Probably all of us have seen and read the considerable speculation and hope — recently expressed by urban and transportation planners, not to mention commuters — that, as the pandemic eases, our city/state/country won’t revert to the congested streets and highways of past years. I have seen some interesting data about the past, including, from the Eno Center for Transportation, The last time VMT dropped this sharply was WWII.
I also saw a study out of Vanderbilt University’s Work Research Group, “The rebound: how COVID-19 could lead to worse traffic,” that forecasts an incredible spike in congestion in San Francisco “unless transit systems can resume safe, high throughput operations quickly. The cities most at risk include” San Francisco because, as Jay Barmann reported in SFist, May 7th, of it’s “relatively heavy dependence on transit and the fact that 3 out of 4 transit users here also own a car.”
Barmann continued: “But given how slowly the Bay Area is expected to reopen businesses — and how many people are unemployed and how many companies will likely allow remote working for months to come — the ‘carmageddon’ scenarios here could be quite a ways off.”
As a reminder of how eerily quiet the roads were two months ago, I offer 12 photos showing the near total absence of vehicular activity in and around San Francisco on March 27 during what would have been the Friday afternoon getaway. The photos were taken by my pre-teen grandchildren Hazel and Karl as their mom drove. The drive started and ended in the East Bay and crossed all three core area bridges. The first photo was taken at 4:41 pm and the last one at 5:22 pm.
By California News Publishers Association, March 12, 2020
“Governor Gavin Newsom [has] issued an Executive Order suspending meeting requirements of the Brown Act and Bagley-Keene Act in response to the increasing threat posed by the Coronavirus.
“The order authorizes state and local bodies to hold public meetings by teleconference and to make public meetings accessible telephonically or otherwise electronically to all members of the public seeking to attend and to address the local or state agencies. …
The order suspends a number of teleconference requirements until the Governor lifts the emergency.
“The Executive Order requires state and local agencies that meet by teleconference under the order to:
“(i) Give advance notice of each public meeting, according to the timeframe otherwise prescribed by the Bagley-Keene Act or the Brown Act, and use the means otherwise prescribed by the Bagley-Keene Act or the Brown Act, as applicable; and
“(ii) Consistent with the notice requirement in paragraph (i), each state or local body must notice at least one publicly accessible location from which members of the public shall have the right to observe and offer public comment at the public meeting, consistent with the public’s rights of access and public comment otherwise provided for by the Bagley Keene Act and the Brown Act …
“The Order does not affect other key provisions of either act, including requirements to notify the public on each agenda of what is to be discussed at an open or closed session of the teleconferenced meetings, or the ability of the public to obtain agenda packets or other documents used by decision-makers for the meetings. Nor does the order change what the respective bodies are required to publicly report after they meet in closed session.”
MARCH marks the start of my fourth year at Facebook. During my first orientation there, my newby colleagues and I were challenged to “commit to being a little terrified every day.” I took that to heart — and ultimately created a poster with that message to remind me — that if I’m comfortable, I’m not being adequately challenged, and I need to find something new to keep me mentally energized.
When James Castañeda, the previous Director of APA California–Northern, and I spoke about his new job opportunity in LA and my expedited path to Section Director, that long-ago quote reminded me to be flexible and adapt to new situations.
Was I excited for this new professional challenge, yes. Was I excited for what this meant for my career growth, yep. Was I a bit terrified, absolutely!
I share this to challenge everyone — including myself — to find areas where we can expand our knowledge, learn new skills, take on risks, and continue to be leaders who can shape our world so future generations can thrive.
Midway through our Section retreat on February 1st, I officially became APA California–Northern Section’s Director, then led our board through a goal setting exercise. I took a moment to reflect on our Section’s accomplishments and encouraged our board members to think about where we want the profession to be at the end of this new decade — and what we, as individuals and as representatives of our Section, can do to get there.
At the retreat, we broke into focus groups to start preparing work plans for the year, identify issues and tools needed for success, and confirm partnerships that will increase our impact. As always, our board not only collaborated, but pushed the envelope. Themes we embraced include providing high-value programming for members, embracing technology to reach larger audiences, supporting students, adding program opportunities for emerging and mid-career planners, and growing our partnerships.
To improve our impact and streamline our efforts, I’ve made my initiatives for 2020 to better document our procedures, create onboarding resources, and update our bylaws.
In the optometry world, 2020 represents perfect vision. I’m excited to make 2020 a year of vision and clarity for our APA section and a year for me to think about my long-term goals and visions for the efforts in which I’m involved.
Think of it as a marathon, not a sprint
I hope 2020 inspires you to identify (or reassess) your long-term goals and push you out of your comfort zone whenever you feel too comfortable. Find small actions you can take to work toward your goals, check in often with yourself to see how you’re progressing, and don’t forget to celebrate the small victories — they really add up.
Reverse BANANA: Build all Kinds of Housing Almost Everywhere
Naphtali Knox, FAICP, interviews Denise Pinkston, MCRP. We need that “missing middle,” from ADUs to fourplexes. If a third of the Bay Area’s existing single-family homes each added one unit over the next decade, we would add half-a-million homes with no visible disruption to our communities. Page 1. (For those who haven’t run across it yet, BANANA goes a step beyond NIMBY to “Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone.”)
Nonprofit Takes Bay Area Cities to Court
Bill Chapin. The California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund (CaRLA) has been racking up legal victories, forcing Bay Area cities to reverse course and approve new housing. Page 4
The Evolution and Application of a CEQA Exemption
Stephen Velyvis. Any parking and aesthetic impacts of transit-oriented infill projects located within transit priority areas cannot be considered significant environmental impacts and are thus exempt from CEQA. But there’s a history to that. Page 8
The Very Best
Announcing the 2018 Northern Section Award Winners. Page 12
SF Urban Film Fest’s mission is to leverage the power of storytelling to spark discussion and civic engagement around urban issues. We focus on what it means to live together in a city and how to make urban planning more equitable and inclusive.
For its 6th annual festival, the SF Urban Film Fest presents thought provoking films, panel discussions, and storytelling workshops around the theme of “Place and the Populist Revolt.” In our most ambitious program yet, we investigate how cities are ground zero for the struggle to hold onto — or finding — a place, both for those already there and for the newly arrived. To help us collectively process these changes and challenges, we follow each film-screening with a discussion that is framed to develop community-centered solutions to ground us in the spirit of place. To help facilitate holistic discussions, the panels intentionally comprise a balance of storytellers, filmmakers, and artists, as well as policy subject experts and practitioners.
During the week of February 2-9, 2020, events will be held at six important cultural and civic venues throughout San Francisco including SPUR, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Bayanihan Community Center, the Lab, and the Roxie Theater. Details on programs and tickets can be found on our website.
The SF Urban Film Fest was founded by Fay Darmawi in 2014 to raise awareness of potential urban planning solutions to the housing crisis. It is curated and produced by a cross-disciplinary team representing academia, urban planning, housing finance, multi-media production, and independent film. Fay’s formal urbanist training is from M.I.T., where she earned her master’s in city planning, and the University of Pennsylvania (B.A., urban studies), but her love of cities is from her childhood, growing up in Jakarta, Indonesia. (Photo by Michael Axtell)
Assembled by associate editor Sajuti Rahman Haque, September 10, 2020
Check out what our readers are saying about Northern News:
Keep up the great work. The issues this year have been great, and I look forward to the new Northern News emails every month. —Karl Sveinsson, AICP, Oakland
YES! That last edition of NN was amazing and jam packed with content! —Andrea Ouse, AICP, Concord
Very readable, and useful. I already sent an article from it to a planner in Santa Barbara County. Looking forward to the next issue. —Bill Siembieda, AICP, San Luis Obispo
Wow…this is impressive!!! —Jeffrey Lambert, Oxnard
I like what I read and see here, and in these difficult times I have a lot of time to read and contemplate. —Gary J. Schoennauer, FAICP, San Jose
Ah, another Dr. Seuss fan, as am I and other planners I know. Maybe it is that very storybook that draws us. And I’ll take this moment to say thanks for all you do and have done for APA and our profession. —Kevin Riley, Los Gatos
Edwina Benner Plaza in Sunnyvale is providing much-needed affordable housing while advancing sustainability-minded design. A combination of on and offsite renewable energy sources are meeting all of the building’s electricity needs and work with other design elements to achieve net-zero operating emissions. Edwina Benner Plaza is also notable for its efforts to address another urgent issue in California: housing for individuals and families with a history of, or at risk for experiencing, homelessness. (Endnote 1)
Bringing affordability to the heart of the Technology Sector
Developed by MidPen Housing, the project consists of 30 one-bedroom, 18 two-bedroom, and 18 three-bedroom apartments, plus amenities such as a community room with kitchen, computer lab, fitness center, children’s playground, and secured bike parking. Funding for the $44 million development came primarily from equity generated from the sale of 9 percent low-income housing tax credits. Additional funding sources included the city of Sunnyvale; Santa Clara County, where Sunnyvale is located; and HUD’s HOME Investment Partnerships Program. To qualify, residents must earn no more than 60 percent of the area median income, and preference for most of the units is given to people living or working in Sunnyvale. Property income funds programming onsite — such as youth afterschool and summer programs, financial literacy courses, vocational training, health and wellness programs, computer assistance, and help accessing other local resources and services — that is available to all residents. (Endnote 2)
In addition to providing affordable workforce housing, Edwina Benner Plaza is helping to address homelessness in the heart of Silicon Valley. The area’s high cost of housing has been an ongoing and severe challenge, and decreases in housing affordability correlate with an increased risk of homelessness. This finding is borne out in Santa Clara County, where, at the time Edwina Benner Plaza opened, an estimated 7,500 men, women, and children experienced homelessness on any given night. The development, supported by project-based vouchers, reserves 13 units for formerly homeless households referred by the county’s Office of Supportive Housing and 10 units for families at risk of homelessness. Peninsula Healthcare Connection provides additional supportive services and case management for formerly homeless residents. (Endnote 3)
Edwina Benner Plaza is the second MidPen Housing project in Sunnyvale to target residents who are currently homeless or at risk of homelessness. (The developer opened the nearby Onizuka Crossing Apartments in 2016. Half of the 58 units there are reserved for formerly homeless individuals.)
Advancing Green Building
Solar rooftop panels generate approximately 50 percent of Edwina Benner Plaza’s electricity requirements. Community-based provider Silicon Valley Clean Energy supplies the remaining 50 percent from renewable sources. These efforts, combined with the development’s electric, rather than gas-powered, hot water heater — and a high-efficiency heat pump for cooling — mean the development produces zero operating emissions, earning it Platinum certification under the GreenPoint Rated system. According to Matthew Lewis, senior project manager at MidPen Housing, the value realized through energy efficiency is passed on to residents, albeit indirectly, in the form of increased funding for onsite services.
Edwina Benner Plaza residents also receive free Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority passes to encourage them to use more sustainable transportation options. And the landscape uses native plants and includes a stormwater planter to help control storm runoff. (Endnote 4)
Project designer David Baker Architects sought to ensure that the development would support not only the well-being of the environment but also the well-being of residents. As an aid, the development’s layout pushes service and storage spaces toward the side of the building fronting a highway. This arrangement shields the living spaces of the building from noise, enhancing the enjoyment and use of private balconies and the shared outdoor space. To further enhance the appeal of being active in the building’s courtyard play area, landscape architect Fletcher Studio used bold colors and patterns to make the confined space feel more expansive and create visual dynamism. (Endnote 5)
Edwina Benner Plaza’s name honors the first woman to serve as mayor of a California town. During her 28 years on the Sunnyvale City Council, Edwina Benner, who began her working life in a cannery, held the mayoral office twice, from 1924 to 1926 and again from 1938 to 1940. Nearly a century later, her life and impact are being honored through a series of memorial plaques donated by the Sunnyvale Historical Society. Mr. Lewis reports that the success of Edwina Benner Plaza demonstrates to other developers the feasibility of all-electric affordable housing projects. It also is influencing MidPen Housing’s ongoing and planned projects.
International Directors Alex Hinds and Hing Wong, AICP, have postponed until 2021 Northern Section’s previously scheduled 2020 tour to the Middle East.
“Our decision reflects the value we place on the health and safety of all those who travel with us and the severity of and uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic,” they said in a report to the Northern Section Board.
“We are considering, however, an international planning collaboration to be conducted online later this year. Although not confirmed, a potential project has been identified to exchange information on public engagement strategies with an advisory committee appointed by the municipality of Puebla, Mexico.”
In small towns and villages across North America, downtown post offices are much beloved greeting, gathering, and pick-up-your-mail places.
Our post office in Inverness, California (pop. 1300), is my all-time favorite. Since home delivery in the boondocks is no longer standard, such post offices are essential for getting your letters and packages, but they also are great places to see your neighbors. The staff greets you by first name, and will retrieve your mail from your gilded P.O. box no matter how many times you forget your keys, and without ever complaining.
When the threat of Covid-19 spread in the spring, our local postal crew valiantly hung what looked like repurposed Saran Wrap at their front counter. Community members spontaneously passed the hat to install a protective Plexiglas barrier to protect our postmistress, her staff, and the public.
Don’t mess with our post office!
Alex Hinds lives in Inverness, Marin County, California. He was a university lecturer and a senior consultant for the center for sustainable communities at Sonoma State University from 2009-2019, community development agency director for Marin County, 1999-2008, planning and building director for San Luis Obispo County, 1990-1999, and Lake County planning director, 1984-1990.
Go here for more on how people use the post office — this time in Brooklyn 11215. Thirteen interviews and sketches, comic book style.