Author: Richard Davis

Tackling transportation emissions in California — or ignoring them

By Melanie Curry, StreetsBlog Cal, March 5, 2020

“Two California Senate committees, Transportation and Environmental Quality, held a hearing [March 4, 2020] to talk about ‘Putting the Brakes on California’s Rising Transportation Emissions.’

“Politics and urgency

“California has been grappling with the need to lower greenhouse gas emissions for years but, at least in terms of transportation, has made little progress.

“That’s in part because until recently few leaders have been willing to say that Californians need to cut down on driving.

“Environmental Quality Committee Chair Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), California State Transportation Agency Secretary David Kim, Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols, and … Senator [Brian] Dahle … all noted it is one of the key things California needs to tackle.

“But Transportation Committee Chair Jim Beall (D-Campbell) showed there is still a lot of work to do to educate people.

“‘[Vehicle Miles Traveled] is one way to look at it,’ he said. ‘But we should also look at congestion, at how much time it takes to get somewhere. If a car is running longer, [it stands to reason it] would be polluting more, and also: how much gas it uses … I would even argue that electric cars pollute because more people are stuck in congestion,’ he said.

“Electrify everything, but reduce VMT too

“Secretary Kim and Chair Nichols spoke of the many, multi-pronged efforts being undertaken by the state to tackle transportation emissions, the main one being electrifying everything as quickly as possible.

“‘Electrification has been key to state thinking and regulatory activities in this area,’ said Nichols. Although the state has goals to require that all new vehicles sold in the state be electric by 2045, ‘we need to have allpassenger vehicles on the road be zero-emission by 2045,’ she said. ‘And we’re obviously a very long way from that goal right now.’

“The only way to get there is to reduce driving. ‘We need to reduce VMT per capita,’ Nichols said. ‘Hopefully it would be done in a painless way, and we can generate funding to soften the blow for those who would be excessively burdened,’ she added.

“Secretary Kim also highlighted electrification as a partial solution. ‘Promoting greater use of EVs is clearly a key strategy,’ he said. ‘But also: reducing VMT and encouraging mode shift. We need to have safe, accessible, affordable, reliable, and frequent ways of traveling. The more people walk, bike, and use shared mobility including transit, the better it will be for everyone.’

“The trends, however, are going in the wrong direction, with driving going up and transit use declining, and little shift in biking and walking modes.

“Secretary Kim said that California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) is focusing on what it can do to at the state level to help increase transit ridership, expand bike and walk infrastructure, and promote ‘the right kind of development to help people reduce driving [by] making sure transportation can support affordable infill housing.’

“CalSTA is also, he said, ‘focusing on transportation demand management over highway expansions.’”

For more detailed coverage of the California Senate hearing on transportation emissions, read the full article here. And Susan L. Handy, Professor of Environmental Science and Policy at UC Davis, describes two key policy steps the state can take to meet transportation emissions reductions goals.

Cities fighting climate woes hasten “green gentrification”

Seawalls, parks, and elevated buildings can protect against rising tides. But they can also push the price of housing up, and longtime residents out.

By Adam Rogers for Wired.com, February 23, 2020

“Fighting climate disasters is a good idea for the planet, but can have unintended consequences for neighborhoods. ‘In order to construct a green, resilient park or shoreline, we get rid of lower-income housing … and behind it or next to it, you’ll have higher-income housing being built,’ says Isabelle Anguelovski, an urban geographer at the Autonomous University of Barcelona who co-wrote an article about green gentrification in December’s Proceedings of the National Academies of Science (PNAS).

“In Philadelphia, Anguelovski and her team studied a program to build flood-fighting infrastructure like parkland, green roofs, and curbside swales to absorb rainwater before it hit sewers. This, too, was an engine of gentrification. ‘What you see on the maps is that the areas that gained the greatest amount of green resilient infrastructure are also those that became the most gentrified,’ Anguelovski says. ‘And the areas that blacks and Latinos have had to move to between 2000 and 2016 have been the areas that got the least infrastructure.’

“ ‘Green gentrification is getting used as a tool to say we shouldn’t be investing in a neighborhood, in these improvements that under-resourced communities deserve,’ says Laura Tam, sustainability and resilience director for the urban planning advocacy group SPUR. ‘The problem is we don’t have effective housing policy that prevents people from being displaced when their neighborhood gets amenities important for any neighborhood, including sewer service, flood protection, and parks.’

“As Anguelovski’s team argued in an article in PNAS last December, local and state governments and planning agencies should have policies that guard against green gentrification. That means requiring developers to build a certain number of affordable homes on-site, guaranteeing residents the right to stay, and figuring out ways to make sure existing affordable housing doesn’t convert to market rate[.]”

Read the full article here.

Richard Davis, Northern News associate editor, adds:

In 2017, the year-long Resilient by Design Bay Area Challenge (RbD) asked experts to design implementable solutions to sea-level rise, severe storms, flooding, and earthquakes that also accounted for critical social issues, such as gentrification.

Debra Guenther, FASLA, wrote in the July/August 2018 issue of Northern News about landscape design firm Mithun’s experience with RbD in North Richmond, California (Reshaping the bay for sea-level rise and creating affordable housing, pp. 4, 17-18). Building upon the previously developed North Richmond Shoreline Vision Plan, Mithun crafted a four-point strategy that would allow local residents to benefit from green infrastructure investments. These were (1) fostering resilience through paths to home ownership, (2) planting 20,000 trees, which act as natural air filters, (3) integrating marshes into shoreline industrial areas, and (4) encouraging the use of Wildcat Creek Trail.

To learn more about Mithun’s initiative to build green infrastructure in North Richmond along with practices that fostered participatory decision-making and generational wealth building in a historically disinvested community, read the full article here.

Antioch, CA, ‘Last bastion of the good commute’ in the Bay Area

Earlier this year, The New York Times’ Real Estate section explored Antioch, California, as a good place to move for more affordable housing and good transit to San Francisco. Besides depicting the city, the article follows two couples who moved to Antioch. We have appended to these excerpts a response to the article from the City of Antioch’s Community Development Director.

Renters and buyers priced out of San Francisco and Oakland are increasingly finding this quiet city on the San Joaquin River, where affordability is ‘number one.’

By Candace Jackson, The New York Times, February 25, 2020

“Antioch is filled with sprawling suburban subdivisions built during various real estate booms, particularly the 1990s and early 2000s.

“Myesha and Elgin Lawson had been looking to buy in Antioch [for] affordability. They said they were able to see several nice homes in their price range of $400,000 to $500,000. Most had at least three bedrooms and two and a half bathrooms, and at least 1,400 square feet.

“Most worrying to Ms. Lawson was the commute. The couple, who have a 10-year-old and a 6-year-old, both work in San Francisco. Each weekday, they leave their house at 4 a.m. to drop off the children with relatives who take them to school. Then they drive together to catch the morning’s first BART train into San Francisco, at 4:47 a.m.

“What you’ll find

“Antioch, a 30-square-mile city with about 112,000 residents, has rural, residential, and marine areas, with its northern border formed by the San Joaquin River. It is home to one of the area’s newest Bay Area Rapid Transit stations, [serving] an ‘eBART’ train connecting Antioch to the Pittsburg/Bay Point line. City officials say the station has put Antioch on the map, literally and figuratively.

eBART at Antioch station, May 2018. Credit transit photos from User:Pi.1415926535

“ ‘It’s a game-changer,’ said Kwame Reed, Antioch’s head of economic development. The city recently adopted a new slogan — ‘Opportunity Lives Here’ — with prominent BART train ads encouraging more businesses to relocate there.

“‘Antioch had a bad reputation,’ said Mr. Reed, noting the city’s standing as a super-commuter area with a perception of high crime. He’s hoping that the new branding campaign will paint a better image of the city — featuring the waterfront, golf, and hills for hiking.

“What you’ll pay

“Antioch remains one of the more affordable cities in the Bay Area, but prices have been edging upward.

“‘It’s kind of the last bastion of the good commute,’ [Marva Clayton of Intero Real Estate Services] said. ‘But affordability, that’s number one.’”

Read the full article here. In addition to stories of two couples who resettled in Antioch, it describes the “vibe,” or general character of Antioch and its housing, along with tips about schools, the likely cost of a house, the commute, and the local history. The article also includes a slideshow with 17 photos, “The Varied Landscapes of Antioch, Calif.”

CDD response to the article

From Forrest Ebbs, Community Development Director of the City of Antioch:

“The City of Antioch has a compelling story to tell that reflects the patterns of a generation of land use, housing distribution, and employment equity. As the City initiates its comprehensive update to the General Plan, new avenues will emerge for investment, infill, and opportunity throughout the City. The suburban landscape as we know it will undergo major changes as it responds to increasing urban housing inequity, market and environmental constraints, greenhouse gas reduction goals, and the myriad inputs that will ultimately dictate our future.”

Transportation Trends for 2020 (and what cities can do about them)

By William Riggs, Planetizen, February 10, 2020

“Over the past 10 years, the world has experienced a revolution in transportation. 2012 saw the emergence of Uber, Lyft, and a number of other competitors who changed the way we purchased rides. … Given all these developments, … I offer the following five potential market trends for 2020, as well as advice for what cities can do about those trends.

“VMT from TNCs and E-Commerce will continue to increase, despite pricing efforts

“A growing body of work points to continued increases in Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) due to Transportation Network Company (TNC) services like Uber and Lyft, which induce auto travel and pull people from transit. … The economic viability of these TNCs will remain nebulous even as providers integrate autonomous vehicles into certain routes.

“What can cities do:

“Consolidation in the Logistics Economy based on the high cost of Last Mile deliveries

“E-commerce and delivery services account for a large amount of traffic, have high costs, and generate low revenue, particularly for the last mile. Inherent economic inefficiencies plague the last-leg of most deliveries — what’s referred to as the ‘last-mile’ to describe the final transport link that many sharing-economy technologies attempt to solve.

“Due to the inefficiency of last-mile home deliveries, … expect mergers and platform changes, not just with robotic delivery, but also potentially with new sharing-economy services for package delivery.

“What cities can do:

  • “Encourage local drop-off facilities with major logistics providers that allow for consumers to pick up their own packages. UPS and Amazon have already been exploring this model in many suburban locations, where service does not make financial sense.
  • “Require a certain percentage of deliveries be made via bicycle and pedestrian trips, particularly high-density locations.

“Continued underestimation of the transition to electric vehicles

“Government and the market have continued to underestimate consumer demand for electric vehicles. [However, Tesla exceeded expected productions and became the most valuable car company after delivering the Model 3.]

“What cities can do:

  • “Make sure to provide EV-ready parking spaces in new buildings and allow for flexibility in parking standards to accommodate EV chargers and meet required Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) standards. Many cities in California, for example Palo Alto, are grappling with tension between parking minimums and new requirements for EV and ADA spaces, which require a larger footprint than traditional parking.
  • “Explore the conversion of on-street parking meters to charging stalls.

“Continued resistance to Transit Platform innovation

“Transit systems have been outcompeted by more reliable, more convenient, door-to-door rides that can be accessed from the palm of your hand.

“A handful of large and small transit operators have found that they can use large mass transit platforms in parallel with smaller door-to-door services to make the system more efficient, convenient, and reliable.

“What can cities do:

“Continued de-prioritization of Active Modes of transport

“Despite the sustainability, livability, and equity benefits, many cities continue to prioritize automobiles in street design efforts.

“What cities can do:

  • “Practice aggressive multi-modal street design, including the aforementioned car-free zones.
  • “Make sure your community has a bicycle and pedestrian plan with associated funding commitments for infrastructure.

Read the full article here.

William Riggs is also the co-author of the APA Planning Advisory Service Report, Planning for Autonomous Mobility.

San Jose opens first tiny home community for formerly homeless residents

By Maggie Angst, Bay Area News Group, February 27, 2020

“Walking into San Jose’s first tiny home community for homeless residents is like stepping foot inside a miniature gated neighborhood.

“After making your way past the 10-foot gate surrounding the property, 40 tiny homes — 80-square-feet rectangular structures with just enough room for a single bed, desk, shelf, and air conditioning and heating system — stand in neat rows with gravel paths, lined with potted plants, leading from one home to another.

“The unconventional community built on a Valley Transportation Authority site leased by the city on Mabury Road near Coyote Creek offers a mix of stability and compassion for those trying to stay afloat in spite of the region’s chronic shortage of affordable housing.

“ ‘We hope that this will provide the model for everyone being able to see that we can make this work in a community, and that housing for our homeless neighbors can be a great asset for the surrounding community,’ [San Jose Mayor Sam] Liccardo said during the press conference.

“With a building cost of around $6,500 each, instead of hundreds of thousands for permanent housing, Liccardo and other advocates say the cabins offer an effective, low-cost option to get more people off the streets and on their way to becoming stably housed. The full cost of the project, including developing the site and constructing the additional facility buildings, was more than $2 million.

“In addition to the cabins, the community features shared bathrooms, showers and laundry facilities, a kitchen space, and common areas with computers, internet access, and job boards. The community is protected around the clock by a security guard who sits in a patrol station next to the front gate.

“HomeFirst operates the community [and] provides a wide range of services to residents, healthcare assistance, personal finance advice, and career readiness training.

“In addition to the VTA site, another community of 40 tiny homes is planned for a Caltrans site near Felipe Avenue where Highways 680 and 101 intersect. The VTA location was originally expected to open in June and the Caltrans location in August, but challenges with site and lease negotiations delayed [both].”

Read the full article here.

Related and of interest: A small home and RV village in Austin, Texas, recently added six tiny houses manufactured with 3D printing. Read that story here.

San Francisco debates when, where, and how to build affordable housing

Prop. E aims to strike a balance by placing new limits on office projects

By Sasha Perigo, San Francisco Examiner, March 8, 2020

“While San Franciscans tracked the results of the presidential primary on March 3rd, an affordable housing ballot measure passed largely under the radar.

“San Francisco’s Proposition E — the Balanced Development Act — passed with 54 percent of the vote.

“The Balanced Development Act was introduced by affordable housing developer TODCO and aims to balance out the construction of office space and affordable housing.

“San Francisco’s office space and affordable housing development are clearly imbalanced.

“San Francisco’s job growth far outpaces all housing construction. Between 2010 and 2015, The City added nearly seven jobs for every new home.

“The Balanced Development Act reduces the 875,000-square-foot cap based on the City’s progress towards state-mandated affordable housing goals. If San Francisco only builds half of its affordable housing goal in a year, the cap is cut in half.

“The Balanced Development Act also offers office developers an opportunity to get around these restrictions. If they build 809 affordable homes for every 1 million square feet of office space, they can jump the line.

“‘The intention behind this … is either we’re gonna build more affordable faster or we’re gonna build office slower,’ TODCO’s Jon Jacobo told the San Francisco Public Press.

“Opponents of the measure argue it will have unintended consequences.

“A report from the non-partisan city economist calculated that Prop. E will hurt the city’s economic growth, causing it to lose out on fees and tax revenue that fund city services.

“Another concern is that the Balanced Development Act could actually reduce the amount of money the City raises for affordable housing. One of the primary ways the City raises money for affordable housing is by levying fees on office construction. If we build less office space, we get less money for affordable housing.

“The city economist report estimates this loss would be between $600 million to $900 million over the next 20 years. That sum could finance roughly 3,000 to 4,500 affordable homes.

“TODCO isn’t convinced. Executive Director John Elberling points out that the city economist’s report doesn’t consider tradeoffs in terms of the human consequences of the housing crisis.

“Their numbers also assume current rates of affordable housing construction, which TODCO wants to accelerate. If the City does, indeed, ‘build affordable faster’ (the campaign’s slogan), it will avoid these costs.

“The last question critics have zeroed in on is: Where should we prioritize the construction of affordable housing?

“The Balanced Development Act says developers building affordable housing as part of their office construction project can circumvent city limits if the housing is built either on-site or in a ‘community of concern.’

“The authors say they included this clause specifically to help expedite the construction of affordable housing in communities that are demanding it.

“There’s huge demand for affordable housing in the Mission, but it’s not being built at the pace residents demand, due to a lack of funds. Mission housing advocates advocated for inclusion of the ‘community of concern’ clause in the Balanced Development Act in hopes of ushering more construction to their community.

“But critics say that requiring affordable housing to be built in communities of concern keeps affordable housing out of wealthy communities, thus furthering segregation. Some have even questioned the clause’s legality.”

Read the full article here.

Report: SF must build taller, expand into western neighborhoods

Three ways to hit the San Francisco’s housing targets over the next 30 years means challenging the status quo.

By Adam Brinklow, Curbed SF, March 9, 2020

“The San Francisco Planning Department’s critical ‘San Francisco Housing Affordability Strategies Report’ for 2020 … lays out three likely plans to hit SF’s housing goals.

“The city compiled the report with the goal of creating 150,000 homes (including 50,000 affordable homes) by 2050 — almost twice the rate of development compared to the past 10 years.

“Here’s what SF Planning has to say about the state of housing right now.

  • “SF is building more housing lately, but not much relative to the recent past. From 2000 to 2009, the city averaged 2,302 new homes per year, and from 2010 to 2019 that number bumped up to 2,509.
  • “Affordable housing production ramped up during that time, but also not by much, from 623/year in one decade to 692 in the next.
  • “Between 1990 and 2015, the number of SF households making 120 percent or more of the area median income (AMI) increased by 80,000, while at the same time the number of low- and moderate-income households declined by over 29,000.

“SF Planning singles out three potential solutions:

  • “[Under] ‘east side focus,’ the majority of new homes would be built in neighborhoods close to downtown and along the waterfront, stretching down to Hunters Point… To create sufficient density in roughly one-third of the city, SF would have to build taller, between 10 and 24 stories in areas close to jobs and transit. This plan is pretty close to what the city is doing already, meaning it’s more likely to exacerbate existing problems.
  • “With the ‘transit corridors’ plan, new development would focus on major transit lines [which] would receive significant investments to accommodate additional ridership.’ …Planning argues that since ‘displacement pressures are already widespread in the city,’ the hazards for existing residents are real but largely already accounted for.
  • “The ‘residential district growth’ plan [would focus] on building more homes in neighborhoods where the number of homes allowed is currently ‘very limited,’ e.g., western neighborhoods like the Outer Sunset. The report argues that … the sheer amount of space to work with means ‘reducing concentrated neighborhood change.’

“A combination of all three approaches may also hit the targets.

“Right now the city’s budget for housing is shy what it would take to spur more affordable housing growth. … ‘The city is projected to nearly meet the funding needed in FY19/20 but has fallen short in the past,’ the report notes, suggesting that more money from things like housing bonds and the gross receipts tax … will be needed.”

Read the full article here. Additional information from the San Francisco Planning Department about the Housing Affordability Strategies report can be found here.

Scott Weiner has another bill to build denser housing in California

By Alexei Koseff, San Francisco Chronicle, March 9, 2020

“After failing to pass legislation to open up less densely populated parts of California to multifamily housing, state Sen. Scott Wiener is trying again with a ‘lighter touch’ plan aimed at suburbs.

“The San Francisco Democrat today introduced SB902, which would essentially eliminate single-family zoning across the state by allowing multi-unit housing in nearly all residential neighborhoods. Unlike [SB50], Wiener’s new proposal would cap the number of units that could be built in the smallest communities at two [per lot], three in midsize cities.

“SB902 would create a right to build or convert homes into small multifamily housing in any residential neighborhood in the state, outside of areas at high risk of wildfires.

“In unincorporated areas and cities up to 10,000 people, the bill would allow duplexes on any property. It would permit a building with up to three units in a city with between 10,000 and 50,000 people, and up to four units in a city with more than 50,000.

“The legislation would not make changes to local height or design standards — a major source of anxiety for many opponents of SB50.

“But the new bill does create an option for cities to rezone residential parcels for apartment or condominium projects up to 10 units, without having to go through the formal environmental review that Wiener said can add five to 10 years to the process. Unlike his previous measure, allowing such construction would be up to cities — it would not be a state requirement.

“The provision would apply to neighborhoods near public transit and in high-income areas with access to jobs and good schools. Cities could choose to adopt the change for any qualifying area through an ordinance.

“The League of California Cities, which led opposition to SB50, declined to discuss Wiener’s latest proposal before its members had a chance to review the language. But the organization shared a ‘blueprint for more housing’ that it released last week, which suggested that California should provide options for changes to local regulations. Among more than a dozen it suggested was ‘allowing up to fourplexes in single-family zones.’

“Led by Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins of San Diego, the Senate Democratic caucus is working on a new housing production bill to replace SB50, which left the Democrats bitterly divided. That forthcoming measure could remove some of the urgency for Wiener’s SB902, though he said his bill would be complementary to whatever the Senate leadership comes up with.

“There is significant political space to make change and move the dial around housing this year,” he said.”

Read the full article here. More information about the League of California Cities Housing Production Proposal referred to in the article can be found here.

San Jose’s Measure E passes; will fund homelessness services and affordable housing

By Richard Davis, associate editor

San Jose’s Measure E, a property sale transaction tax intended to fund homelessness services and affordable housing, has likely passed. Ballots were still being counted as of March 12.

According to SV@Home, “The Mayor’s March Budget Message included recommendations for the allocation of Measure E funds, which are expected to begin being collected in July. The Mayor’s recommendations follow the initial spending plan approved by the City Council in December that allocates Measure E funding as follows:

  • “45 percent for extremely low-income households (below 30% of area median income);
  • “35 percent for very low-income (VLI) and low-income (LI) households (30-80% of AMI);
  • “About 10 percent for moderate-income households (80-120% of AMI) and below-market rate housing; and
  • “10 percent for homeless prevention activities.

SV@Home, a membership organization, bills itself as “the voice for affordable housing in the Silicon Valley.”

In addition, “most of the new funding from Measure E will be used to expand current resources for developing affordable housing,” according to SV@Home.

Related priorities identified by Mayor Sam Liccardo include:

  • “Identifying sites for additional Bridge Housing Communities (small home communities for the homeless);
  • “Immediate ramping up of public and private investment in homelessness prevention,
  • “New programs aimed at homeless students;
  • “Additional investment in policies and programs to promote accessory dwelling units (ADUs); and
  • “Continued work on establishing a navigation center for people experiencing homelessness in the City.”

SV@Home’s full March 12 coverage of housing-related ballot measures in Santa Clara County’s recent election can be found here.

Dozens of homeless find housing in downtown San Jose

By Marisa Kendall, East Bay Times, March 6, 2020

“Villas on the Park officially opened its doors, providing permanent housing to more than 90 people who previously had been sleeping in cars, on the streets, or in other unstable situations.”

The facility “provides ‘permanent supportive housing,’ which includes services for residents such as medical and mental health care, case management, job training and résumé building, skills workshops, and social activities.”

“It’s one of three such buildings for the homeless that have opened in San Jose in the past seven months — a big shift in strategy for a city that, before last year, didn’t have any developments like it.”

Credit: Dahlin Group, Villas on the Park http://bit.ly/33jFbWq

“The Villas on the Park team started meeting with the community in 2015, hoping to convince neighbors the project would be a good thing. In the beginning, hundreds of people were opposed. By the time the plan went before the City Council, not a person objected.”

Ray Bramson, chief impact officer of Destination:Home, a non-profit developer of permanent supportive housing, “hopes that once neighbors see attractive, finished projects like Villas, they will let go of old stereotypes.”

“The project was partially funded by Measure A, Santa Clara County’s $950 million affordable housing bond, which has funded 21 projects since it passed in 2016. Other funders include the city of San Jose, Housing Trust Silicon Valley, the Santa Clara County Housing Authority, and Bank of America.”

Read the full article here.