Author: Richard Davis

Orange skies across California as wildfire smoke blankets state

By Lori A. Carter, The Press Democrat, September 9, 2020

“In Sonoma County, residents marveled at the eerie yellow-to-orange shades in the sky, captured by cellphone shots and mountaintop fire cameras placed throughout the North Bay.

“As the day dawned, dull and dark under the smoke, meteorologists based in Monterey worked with a ‘heightened sense of urgency,’ forecaster Roger Gass said, acknowledging the output from wildfires was so thick above the region that their initial forecast, which called for an 80-degree day in Santa Rosa, was well off by as much as 20 degrees.

“The ‘creepy, eerie’ sky colors seen Wednesday are caused by particles in the smoke that scatter blue light, allowing yellow, orange and red light to reach human eyes, said Kristine Roselius, a spokeswoman for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

“A permanent monitoring station in Ukiah registered unhealthy air for sensitive groups and three low-cost sensors at the south end of Clear Lake had unhealthy air, while two sensors at Willits recorded very unhealthy air, the worst rating.

“The region has been buffeted by worse air pollution, like the dark skies during the 2017 North Bay wildfires, when conditions were likened to Beijing, China, or the smoky fallout from the 2018 Camp fire in Butte County. But the current pollution is unique in the expanse of smoke and the distance it has traveled, Gass said.”

Read the full article here. (~ 5 min.)

Related: Seth Borenstein (Associated Press) reaches out to climate experts for their natural disaster predictions. Several experts point out that California is in the midst of a 20 year ‘mega-drought.’ More disasters are expected worldwide. Read the full article in The Press Democrat here.

Return to the October issue here.

$1B development would bring 850 housing units to SF waterfront

By Joshua Sabatini, The San Francisco Examiner September 8, 2020

“A more than $1 billion development proposal on San Francisco’s waterfront near the Bay Bridge would bring 850 units of housing to Seawall Lot 330 and commercial buildings with a floating public swimming pool on rebuilt Piers 30-32.

“The project, proposed by Strada Investment Group and Trammell Crow Company (TCC), could bring certainty to an area that has seen other development pitches come and go and where a 200-person homeless Navigation Center currently operates.

“The project would take advantage of a state density program to exceed building heights in exchange for offering 25 percent of the units, or 207, at below market rates.” SF Port staff has not yet evaluated how the state’s density bonus statute interacts with the June 2014 measure Proposition B, which requires voter approval of projects that exceed existing height limits.

“The proposal also includes the demolition and rebuild of the 17 acres of Piers 30-32 at a size 45 percent smaller and construction on them of ‘two-story shed buildings with high ceilings, conforming to the 40-foot height limit,’ according to a memo from Elaine Forbes, executive director of the Port of San Francisco.

“Jesse Blout, a co-founder of Strada, told the Port Commission that ‘one of the through-lines of all the past failed efforts on this particular pier has been the incredible cost and risk associated with retrofitting and rebuilding the piers.’

“ ‘A light bulb went off. What if we solve the cost problem by dramatically reducing the footprint of the pier?’ he said.”

Read full article here. (~ 4 ½ min.)

Return to the October issue here.

Google village: Legislative flop impacts downtown San Jose project

By George Avalos, The Mercury News, September 4, 2020

Senate Bill 995, which would have smoothed the path to fast-track development of certain major projects in California, failed to gain approval of state lawmakers after time ran out in the hectic final hours of the Legislature’s session on August 31.

“San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo on [Sept. 4] requested that the state Legislature convene a special session to take up [Senate Bill 995], which would have created a four-year extension to give projects such as Google’s Downtown West development more time to qualify for a fast track.

“A separate bill, AB 900, which is now state law, authorizes the governor to certify that a project in California is ‘an environmental leadership development project’ that is eligible for a streamlined regulatory and legal review.

“San Jose’s Downtown West approval process, which originally was due to be completed by year’s end, has slipped due to the complexities of the development as well as complications unleashed by the coronavirus.

“Downtown West is envisioned as a community where homes, offices, retail, and dining options would be near each other as well as next to the Diridon train station, which already connects to light rail, Caltrain, the Capitol Corridor line, the ACE Train, Amtrak, and buses. At some point, it’s expected to be a BART stop.

“ ‘We have a goal of 6,000 homes and thousands of jobs at Downtown West,’ Nanci Klein, the city of San Jose’s director of real estate, said.”

Read the full article here. (~ 4 ½ min.)

Return to the October issue here.

Housing solutions fizzle in legislature

By Ethan Elkind, September 3, 2020

“Housing policy is at the center of all of our major societal problems in the United States.

“Expect worsening racial injustice and segregation, greenhouse gas emissions, and economic inequality until the state can meaningfully address” housing production.

“Why can’t we address the high cost of housing, particularly near transit and jobs? There are two culprits: high-income homeowners who support exclusionary local land use policies that restrict housing supply, which prevents others from moving into their communities and deprives them of the educational and economic opportunities that come with living in these areas. Second, the state and federal government are unwilling to provide sufficient public subsidies for affordable housing (though the scale of the need at this point is simply massive, especially given the country’s inability to build housing at a reasonable price).”

A dozen “housing bills from the original legislative ‘housing package’ in January did not survive.” The few that passed include:

AB 725 (Wicks): requires that no more than 75 percent of a city’s regionally assigned above-moderate income housing quota can be accommodated by zoning exclusively for single-family homes, with the remainder on sites with at least 4 units.

AB 1851 (Wicks): requires local governments to approve a faith-based organization’s request to build affordable housing on their lots and allows faith-based organizations to reduce or eliminate parking requirements.

AB 2345 (Gonzalez): increases the density bonus and the number of incentives available for a qualifying housing project.

SB 288 (Wiener): temporarily exempts from CEQA review infill projects like bike lanes, transit, bus-only lanes, EV charging, and local actions to reduce parking minimums, among others, until 2023.”

Read the full article here. (~3 ½ min.)

Return to the October issue here.

NACTO: Despite pandemic, micromobility is here to stay

By Chris Teale, SmartCities Dive, September 2, 2020

“Shared bikes and e-scooters saw 136 million trips in 2019, up 60% from 2018, according to new figures released by the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO).

“Despite drops in ridership, NACTO noted that micromobility served a valuable purpose as cities looked to respond to the pandemic, as most operators made services free for essential workers. Micromobility also played a role as a tool of ‘civic engagement and social change’ during the nationwide protests for racial justice, illustrating the versatility of micromobility use.

“Compared to what we saw in 2019 and earlier, rides are now more spread out, with different commute patterns, more errands by bike, as well as increased recreational/social riding,” NACTO wrote, suggesting the figures show that the transportation modes are set to grow in popularity.”

Read the full article here. (~1 ½ minutes)

Return to the October issue here.

San Jose passes new fees for funding affordable housing

By Maggie Angst, Bay Area News Group, September 2, 2020

“After years of controversy and debate, San Jose is finally imposing new development fees that many residents believe are long overdue and could help remedy the housing crisis that large businesses and developers, in part, created.

“The council decided in a split 7-4 vote to begin charging commercial developers with linkage fees to fund affordable housing projects.” The four dissenting councilmembers, “sided with dozens of residents and housing advocacy groups that argued the fees were not high enough to make a significant impact.”

“The funds generated by the fee, which the city estimates will bring in roughly $14 million over the next three years, will be used to build and fund affordable housing projects — a category that the city is severely lacking.

“The new commercial development fees will become the second recently added affordable housing funding stream for the city. In November, voters passed Measure E — a tax on the sale of San Jose properties worth $2 million or more — that city leaders have vowed to put toward building affordable housing and addressing the city’s homeless crisis. City officials estimate the new tax would generate at least $22 million during a recession year.”

Read the full article here. (2 ½ min.)

Return to the October issue here.

Lafayette’s controversial ‘Terraces’ apartments approved

By Sam Richards, Bay City News Foundation, August 25, 2020

“After 9 1/2 years of plans and revisions, dozens of contentious public meetings, a ballot measure and threats of lawsuits, the controversial 315-unit Terraces of Lafayette apartment project was approved early Tuesday morning by the Lafayette City Council.

The city council approved the project 4 to 1. Vice Mayor Susan Candell dissented due to concerns over the fire evacuation plan, while other council members said they trusted assurances by the Lafayette police and fire departments.

“Council members also were concerned about the city being sued for violating the terms of SB 330, the state Housing Accountability Act, by delaying an approval to yet another hearing.

“ ‘There certainly are legitimate reasons for the city to be asking for additional information, but (developer O’Brien Land Co.) could raise due-process concerns if things were extended,’ said Rob Hodil, an outside attorney hired by the city for this project.”

“The 315-unit Terraces of Lafayette project has been a sort of microcosm of the regional debate about how housing is planned and developed. Project supporters, many from far beyond Lafayette, say this dense residential development, about a mile and a half from the Lafayette BART station, represents the sort of transit-friendly housing called for in regional planning efforts including Plan Bay Area 2050.

“Opponents, including the local ‘Save Lafayette’ preservation group, said the large development is inconsistent with the city’s semi-rural character. Other critics contended the development would foul traffic near key commute routes, would be in an area vulnerable to vegetation fires, and would violate the city’s general plan.”

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

Return to the October issue here.

Decades of racist housing policy left neighborhoods sweltering

By Brad Plumer and Nadja Popovich, The New York Times, August 24, 2020

“In cities like Baltimore, Dallas, Denver, Miami, Portland and New York, neighborhoods that are poorer and have more residents of color can be 5 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit hotter in summer than wealthier, whiter parts of the same city. 

“And there’s growing evidence that this is no coincidence. In the 20th century, local and federal officials, usually white, enacted policies that reinforced racial segregation in cities and diverted investment away from minority neighborhoods in ways that created large disparities in the urban heat environment.

“ ‘It’s uncanny how often we see this pattern,’ said Vivek Shandas, a professor of urban studies and planning at Portland State University and a co-author of [a recent study (open access) linking formerly redlined neighborhoods with hotter summer temperatures]. ‘It tells us we really need to better understand what was going on in the past to create these land-use patterns.’

“Heat is the nation’s deadliest weather disaster, killing as many as 12,000 people a year. Now, as global warming brings ever more intense heat waves, cities like Richmond, Virginia are drawing up plans to adapt — and confronting a historical legacy that has left communities of color far more vulnerable to heat.

However, city-led climate adaptation plans can be politically charged. “Some researchers have warned that building new parks and planting trees in lower-income neighborhoods of color can often accelerate gentrification, displacing longtime residents. In Richmond, city officials say they are looking to address this by building additional affordable housing alongside new green space.”

Read the full article here. (~14 min.)

Return to the October issue here.

SF sees historic shift in housing inventory

By Andrew Chamings, SFGate, August 15, 2020

“Online real estate company Zillow released new statistics shining a stark light on the issue this week. Their ‘2020 Urban-Sub­urban Market Report’ reveals that inventory has risen a whopping 96% year-on-year, as empty homes in the city flood the market like nowhere else in America.

“The astronomical cost of owning a home in the San Francisco city limits — which has been sky high for over a decade now, since the second tech boom — had to break at some point, and the coronavirus seems to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

“ ‘When comparing the principal city to its surrounding suburbs, the San Francisco metro area does break the mold…Whereas in similar cities like Los Angeles, Miami, Boston, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., declining or flat inventory is a consistent trend within and outside the city limits,’ the report states.”

Read the full article here.

Return to the September issue here.

SF finally approves 1,100 homes at Balboa Reservoir

By Trisha Thadani, San Francisco Chronicle, August 12, 2020

“San Francisco’s west side will get its biggest influx of housing in decades, after the Board of Supervisors approved more than 1,000 new units on the 17-acre Balboa Reservoir site August 11.

“Developers Bridge Housing, AvalonBay, and Mission Housing will build 1,100 units of housing, 550 of them affordable, on the property, now used for City College parking.

“Of the 550 affordable units, 150 are for City College teachers and staff. The project includes a community center, 4 acres of open space, a child care center for 100, and $10 million for transit and infrastructure improvements.”

Read the full article here.

Northern News covered this development in May 2020.

Return to the September issue here.