Strategies to promote affordable commercial space in cities

Strategies to promote affordable commercial space in cities

When it comes to helping small businesses find and develop commercial space in which they can succeed and thrive, affordability, accessibility, and supporting collaboration are key.

By Patricia Voltolini, Melissa Kim, David M. Greenberg, Julia Duranti-Martinez, and Michelle Harati in Next City, March 14, 2022

The following is an excerpt fromEquitable Pathways to Small Business Recovery: An All-Hands Approach,” a playbook that offers a framework for paving equitable pathways to small business success, and concrete strategies for supporting capital access, small business capacity, and commercial real estate. This project is a collaboration between Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) and Next City, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Download a complete copy of the playbook to read more.

Even prior to the pandemic, finding affordable commercial space posed significant challenges to small businesses. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance found that average commercial rent increases can range from 7 percent to 26 percent annually, with higher increases in dense, walkable neighborhoods. Among the reasons for skyrocketing commercial rents is the preference among many real estate developers and lenders for a single large tenant — often national chains. In this environment, small business revenues frequently cannot keep pace with rising rents, and purchasing commercial buildings — which can help protect tenants from sudden rent increases — is also often prohibitively expensive for small businesses.

Many small businesses that managed to remain open through the pandemic are struggling to pay rent. The Federal Reserve found that 43 percent of small employer firms experienced challenges paying rent in 2020, with BIPOC-owned firms more likely to report difficulties than white-owned firms. Though no national estimate of commercial rent arrears exists, recent research suggests that 46 percent of businesses with annual revenues under $100,000 are one or more months behind on rent, compared to 36 percent of larger firms. Commercial rent arrears have the potential to set off a wave of evictions of BIPOC tenants, with devastating effects on the finances of individual entrepreneurs and the communities that depend on their services.

The pandemic has also rapidly accelerated a decade-long rise in commercial vacancies propelled by online retail and shifts to online and home-based work in some industries. In addition to these challenges, hot-market cities such as New York and San Francisco already struggled with high storefront vacancies resulting from property warehousing, where building owners hold properties empty in the hope of eventually securing high-paying tenants. In the wake of COVID-19 closures, retail vacancies nationwide are projected to rise, with significant implications for commercial corridors and business districts. Pervasive vacancies are linked with decreased property values, trash accumulation, pests, and fire risks. Particularly along commercial corridors, high rates of vacancies can reduce foot traffic and sales for remaining businesses, contributing to more closures.

In contrast, practitioners noted that in many rural areas, commercial space is often scarce, and the few available buildings often require substantial rehabilitation and environmental remediation — costs that are out of reach for entrepreneurs with limited capital. These challenges are further compounded for tribal nations, where centuries of federal policy depriving Native communities of their lands have both limited development and created complexities in land tenure and permitting requirements that make it difficult for entrepreneurs to secure commercial leases or use land as collateral for loans.

With federal CARES Act and American Rescue Plan Act funds, as well as potential new investments in physical and human infrastructure outlined in the $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and $3.5 trillion Congressional budget proposal, local governments have an opportunity to advance transformative policies that fight commercial displacement, preserve existing spaces, and develop new affordable spaces and community ownership opportunities for BIPOC-owned small businesses.


To stave off commercial evictions, some cities provided commercial rent relief as part of their emergency small business assistance during the pandemic. For example, the City of Pittsburgh provided grants of up to $3,000 to landlords who agreed to reduce rents for 3-6 months for commercial tenants. The State of Oregon used a portion of its federal CARES Act allocation and state general funds to commit $100 million for small business support statewide, including commercial rent relief. Property owners were eligible to receive up to $100,000 per commercial tenant, conditioned on forgiving all back rent and fees and not evicting commercial tenants after receiving funds. In northwestern Ohio, the Greater Toledo Small Business Stabilization Fund leveraged public, private, and philanthropic dollars to provide emergency grants of up to $10,000 for small businesses to pay operating costs incurred during the pandemic, including rent.

Dinette world image
Dinette World. Photo: Brian Crawford, CC by 2.0

Some cities are considering longer-term solutions to curb high commercial rents and vacant property warehousing. The New York City Council passed legislation in 2019 to create a vacant storefront registry and recently held a hearing on commercial rent regulation, a longtime priority for advocates fighting small business displacement. Just before the pandemic, San Francisco voters approved a ballot measure to impose a tax on commercial properties kept vacant for more than six months, while Washington, D.C., has had a similar law in place for nearly a decade that applies to both commercial and residential properties.

Along with commercial rent relief and anti-vacancy measures, cohort members noted many opportunities for local governments to support the wide spectrum of space needs small businesses have throughout their life cycles, from providing free temporary access to public space to facilitating permanent ownership of commercial buildings, as described below.


Temporary space can help entrepreneurs build an initial client base and grow their business as they transition to a longer-term lease or permanent space. To support this early-stage entrepreneurship, local governments can work with community partners to identify and access free spaces, and provide grants to coordinating organizations. For example, Duluth’s American Indian Community Housing Organization hosts the Indigenous Food & Art Market in the One Roof Community Housing parking lot. As one cohort member described, “Our Indigenous entrepreneurs started with a winter market, and from there, we have seen those businesses really start to grow and to develop.” A similar initiative in Portland, Oregon, the Portland Indigenous Marketplace, has supported Indigenous artists and entrepreneurs with a collaborative, culturally respectful environment and free vendor space at local nonprofit parking lots. After a year of successful events, the organization received a grant from the county government and incorporated as a nonprofit, and transitioned to hosting virtual marketplaces during the pandemic.


Cohort members described opportunities to support nonprofit partners and small businesses in purchasing commercial spaces as a long-term solution to commercial displacement. The Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) in San Francisco, for example, has used funding from the City of San Francisco Small Sites program to support both affordable housing and commercial and cultural preservation efforts in the Mission District, a historically Latinx neighborhood experiencing rapid gentrification. So far, MEDA has preserved 100,000 square feet of commercial space in the District, which it rents out at below-market rates to neighborhood businesses and organizations. The organization is now exploring ways to help small businesses directly acquire their own spaces, as part of a community ownership and wealth-building strategy.

Local governments can also support the development of small business incubators that provide below-market rents, shared common spaces, and access to support services. The Beaver Street Enterprise Center in Jacksonville provides offices to 48 small businesses at below-market rents, including access to free event and meeting spaces. As a nonprofit, Beaver Street offers flexibility to small businesses experiencing cash-flow problems and did not evict any tenants during the pandemic. The organization also provides free coaching, trainings, and networking events to its tenants as well as a broader network of entrepreneurs. Change Labs, a Native-led nonprofit based in the Navajo and Hopi nations, leads a small business incubator that supports Native entrepreneurs on tribal lands. The program creates annual cohorts of 20 entrepreneurs that receive intensive coaching, mentoring, and peer support, along with co-working and meeting spaces. Entrepreneurs who complete the program are also eligible for a $10,000 loan to seed their business.


Community ownership models balance anti-displacement goals with wealth-building strategies, and foster meaningful community decision-making over development. Often used for permanently affordable housing, community land trusts (CLTs) can also steward commercial properties and lease spaces at below-market rents to small businesses. The Rondo Commercial Land Trust Project in St. Paul, Minnesota, offers over 9,000 square feet of affordable commercial space, and seeks to retain, stabilize, and promote small, BIPOC- owned businesses along a major commercial corridor in the historically Black Rondo neighborhood. The CLT currently has six commercial tenants, includes affordable housing in its portfolio, and shoulders a larger share of costs than typical commercial property owners.

Commercial real estate or investment cooperatives can also offer affordable space to small businesses while providing wealth-building and leadership opportunities to BIPOC community members. The East Bay Permanent Real Estate Cooperative (EBPREC) is piloting a mixed-use development with 6,000 square feet of commercial space at below-market rents for BIPOC-owned startups, with a focus on arts and cultural spaces, as part of a community-led effort to revitalize a historically Black cultural and economic corridor in West Oakland, California. As the EBPREC’s first commercial acquisition, the project will be cooperatively owned and financially supported by community shareholders. The Community Investment Trust (CIT) in Portland, Oregon, is pursuing a similar model by providing opportunities for low- to moderate-income residents to own commercial real estate collectively in their neighborhoods. The CIT’s first project was an underutilized commercial retail mall in southeast Portland that was only 66 percent occupied. Since the CIT’s acquisition, the mall is now 95 percent leased and houses over 25 mostly BIPOC-owned small businesses and nonprofits.


The following principles apply to all of the strategies listed here for promoting affordable commercial space in cities.

Be intentional

Practitioners emphasized that commercial rent relief should be targeted to small, locally owned businesses in sectors hardest hit by the pandemic. Pittsburgh limited its commercial rental assistance grants to locally owned commercial tenants with 15 or fewer employees, while Oregon’s program focused on businesses with fewer than 100 employees. The Greater Toledo Small Business Stabilization Fund focused its grantmaking on hard-hit industries like retail, food and drink, and child care, as well as BIPOC-, women-, and veteran-owned businesses and those located in low- and moderate-income Census Tracts.

Second Street, Eureka image
Second Street, Eureka, California. Photo: Jan Kronsell, June 2006

Local governments can also work with community partners to map available commercial spaces that suit a variety of small business needs, including underutilized city-owned sites, and develop criteria for development and disposition that prioritize BIPOC-owned small businesses and commercial corridors in BIPOC neighborhoods. For example, the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) rents its commercial space in San Francisco’s Mission District to small businesses based on four criteria: social impact, commitment to local hiring, offering affordable products/services, and local ownership. MEDA’s business development team and CDFI work with each prospective commercial tenant to develop business models and occupancy agreements that suit their needs.

Be inclusive in strategy development and implementation

Local governments can collaborate with BIPOC entrepreneurs and community-based organizations that know their neighborhoods to identify potential spaces, assess the range of small business tenancy needs, and work with partners to support commercial development models that are responsive to the community’s needs. MEDA convenes a 20-organization collaborative that partners with the City of San Francisco to develop comprehensive community development initiatives in the Mission District that prioritize anti-displacement and cultural placekeeping of longtime Latinx residents, small businesses, and community-serving organizations.

Practitioners also emphasized that these collective efforts are most impactful when they provide meaningful leadership and community ownership opportunities for BIPOC entrepreneurs and community stakeholders. For example, the Community Investment Trust in Portland, Oregon, began by surveying low and moderate-income residents in East Portland about their financial preferences, which identified real estate investment as a priority. The coordinating organization, Mercy Corps, then convened a larger team of volunteers and pro bono technical assistance providers to work with residents on building out the investment trust model and to identify a suitable site for the trust’s first acquisition. Shareholders build equity through investing $10-$100 per month in the CIT, and must reside in the project’s neighboring zip codes, which helps keep wealth and decision-making power in the community.

Ensure program accessibility

Noting the challenges that BIPOC-owned small businesses experienced in accessing PPP funds, practitioners emphasized that local governments should prioritize getting commercial rental assistance and other emergency small business funding out the door quickly. Developing application questions and requirements that are not overly burdensome, having enough staff who are trained in analyzing applications efficiently and can support applicants throughout the process, and using accessible technology are all critical components of infrastructure for disbursing funds. Partnerships can help provide this infrastructure. The Greater Toledo Small Business Stabilization Fund pooled resources from KeyBank and Jumpstart, CARES Act Emergency Block Grant funds via the City of Toledo, the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, and ProMedica, while LISC Toledo managed the application and grant distribution process. LISC Toledo offered the short grant application in 14 languages, and did not require any documentation from applicants unless they were selected for awards.

Even when local governments commit resources to small businesses for commercial acquisition and space improvements, practitioners noted that BIPOC- owned small businesses rarely have the capital to front the costs for this work and wait for local governments to reimburse them. Providing up-front financing and having dedicated, knowledgeable staff who can accompany small businesses through the acquisition or rehabilitation process are critical for ensuring access.

Level the playing field by addressing capacity needs for deployment

Practitioners identified a need for more public funding to support acquisition and rehabilitation, and to subsidize below-market rents for commercial spaces. Said one cohort member:

So many banks and funders are interested in funding programs, which is good—programs are important. But space is important too. We have space that we need to build out; we could make more space. It’s a matter of getting the funding for that.

Acquisition and rehabilitation financing is just as important in rural areas and smaller towns as it is in hot-market cities. Practitioners shared that many rural areas do not have much available commercial space, and existing structures may require significant rehabilitation and environmental remediation in order to be usable. Practitioners recommended that local governments combine federal SBA funding, New Markets and other tax credits, and American Rescue Plan funds, as well as create their own acquisition funds for nonprofit partners. In smaller towns, practitioners suggested a pooled fund at the county or multi-county level. In addition to providing financing and technical assistance, local governments could consider opportunity-to-purchase policies for commercial properties, similar to residential opportunity-to-purchase policies in place in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco, which give tenants a first shot at buying their building when landlords sell.

Practitioners also emphasized the importance of resources for staff and support services alongside funding for space. The value that community partners can offer goes beyond affordable rents to providing a supportive environment for entrepreneurs to stabilize and grow their businesses. As one practitioner illustrates:

The incubator setting is one where you have access to space, support, and safety under the same roof. And it’s really important as it allows entrepreneurs to automatically access the ongoing resources that are provided in the space and learn continuously while also allowing the TA [technical assistance] provider to remain on top of what the small businesses’ needs are so it can respond appropriately.

Set up a monitoring process with accountability mechanisms

In addition to tracking indicators that capture the extent to which commercial rent relief and affordable commercial space are actually reaching hardest-hit BIPOC-owned small businesses, practitioners recommended including criteria that evaluate broader community benefit, community ownership, and wealth-building opportunities.

This article was originally published in Next City, March 14, 2022. Republished with permission.

The authors work at Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). They are Patricia Voltolini, a Senior Research Associate; Melissa Kim, the Senior Program Officer for Capacity Building; David M. Greenberg, Vice President of Knowlege Management and Strategy; Julia Duranti-Martinez, Program Officer for Capacity and Research; and Michelle Harati, Senior Program Officer, LISC Policy.

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Northern Section 2022 Awards announced

Northern Section 2022 Awards announced

The results are in. Join us in congratulating the best of Northern California planning!

Our jurors were:

  • Stephen Avis, AICP, Consulting Planner, Ferndale
  • Michael Cass, Principal Planner, City of Dublin
  • Florentina Craciun, AICP, Senior Environmental Planner, City and County of San Francisco
  • Afshan Hamid, AICP, Planning Director, Town of Moraga
  • Ellen Yau, Senior Planner, City of Mountain View

And the winners are:


Award of Excellence: Homelessness in Transit Environments

  • Team: UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies: Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris (PI) Professor; Associate Dean of the School of Public Affairs. Research team: Jacob L. Wasserman, Hao Ding, Ryan Caro


Award of Excellence: Milpitas Planning Tools for Housing

  • Team: City of Milpitas and Metta Urban Design


Award of Excellence: City of Santa Rosa, Downtown Station Area Specific Plan Update

  • Team: City of Santa Rosa and Dyett and Bhatia


Award of Excellence: San Rafael General Plan 2040

  • Team: Barry Miller, FAICP, project manager, primary author; City of San Rafael, BAE Urban Economics, Communities in Collaboration, Opticos Design, Fehr and Peers, PlaceWorks

Award of Merit: Sausalito 2040 General Plan Update

The Sausalito General Plan benefits from an optional element focused on the waterfront, sea-level rise, preservation of marine industries, and rehabilitation of its historic waterfront industrial area.

  • Team: City of Sausalito; M-Group, FirstCarbon Solutions, Economic and Planning Systems, Parisi Transportation Consultants, BKF Engineers, Mott MacDonald

Award of Merit: Milpitas 2040 General Plan

  • Team: City of Milpitas and De Novo Planning Group


Award of Merit: East Side Innovation District Vision Plan

The City of San Carlos East Side Innovation District is an excellent example of economic development planning using a unique planning methodology and strategy to revitalize an aging industrial commercial district into a transformative 21st-century mixed-use, innovation-economy-focused neighborhood.

  • Team: City of San Carlos and Perkins & Will Consultants


Award of Excellence: SoHay: a mixed-use, mixed-income, mixed-density development

This 25-acre development with its new park was seamlessly stitched together from a patchwork of disjointed and irregularly shaped parcels that were set aside for a freeway that was never built.

  • Team: City of Hayward and Dahlin Group Architecture Planning


Award of Excellence: San Francisco Bay Trail Risk Assessment and Adaptation Prioritization Plan

  • Team: East Bay Regional Park District and WRT


Award of Excellence: San Pablo Walk & Bike Broadway Temporary Demonstration

  • Team: City of San Pablo


Award of Excellence: Rancho San Antonio Multimodal Access Project

The project planned and implemented a series of TDM strategies to promote greener modes of transportation, reduce parking demand and traffic congestion, and maintain equitable access for both local and regional visitors to Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District’s most visited preserve — a popular community asset and major regional attraction with 700,000 annual visitors.

  • Team: Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District and IBI Group

Award of Merit: San Mateo County Alternative Congestion Relief and TDM Plan

  • Team: San Mateo County Transportation Authority and WSP


Award of Excellence: San José Citywide Design Standards and Guidelines

  • Team: City of San José, Urban Planning Partners, Inc., Van Meter Williams Pollack LLP

Award of Merit: City of Dublin Downtown Preferred Vision

  • Team: City of Dublin, Urban Field, ELS Architects, Keyser Marston Associates, Retail Real Estate Resources, SWA Landscape Architects, BKF Engineers, Kimley Horn

Award of Merit: San José Berryessa BART Urban Village Plan

This is one of the first high-density, mixed-use commercial developments near a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station in the Bay Area. The approved plan will accommodate up to 14,000 jobs, 4.2 million square feet of commercial space, and 5,100 dwelling units on a combination of both publicly and privately-owned land.

  • Team: City of San José; Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, Fehr and Peers, TS Studio, Barbara Goldstein & Associates

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Bay Area transit agencies are (finally) taking collaboration seriously

Bay Area transit agencies are (finally) taking collaboration seriously

With state funding possibly on the line, 27 agencies across the Bay Area are ironing out new strategies to coordinate fares, wayfinding and more.

By Henry Pan, Next City, May 6, 2022

Noe Valley/J Church trolley, San Francisco. On the outer edge of the Noe Valley neighborhood, a trolley turns from Church Street to 30th. (Photo by Don Barrett/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, November 2021)

[Next City Ed. note: This is the third in a series of three articles by Pan about city public transit systems and the benefits and obstacles of how they integrate with regional transit providers. The first two stories covered the Twin Cities and Sacramento.]

I hardly traveled outside of San Francisco on my own growing up.

My parents, working-class Chinese immigrants, managed to get a monthly San Francisco Muni pass for me so I could get to school. I used that pass on weekends to explore the city, but rarely ventured outside of the city limits.

One of the few times I did so was in high school on a sunny and warm Friday morning. My 17-year-old self paid $13 one way to travel 65 miles over three hours on four transit agencies to get to Western Railway Museum, a Solano County museum with historic rail vehicles from around California.

I would head over to the museum by transit again in a heartbeat if I still lived in the Bay Area. However, taking public transit over such a long distance might not even work for those who do live in the Bay Area because of how time-consuming, expensive, and confusing it can be.

All of this may change in the next several years, as 27 Bay Area transit agencies work to coordinate their fares, schedules, and wayfinding, and as the California legislature considers a bill to withhold their state funding if they don’t. And to fund it all, the MTC may request a ballot measure from the legislature, after abandoning an effort in 2020 for $100 billion because of the pandemic.

Although it has been a decades-long effort, cratering transit ridership heading into the pandemic — the Bay Area lost 27 million annual riders between 2017 and 2018 — makes it urgent.

“It really is about, in the most bold vision, having a harmonious system where the rider doesn’t really notice what system they’re on. It’s a Bay Area system, and it’s clear how you connect from A to B,” says Rebecca Long, who directs legislative affairs for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Bay Area’s federal metropolitan planning organization.

Regional transit coordination is a fraught topic because every agency wants to have as many riders as possible, which translates into more funding. “There’s quite a lot of money at stake that agencies see as their own,” says Ian Griffiths, who runs Seamless Bay Area, an organization advocating for a unified regional transit system. “They see regional coordination as being potentially a risk to their ability to [collect] revenue.”

The regional transit coordination bill, if passed, requires free transfers between every agency, except to and from Muni’s cable cars. “Rather than having to worry about, ‘Should I take this mode, or this mode,’ [Getting from point] A to B should cost a fair amount, and it should be easy to understand, easy to pay, and there should be no surprises,” says Griffiths, whose organization supports implementing fares based on distance traveled.

To meet that provision, the MTC will revamp transfer discounts to riders using the regional fare payment card Clipper when the new version rolls out next year. Riders transferring from BART to any agency will only pay the difference in the connecting agency fare, while riders transferring from any agency to BART will pay BART fare, less the fare they already paid to the connecting agency.

“So let’s say the bus fare was $2.50, you’d be reducing that amount entirely from your trip in each direction,” Long says. “That’s a really big deal … and the operators have agreed to that.” Altogether, the change will cost agencies $30 million, with MTC footing part of the bill.

But until then, riders will have to utilize a mishmash of transfer discounts to get between different agencies, if they exist. Otherwise, California Sen. Josh Becker, D-San Mateo and the author of the bill, says that “people who are transferring between systems are still paying double, triple.” The MTC also partnered with most Bay Area transit agencies during the height of the pandemic to launch a discounted fare program for low-income adults.

Both fare and transfer discounts are only available on Clipper, itself a decades-long effort to make riding across multiple transit agencies seamless. It’s accepted on all except one transit agency: Dixon Readi-Ride in northeastern Solano county, who chose not to participate because of administrative costs and equipment compatibility.

From Next City logoWayfinding has been a decades-long issue, too. In the early 2000s, the agency built a regional trip planner, where riders could figure out what routes to take to get to where they needed to go. It was not perfect by any means; I remember planning trips from my childhood apartment in San Francisco’s Nob Hill to Stonestown, a mall located in the southwest corner of San Francisco, and the planner returned a trip result that would take an hour to complete, instead of a more direct route that takes about 45 minutes.

Today, many agencies provide transit schedule data to companies such as Montreal, Quebec-based Transit, who build navigation apps for people with computers and smartphones. But not every agency is able to provide such data to these companies, and not everyone can use the apps.

So the MTC is working to implement a consistent brand for maps and directional signage, which the bill also requires. They hope to work with a consultant starting this summer to deploy pilot wayfinding in the North and East Bays, which are home to many transit systems, in late 2024 or early 2025.

Although the MTC developed wayfinding standards now in place at BART and some Muni Metro stations, as well as major transit hubs such as Salesforce Transit Center in Downtown San Francisco, they coexist with other signage developed by individual transit agencies. “You still have all of the other very different operator-specific signage, maps, terminology, that creates a pretty confusing environment, especially for a new rider,” Long says.

In addition to signage, Golden Gate Transit, which connects Sonoma and Marin Counties with San Francisco and the East Bay, decided to renumber their routes, in part because some of their route numbers were numbered the same as other routes operated by other transit agencies, such as Muni.

“As San Francisco started to bring back routes to their system, we had a Golden Gate Transit Route 30 [which runs between Downtown San Francisco and San Rafael] operating a block apart from a Muni Route 30 [that runs between San Francisco’s 4th and King Caltrain station and the Marina District],” says Golden Gate Transit Planning Director Ron Downing. “We had a couple complaints from people that were using [a trip planner] and they weren’t sure which route 30 they needed to board in the Marina District.”

Before they could renumber any routes, however, they needed to ask neighboring Marin Transit, which Golden Gate Transit used to operate under contract until the late 2000s, to free up a series of numbers. After they secured the series, they implemented the renumbering in December 2021, one of which involved renumbering the 30 into the 130. “That’s different enough for the passenger to know it’s different [from] the Muni bus,” said Downing. The agency has not received any complaints about the renumbering, which was praised by neighboring agencies.

The agency also used this opportunity to renumber several other routes so riders could understand how far they can get from San Francisco based on how high the route is numbered, with some exceptions. But route changes they undertook over the years made it difficult to adhere to the numbering standards.

Aside from fares, mapping, and wayfinding, Bay Area transit agencies working across different disciplines have been getting together many times a week to talk about how they can better work together. One of the changes discussed is coordinating schedule changes so they all take place on the same day, perhaps in August and January.

A version of this article was originally published in Next City, May 6, 2022. Republished with permission.

Image of Henry PanHenry Pan 潘嘉宏 (they/ them/ theirs) is a Minneapolis-based freelance journalist who reports primarily on transportation issues. Prior to 2017, Pan worked with several organizations now operating with Seamless Bay Area, which supports SB 917 (Becker), the Seamless Transit Transformation Act. They hold a bachelor’s in urban studies and planning from San Francisco State University.

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Celebrating CommUNITY: APA California 2022 Conference, October 1-4

Celebrating CommUNITY: APA California 2022 Conference, October 1-4

The Orange Section Conference Host Committee invites you to Anaheim!

The conference theme, “Celebrating CommUNITY,” recognizes the hard-won victories and achievements in planning that required collaboration, cooperation, and creative problem solving to navigate over the last few years.

The 2022 Conference will include a robust program of sessions and educational activities that reflect the theme — plus long-awaited opportunities to assemble in person, socialize, and reconnect with colleagues.

If you are unable to travel to Anaheim, we offer the option of participating virtually. You’ll find the details in the registration process.

Registration is open now through September 30th, but early registration rates end August 15.

To begin the registration process, click here.

Need a place to stay? Discounted rates are available at the Anaheim Marriott. Single/doubles are $190 plus state and local taxes.

To book your hotel reservation at the Anaheim Marriott, click here. Or book reservations directly with the hotel by calling 1-877-622-3056 or 1-714-750-8000. To ensure you receive our discounted rate — and that APA California receives credit for your stay — identify yourself as an APA California conference attendee when booking.

We look forward to seeing you in Anaheim in October!

Return to Northern News here.

Urban Planning students measure the civic value of urban open space

Urban Planning students measure the civic value of urban open space

By SJSU’s MURP Spring 2022 class, May 24, 2022

Public and civic spaces like parks are destinations where people can coexist and enjoy nature. These are places where all people, regardless of race or socioeconomic status, can visit to relax and connect with the natural environment. Civic spaces are vital to our daily lives because they allow different communities to come together and address the problems of social isolation and economic segregation.

The City of San José recognizes that these are valuable places and is committed to providing all residents with access to superb park and open space. One of those, the Guadalupe River Park, has the potential to become the city’s finest civic asset.

Located a few blocks west of Downtown San José, the Guadalupe River Park sits along the banks of the Guadalupe River and between Interstates 880 to the north and 280 to the south. Spanning more than 2.5 linear miles and encompassing over 254 acres, the Park is known as the “Central Park of San José.” Its long trails and paths make it a favorite among dog walkers, runners, and cyclists, and its Rotary Playground is a popular attraction for young families. The Park also houses multiple sports courts. One of which is a futsal court sponsored by the San José Earthquakes, a Major League Soccer franchise whose stadium is near the north end of the Park.

Saturday morning pickup futsal game at the Arena Green East sports courts. Photo: Matt Schroeder
Saturday morning pickup futsal game at the Arena Green East sports courts. Photo: Matt Schroeder

For the spring 2022 semester, San José State University’s Master of Urban Planning students partnered with the Guadalupe River Park Conservancy to study the Park and learn who is now using the Park and how, and to develop a set of programs for enhancing the visitor experience for all community members.

The guiding principles the students used to frame their research came from the Reimagining the Civic Commons (RCC) initiative. San José is an RCC “Expansion City.” RCC’s mission is to transform shared civic assets to foster engagement, equity, environmental sustainability, and economic development in cities across the country. The ultimate goal of the initiative is to increase financial investment in civic assets as a way to combat the alarming trends of increasing economic segregation, social isolation, and distrust.

RCC relies on four “outcomes,” or goals, to measure the value of civic assets. These include civic engagement, socioeconomic mixing, environmental sustainability, and value creation. These four goals are used to measure the value of civic assets based on a variety of indicators included within each goal.

Our spring 2022 class aimed to capture the stories of park users through a mixed-methods approach that divided the class into four teams, with each team assigned to one of the Park’s quadrants: Arena Green East, Arena Green West, the Trails, and the Gardens.

The teams conducted direct observation surveys to record the number of park users, their approximate age, race, if they were actively exercising, and their proximity to other park users. Through a set of survey questions provided by RCC, survey respondents were asked a series of questions related to RCC’s four goals. We asked about park users’ level of civic engagement, whether they felt safe when visiting the Park, the frequency and duration of their park visits, and much more.

To streamline the data collection process, the class leveraged Esri’s Survey123 platform to enable location-based analysis. Our research effort built off the work of a previous MURP class (fall 2020) which conducted the exact same study during peak pandemic conditions and smoke-filled skies during an unprecedented wildfire season.

Elenoa Taufalele surveys a park user in the Arena Green West section of the Park. Photo: Brian Toy
Elenoa Taufalele surveys a park user in the Arena Green West section of the Park. Photo: Brian Toy

Before conducting any surveys, the class needed to better understand the Park and its current condition. To achieve this, we participated in multiple walking tours through the park with Conservancy staff and also interviewed professionals working on different programs related to the Park.

One of the class’s first interviews was with Vanessa Beretta, senior development officer for the Homelessness Response Team (HRT) at the City of San José. Meeting with her was an essential first step as the Park currently has one of the highest concentrations of the City’s roughly 6,000 unhoused persons. She provided critical insights into how the City collects data on unhoused persons, the various services available to individuals, how the City’s HRT is funded, and the most significant challenges the City faces when it comes to addressing the homelessness crisis.

We also interviewed local artists who painted murals in the Park, City of San Jose staff who are closely familiar with the Park, and Conservancy staff who are intimately familiar with the Park’s facilities. By reaching out to professionals experienced with different aspects of the Park, the class was able to gain a deeper understanding of the Park’s various elements. The discussions with practitioners helped us draw more specific conclusions based on the survey results.

“Do You Know the Way to San Jose’s Guadalupe River Trail?” is a 2,550 square-foot mural on the Santa Clara Street bridge by local artist Kristina Micotti. Photo: Matt Schroeder
“Do You Know the Way to San Jose’s Guadalupe River Trail?” is a 2,550 square-foot mural on the Santa Clara Street bridge by local artist Kristina Micotti. Photo: Matt Schroeder

These are our key findings:

  • The Guadalupe River Park draws visitors from outside San José. Nearly a quarter of those interviewed do not live in the city.
  • Youth aged 18 and under, particularly teens, were the most underrepresented of park users.
  • Between 2020 and 2022, the number of park users who drove to the Park increased by more than 10 percent, and the number of survey respondents who came to the Park other than by car decreased by 15 percent.
  • From 2020 to 2022, the number of survey respondents who had volunteered at the Park rose by 9 percent.
  • Mirroring the MURP class findings from 2020, park users generally felt safe during the day, but perceptions of personal safety were significantly lower at night.
  • Many of the survey respondents attributed safety issues in the Park to the unhoused.

As part of this class effort, students were required to record podcast episodes related to different aspects of Guadalupe River Park.  Topics range from “the value of public art” to “how park fees are assessed by the City of San José” to “how local vendors acquire business permits for tabling at community events.” Our podcasts are available on SoundCloud and can be found on the CommunityCasting Channel.


Authors of this article from the Spring 2022 Class: Top Row: Saagar Ghai, Zachary Johnson, Derek Hicks, Khashayar Alaee, Rick Kos (Instructor), and Matthew Schroeder Middle Row: Korey Richardson, Kevin Lee, Elenoa Taufalele, Boniface Chifamba, Simon Tan, and Ahoura Zandiatashbar (Instructor) Bottom Row: Marissa Mathiesen, Ruta Desai, Jo’leysha Cotton, Tam Tran, Gretel Gunther, and Brian Toy
Authors of this article from the Spring 2022 Class:
Top Row: Saagar Ghai, Zachary Johnson, Derek Hicks, Khashayar Alaee, Rick Kos (Instructor), and Matthew Schroeder
Middle Row: Korey Richardson, Kevin Lee, Elenoa Taufalele, Boniface Chifamba, Simon Tan, and Ahoura Zandiatashbar (Instructor)
Bottom Row: Marissa Mathiesen, Ruta Desai, Jo’leysha Cotton, Tam Tran, Gretel Gunther, and Brian Toy

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Listening Sessions: APA and CPR want to hear from you

Listening Sessions: APA and CPR want to hear from you

The housing crisis is worsening and getting more complex. How can planners lead effectively while preventing the displacement of our neighbors?

The California Planning Roundtable and APA California want to hear from the state’s APA members, via the California Chapter’s Sections, about how the last few years of legislative land-use efforts have affected them personally and in their professional settings. Ultimately, Cal Chapter and the Roundtable will also seek strategies to realize housing affordability and prevent or mitigate displacement, including concerns about, and ideas for, implementing recent housing bills. CPR hopes to synthesize information from across the state to share at the Chapter’s conference in the fall; to use that data to inform the Chapter’s stance on housing and land use legislation; and potentially to create agency for the Chapter to assist the legislative process. The current effort is to learn how the legislation and its implementation are affecting professionals and their workplaces statewide.

Listening sessions on Providing Homes for People

In an effort to address California’s tremendous housing crisis and the effects of historically low housing production and continuing high housing demand, California’s political response over the last several years has been to enact numerous bills. These include SB 35, SB 330, AB 2162, SB 8, SB 9, SB 10, and increasing opportunities for ADUs. In general, the legislation has required local agencies to alter their traditional processes and discretionary project review for single-family zoning and environmental review, potentially decreasing development fees. While these bills work toward addressing supply and fast-tracking housing (especially those projects with affordable components), they do not sufficiently address (except through longer-term supply pipelines) concerns about housing affordability and security, gentrification and displacement, and equitable community benefits. In addition, entrenched bureaucratic and political perspectives continue to challenge affordable housing development, not to mention market speculation.

California’s planners are at the center of ensuring that implementing these bills will deliver real results, even in the face of local political opposition to the changes in process dictated by state mandates. This presents a challenge to and an opportunity for California’s planners to help rethink local government systems and processes in light of the state’s tremendous need for affordable housing, but it has come at a cost for practicing planners.

CPR’s series of listening sessions is designed to ask, and to learn from, planners throughout California about how these pieces of legislation are affecting them, their workplaces, and their concerns and hopes as we implement these bills.

The Roundtable and Cal Chapter hope to ask:

  1. As a planner, how do you feel about the fact that the state is in a housing crisis? As leaders in land use, what can APA California do to support you in addressing this crisis?
  2. How has the new state housing legislation affected your workplace and the agencies you staff?
  3. What challenges do you face, and what opportunities do you see in your professional work when you try to address housing and equity issues?
  4. How can we as planners ensure that this new legislation will prevent displacement to the extent possible and will be implemented in a way that directly advances APA’s goals for affordability and equity, while also improving infrastructure and sustainability?
  5. How can the planning profession learn and respond in a way that highlights our relevance and ability to solve local, regional, and statewide land use and housing problems?  

In order to broadly identify the opportunities and challenges in implementing the last several years of housing and land use bills, the California Planning Roundtable is co-sponsoring this effort with APA California and each of its local sections to collect, synthesize, and distribute the comments received during the listening sessions. The Roundtable will then work with APA California leadership to look at ways to use the information in both legislation and implementation.

Proposed agenda for the listening sessions

The following is a proposed agenda for each Section to follow. Remember that the point of these sessions is specifically to solicit planners’ thoughts and in a consistent approach across all sections. We anticipate sessions lasting two hours. The comments should be recorded and consolidated by the hosts and shared after the meetings.

  1. Introduction of topic and facilitators. Discuss intent to share at conference. 15 minutes.
  2. Overview of legislation (“Lite.” This is not a presentation of or on the legislation, rather we are soliciting attitudes about the legislation). Create presentation handout for this. 20 minutes.
  3. Facilitated discussion to go through the questions one at a time. Let silence fall if needed. Don’t fill in blanks. Let folks think. If a section has a large number of participants (more than 10-15), break into discussion “rooms” to report back to the whole group. Allow 20 minutes for the first two questions, then report back to the group. Allow 15 minutes for the second set of questions, then report back. Keep 10 minutes solely for the last question, then report back. 75 minutes total.
  4. Any last remarks and questions can be sent via email. Thank you and adjourn.


Interested Northern Section planners should contact Director-elect Michael Cass. General questions should be directed to Miguel A. Vazquez, AICP.

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