Author: Sajuti Rahman

Housing, the environment, the virus, and public transportation

By Sajuti Rahman, associate editor, May 15, 2020 

Monterey water board waylays affordable housing, by Dennis L. Taylor, Monterey Herald, May 13, 2020

A decision by Monterey Peninsula water officials” to deny use of water from what “the district holds in reserve … leveled a severe blow to the city’s ability to construct new housing units. In effect, one state agency is demanding Monterey provide more housing while another agency is prohibiting the city from building more units because of water. … The general manager of the water district told [Water Demand] Committee members that the State Water Resources Control Board sent an email ‘expressing its concerns’ with Monterey’s request. In total, six shovel-ready projects around the city would generate 303 units with an average of 77 percent affordable housing, but without additional water, only 92 could be built.”

The pandemic demonstrates how vulnerable US transit systems are, by Angela Pachon, UPenn Kleinman Center for Energy Policy, May 6, 2020 

“Transit agencies will need to operate with a reduced ridership while continuing to offer an affordable service. Despite the financial pressure to cut expenditures, ongoing efforts to update routes and better integrate different travel modes to attract riders should continue. Decision-makers must also consider that transit in the US will be the only travel mode for the poorest among us, a population that cannot afford to live near their workplaces to cycle or walk.  

Pandemic underscores transit accessibility difficulties, by Abigail Cochran, StreetsBlog Cal, April 21, 2020 

“People with disabilities, like everybody else, need to access essential goods, like food and medicine, and services like medical care. The $2.2 trillion relief bill signed into law on March 27th appropriates $25 billion to transit agencies to cover expenses related to the coronavirus response. Go here to read how on-demand transportation providers (like ride-hail services and taxis), transportation agencies, and public health authorities are rethinking strategies to properly serve people with disabilities during the pandemic and beyond.  

Mexico City smog defies coronavirus lockdown, by Raul Cortes Fernandez, Reuters, April 27, 2020  

“While city dwellers around the world take some consolation in improved air quality thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, festering garbage dumps, dirty diesel-fueled generators, and frequent forest fires have ensured Mexico City’s air remains smog-filled. Carlos Alvarez, head of an environmental group, said the area had some 400 open-air dumps and 50,000 industrial generators in hotels, offices, and businesses, many of which were still operating despite the quarantine. Now, experts worry that COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, could prove more lethal in Mexico City than elsewhere.” Read more here. 

Options to phase-out fossil fuel production in California, by Ethan Elkind, April 29, 2020 

“California is the seventh-largest oil producing state in the country. Yet continued oil and gas production contrasts with the state’s aggressive climate mitigation policies. Berkeley Law’s Center for Law, Energy, and the Environment (CLEE) just released the 66-page report (PDF), ‘Legal Grounds: Law and Policy Options to Facilitate a Phase-Out of Fossil Fuel Production in California.’ The report analyzes steps California leaders could pursue on state- and privately-owned lands. Read more about the options discussed among state leaders related to fossil fuel phase-out with less harm to jobs and local economies.” 

Caltrain faces ‘existential crisis’

By Isabella Jibilian, San Francisco Examiner, May 8, 2020 

Empty platforms. Empty trains. Empty coffers. 

Caltrain is facing a $71 million deficit over the next financial year, as ridership has plummeted due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Although the railroad received nearly $50 million in relief through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act — funding that so far has stopped the bleeding — Caltrain should prepare for a looming existential financial crisis staff said at a board meeting May 7.

A southbound Caltrain arriving at San Carlos station

Transit systems across the nation are facing decreased demand amid COVID-19, but Caltrains existence is more tenuous than most. Unlike BART and Muni, Caltrain is not funded by sales or property taxes. It depends on fares and parking fees to say afloat. 

Following the outbreak of COVID-19 and shelter-in-place orders, ticket sales have been down more than 95 percent, according to Derek Hansel, Caltrains chief financial officer.  

Once shelter-in-place orders are lifted, revenues wont necessarily bounce back. Some riders will choose to commute to work via car as a means of maintaining social distance. Some workplaces will not open; [some will] encourage their employees to continue to telecommute. [And] maintaining social distance on public transit will be difficult and expensive. 

In the short term, Caltrains hopes are pinned on receiving more aid. The CARES Act will distribute a second round of funding, though Caltrains share has yet to be decided. 

In the longer term, board members and staff are considering turning to tax revenue to supplement the farebox, by placing a $108 million measure on the November ballot. 

Read the full article here.

Second SB 35 ruling lets Vallco project proceed

By Marisa Kendall, The Mercury News, May 7, 2020 

“Plans to turn the old Vallco Shopping Mall into a housing, office, and retail complex can proceed after the developer won a decisive victory in court May 6. 

“Concluding a lengthy battle over the project — which would bring 2,402 apartments, 400,000 square feet of retail, and 1.8 million square feet of office space to Cupertino —Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Helen Williams ruled city officials did not err when they approved the development and gave it fast-track status. 

Approved Vallco proposal. Source: City of Cupertino, https://bit.ly/2ZaY6US

 “ ‘This is a gigantic win for housing advocates specifically and a huge win for proponents of development in general,’ said J.R. Fruen, co-founder of the housing advocacy group Cupertino 4 All, which was not a party in the litigation. 

“Cupertino approved the Vallco project in 2018 under Senate Bill 35, which requires cities to approve and expedite certain residential and mixed-use developments. Friends of Better Cupertino sued the city, claiming officials had failed to do their duty by approving a project that didn’t meet the standards of SB35. 

“But in a 62-page ruling, Judge Williams made clear the project qualified for the special status and that the claims of Friends of Better Cupertino — which she said multiple times misinterpreted the law and made convoluted arguments — didn’t have merit. The group claimed the project was disqualified because it is located on a hazardous waste site, exceeds the city’s height limits, does not have sufficient space designated to residential development, and lacks a park. 

“Williams also rejected their argument that a city has a duty to deny a faulty SB35 project application. That means community groups like Friends of Better Cupertino have no grounds to block SB35 projects in court, Fruen said. Although Williams’ trial court decision does not set legally binding precedent, it likely will influence other judges, he said. 

“The Vallco ruling comes a week after Williams ruled in favor of another SB35 project in Los Altos, finding the city had no grounds to reject that development,” Kendall writes. 

In that April 28 ruling against Los Altos, the Court held “that Developer’s project was deemed to comply with applicable standards under SB 35 and that the City must rescind its decision to deny and instead approve and permit the project at the requested density.” In addition, the parties agreed “to rescind the existing [city] decision and permit the project within 60 days as compared to remanding the matter for further consideration.”

Bill Fulton, writing in CP&DR, notes that “Both cases revolve around the question of how cities must apply objective design standards in an SB 35 case — and the rulings suggest that cities apply objective design and planning standards in a very clear way in order to stay out of legal trouble.”

This is a developing story. “It is unknown at this point whether either of Judge Williams’s rulings will be appealed,” wrote Fulton on May 10. “The Los Altos City Council was scheduled to meet in closed session Monday night [May 12] to consider an appeal. As for the Vallco project in Cupertino, the neighbors’ case is just one of several fronts on which the battle is being fought. Subsequent to the events discussed in Judge Williams’ ruling, Cupertino changed its general plan to eliminate the 2 million square feet of office space contained in the project, and the developer subsequently filed both a lawsuit and a claim against the city.

You can read Marisa Kendall’s Vallco article here. 

Will telecommuting yield the best long-term environmental benefit of COVID-19?

By Ethan Elkind, May 4, 2020 

“There’s one potential bright spot for the climate that may outlive this current era: working from home. Prior to the pandemic, only 4 percent of U.S. employees worked from home, according to Global Workplace Analytics. But now more than half of the 135 million people in the U.S. workforce are in a home office. 

“The firm estimates that at this rate, by the end of next year, 25 to 30 percent of the total U.S. workforce will be telecommuting, the carbon equivalent of ‘taking all of New York’s workforce permanently off the road,’ said Kate Lister, president of the firm. 

“From a greenhouse gas perspective, it means many fewer driving miles from commuting. Otherwise, approximately 86 percent of Americans drive to work, according to the National Household Travel Survey. If just 25 percent of Americans began teleworking even one day per week after the pandemic, total vehicle miles traveled would fall by 1 percent, which is actually a significant amount of the more than 3.2 trillion miles driven in the U.S. in 2018. The numbers could go much higher if more people telecommuted multiple days per week. 

“And why might these work-from-home habits stick, as opposed to other environmental friendly measures taken during the pandemic? Simple: working from home is more convenient and more productive for most people. But prior to the pandemic, many managers weren’t comfortable allowing the practice, believing (falsely) that it would hurt bottom lines. 

“But now that everyone who can work from home is forced into this arrangement without calamity, my guess is that this manager resistance will fade.  

Read the full article here

Mobility: Who is moving and why?

By Riordan Frost, Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, May 4, 2020 

“For the past five years, just over 40 million Americans moved each year, according to American Community Survey data.  

“Most moves are local, either within the same county or within the same state.  

“People move for a variety of reasons, but the most common motivator is housing.  

“Mobility rates are about half what they were in the 1940s — when one in five Americans moved each year — and have been steadily declining since the mid-1980s. Local moves have been declining the most, especially among young adults, but all age groups have been moving less than in the past.  

“There is little consensus as to why Americans are moving less, but three factors seem to be playing a role  demographic change, housing affordability, and changes in labor dynamics.  

  • “People move less often as they age, and as millennials (America’s second-largest generation) age out of their most mobile years, some decline in mobility should be expected.  
  • “The housing affordability crisis (discussed in detail in our recent report) could also be depressing mobility, with high costs discouraging moves into unaffordable areas.  
  • “The rise in dual-earner households, as well as increases in rates of working from home (especially during and possibly after the COVID-19 pandemic) could be having a downward effect on mobility, as both dual-earner households and remote workers have lower mobility rates than single-earner households and commuters. 

“Since the COVID-19 pandemic is still unfolding, it is difficult to assess its possible impacts on mobility. It could be that mobility is going to spike after the quarantines end and people move to cheaper housing (if available) after losing income from a job loss. Mobility could also spike as a result of evictions or foreclosures if substantial payment assistance is not provided before the temporary bans on evictions and foreclosures end.  

“It could also be that mobility will decline further as people become less likely to buy or sell homes, especially during the quarantines but also afterwards due to higher economic uncertainty. Working from home is likely at record high levels right now, and if even a small portion of this shift proves to be permanent, it could mean fewer people moving for job-related reasons as well. 

Read more here. 

California shrinks; still most populous state

By Associated Press, May 2, 2020 

“The nation’s most populous state shrank a bit in the second half of last year, according to official figures released May 1. It still tops second-place Texas, which has about 30 million people. 

“California had a population of 39.78 million as of January, the state Department of Finance said, down from its previous report of 39.96 million residents in July. 

“But Doug Kuczynski of the department’s Demographic Research Unit said the two numbers aren’t directly comparable because of various adjustments and because each figure represents a point in time.  

“By the department’s reckoning, California added about 87,500 residents during the last full calendar year, comparing January-to-January figures. But even that comparison shows population growth of just 0.2 percent, which continues slow growth trends since the Great Recession.  

“The figures predate the current recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Growth slowed to near zero or declined in most coastal counties, grew slightly in the San Francisco Bay Area, and remained robust in the Central Valley and counties east of Los Angeles. 

“Los Angeles County lost residents for the second straight year, but it remains the nation’s most populous with more than 10 million residents. 

“More people left California between July 2018 and July 2019 for the first time since the 2010 census, leading to the state’s slowest recorded growth rate since 1900. 

Read full article here.

Milan mayor: ‘People are ready’ for green change

By Laurie Goering, Thomson Reuters Foundation, May 4, 2020 

“Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala has pushed in recent years to make his northern Italian city more climate-smart, including setting an ambitious aim to electrify all public transport by 2030. 

“He estimated that 70 percent of Milan residents now back virus-accelerated plans to switch 35 km (22 miles) of street space to priority use for bicycles and pedestrians in the city of 1.4 million. 

“Temporary new bike lanes on May 4 were helping ease pressure on the city’s public transport system, as construction and factory workers headed back to work and drivers limited passenger numbers to try to maintain spacing. 

“Milan, among the European cities hit earliest and hardest by the coronavirus pandemic, is one of dozens of cities around the world aiming to use a post-lockdown economic restart to bootstrap environmental measures. 

“Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, chair of the C40 network of cities pushing swift climate action, said that when the time came to reopen and rebuild, ‘our efforts will define our cities for decades to come.’ 

“Milan’s leaders also are asking companies to allow more working from home and to stagger hours for employees who do come in, to avoid crowding on transport and in other public places. 

“So far, climate-friendly efforts associated with lifting the lockdown  such as expanding bike lanes and sidewalk space for pedestrians  have been relatively inexpensive, the mayor said. 

“Still, finding resources  and the will  to get green shifts underway now is crucial to reduce risks from the next big threat of climate change, he said. 

Read more here.

TDM in a post-pandemic world

TDM in a post-pandemic world

By Audrey Shiramizu, April 17, 2020

MANY OF US ARE THINK­ING of CO­VID-19’s im­pact on of­fice com­muters, dur­ing and post-pandemic. And, if you are like us, you might be re-think­ing your TDM (trans­porta­tion de­mand manage­ment) strategies in the upcoming months.

Many of these strategies are familiar — subsidized transit, pre-tax benefits, and carpool matching. More recently, universities and tech companies have led the way in TDM, offering employees teleworking, flexible hours, shuttles, and on-site amenities. Non-tech and more traditional companies lag, often dismissing (or unequipped to provide) teleworking as an option, and relying on employees to proactively use incentives offered.

With the pandemic forcing many of us to shelter in place, we now know that working from home is possible for many office workers, and not just for tech and universities. This is a unique opportunity to observe and learn firsthand the impacts of mass teleworking on our transportation systems, work productivity, and commuting behavior.

Arup has spent years researching, designing, and consulting on TDM strategies for major entities around the world, including tech and educational campuses. Many of you have witnessed both devastating and incredible changes in how we move, commute, and work.

What we have observed

The pandemic has affected all forms of transportation and how we work, for better and for worse.

  • Transit ridership, already in decline pre-pandemic, continues to plummet with service cuts daily. Many agencies are running essential services only, cutting more than 50 percent of their service. San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) ridership has declined more than 90 percent. The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) has seen subway and bus ridership down 90 percent and 80 percent respectively.
  • Biking, meanwhile, has surged. Essential workers and those making necessary trips are switching to biking because of reduced transit service or to limit exposure to others on transit. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans to improve cycling infrastructure in response to increased bicycling.
  • Working from home, for the most part, seems to work. Zoom’s share price nearly doubled between February and March, and Microsoft Teams saw a 500 percent increase in the number of meetings, calls, and conferences in China since January.

What we anticipate will have an impact on you, your business, and employees

When the pandemic slows down, employers will want to return to business as usual, likely including regular office hours and some physical office attendance. We anticipate three key things that will impact employers and business:

  • Return to work, and planning for that, will offer opportunities to influence behavior. We must start planning now for what will happen when people begin returning to work en masse; tolerance for behavior change is high when new habits and routines are being formed.
  • The potential for behavioral change is an opportunity and a risk — parking demand and car usage may increase as people remain concerned about using mass transit, but with the right incentives, people may be more willing to try transit.
  • Resiliency, especially in public health, will become central in policymaking. We must capitalize on policies that prioritize the safe expansion of transit, biking, and walking trips to support healthier active lifestyles.

Potential opportunities

The pandemic has shown that behaviors and conventional practices, such as working from home, can flip in mere days or weeks. Other TDM policies that were previously difficult to implement such as flexible work hours or days, or designated work shifts (e.g., allowing employees to choose the specific workdays they would be in the office) could gain momentum post-pandemic. Some level of working from home, perhaps tailored to individuals or groups (parents, caretakers, students, etc.), will continue in the long term. We have seen hopeful examples of these strategies at Arup offices in China.

While devastated and anxious about the pandemic’s impact, we planners should be optimistic that learning and sharing what works will help us emerge stronger and more resilient than before.

A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Audrey Shiramizu is a transportation planner at Arup, where she has worked since 2015. She holds a master of urban planning (transportation and land use) from San Jose State University and a BS in environmental policy, analysis, and planning from UC Davis. You can reach her at audrey.shiramizu@gmail.com.
BART’s AB 2923 TOD Guidance Document and 10-Year Work Plan — what you need to know

BART’s AB 2923 TOD Guidance Document and 10-Year Work Plan — what you need to know

By Sajuti Rahman, associate editor, Northern News, February 20, 2020

BART, primarily a transportation agency, is making critical decisions about housing in the Bay Area. Its efforts reinforce the ties between housing and transportation and the need to think creatively on how to address the shared challenge of housing. Since BART owns 250 acres of strategically developable land, recent legislation could have a significant impact on the housing landscape in Alameda, Contra Costa, and San Francisco counties.

On February 18, 2020, BART released outlines of its AB 2923 Guidance Document and 10-Year Work Plan for Transit-Oriented Development (TOD). As explained on the BART website, AB 2923 requires BART to set TOD zoning standards and a development streamlining process for agency-owned properties within one-half mile of BART stations. Specifically, the bill in part reads:

“[B]oard of directors shall adopt transit-oriented development (TOD) zoning standards by a majority vote at a duly noticed public meeting that establish minimum local zoning requirements for BART-owned land that is located on contiguous parcels larger than 0.25 acres, within one-half mile of an existing or planned BART station entrance, in areas having representation on the BART Board of Directors.”

Since the Bill was signed into law, BART staff has been working with affected local jurisdictions to establish an implementation plan, including the AB 2923 Guidance Document and 10-Year TOD Work Plan. To help develop outlines for the guide and the plan, BART staff reached out to the public, local elected officials and staff, regional advocates, community groups, developers, and BART Board and Committees via meetings, work sessions, email updates, presentations, webinars, and case studies. According to BART, “the guidance document will offer greater clarity around certain bill provisions” and the work plan will provide “transparency about how and when BART will develop its property with housing or commercial uses.”

AB 2923 Guidance Document Outline

This document outlines the upcoming AB 2923 Guidance Document that will set the framework for implementation. The Guidance Document will provide jurisdictions with greater clarity regarding how BART will ensure that local zoning conforms to the TOD zoning standards. The outline states: “BART’s determination of conformance for each station area will focus exclusively on the four zoning parameters defined in the law: residential density, building height, Floor-Area Ratio (FAR), and parking.”

Based on a June 2019 Board decision, the May 2017 TOD guidelines will become TOD zoning standards on July 1, 2020 (see figure 1). The 2017 guidelines state that, unless local jurisdictions rezone by June 30, 2022, zoning defaults to BART’s TOD zoning standards. BART will determine the conformance with zoning standards.

Figure 1: 2017 TOD Guidelines from Table 1, as well as FAR Requirement from State. Source: AB 2923 Guidance Document Outline, February 2020, page 7

10-Year Work Plan Outline

Whereas the AB 2923 Guidance Document focuses on zoning, the 10-Year Work Plan focuses on when and how BART will advance TODs. The outline for the work plan provides a “summary of BART’s internal TOD Program functions and current capacity, a description of BART’s proposed process to prioritize development on properties at its stations, and preliminary recommendations on how BART’s TOD Program can respond to the new requirements in AB 2923.”

BART developed a four-step TOD Process, which includes: (1) pre-development solicitation, (2) developer solicitation/selection, (3) project refinement/developer agreement, and (4) permitting and construction. The work plan focuses mainly on four phases of the prioritization process for advancing development:

Phase 1, Performance evaluation: BART’s TOD program is on track toward a 2025 goal of 1 million sq. ft. of commercial projects, with 2.9 million sq. ft. in the pipeline. The residential pipeline is 774 units short of the 2025 goal of 7,000 units, with the largest shortfall occurring in affordable housing production.

Phase 2, Clarify development opportunities: BART is also (a) evaluating the suitability of its properties (developable vs. undevelopable); (b) articulating expectations by stations for parking replacement, job-generating uses, and affordable housing; and (c) evaluating staff capacity to initiate the new projects. This phase assesses local interest in the development of BART properties (figure 2) and local preference (housing or jobs) for BART development (figure 3).

Figure 2: Local Interest in Development of BART Properties (As of June 2019). Source: BART 10-Year Work Plan for Transit-Oriented Development, Draft Outline and Summary Recommendations, Fig. 3, Page 17
Figure 3: Local Preference for BART Development, by Use (as of June 2019). Source: BART 10-Year Work Plan for Transit-Oriented Development, Draft Outline and Summary Recommendations, Fig. 4, Page 18

 

Phase 3, Prioritize sites for new TOD projects, and Phase 4, Next steps for short-term priorities: BART plans to prioritize stations through a screening process that assesses development readiness, local support, and implementation barriers and opportunities. Then BART plans to evaluate how the priority sites address the TOD targets for ridership and revenue goals.

Early Findings

BART has been working closely with local jurisdictions to understand how AB 2923 will affect the TOD Program. Although BART’s analyses and community engagement are continuing, they have listed these preliminary findings in the plan outline draft (pp. 14-19):

  1. “The majority of local jurisdictions affected by AB 2923 are supportive of some type of development occurring on BART-owned property in their communities.
  2. “Some of the greatest perceived barriers to development of BART property are: (a) the need for parking replacement, (b) the desire for land uses and/or density that may not be market-feasible today, (c) escalating construction costs, and (d) insufficient subsidies for affordable housing.
  3. “Consistent with BART’s Board-adopted TOD policy, BART will continue to only work with jurisdictions that are supportive of TOD.
  4. “For many communities, the height and FAR requirements of AB 2923 are in excess of what can be built by the market today.
  5. “Due to the zoning standard requirements of AB 2923, it will be more important than ever for BART to collaborate closely with local jurisdictions on project design elements.”

What’s Next?

According to BART, “Studies show that developing housing and jobs near transit stations results in an increase in transit ridership, a decrease in driving, and an increase in active transportation, which [in turn] result in better safety, environmental, health, and economic benefits.” As BART continues its community outreach to finalize the AB 2923 Guidance Document and 10-Year Work Plan, planners, city officials, and community members in the impacted jurisdictions should be ready to discuss the Parking Replacement Policy, Transportation Demand Management Policy, and Anti-Displacement Strategy in 2020.

Meet a local planner — Ron Golem

Meet a local planner — Ron Golem

By Catarina Kidd, AICP

Ron Golem is Director of Real Estate and Transit-Oriented Development for Valley Transit Authority in San Jose. Before heading to VTA in 2015, he was a principal at BAE Urban Economics for 16 years and a project manager and realty specialist with the National Park Service (Presidio) for seven years. He holds a master’s in city planning from UC Berkeley.

How has your career evolved over the years?

In my twenties, I was working in various aspects of real estate including asset management, leasing, and property management. After graduate school, I worked for the National Park Service in the Presidio before moving on to consulting and then finally to VTA. Each experience has a trade-off. In an agency, you work many different aspects of a project from concept to outcome, which can be dynamic and challenging. In consulting, you have a more defined role with incredible depth, and you apply your expertise to many projects.

Tell us about your current role.

I lead the real estate and transit-oriented development (TOD) programs at VTA. The real estate program includes acquiring land or rights for our transit projects and leasing programs for cell sites, paid parking, and advertising. For the TOD programs, we have identified 25 sites totaling more than 200 acres in Silicon Valley. TODs require entitlements, community engagement, developer selection, and agreement negotiations. Basically, my portfolio includes anything outside of the “fare box recovery.”

How is all the work completed?

As with other public agencies, we have a lean team of a few in-house staff, on-call consultants, and contract project managers.

With both private and public sector experience, what is your advice on selecting and managing consultants?

It is always about finding the right people and fit. You assess the person based on accomplishments and experience. When selecting a consultant for a project that involves a group dynamic, have an interview panel with knowledgeable people and establish a thoughtful process on how to reach a consensus.

For example, when conducting interviews for a large consulting assignment to study our stations, I searched for a cohesive and collaborative team. You must evaluate the subcontractors as well. The personalities should collaborate rather than compete. Those are the kinds of things you look for and communicate to your panel.

What motivates you in your day-to-day work?

I have a vision as to what can be, and I work toward that vision. In order to put the pieces into place, you need to build support. If you have a sense of where you want to go, you will see how the pieces fit into the bigger picture. That ultimate vision makes the day-to-day work interesting.

When not working, what inspires you?

You know you are a planning nerd when you put yourself in planning, even when not at work. I have served on Urban Land Institute’s (ULI) advisory panels. ULI works with organizations, usually cities, on solving large scale planning issues. These are week-long or three-day events with a panel of expert advisors that span planning, finance, development, and other disciplines. You jump in and think about different issues and help come up with a strategy. Your perspective broadens when you are able to apply your skills in a different environment.

What is a challenge you are currently tackling?

The BART to San Jose extension, which is a complex $5.5 billion project spanning six miles, five miles of which are tunnel. We must consider the type of TODs to build on top and around the entire station area. This includes coordinating with the cities and advancing TODs on private land. The vision includes both buildings and high quality environments. In the larger context, concerns around displacement, affordable housing, and business impacts require community engagement and support. Another big challenge is getting federal funding for the project.

Do you have any advice for new planners starting their careers?

Planning is an interesting field because there are areas in which you can specialize. But you can also be a generalist. Think about the skill set that allows you to be effective. A planning background is key. Basic business level understanding of finance, economics, and development can go a long way. Also, communication and engagement skills make you an effective generalist who can work in many situations.

Any specific thoughts about the planning profession?

This is an amazing time to be a planner! We are at such a pivotal moment in our state in terms of how it has evolved and developed. When you look at the current problems around housing, climate change, and wildfires, all these issues have big planning components. The state’s residents are not succeeding and things are not working very well. Planners can come up with solutions to address these challenges within the political and legal framework.

Interviewer Catarina Kidd, AICP, is senior development manager at FivePoint and a guest writer for Northern News. All interviews are edited.