Author: James A. Castañeda

Director’s note – April 2019

Director’s note – April 2019

By James A. Castañeda, AICP.


I remember walking into Union Station in Washington, DC, in the spring of 2004 and marveling at the opening reception. As a student about to graduate with a city and regional planning degree, it was a thrill to be around people in a profession I would join in just a few months. With eagerness and curiosity, I took in everything — sessions on planning topics I had studied, meet-ups with other students, and the vast exhibitor’s hall. I bought a polo shirt to commemorate the trip and the event.

Me in DC in 2004

In many ways, my first National Planning Conference set the tone for what has been a rewarding career as a planner since my first job later in 2004. After that first conference, I was easily lured to San Francisco the following year for the 2005 National Planning Conference. It was there I really felt like I was something larger just by being in our profession, and that led me to practice planning in the Bay Area. I credit much of what has shaped my career to those two conferences.

Proof I attended the 2005 National Planning Conference in San Francisco

I also acknowledge that much of what has continued to inspire me over the years is the annual gathering of my fellow planners. I’m excited that, after 14 years, the National Planning Conference has returned to the Bay Area. In a way, I too have come full circle as a planner in our Northern Section.

Planning Camp

Without fail, whenever I’m away from the grind for a few days, I return to the office full of ideas and eager to continue to be an agent of change and innovation. Like so many things in life, sometimes our best ideas just need a little space and the right environment to bloom into clarity. That’s what I expect will happen to me after I spend four days around other planners at a National Planning Conference, or as I heard someone at NPC17 in New York call it, Planning Camp.

Planning Camp has always been a place for me to be inspired and to reinvigorate my passion for the profession. It’s a place where our best ideas are nurtured, as most everyone comes with an open mind and ready to share their experiences and skills. That eagerness is what sparks insightful dialogues that trigger creativity. Everyone, from the inspirational keynote speakers sharing the big picture, to students anxiously ready to talk about their posters, contributes to what soon becomes an invaluable experience and validation of what it means to be a planner.


It’s a great honor that, on behalf of the Northern Section, I get to welcome planners from across the country to the Bay Area for NPC19. For those like me who experienced the 2005 National Planning Conference, it’s exciting to take stock of where we were 14 years ago and focus on how we have evolved since then within our profession. We can do that internally, or in the NPC sessions, or on any of the 60 mobile workshops we have on the NPC program.

NPC19 would not be possible without the coordination and help of those who volunteered to serve on the Local Host Committee. We owe much to Hing Wong, AICP, the Local Host Chair; Sharon Grewal, AICP, the Activities Coordinator; Jonathan Schuppert, AICP, our Mobile Workshops Coordinator; Bob Zimmerer, AICP, Orientation Tours Coordinator; and Alessandra Lundin of Raimi + Associates, Community Planning Workshop Coordinator. It was my pleasure to contribute to coordinating the creation and curation of the City Guide that is featured in the NPC19 mobile app. After countless volunteer hours from those on the Local Host Committee, I’m confident this will be another successful National Planning Conference, one that all in our Northern Section can be proud of.

I hope I will get to see many of you there. Join me in letting this year’s Planning Camp strengthen your passion for learning. Be sure to stop by our Northern Section welcome table in the main lobby to say hello. You may see me and other familiar faces. I might not be wearing my 2004 APA conference polo or sporting the frosted tips hairstyle from college days, but I’ll be at SF Planning Camp with all of the same eagerness and curiosity!

Director’s note – March 2019

Director’s note – March 2019

James A. Castañeda, AICP

“Clarity and Focus”

That was the theme of our section board’s retreat in January, or as I call it, “The KonMari” retreat. I wanted to impress on the board the importance of making many of our policies and procedures — those that help us work on your behalf — as effective and efficient as possible. Since the board is 100 percent volunteers, it’s important to ensure that being on the board is time worth spending on giving back to the profession — and that we are passionate about doing it. I truly believe that what the section board does affects all of our 1,900 members and sparks joy in our profession.

I was excited to hear what board members at the retreat wanted to accomplish in their respective areas in the coming year, and I want to share a couple of the bigger takeaways here.

Northern News

The board took some time to discuss the future of our flagship Northern News and its value to our members. All who spoke on this matter at the retreat said the newsmagazine is iconic, and universally valued for its informative content, for its quality, and for bringing us locally based and locally authored articles and stories. We are moving toward a fully digital product this year (no more PDF), but the monthly publication schedule will remain — we agreed that was the right frequency for presenting curated articles and ICYMI planning news. So I’m lobbing you the same challenge I gave to your board members: embrace ownership in our publication by contributing to it. The Northern News has always been of, for, and by Northern Section planners, and we can continue that only if you contribute to the content.

Online Distance Education Opportunities

A topic that came up often at the retreat was offering webinar or video streaming services of some of the Northern Section events. Given the tremendous effort that goes into coordinating and hosting the many workshops, lectures, and training sessions we offer, we want to ensure that you can easily access them. That’s the main reason we created a Distance Education Coordinator position on the board last fall and appointed Shannon Hake, AICP. With the help of our immediate past director Sharon Grewal, AICP (who also serves on the Chapter board as Vice President–Professional Development), we’ll be looking to make some of our programming available online beginning in the second half of 2019.

New Board Members

Your board has appointed four new members: Danae Hall will serve as YPG Co-director alongside Veronica Flores. Della Acosta takes over as University Liaison and is already coordinating with our student representatives from UC Berkeley and San Jose State. After a phenomenal reboot of our Mentorship Program, Liz Probst, AICP, has stepped down as Mentorship Director, and Ellen Yau has been appointed to pick up where Liz left off. Mark Young is stepping into the role of South Bay Regional Activity Coordinator. (Cherise Orange moved to Planning Diversity Co-director with Cindy Ma, AICP.) All of these folks bring enthusiasm and great ideas to their respective roles and to the board. Also new to the board is first year graduate student Marta Polovin, Student Representative from UC Berkeley. We’re excited to have all of them on board.

Onward We Serve

All of us on the board are excited about what we are planning for the section in the coming months. The retreat set the tone for a great year, so keep an eye on our event calendar for future events. And if you are (as I hope) motivated to join the board, we are large enough that we almost always have positions available. Right now, we are looking for a new San Francisco Regional Activity Coordinator and a Treasurer to serve out the remaining 2019 term of Jonathan Schuppert, AICP, who is now our Section Director-elect. Make sure to check online for our latest open positions.

Exhibit Booths at NPC19!

Join the American Planning Association for the four-day National Planning Conference in San Francisco at the George R. Moscone Convention Center
on April 13-16, 2019. Setting up an exhibit booth ensures that your company name and logo will be a familiar sight to more than 5,000 conference attendees.

Raise your company’s profile in the planning community and receive maximum exposure for your company by becoming an exhibitor today. This special offer is for local planning firms and non-profit agencies in Northern California.


  • $2,000 Exhibit booth for local planning firm
  • $1,500 Exhibit booth for non-profit agency

Your exhibit booth includes placing a one-half page ad in the Northern News.

Note: Booth size is 10’X 10′. There are additional fees for carpeting and electrical set-up.

To request an application for an exhibit booth or for questions, contact Hing Wong, AICP at or (415) 778-6726.


NPC19 Exhibit booth flyer (PDF)
NPC19 Exhibit Hall Layout (PDF)
NPC19 Exhibitor Rules and Regulations (PDF)

Director’s note — February 2019

James A. Castañeda, AICP

What made you fall in love with planning?

That was the icebreaker question at APA California’s Chapter Board retreat, which I had my first opportunity to attend a few weeks ago, representing you in my new role as Northern Section Director. At first I felt intimidated, but that question and the many familiar faces assured me I was in the right place.

I had to think for a moment, but then shared the story, only half joking, of how I came to planning as a disengaged engineering student whose grades suffered from spending study time playing SimCity 4. It was around the same time that I discovered the city-planning program in college and learned that it was a profession that seemed to have what I was looking for. Beyond visions of building cities from scratch, I was curious about what made communities what they are, and what challenges they faced in getting there. I also had a strong desire to be a problem solver. All of those together made me fall in love with planning.

That exercise at the retreat also got me thinking about why I volunteer my time with APA: It’s that same love for planning that landed me here in service to the Northern Section. It’s also a desire to validate others who love this profession and further empower them by providing the resources they need to be successful. I feel it’s part of our Northern Section duty to support and nurture that love for planning that drives us to serve our communities. That’s why I’m proud to serve as your Section Director, and I am honored to work alongside all of you in this fantastic body of professionals who share a similar vision.

So what’s new for Northern Section this year?

We’ll be continuing with some of our proven programs even as we take on new challenges in 2019. To name just a few, we’ll continue our successful and recently streamlined awards programs (currently accepting nominations through Feb. 19) and our expanded mentorship program (275 participants this past winter). And we’ll continue to partner with other professional organizations including AARP, AEP, SPUR, ULI, and the Silicon Valley Economic Development Alliance, while reaching out to other related professional organizations to expand your opportunities for learning, networking, and advancement. Finally, with the National Planning Conference coming to San Francisco April 13–16, we in the Northern Section will be preparing assiduously to welcome planners from across the country.

Last year, Northern Section introduced two new tracks that the Board hopes will be valuable to and popular with our members. Our Distance Education Coordinator, Shannon Hake, AICP, will create new events and expand on many of our existing ones (most of which will offer CM credits) to make them available online. At the same time, our Mid-Career Planning Group Coordinator, Miroo Desai, AICP, will focus on finding resources and creating new events and workshops specifically for those of us in the middle of our planning careers.

A good start

By the time you read this, your Section board will have held its annual retreat to reflect on last year’s successes and challenges as a way to guide us in what we want to do in 2019. I’ll share in our March issue what we’ve come up with, as well as what we’re doing to implement some of the great ideas we rolled out last year.

Again, I am honored to work on your behalf to bring you additional programming, events, and resources, while validating what made you fall in love with planning. Together, let’s make 2019 a very special year for planning in northern California.

We Want You! (To Join Our Board)

We Want You! (To Join Our Board)

Do you want to be more involved with APA? Do you want to serve your fellow Northern Section members? If you are you ready to build your professional skills, consider joining your Northern Section board in one of our vacant positions!

We are looking to fill vacancies for the following:


Section Treasurer

The Treasurer shall have a working knowledge of profit and loss statements, balance sheets, reconciliation procedures, and Quicken or other accounting computer software programs as specified by the Chapter. The duties of the Treasurer shall be to:

  1. Prepare an annual budget for submittal to the Section Director;
  2. Receive and be held accountable for all Section accounts and funds and to make proper authorized disbursement of said funds, including those received through an electronic transfer website;
  3. Collect or to designate a person responsible to collect money at events that requires a fee;
  4. Submit financial reports to the Section Board; and
  5. To submit quarterly financial reports, including an end of the year financial report to the Chapter.


San Francisco Regional Activity Coordinators/Co-Coordiantors (RAC)

The RACs shall be represented on the Section Board by geographic designation. The seven geographic areas divided by counties are: East Bay (Alameda, Contra Costa), Monterey Bay (Monterey,San Benito, Santa Cruz), North Bay (Marin, Napa, Solano, Sonoma), Peninsula (San Mateo), Redwood Coast (Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino), San Francisco (San Francisco), and South Bay (Santa Clara). The duties of the RACs shall be to:

  1. Provide input to the Board related to the special needs of members in specified regions in the Section or in designated Sub-Sections;
  2. Organize periodic meetings and workshop for members in their regions, contribute relevant articles to the newsletter and assist the Professional Development Director in carrying out the Section’s professional development programs; and
  3. Provide occasional social functions in order to foster a sense of community
    within and among Section members.


The general qualifications, you must be an APA member with current/paid-up membership, reside and practice planning within the Northern Section (nine Bay Area counties including Santa Cruz, Mendocino, Humboldt, and Del Norte counties). If you wish to be considered, we’ll be interested to get a resume and letter of interest telling us why you’d like to be considered for the appointment, any relevant experiences, and what you’ll bring to the program. Please submit those to Section Director-Elect Jonathan Schuppert, AICP.

Help us build our Communications Team

Help us build our Communications Team

Are you someone who likes connecting fellow planners together and is interested in helping us get out the word on all of our great programming? Then we want to talk to you! The Northern Section is in the process of building a stellar communications team to help us reach our 1,700 members through our various online channels and explore new ones. To lead the team, we’re looking for a Communications Director to develop a robust, informative, and engaging experience for our members. We’re also looking for other volunteers to be part of the team.

We’re interested in people who are organized, quick learners, independent, and comfortable writing online. Familiarity with social media and understanding how to leverage the various platforms is crucial. Working with Constant Contact and WordPress is a plus, but certainly something we can help with. On average, our Communication Director will typically spend three to four hours a week on Section duties but the time commitment will depend on each individual’s experience and how organized she is. We want to ensure the Communications Director is supported; duties can be shared to ensure the tasks are manageable.

Our bylaws establish the duties of the Communications Director:

  1. Develop and oversee the communications program for the Section, including coordinating with Board members to publicize Section activities and programs via the newsletter, website, social media and other forms of communications.
  2. Assist Board members and event coordinators in notifying local press of Section activities and programs.
  3. Oversee the preparation, editing, and publishing of the eNews to members and the public.
  4. Assist the Newsletter Editor and Co-Editors in preparing and publicizing the Section’s newsletter.

Think you have what it takes? Then send us a cover letter and résumé and tell us why you’d be a great fit. If you have examples, or a social media account you’re proud of that exemplifies your experience, feel free to share that. If you have any questions or are ready to send off your materials, you can reach out to We’re looking forward to talking to you.