Author: Richard Davis

How can commercial redevelopment address the California housing crisis?

By Joe Distefano, UrbanFootprint, June 16, 2021

“[UrbanFootprint’s] analysis estimates that, if SB 6 were to become the law of the land, California commercial lands could increase market-feasible capacity by as many as 2 million new homes, similar to upzoning all of California’s single family homes to allow fourplex development as proposed by 2020’s AB 3040.

“More than 80 percent of market-feasible capacity under SB 6 is in the San Francisco Bay Area, Southern California, and San Diego.

“[The market-feasibility analysis showed that] San Francisco has the potential for over 20 units per eligible acre of commercial land, while more rural areas of the state have market-feasible development potentials below one unit per acre.

“[UrbanFootprint’s] analysis shows that California’s commercial lands can accommodate significant housing growth and play an important role in addressing our deepening housing crisis.

“Further, the analysis found that the bill, as presently written, may result in relatively low-intensity housing outcomes. Lawmakers might consider allowing more intense development in targeted areas by setting higher minimum densities above the minimums already established under SB 6.

Read the full analysis of estimated SB 6 housing production and distribution. (~12 min.)

Previously in Roundup: In December 2020, UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation released a study exploring how “the development [of] new homes and mixed-use projects to be built [on commercial] sites can serve as a catalyst for new economic growth while at the same time addressing California’s ongoing housing shortage.”

Return to Northern News here.

TransitCenter launches San Francisco-Oakland transit equity dashboard

From TransitCenter, June 17, 2021

“[P]ervasive racism and discrimination in land use, transportation, and transit planning have created wide gaps in transit access across race, income, and other characteristics, worsening social inequity.

“The San Francisco-Oakland region is no exception:

  • Transit provides less access to opportunities for BIPOC residents than white residents.
  • Expensive fares put opportunity out of reach for some riders.
  • Transportation and development patterns create longer transit trips to healthcare and food.

“Leaders in the Bay Area can address these disparities through more equitable transit, land use, and planning.

“[TransitCenter] evaluated the extent to which residents of the San Francisco-Oakland region have equitable transit access to jobs, stores, hospitals, and other important destinations. [The analysis seeks to answer this question:] Do people with the greatest need for transit have the best access to fast, frequent, reliable, affordable service close to home?

“Evaluations are based on the combined services provided by all transit agencies in the San Francisco-Oakland region.

“Agency decision makers should:

  • Adopt and publicly publish measures of equitable access on transit.
  • Adjust investments, service, and policy in order to reduce measured gaps in access.”

Read TransitCenter’s full transit equity analysis and policy recommendations here. (~14 min.)

  • You can access TransitCenter’s interactive transit equity dashboard for their designated San Francisco-Oakland region, including demographic data from Santa Clara county, here.
  • TransitCenter provides their methodology for calculating the information presented in the dashboard here.
  • Downloadable population and transit reliability data for users to construct their own visualizations are available here.

Return to Northern News here.

A little more remote work could change rush hour a lot

By Emily Badger, The New York Times, June 11, 2021

“Traffic has begun to return as the economy has revived. But planners, transit agencies, and researchers are now considering the remarkable possibility that in many places it won’t revert to its old shape amid newfound work flexibility.

“[N]ational surveys [conducted over the past year by researchers at Arizona State and the University of Illinois at Chicago found] that the share of workers who expect to telecommute at least a few times each week is double what it was prepandemic. That’s a large increase in telecommuting … without a large increase in people doing it full time.

“Overall, we’d be talking on a given day about a decline of a few percentage points in peak commuting trips — a small number, but a big deal during the most painful parts of the day.

“[R]oadway congestion is nonlinear … Approaching a tipping point, a few more cars can strangle a highway. Similarly, removing a small share can unclog congestion.

“Rush hour is the principal obsession of transportation planning in America. We widen highways to accommodate it, and measure whether those highways are worth their vast expense by the minutes and seconds saved in peak travel time.

“Systems designed for peak travel are really designed for the more affluent, said Charles T. Brown, the C.E.O. of Equitable Cities, a planning and research firm.

“But the full promise of less spiky travel is that it could help [both telecommuters and shift workers, such as janitors or nursing aides]. That would happen if transit agencies were more focused on all-day service, or if infrastructure dollars weren’t heavily spent on highways that pollute poorer neighborhoods so rush-hour commuters can pass through.

“ ‘We should not design a system around the most privileged of our populations,’ said Mr. Brown … ‘If we are truly about servicing demand, Covid-19 showed who demanded it most.’

“Early in the pandemic in San Francisco, transit officials scrapped service on many lines to focus on where essential workers travel.

“ ‘Inside almost every transit agency … there’s this inevitable conflict between the suburban commuter interest who’s trying to get out of congestion, who’s very focused on the problem of peak congestion, and then there’s the interest of people trying to get around all day,’ said Jarrett Walker, a transportation consultant …

“Less congested city streets could mean faster bus travel, more space for cyclists, and more humane commutes for the people who still drive.”

Read the full article here. (~10 min.)

Return to Northern News here.

CA high-speed rail will get back federal grant Trump withheld

By Lauren Hernández, San Francisco Chronicle, June 10, 2021

“California will receive $929 million in grant funding toward its high-speed rail project — funding that former President Donald Trump had previously canceled in 2019 — under a deal announced by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office [on June 10].

“[Newsom said] the funding will create more jobs, push the project forward, and ‘move the state one step closer to getting trains running in California as soon as possible.’

“The grant funding will assist the High-Speed Rail Authority in completing the project’s ‘initial operating segment’ of the system, governor’s officials said. The project is under construction along 119 miles in the Central Valley …

“The program aims to connect the ‘mega-regions’ across the state, contribute to a ‘cleaner’ environment, and ‘preserve agricultural and protected lands,’ the project webpage reads.”

Read the full article here. (~2 min.)

Return to Northern News here.

Racial segregation runs deep in San Jose, report says

By Lloyd Alaban, San Jose Spotlight, June 8, 2021

“While activists maintain that San Jose’s housing policies are inherently segregated, a study undertaken by the city shows just how deep racial disparities go.

“ ‘The main takeaway is the legacy of past segregation is still very much alive,’ said Kristen Clements, division manager of the policy group within the city’s housing department. ‘It’s still visible in who lives where in the city.’

The [city’s] Housing and Community Development Commission will also discuss the report at a later date. The council is expected to hear a revised [Assessment of Fair Housing (AFH)] report early next year when the city hopes to incorporate its findings into a [revised housing element].

“Clements said that the city also aims to look at more disaggregated data, especially among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) in the city, to better note how ethnicity and income factor into homeownership. Disaggregation of AAPI data would involve looking at individual ethnic groups among AAPIs which have wide disparities in health and income.

“The AFH found that discrimination in San Jose’s housing market continues to be an issue. Groups such as racial minorities, the disabled, and the elderly disproportionately experience housing problems, displacement pressure, and homelessness.

“For Councilmember Maya Esparza, whose district covers East San Jose, the issue is about more than housing.

“ ‘It’s about how we designed the city,’ Esparza said. ‘What we’re seeing is how your ZIP code is an indicator of your life expectancy.’ ”

Read the full article here. (~4 min.)

Access the California Department of Housing and Community Development’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing data and mapping resources here.

Previously in Roundup: “UC Berkeley’s Othering & Belonging Institute’s ‘Racial Segregation in the San Francisco Bay Area’ series, revealed the correlations between neighborhoods with restrictive, single-family zoning, non-single-family zoning, and their levels of segregation.”

Return to Northern News here.

San Jose and San Francisco among cities that saw sharpest pandemic population loss

By William H. Frey, Brookings, June 8, 2021

“[A new population analysis] sheds light on [the impact of Covid-19 on the nation’s largest cities] by examining the Census Bureau’s recently released estimates of annual city population changes for the 2010s decade through the year July 2019 to July 2020.

“[T]he growth advantage many cities sustained over their suburbs at the beginning of the [2010s] sharply narrowed or reversed even before the pandemic.

“Among the 10 largest cities, eight registered lower growth in 2019-20 than in 2018-19.” San Jose is among five of these largest cities that lost population.

“[Several cities with populations exceeding 250,000 showed] sharp negative growth in 2019-20, including Boston, San Francisco, St. Paul, Minn., New Orleans, and Newark, N.J. …

“While out-migration to other places accounted for a good part of recent population losses in these areas, lower immigration from abroad as well as fewer births and more deaths during the pandemic year also contributed.

“[I]t is not yet known if cities’ broad population growth slowdowns or declines shown with the new 2019-20 Census Bureau estimates are part of a new trend or, to some degree, temporary. Either way, it is important to place them in the context of a ‘shock’ to an ongoing system of selective population dispersion that was established several years before the pandemic began — one that new generations of young adult movers may or may not choose to follow.”

Read the full article here. (~6 min.)

Return to Northern News here.

Klamath River management pivotal in a brewing California-Oregon water crisis

By Emma Marris, The Atlantic, June 5, 2021

Federal and state governments made promises about land and water rights to generations of indigenous people and American settlers across the West. However, “the natural abundance those promises were based on has been squandered by generations of mismanagement.”

“In the Klamath Basin, in Southern Oregon and Northern California … Klamath tribal members haven’t been able to exercise their ‘exclusive right of taking fish in the streams and lakes,’ as protected in an 1864 treaty, for decades, because the fish keep dying.

“The Klamath Basin’s water problems can be solved, even as the climate changes,” through policy, investment, and partnership with farmers.

“[R]eturning land- and water-management responsibilities to the tribes is smart policy, because they are highly motivated to preserve the ecologies that make their homelands home …

“[W]ater allocations need to be managed collaboratively by all users, likely in the form of a comprehensive settlement.”

This would require reducing the water promised to agricultural workers — a controversial proposition.

“A soft approach would be to reduce the promises made by the project opportunistically, as producers without interested heirs retire, nibbling away at the total water allocation without suddenly unraveling agricultural communities.”

Wetland restoration is also needed to protect and foster stream, river, and lake ecosystems. However, even with investments in wetland restoration and nutrient management, “the water quality in the lake could take decades to improve enough to see juvenile fish survive. In the meantime, many adult fish are nearing the end of their natural life. So an insurance population is essential: Currently, the clearest one is part of an existing project to rear captive [endangered fish species special to the Klamath Tribes], and it needs continued support.

“The Klamath Tribes are focused on lake fish; downriver tribes are worried about salmon runs in the Klamath River, which connects the lake to the Pacific Ocean. To keep these fish alive and to honor rights to fish here, the dams on the Klamath River must come down. This is already in the works. … Some day, the salmon may once again run all the way up to Upper Klamath Lake, creating a living connection between the tribes and supporting them culturally and economically.

“So that’s how you end a water war. Respect Indigenous sovereignty. Make water allocations predictable and reduce the amount of water going to crops and pastures over time. Fix lake-water quality through nutrient management and wetland restoration. Take out the dams. I reckon you could do it all with $1 billion — beer money, these days — and it could serve as a model for the entire West.”

Read the full article here. (~9 min.)

Return to Northern News here.

Visual report: How sea level rise threatens SF’s Mission Creek neighborhoods

First of a four-part series on how sea level rise will impact Bay Area communities.

By John King, San Francisco Chronicle, June 4, 2021

“Between now and 2100, California’s Ocean Protection Council deems it ‘likely’ that the bay’s daily tides will climb at least 20 inches because of climate change. The same studies warn there’s a 5 percent chance that the increase could top 50 inches.

“Mission Bay is home to thousands of people as well as a UCSF campus and the Golden State Warriors’ Chase Center. The Giants are building residential towers and office buildings on their parking lots on the south flank of China Basin. And the topic of sea level rise looms large.

To prepare for sea level rise, “San Francisco has already budgeted $250 million for upgrade, [including] a subterranean tunnel 12 feet wide to [handle stormwater overflow trying to get to the Channel Pump Station that spills over during high tide].

“Preparing for the unknown [extent of sea level rise] is easier when you’re starting from scratch — as is the case with the Mission Rock megaproject now rising on the south rim of China Basin.

“The Giants are converting their former parking lot into a 28-acre concentration of housing towers and commercial buildings beside a 5-acre bayside park that landscape architect Kate Orff has described as a ‘constructed ecosystem’ with ‘spaces that eventually can be absorbed’ [by rising sea levels].

A 2016 scenario planning study (PDF, 80 pp.) — prepared in part for the city and SPUR — examined sea level risks to the China Basin area and possible mitigation projects.

“[Since the study was released,] the only sign of action is the Port of San Francisco’s partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to study flood danger in coming decades to the city’s bay waterfront. The result — still several years off — could mean extra federal funding for whatever projects the city embarks on.

“What counts, officials say, is that the study has helped them grasp the scale of what lies ahead. And the reality that, most likely, none of the answers will be easy.”

Read the full article here, including maps depicting potential sea level impacts across the Bay Area and explanatory illustrations for mitigation projects. (~8 min.)

Return to Northern News here.

Oakland considers banning ADUs in the hills to avoid fire danger

By Natalie Orenstein, Oaklandside, June 3, 2021

“Desperate to limit the number of people and cars that would need to evacuate the area in a crisis, the Oakland Fire Department and city planners want to ban the construction of new ‘accessory dwelling units,’ or ADUs, in the hills, fearing more backyard cottages would create too much deadly density.

“On [June 2], the Oakland Planning Commission considered a staff proposal to update the city’s ADU law, mainly to bring the policy into compliance with new state rules that make it easier for homeowners to get approval to build the units. But the bulk of the meeting focused on another aspect of the proposal, which would ban all ADUs across the entire area of Oakland considered by the state to be at high risk for wildfires, which is largely in the hills.

“More than 50 people called into the meeting, most of whom bashed the proposal and implored the city to take a more ‘surgical’ approach by considering the unique safety risks of individual streets or certain neighborhoods instead of blocking off the entire hills area.

“Many speakers questioned the lack of details provided by the city regarding how many ADUs are expected to be built in the hills, and how many cars they’d add to the streets.

“But a handful of speakers, most survivors of the 1991 Oakland-Berkeley firestorm, sided with the city.

“After listening to the residents, Planning Commissioners said they didn’t feel confident enough in the staff proposal to send it to the City Council for a vote.

“ ‘My concern is we still are lacking information,’ said Chair Tom Limon. ‘Who in the hills is interested in building an ADU, and what kind? That would be really helpful to know in determining the risks.’ ”

Read the full article here. (~6 min.)

Return to Northern News here.

New MTC study: Findings for assisting seniors, disabled people on Bay Area transit

From Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Mass Transit Magazine, June 2, 2021

“A Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) project revealed effective communication among seniors and the disabled community and Bay Area transit agencies is often lacking.

“To address the issue, a partnership between MTC and World Institute on Disability (WID) resulted in a 2.5-year research and community engagement study known as the Transportation Resilience, Accessibility & Climate Sustainability (TRACS) project.

“The TRACS project’s tasks included demographic and data collection, community engagement, needs assessments, and the development of training webinars for disabled transportation consumers and transportation agencies…

“To establish a new model of collaboration based on long-term partnerships between the communities and transit planners, the TRACS project presented recommendations to transit agencies, county transportation agencies, people with disabilities and their advocates, and MTC. Project findings, as well as resources and tools, can be found on the WID website.”

Read the full article here. (~2 min.)

Return to Northern News here.