Author: Sajuti Rahman Haque

Meet a local planner – Duncan Watry, AICP

Meet a local planner – Duncan Watry, AICP

By Catarina Kidd, AICP

Duncan Watry, AICP, is Manager for Planning of the New Transbay Rail Crossing project at Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART). He holds a master’s in geography from San Francisco State University and a BA in English from UC Berkeley.

Please expand on your main project, the New Transbay Rail Crossing.

BART and the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority (CCJPA) are cosponsoring this effort to plan and build new rail connections from the East Bay to San Francisco, including a new line for BART in San Francisco. CCJPA is a partnership among the six local transit agencies that co-administer and manage transit services in the eight counties of the Capitol Corridor.

We expect this project to be transformational for the Bay Area, as it will increase the BART system’s capacity and potentially create a new regional rail network connecting major markets in this mega-region of 21 northern California counties. We expect the effort will result in better coordination of services among multiple rail agencies and more convenient connections for riders, all as envisioned in the California State Rail Plan.

Have you determined the geography and scope?

Our next steps are to engage the public, undertake a market demand analysis, and bring aboard modeling consultants. Based on the results of the market analysis, we’ll develop program alternatives. Ultimately, if it gets funded, this will be the largest transit public works project in the Bay Area since planning began for the original BART system in 1957.

What are you proposing for BART’s core capacity?

Core capacity is about increasing the ability of BART to operate more trains through the Transbay Tube. The current limit is 23 trains per hour. Before Covid-19, BART was running full trains at that limit. To increase Transbay capacity by about 45 percent, we will buy a new train control system and new rail cars, and build a new yard in Hayward to store and maintain the cars.

We also have to build more electric power substations, as the added trains will draw more power. This is all bundled into the core capacity project, the planning for which took six years. To fund these improvements, BART’s project is in the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) capital investment grant program — the highest rated, large transit project in the country meeting FTA’s evaluation criteria. We believe we are less than a month away from getting a full funding grant agreement for these improvements.

How has the pandemic reduced demand for future transit?

This is the big question all around the country. Large capital projects take 10-30 years or more. We are thinking long-term and pushing ahead.

Where did you work before BART?

I was senior planner at URS/AECOM for about four years. Prior to that, I was manager of capital planning at SF Muni, working on long-range planning and for the Metro Transit Commission. I began my career at Muni in the service planning group, which managed daily operations — changes to bus routes and stops, working with traffic engineers on signal timing, and so forth — everything you see on the street.

What are you doing about the social justice aspect of transit planning?

Social justice is an essential focus. A lot of capital projects in the past have damaged neighborhoods adjacent to improvement projects, particularly in minority communities. We must be conscientious about hearing from all members of the community. Equity must be addressed up front so it becomes the primary decision-making consideration in how these communities are served by transit.

How do you handle criticism from the public?

First, do the detailed work up front so that everyone on staff has their facts straight. This requires talking with and listening to people, taking their input seriously, and using it to improve projects. Ultimately, we are building something the public both needs and can use, but you can never make everyone happy. Someone will always think they have a better idea, or unexpected things happen. So you aim for the fewest negative impacts and greatest number of benefits.

What advice do you have for success in planning?

Learn and understand what goes into daily operations. When you work for an agency, planning at a high level, it is good to know how stuff actually happens on the ground.

I started my career at Greyhound, selling bus tickets, dispatching drivers and maintenance personnel, and scheduling. The greatest plans will fail if operations can’t make it work. Get experience in the operating world early. In my case, it was “How do you get buses on the street? Where are the stops? How will they make those turns?” When you know those details, it makes your job as a planner easier because you will be able talk with the people who make things work. They will see that you understand how things happen, and they will be more comfortable with your plan and trust your planning.

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

Return to the October issue here.

Inflection point: What we do when significant change occurs 

Inflection point: What we do when significant change occurs 

By Andrea Ouse, AICP, August 17, 2020 

“The real property above described, or any portion thereof, shall never be occupied, used, or resided on by any person not of the white Caucasian race, except in the capacity of a servant or domestic employed thereon as such by a white Caucasian owner, tenant, or occupant.” —Declaration of Restrictions, recorded February 17, 1954. 

I remember, while researching a project file as an entry-level planner for a Bay Area community, finding the above provision in the Codes, Covenants, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) recorded on the subdivision. Despite discovering this 20 years ago, I still recall the feeling of disgust in the pit of my stomach. The developer of this subdivision was celebrated in the community as an American success story, resulting in the City naming a community center and a major boulevard in his honor. This was an inflection point for me — I’ve carried a copy of those CC&Rs around since that day. Although the Fair Housing Act of 1968 rendered this racist provision unenforceable, the stench of it remains in that community to this day.

With a national discussion occurring throughout the country, I decided to focus on racial equity and how planners can approach, normalize, and prioritize allyship in our work.

For context and to help me frame a very complex, multi-dimensional issue, I sought out my friend and California Planning Roundtable colleague, Jeanette Dinwiddie-Moore, FAICP, and the owner of Dinwiddie & Associates. She is a highly respected contributor to our profession and has been a strong voice for BIPOC planners for many years.

As planners, our work is both expansive and granular. We are also often the agents driving the changes voiced by the community. Meanwhile, our recent, continuing, and collective national conversation on racial bias has generated incredibly pertinent and valuable content.

The American Planning Association has been at the forefront of a coordinated commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion in all forms, and for many years. For example, APA California continues to lead in efforts to train members in implicit bias and cultural competency, and the chapter annually sponsors successful Diversity Summits at its conferences.

Are we doing enough? No. We have a renewed moral and ethical imperative to learn about, acknowledge, and address systemic racism in the communities we serve.

As I’ve learned, and as confirmed by Jeanette, many land-use policies, regulations, and processes have intensified racial segregation, poverty, environmental injustice, poor health outcomes, and gentrification. Recognizing and accepting the role our profession has played in developing and perpetuating the toolbox used to build and maintain those inequalities over the past century is an important first step. But only our daily actions will be able to truly propel the societal reckoning.

I recognize planners are limited in what we can do to dismantle racism and discrimination. Our country was built, in part, on the principles of economic growth and continental expansion through the occupation of Native American land and the use of slave labor — that is, by exploiting the powerless. Though antiracist movements and legislation of the 1950s and 1960s compelled policymakers to outlaw most forms of explicit discrimination, racism continued to underserve specific populations both covertly and overtly.

Among the key takeaways from my conversation with Jeanette was that our profession has little impact on certain economic factors, such as the wage inequality that leads to lower rates of homeownership among minorities. We can commit, however, to listening to the historically marginalized communities and learning about the unconscious bias and larger structural forces that have influenced discriminatory land-use decisions of the past. Oral histories and personal narratives can be important, especially those specific to the outcome of social, economic, and environmental injustice that have negatively impacted Black and Brown neighborhoods and communities.

Jeannette’s wealth of experience piqued my intellectual curiosity about the most effective means to influence a community’s equitable future. More than just calling for action, or recognizing racial disparities throughout society, planners can be mediators, acknowledging failings of the past with a vision of racial and economic equity. We can strive to continually communicate equity as a standard for our communities.

That means that the norms we professional planners have adopted and propagated over decades should be examined through a new, more inclusive lens. We have an ethical obligation to recognize and learn from the impacts of our profession’s past. We must actively listen to and engage with underserved communities that may be distrustful because past actions of our profession marginalized them. By acknowledging past offenses or neglect, we can promote inclusivity at all levels.

I chose this professional path to work for the greater good, and with diverse peoples and needs in mind. Maybe you did too. This moment of inflection gives us permission to combine that overarching view with self-reflection and meaningful engagement. Rather than saying we are only technicians, we should hold ourselves, and the communities we serve, accountable for the impacts of the decision-makers’ decisions.

There’s never been a better time for us to completely reimagine our entire system of planning and building. In the process, we will unify our purpose and advance our profession. A new and more empathetic approach to community engagement and policy development will hear the voices that have historically been disregarded.

So let us hone our active listening and seek out the areas in which we can build trust with all of those marginalized groups who have been shut out of establishing the community’s vision. Driving such a societal shift will require of us great stamina, fortitude, and a dedication to seeing through the long struggle toward more equitable short, medium, and long-term outcomes.

Jeannette reminded me that the AICP Code of Ethics cites principles that include seeking social justice by planning for the needs of the disadvantaged, while promoting racial and economic integration. The time is now to put those words into action. Let’s begin this task.

Return to the September issue here.

ANDREA OUSE, AICP, is Director of Com­munity and Economic develop­ment, City of Con­cord, California, a position she has held for three years after an equivalent position with the City of Vallejo. Ouse was Sec­tion Director in 2015 and 2016 for APA California–Northern Section. Her degrees include a master in public administration from California State University–East Bay and a bachelor of science in city and regional planning from Cal Poly–San Luis Obispo. 

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.

Planning profession trends under Covid-19

Planning profession trends under Covid-19

By Mark Rhoades, AICP, August 19, 2020 

The end of summer vacation and the beginning of the school year bring stark reminders that Covid-19 is forcing much change on our communities 

It brings us to an important moment in the planning profession — an “inflection moment,” as Andrea Ouse, AICP, writes in this issue. The changes show everywhere, from public processes and online data management to housing legislation and implementation, and the need for change is emphasized by our acknowledgement of institutionalized racism as raised by Black Lives Matter. We have all seen and participated in heroic efforts to get our communities’ processes online to create a new public participation process.  

Covid-19 and public process  

The shelter in place emergency of Covid-19 gave a steroid boost to online participation and data management that has fundamentally and irreversibly shifted the workplace and local government processes. 

It forced local agencies to develop new ways of engaging the public in land-use processes. Many local agencies pivoted to online decisionmaking to keep the housing and discretionary process moving. Zoom and GoToMeeting became the primary public process platforms for decisionmaking, proving that the public’s business doesn’t need to be conducted in person 

As a result, the planning profession is participating in a worldwide beta test of efficient and inclusive processes conducted via cell phones and home computers. Smartphones, Zoom, and GoToMeeting have not only made it much easier for more people to participate, they also have reduced the potential for rancorous debate while invalidating any previous requirementthat someone show up in person to be acknowledged at a hearingLocal governments that weren’t already fully online for applications are finding that in-person visits to planning agencies are less and less necessary. 

At the same time, governments and other employers realized that people can effectively work from home. This could steer development away from “offices” and provide more land for housing.  

Black Lives Matter, land use, and institutionalized racism 

The parallel surge of the BLM movement during the pandemic — on the heels of books like Natalie Moore’s “The South Side,” Richard Rothstein’s “The Color of Law,” and Randy Shaw’s “Generation Priced Out” — was a wakeup call to planners. It laid bare how we as a profession helped racism through exclusionary land use and zoning policies, growth caps, a prevalence of, and emphasis on, single-family zoning, discretionary project review, landmarks preservation, and other structures we thought were well meaning 

These structures, led and nurtured by federal, state, and local planning decisions, massively suppressed the housing supply in communities that most needed it. Now California suffers from a statewide dearth of affordable housing. While housing supply, or the lack thereof, has been a political decisionhousing affordability is an economic outcome based on numerous market-based factors. 

Planners should not confuse the two. Rent control programs are band-aids because they don’t address the problem of supply — as demonstrated in Berkeley and Santa Monica, where housing is unaffordable because supply lagged despite decades of rent control. For exampleBerkeley approved fewer than 200 new dwelling units between 1970 and 1995. 

The focus on institutionalized racism follows recent state legislative efforts to remove local agencies from making a host of decisions on new housing. The State Density Bonus Law and the Housing Accountability Act have significantly reduced the allowance for public input on many kinds of housing development projects. This does not excite cities used to lengthier and more discretionary processes. Planners are stuck in the middle trying to be responsive to local political decisionmakers and community participants, while also trying to comply with more, and more aggressive, state laws. More by-right zoning, implementation tied to policy development, and limitations on housing discretion will be implemented much more broadly statewide in the coming months and years.  

Bills like SB 330, SB 35, and AB 2162 are examples. Local control and the politicization and focalization of land use are primary reasons for the 50-year lack of housing production. The State and Councils of Government will be pushing for much larger increments of new housing. CEQA is being pushed aside, as housing opponents are unable to use it to challenge qualifying housing projects in urbanized areas.  

The widely recognized inequities of single-family and very lowdensity zoning are also being targeted by the stateWe see this in the advent of compulsory requirements for ADUs and Junior ADUs, which are essentially eliminating single-family zoning across the state. The trend to more intensively using urbanized land byright, particularly in urbanized and transit-oriented areas, will continue to grow.  

Where do we go from here? 

As many locales begin the difficult process of reexamining their land use policies with BLM in mind, everything about our profession is up for re-examinationAnd as the legislature and local agencies work toward greater housing equity and supply, they will also be looking for ways to make digital access the norm in planning operations. Planners should take this time to listen and to advise their decision-makers on the best paths forward. Your energy and courage will be required in all of this. 

Return to the September issue here.

MARK RHOADES, AICP, has been a prac­tic­ing urban plan­ner in Cali­fornia for more than 30 years, in­clud­ing 10 years as City Plan­ning Manager for the City of Berkeley. He is a member of the California Plan­ning Round­table, which just released “Planning to House California – Beyond 2020.” Rhoades studied urban planning at Cal Poly Pomona and UC Berkeley, and holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and urban studies from UC Riverside. He was editor of Northern News from 1994-1996 and Section Director of APA California–Northern from 1999–2000. He now focuses on housing policy and implementation, primarily through the Rhoades Planning Group. This is the fifth in a series of articles from our past Section Directors. 

 

Reflections between Zoom meetings

Reflections between Zoom meetings

By Hanson Hom, AICP, ASLA, May 7, 2020

AS I WRITE THIS, I am enjoying a respite from yet another Zoom meeting. It’s ironic that, a few months ago when life was “normal,” we complained about having to rush from one meeting to another, and getting pulled away from the quiet time we need to do “real work.” 

I am now yearning for those in-person meetings where I didn’t have to virtually “raise my hand” to speak, or think about when I might be able to get a haircut. Sitting here at my laptop, without video, audio, apps, or Wi-Fi, seems almost primitive, and maybe too quiet. I ponder the state of our lives, how they might change post-COVID-19, and what we as planners could be doing beyond virtual conferences and meetings. Here are some thoughts.

The world has changed 

That should prompt us to revisit our core values and responsibilities as planners. Just as wildfires, flooding, and other climate-enhanced events jolted our perspective on land-use planning, the pandemic has heightened our awareness of the intersection of planning and public health. We were mindful of the dire warnings from scientists about climate change exacerbating fires, floods, and sea level rise. But until those became disasters that we witnessed on daily newscasts (the California and Australia firestorms, for example), it was business-as-usual for many vulnerable communities. Similarly, we are all reading about and seeing the tragic human toll and enormous economic impact wrought by COVID-19 and past pandemics. Will we see the relevance of a pandemic to urban planning (which may have been tenuous until now) and act on it? Or will we just try to return to business-as-usual urban planning.

It is becoming common public policy to work toward creating resilient cities that can sufficiently respond to a wide range of social, fiscal, and physical risks. While planning for resiliency against a worldwide pandemic seems daunting, we can, at the local level, highlight and plan for reducing the public health risks and economic inequities that exist in our communities. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed a disproportionate impact from the pandemic on communities of color and low-income populations. The recently enacted federal stimulus bills respond directly to the severe financial disruptions that the pandemic has visited on our economy, and to a lesser extent, on our cities; but the pandemic has underscored the public health crisis among our most vulnerable populations. These communities, because of past land-use decisions and proximity to heavy industrial uses, have been subjected to higher concentrations of air pollutants, while also suffering from inadequate access to parks, recreational amenities, and public health facilities.

Resilient communities can close the public health gap 

Public health and medical studies have long documented these disparities, but the pandemic raised them to the forefront of public discourse. A recent national study from Harvard found that urban populations with a high exposure to “dirty air” have a higher incidence of respiratory health problems linked to a higher death rate from COVID-19. The hoped-for outcome is that this consciousness will translate to a heightened response to public health risks in disadvantaged communities, along with increased advocacy for socially responsible and equitable land-use and mobility planning.

Another well-publicized outcome from the pandemic is data showing that air quality improved dramatically and almost instantly as business closures translated to fewer cars on the road. The World Economic Forum reports that major urban areas in China, South Korea, India, and Italy saw up to a 40 percent reduction in air pollution (PM2.5 nitrate). The air quality maps and the dramatic before and after pictures “speak a thousand words.” Of course, the cleaner air comes with a huge economic price that should not be trivialized.

A pandemic-induced economic shutdown is certainly not the desired solution to air pollution, but this viral outbreak has demonstrated that pollution can be ameliorated by a collective and orchestrated human response. It confirms that polluted air is not an inevitable urban condition and that national or global changes in human behavior can yield immediate and measurable environmental benefits. Better air quality will help us address climate change and strengthen the resiliency of our communities with respect to public health.

This is our time 

This tragic pandemic presents important lessons for us as planners. Let’s use this knowledge and this time to further resiliency, public health, public awareness, and equity in the communities where we live and work.  

Hanson Hom, AICP, has been a planner in the Bay Area for 40 years, mostly in the public sector. He was Sunnyvale’s Director of Community Development, retiring as Assistant City Manager in 2016, and is now providing consulting services. He is a licensed landscape architect, a member of the City of Alameda planning board, Vice President for Conferences at APA California, and was Northern Section’s Director in 2011 and 2012. He holds master’s degrees in urban and regional planning (San Jose State University) and public administration (CSU East Bay) and a BA in landscape architecture (UC Berkeley). You can read more about him in Meet a local planner, September 2015. 

The New World Order, from a consultant’s point of view

The New World Order, from a consultant’s point of view

By Darcy Kremin, AICP, April 14, 2020  

I AM AN ENVIRONMENTAL CONSULTANT, and I’ve worked in the private sector for more than 18 years. This pandemic has had an unprecedented effect on private businesses, and that includes consulting firms working on planning and development projects. Before the COVID-19 crisis hit, most consulting firms were extremely busy. Few firms were bidding on new projects because they didn’t have the staff to prepare proposals nor could they staff those efforts if their proposals were acceptedAfter California’s Shelter-in-Place (SIP) order was issued on March 19all consulting firms, big and small, reacted quickly and decisively to keep their businesses running.  

As a first stepconsulting firms switched to working from home. This switch was not without difficulties, thoughFortunately for me, my firm had remote access to the servers where all project files are stored. The problem we faced was accessing specialized software for our technical studies and modeling. With the help of our Information Technology department, we were able to work around this issue. For staff who primarily do field work (biologists, archeologists, etc.), the switch was not as easy. In fact, for most consulting firms, field staff who could not easily transfer to desk work were furloughed or laid off entirely. One consulting firm furloughed up to 20 percent of its workforce within two weeks of the SIP order. 

Other measures firms took to reduce labor costs included asking executives, principals, and other senior staff to take pay cuts, reduce work hours by 20 to 40 percent, and limit “non-bill” time to the extent possible. However, making sure staff time is directly billable to a project is only half of the equation; getting paid for that work is the other half. Consulting firms “float” the cost of staff time (salaries) for between 30 and 90 days depending on when invoices are paid, which makes the cost of doing business quite expensive. So consulting firms started reaching out to clients to receive payment for past work and to ensure that future invoices will be paid quickly. 

Even as the world changed, some consulting services are still required. For example, public agencies don’t typically have the in-house specialized knowledge needed for air quality/greenhouse gas emissions and noise analyses. Other consulting services have already been reduced or eliminated, such as contract planning. Some projects may have been put on hold or stopped altogether. Housing is still being constructed, which is a good sign. Big infrastructure projects seem to be moving forward, but time will tell if those budgets are reallocated to health care projects. I am hopeful that long-range planning projects will continue since we need to keep shaping the future of our communities. 

Consulting firms are going to struggle as we reset to a new normal. You may see more firms bidding on fewer projects. You may find that some firms no longer provide certain expertise or will not want to work on a specific type of project. Some firms may go away entirely. It’s hard to predict what will happen, but we know our world will not look the way it did on March 19 

I am incredibly grateful to the men and women who continue to provide essential services to help us shelterinplace, and to stay safe and healthy. And to those who are struggling or who have lost their jobs, I can only hope that this period of adversity will soon end. 

Darcy Kremin, AICPis Environmental Planning Practice Leader in the Oakland office of Rincon Consultants, Inc. She was Northern Section Director in 2009-2010. Kremin was profiled in “Meet a local planner” in the June 2015 issue of Northern News. She holds an MA in urban and environmental policy from Tufts University and a BA in geography/environmental studies and political science from UCLA. 
Who’s where

Who’s where

By Sajuti Rahman, associate editor, Northern News

The Northern Section Board has elect­ed Floren­tina Craciun, AICP, as Dir­ector-Elect of the sec­tion. A Se­nior Environmental Planner with the Environmental Planning DivisionSan Fran­cisco Plan­ning De­partment, Cra­ciun holds a mas­ter’s in Urban and Regional Planning from UCLA and a BA in history from UC Santa Bar­bara. She has served on the Board since 2012, first as membership Director, followed by East Bay RAC (regional activity coordinator, 2013-2014), and Awards Co-direc­tor for APA California-Northern (2015-2020).

Amalia Lorentz Cunning­ham, AICP, was pro­moted to As­sist­ant Dep­uty Dir­ector, Hous­­ing and Com­­munity Im­­prove­­ment, in the De­­part­­ment of Con­ser­va­tion and De­vel­op­ment of Con­tra Cos­ta Coun­ty. The move creates an ex­panded di­vi­sion in the Coun­ty to sup­port af­ford­able housing, federal­ly fund­ed projects, and economic de­vel­op­ment initiatives. Formerly economic development manager for the Coun­ty, Cun­ningham holds a master’s degree in City and Regional planning from UC Berkeley and a bachelor’s degree from Amherst College. She and her family reside in El Cerrito where they are heavy users of the Ohlone Greenway and their Contra Costa branch library. 

Delo Freitas was recently hired as a Se­nior Plan­ner for the City of Arcata where she focus­es on cur­rent and long-range plan­ning ac­tiv­ities as well as his­tor­ic pre­ser­va­tion. She pre­viously was an associate planner for Planwest Partners in Arcata, and before that, was an assistant planner for the City of Eureka. Freitas holds a BA in com­mu­ni­ty and re­gion­­al plan­ning from the University of Washington.  

 

Bri­an Hea­ton, AICP, is a Land Use and En­viron­men­tal Planner at GHD in Eureka. Pre­vi­ous­ly a se­nior plan­ner for the City of Eu­reka, Hea­ton holds a mas­ter’s de­gree in ur­ban and re­gion­al plan­ning from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin-Mad­ison, a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in en­vi­ron­men­tal studies from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­ne­so­ta-Duluth, and a certificate in project management from UC Irvine.

James Murphy is an As­sist­ant Plan­ner with the City of Cu­per­tino. Pre­viously a plan­ning tech­ni­cian with the City of San Jose, Mur­phy holds a mas­ter’s de­gree in ur­ban and re­gion­al plan­ning from San Jose State Uni­ver­sity and bach­e­lor’s de­grees in geo­graphy and ur­ban studies from UC Berkeley. When not in the office, James enjoys hik­ing and cycling on the San Fran­cis­co Penin­sula. 

 

Lauren Nin­ko­vich has re­cent­ly been hired as an As­sis­tant Plan­ner at the City of Cu­per­tino. For­mer­ly a plan­ning in­tern at the City of Pough­keep­sie, New York, Nin­ko­vich holds a BA in ur­ban studies from Vas­sar Col­lege. Out­side of work she enjoys play­ing volley­ball and hik­ing.

 

Melis­sa Ruhl is an Emerg­ing Mo­bil­i­ty Re­search­er at Ford’s Re­search and Ad­vanced En­gi­neer­ing di­vis­ion in Palo Alto. Her work there focuses on new and emerg­ing trans­por­ta­tion trends, such as micro­mobility, micro­transit, and aut­on­o­mous ve­hicles initiatives. Previously, Ruhl was a senior planner for Arup in San Francisco where she managed projects on transportation innovation. Ruhl holds a master’s degree in city and regional planning from San Jose State University and a bachelor’s degree in history from University of Oregon. She regularly speaks in California and nationally on autonomous vehicles and the future of cities. She has published a number of articles on future mobility and most recently co-authored a chapter on mobility as a service in the recently published Disruptive Transport: Driverless Cars, Transport Innovation and the Sustainable City of Tomorrow. In September 2019, Melissa was recognized on the 40 under 40 Mass Transit Magazine list.