Author: Richard Davis

Bay Area’s largest housing development appears dead

By J.K. Dineen, San Francisco Chronicle, March 25, 2020

“In a 3-2 vote Tuesday night, the Concord City Council rejected legislation that would have extended the current exclusive negotiating agreement with Lennar Concord LLC, which was set to expire at the end of March. The 5,000-acre redevelopment of the mothballed military base calls for 13,000 housing units, 8 million square feet of commercial space, 2,500 acres of open space, and potentially a college campus.

“Guy Bjerke, the city’s director of community reuse planning, said in a statement, ‘Concord will comply with the terms of our existing agreements with Lennar, and we will look ahead to how we can get this project moving again once our community gets through the COVID-19 public health crisis and the city better understands the pandemic’s impact to the regional economy and the city’s finances.’

“The developers said that agreeing to an all-union job site would make the project infeasible, raising construction costs by $542 million and cutting the project’s profit margin from 17 percent to a loss.

“As part of its agreement with Lennar, the city will return unspent funds advanced by Lennar for the project.

“Lennar had agreed to a package of community benefits, including 25 percent affordable housing, that has become increasingly difficult as construction costs have soared in recent years.

“‘This project could have been an absolute lifeline, a massive jobs machine during the coronavirus crisis, when we could be looking at double-digit unemployment. It’s an absolute tragedy, said Matt Regan of the Bay Area Council, a business group.

“‘As time moved on it became clear they [Lennar] were not interested in hiring a local workforce,’ said Bill Whitney, who heads up the Contra Costa Building Trades Council.

‘They were going to flood the project with out-of-area workers at lower wages. That was appallingly negligent and we opposed that.’”

Read more here. (3 min)

Coronavirus: Lockdowns slow Bay Area home construction, future projects

By Louis Hansen, The Mercury News, March 23, 2020

“Shutdowns in local government offices have distanced city planners and inspectors from developers, making the already sometimes Byzantine development process more complicated. Staff in Bay Area cities are shifting as many development functions as possible online. Residential builders and small contractors are struggling to understand and adapt to the variety of new work policies and limits forced on local governments by the coronavirus.

“‘Things will be slower,’ said Bob Glover, executive officer of the Building Industry Association of the Bay Area. But industry insiders say no one yet knows how long the delays will last.

“Much of the work needed to finish and fill a home or condo — from final inspections to recording of title — depends on government services. Bay Area cities have shuttered planning and inspection services, telling developers and contractors to call or email.

“Rosalynn Hughey, director of the San Jose Department of Planning, Building & Code Enforcement, said the office has switched to its emergency plans to keep projects going. Most planning functions are being done online or through email, videoconferencing, and by phone.

“The city is setting up video inspections for small home renovations like kitchen remodels, and plans to grant final sign-offs remotely.

“California Housing Partnership CEO Matt Schwartz said the delays could seriously impact project deadlines and financing. As the economy weakens, investors become more cautious. If bankers pull back from new investments in affordable housing, he said, bold projects to address the state’s housing needs could be knocked back on their heels.

“ ‘Right now, the dominant factor in the market seems to be fear,’ Schwartz said. ‘That could be devastating for housing production generally.’

“Developers of affordable housing say tax incentives and financing are tied to strict construction deadlines. Missing target dates could endanger projects.

“Smaller contractors are also wrestling with shelter-in-place guidelines. Despite pent-up demand for new housing and home improvements, an extended shutdown could stifle projects and lead to industry layoffs.”

Read the full article here. (4 min)

Could coronavirus collide with wildfire season? California is preparing for it

By J.D. Morris, San Francisco Chronicle, March 15, 2020

“Northern California may still be grappling with the novel coronavirus outbreak when it begins to face the more familiar threat of dangerous wildfires, and emergency officials are already contemplating that possibility.

“Most of the state has been experiencing abnormally dry or moderate drought conditions after receiving little precipitation during what should be the wettest part of the year.

“That means swaths of the state could be primed for increased wildfire activity while COVID-19 remains an urgent public health issue. The virus’ spread could also slow down and then pick back up again when wildfire season is in full swing.

“Chris Godley, emergency management director for Sonoma County, said that responding to those dual problems simultaneously has been a major planning focus. Sonoma County was hit hard by wildfires in 2017 and 2019.

“Instead of cramming dozens of people on cots in an open space, the county might instead split evacuees into smaller groups spread across classrooms in a school, Godley said. Hotels could also become shelters.

“UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain believes the 2020 wildfire season likely will be worse than last year, at least in the northern portion of the state. That could prove true ‘even optimistically assuming we see late spring rains that delay the start of the season’ he said in an email.

“Government officials are preparing ways to keep their operations continuing if and when the virus requires staff to work remotely or take other precautions, according to Godley. But shelters would be the greatest concern.

“‘We are going to be hard-pressed to put people into a perfectly safe situation if there’s a significant and major evacuation like we saw last year,’ Godley said, referring to the evacuations following the Kincade Fire that took place during PG&E’s forced power outages.

“Shelters are not the only possible issue that could arise if and when the pandemic overlaps with fire season.

“Two public health experts interviewed by The Chronicle said they were worried about the impact of wildfire smoke, since the viral illness affects the respiratory system. Another raised the prospect of the health care system becoming overburdened.

“‘We could still get lucky,’ Swain said. ‘This does not guarantee a bad fire season by any means, but it does increase the odds.’”

Read the full story here. (6 min)

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, 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.