Those of us who attended the National Planning Conference (NPC) in San Francisco in April know what an incredible success it was in terms of attendance, education, networking, and an overall smooth operation. This is a testament to the hard work, know-how, and welcoming attitude of the Host Committee (kudos to Hing Wong, AICP, et al) and the Northern Section as a whole. But NPC 19 was an especially exciting and fulfilling experience for me, as it was the first conference where I felt that APA’s ongoing efforts to promote diversity, inclusion, and equity were truly front and center.
I have been a member of APA’s Diversity Committee for years, starting when it was just a Task Force and not yet a full-fledged committee. I currently serve as Vice Chair of the Committee and work closely with our amazing Chair, Miguel Angel Vazquez, AICP, and our talented committee members. Over the years, the committee has worked hard to promote progress on issues of diversity and inclusion within the organization and on behalf of our members. Each year, our efforts culminated in a Diversity Summit at the NPC, but there was little other visible evidence of the committee’s work at the conference.
That began to change a few years back when an Equity track was added to the conference programming, leading to a much richer choice of educational offerings on the topics of diversity, inclusion, and equity. Then, in April 2018, APA’s diversity efforts were further elevated when the Board adopted a Diversity and Inclusion strategy.
NPC 19 was our first opportunity to roll out this new strategy — and did we ever! At the same time, work was completed on the (now formally ratified) Planning for Equity Policy Guide, under the dynamic and able leadership of Lynn Ross, AICP, and Susan Wood, AICP; and the Social Equity Task Force led by Carleton Eley was also completing its work. So, for NPC 19, we had three major and related initiatives come together to form the basis of a powerful conference theme.
I feel very fortunate to have been able to play a role in the diversity, inclusion, and equity focus of the conference and to witness firsthand the enthusiasm of attendees having a forum where they could learn about and share experiences on these important topics.
It all started at the Leadership Plenary prior to the conference, where members of the Board of Directors, Chapter Presidents Council, Divisions Council, and Student Representatives Council heard presentations from the Diversity Committee, Social Equity Policy Guide Committee, and Social Equity Task Force leaders on our work to date. The session was kicked off by strong supportive messages from incoming APA President Kurt E. Christiansen, FAICP, and APA’s new Executive Director, Joel Albizo, FASAE, CAE. We then reassembled in roundtable discussion groups where each person — enabled by specially prepared postcards and other materials developed by APAs talented communications and marketing teams — committed to push forward on the Diversity/Inclusion Strategy.
That gratifying experience was repeated over and over again for me once the NPC 19 got started.
On the opening Saturday, I participated in a panel on “Everyday Racism: What Planners Can Do.” It included presentations on the fascinating research being conducted by Stacy Harwood and Ivis Garcia, AICP, from the University of Utah, and by April Jackson from Florida State University. Professor Garcia, along with Andrea Garfinkel-Castro and Deirdre Pfeiffer, recently co-authored a PAS Report on Planning with Diverse Communities — a valuable compendium that should be on every planner’s bookshelf. Professor Jackson led the effort on the recent joint APA/Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning Diversity Survey — the most comprehensive survey of its kind, and one that has yielded more than 3,000 responses. But the best part of the session was when participants shared their own experiences in roundtable discussions and as individual report-outs.
Next came the Plan4Equity Forum where we once again presented the Diversity/Inclusion Strategy and the efforts of the Social Equity Policy Guide Committee and Social Equity Task Force, followed by facilitated roundtable discussions. Again, the response from participants was informative and enthusiastic. Immediately following the forum, we celebrated our accomplishments at a joint reception with the Arts and Planning Interest Group at the Minna Gallery, where we heard from local artists and enjoyed an Afro-Cuban band.
In addition, to serving as a presenter at the Leadership Plenary, Everyday Racism Session, and Plan4Equity Forum, I also presented at the annual College of Fellows of the American Institute of Certified Planners (FAICP) meeting: I have long been a member of the Women and Planning Division and had recently participated in a webinar sponsored by the Division on “The Road to FAICP,” which focused on the Division’s efforts to increase the numbers and proportion of women who are recognized as AICP Fellows. It was gratifying to hear the enthusiasm and support that those at the meeting had for APAs Diversity/Inclusion Strategy and for promoting greater diversity in our College.
I came away from NPC 19 with a terrific feeling of accomplishment and with renewed hope that APA is embracing a culture that recognizes the diversity of our communities, promotes inclusiveness in our planning practice, and is able to support our members in fulfilling their ethical obligations to promote a more equitable society. For those of you considering volunteering your efforts to help support APA — believe me, your contributions at any level really can make a difference!
Elizabeth “Libby” Tyler, Ph.D., FAICP, is a consulting planner based in Albany, CA. She is the Ethics Review Director for APA California–Northern Section.
The American Planning Association, California Chapter – Northern, offers membership to city and regional planners and associated professionals primarily living or working in California, from and through Monterey County to the Oregon border, including the nine county San Francisco Bay Area and Lake and San Benito Counties. APA California Northern promotes planning-related continuing education and social functions in order to:
Provide a forum for communication and exchange of information about planning related activities;
Raise member awareness and involvement in APA affairs;
Increase public awareness of the importance of planning;
Encourage professionalism in the conduct of its members; and
Foster a sense of community among the members.
APA California Northern publishes Northern News 10 times each year for the exchange of planning ideas and information. Current and back issues are available for download here. Entirely the effort of volunteers, the News is written and produced by and for urban planners in Northern California. Circulation (downloads per issue) 4,000.
Northern News welcomes comments. Go here to contact the editors. Letters to the editor require the author’s first and last name, home or work street address and phone number (neither of which will be published), and professional affiliation or title (which will be published only with the author’s permission). All letters are subject to editing. Letters over 250 words are not considered.
Deadlines for submitting materials for inclusion in Northern News range from the 10th to the 23rd of the month prior to publication.
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Northern Section has created a new board position, Mid-Career Planners Group Director, towards meeting the needs of planners who are midway in their careers. Our mission is to “organize and provide a forum for mid-career planners to develop career-building programs, social events, and mentoring opportunities.” As the first person in this position, I would love to hear your ideas and thoughts for the type of activities and events that you, as a mid-career planner, would like to see offered by our Section. Please email me, Miroo Desai, or call me at (510) 596-3785.
By Naphtali H. Knox, FAICP, with photos by Hing Wong, AICP
The Bay Area planning directors’ meeting — always open to anyone interested — was well attended on May 17 . Attendees were given a lot to chew on: the rapidly changing landscape of housing policy, but also the changes coming in the Regional Housing Needs Analysis, with much bigger numbers and stricter rules for what can be counted as a developable site. Did I mention the excellent breakfast and lunch? Hing Wong, AICP, took these photos of several of the presenters. I added the captions.
“The search for solutions to California’s housing crisis has reached unprecedented levels of activity in the state legislature and within our own communities. Dozens of new bills are slated for consideration in the coming years and their impact on municipalities throughout the state and region are hotly debated,” read the agenda.
By Matt Levin and Ben Christopher, CALmatters, May 17, 2019
“Very few people can claim to have seen this coming.
“In a procedural vote, Senate Bill 50 failed to advance from the state Senate Appropriations Committee.
“Its fate dealt an unexpected setback to pro-development forces in the state Capitol and a major victory for defenders of local control over housing decisions. It also throws an obstacle into Gov. Gavin Newsom’s path as he tries to goad the state into building a lot more housing.
“Sen. Scott Wiener’s new and broader coalition was instrumental in getting the bill through two earlier committee votes, and gave proponents confidence it could be shepherded through the state Senate without significantly more pushback.
“But supporters didn’t count on Sen. Anthony Portantino, a Democrat from the La Cañada Flintridge area and the chair of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. Portantino’s district includes Pasadena, whose city representatives were some of the bill’s most vocal opponents.
“ ‘My preference has always fallen on the side of incentives for local governments to accomplish goals,’ Portantino said in a statement, expressing concerns about the bill’s ‘unintended consequences,’ including gentrification and discouraging public transit expansion.
“The bill was among those Portantino’s committee suffocated as it sifted through its biannual suspense file — a rapid-fire approach to legislation that allows lawmakers to quickly pass favored bills while quietly dispatching others, either by holding them in committee or redesignating them ‘two-year bills,’ effectively killing them for a year. The Senate Appropriations Committee considered 355 bills in its appropriations lightning round that day.
“The bill’s death could jeopardize a broader housing package — including tenant protections.
“With the premature demise of the signature ‘strong production’ bill of the year, the coalition that backed the bill may have a harder time sticking together in support of the tenant protection bills that remain — for example, San Francisco Democratic Assemblyman David Chiu’s AB 1482, an anti ‘rent gouging’ bill opposed by the state’s landlord lobby.
“Many of the bill’s backers expressed frustration that the governor and Senate leader Toni Atkins didn’t do more to help shepherd SB 50 through the legislative process. California YIMBY asked supporters to call Sen. Atkins and ask her to ‘do everything in her power’ to bring the bill back. ‘She has the ability to go to the Rules Committee, pull the bill out of Appropriations, and send it to the floor. It’s her Senate.’
“But in a statement released the day after the bill was put on pause, Atkins said in a statement, ‘I will not circumvent the decision made by the Appropriations Committee Chair on SB 50. Short of significantly amending the bill and limiting its applications in large swaths of the state, there was no path to move forward this year.’ ”
2018 and 2019 “Brazilian Urbanism: Past Present & Future” international studies abroad classes reunited May 9th at San Pedro Square in downtown San José. L-r, Lecturer and Practitioner-in-Residence Rick Kos, AICP; planning students Michelle Louie, Kally Yeung, Zak Mendez, Laura Mauer, Owen Lin, Tonya Veitch, Jerry Wilburn, Melanie Erickson, and Sneha Parmar; and Northern Section representatives Hing Wong, AICP, and Juan Borrelli, AICP, top right. See the original image here.
“On an overgrown vacant lot in the small city of Clarkston, Georgia, a short drive from Atlanta, a new community of eight tiny homes will sit on a half acre that once held one single-family house. ‘There’s very little available land to build new housing,’ says Ted Terry, the city’s mayor, explaining that Clarkston was originally a farming town filled with apartment complexes as Atlanta sprawled closer over time.
“The city plans to rewrite zoning to allow for taller apartment complexes downtown. But it also began working with MicroLife Institute, the Atlanta-based nonprofit developing the project. The nonprofit promotes small-space living in walkable neighborhoods and worked to help the city change its zoning code to make a tiny home community possible. After passing the ordinance in 2017, the city approved the plans for the development this month. The homes will go up for presale this summer, and the neighborhood should be completed by the end of the year.
“The houses range from around 250 to 500 square feet. Clarkston, which has a large refugee population, is more affordable than some nearby communities, but most houses in the city are still much more expensive than the new tiny homes.
“Tiny houses [are not] just for a certain demographic. ‘Our research has shown that we have everyone from 18 to 85 interested. Every race, every income class,’ said Will Johnston, executive director of the MicroLife Institute.
“The community follows the ‘pocket neighborhood’ model popularized by architect Ross Chapin in communities in the Pacific Northwest and will be the first of its kind in Georgia. Each house faces a central shared courtyard with a fire pit and room to garden. The homes have front porches, and a community garden will be split in front of different homes. All but one of the houses also have private yards in back.”
By Andrea Arjona, Richard Boggs, Anthony Nachor, Carolyn Neer, and Mindy Nguyen
In the Spring 2019 semester, San Jose State University Master of Urban Planning students, in partnership with CommUniverCity and the City of San Jose, formulated a community assessment of Downtown San Jose, focusing on connectivity and mobility issues between the Diridon Station, McEnery Convention Center, and San Pedro Square Market. Seventeen graduate students, along with faculty Richard Kos and Jason Su, studied the area over 15 weeks. The objectives were to document current conditions, identify existing challenges, and propose urban design and active transportation improvements for the study area.
The effort was divided into two phases: data collection and community engagement.
During Phase 1, students assumed one of four user-personas to observe and collect data on connectivity in the study area: 1) a person attending a convention at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center; 2) a San Jose State University student; 3) a visitor to San Pedro Square Market; and 4) a visitor who traveled between all four points of interest. Their findings were organized visually and geographically into informal pin-up boards and formal InDesign collage boards, which were presented to, and reviewed by, the project partners. In Phase 2, the students engaged with community members and stakeholders by organizing a public community event and hosting focus group discussions.
A class-organized community event was held at the San Jose Museum of Art on May 4, 2019. More than 100 adults and children attended. Participants were offered free admission to the museum as an incentive to engage with the students through activities including a large map of downtown, a tech hub, surveys, and a kids’ table with toys, maps, and books. At the tech hub, community members viewed story maps and tested the student-produced ArcHub online engagement platform that allows users to learn about projects around Downtown San Jose and submit their comments through a survey.
Community feedback revealed a strong interest in transportation, wayfinding, public events and activities, and beautification in Downtown San Jose. Walking and driving were the most popular modes of travel to the McEnery Convention Center and San Pedro Square Market, but many participants showed strong support for improved public transportation options in and to Downtown. Common recommendations voiced included creating dedicated bus lanes and expanding existing public transit services to improve efficiency, increasing service to Downtown from outlying areas such as Gilroy and Morgan Hill, and establishing a transit ticket validation system similar to parking validation.
Many attending the community event felt that existing wayfinding was inadequate to meet their needs. Sixteen attendees supported increased wayfinding signage throughout Downtown. Their ideas included installing large maps outside Diridon Station to orient visitors to the surrounding city, additional signage identifying locations of bus and light rail lines throughout the station, improving existing signage for vehicular and bike parking throughout downtown, and developing a walking tour map showing the major destinations around Downtown.
Community members also identified activities and streetscape improvements to improve the pedestrian experience and visibility between Diridon and various points Downtown. Many noted they would like to see more farmers’ markets, concerts in the park, fairs, and comedy shows in public open spaces. And there was considerable public support for pop-up shops and food trucks in underutilized parking lots under freeway overpasses. Some participants suggested that more street activity would increase their perception of safety, which would encourage more walking around Downtown.
After analyzing the findings and reviewing feedback from attendees from the community event, the graduate students compiled a list of short- and long-term recommendations to be presented to the city. The short-term recommendations were deemed to be more readily acted on, while the long-term recommendations require further investments and policy changes.
Short-term recommendations include:
Introduce pedestrian wayfinding elements between Diridon Station, the Convention Center, and San Pedro Square, highlighting suggested routes and estimated travel times.
A lack of wayfinding signage was one of the most often-mentioned deficiencies of Downtown San Jose. Wayfinding signs are desperately needed at Diridon Station and throughout Downtown. At a minimum, installing attractive wayfinding elements will create an important first impression of a city that cares about the navigation needs of its residents and visitors.
Designate preferred walking routes that, to the extent practicable, physically separate pedestrians from traffic by using smaller streets, pedestrian plazas, and paseos to save time and improve the visual experience.
Too many Downtown areas feel unsafe or are difficult to walk through, according to many community members at the open house. They noted the numerous physical barriers on sometimes too-narrow sidewalks, and other impediments that clearly favor cars over pedestrians. Clearly marked walking and biking routes for pedestrians and cyclists would greatly enhance the walking and biking experience, which could lead to fewer people driving in the area.
Create appealing spaces to park bikes and scooters in multiple areas around Downtown, including existing parking lots.
Encouraging active transportation modes — such as bicycles and scooters, as opposed to driving — is an important goal for any city wanting to attract a younger workforce and provide options for those who cannot drive, or choose not to. Replacing vehicle parking spaces with clearly demarcated bike and scooter spaces is an important step in this direction.
Partner with landowners and parking lot operators to allow for street vendors and food trucks near the Convention Center and around Diridon Station, and energize existing alleys with music and art.
Community members, concurring with the city’s goals for placemaking and greater social connectivity, asked for more vibrant and active public spaces. A relatively simple way to invigorate spaces is to allow and encourage street vendors and food trucks to cluster near major destinations like the Convention Center and Diridon Station. San Francisco’s StrEatfood Park is an example of such a space. The formerly moribund parking lot pulses with social and economic activity centered on rotating food truck selections.
Long-term recommendations include:
Establish a legacy business program.
This program would provide grants to help businesses at risk of displacement because of property value increases triggered by nearby development activity. The funds could come from new developments, such as proposed by Google. The grant program could be modeled after the City of San Francisco Legacy Business Registry and Preservation Fund, established to preserve businesses more than 30 years old.
Construct a multimodal path from Diridon Station to the Convention Center and San Pedro Square.
Connecting areas of Downtown with multimodal paths will encourage walking, bicycling, and scootering, and deter automobile use. One path would run from the Diridon Station to the Convention Center parallel to the light rail tracks. The second would extend South San Pedro St. as a pedestrian paseo south through Cityview Plaza.
Expand employment programs for the homeless to redevelopment areas.
A large number of homeless encampments exist throughout the Diridon Station area. Future developments in this area can provide needed funding to address this issue through the expansion of the existing Downtown Streets Team/Groundwerx program. The Downtown Streets Team’s goal is to transition homeless individuals into employment, which in turn opens the door to other opportunities. The program provides work opportunities for homeless individuals while also keeping the streets around Downtown clean. Expansion of this program to the Diridon Station area can boost the visual quality and improve cleanliness of the neighborhood during and after the construction of major development projects.
Alternatively, new developments like the Google Village can partner with organizations like Code Tenderloin from San Francisco to provide the local homeless with job readiness trainings relevant to the local technology industry.
Through this assessment, the graduate student team sought to create a resource for the City of San Jose by exploring in depth the current conditions of these areas of Downtown and advocating for the local community. The area residents want their neighborhood to be better connected to the surrounding districts. They see opportunities for the anticipated developments to improve aesthetics in the area. They want green spaces, parks, and buildings that promote walkability and a sense of community. They are eager for changes that will improve their neighborhood and give them access to sustainable modes of transportation, while being adamant that developers work with residents to meet their needs and achieve the goals set by current community members.
The community around Diridon Station shares the aspirations and goals outlined in the City’s Envision 2040 General Plan. By pursuing those goals with the concerns and hopes of the community in mind, the new Diridon Station and surrounding area can bring San Jose one step closer to becoming a world-class destination as an urban center, a major transportation hub, and the cultural heart of Silicon Valley.
The authors are graduate students in urban and regional planning at San Jose State University:
Andrea Arjona is a Micro Mobility Specialist at the City of San Jose. She received a bachelor’s degree in anthropology with a minor in environmental economics from Universidad de Los Andes in Colombia, and a master’s degree in applied anthropology from San Jose State University.
Rick Boggs is a geographic information systems analyst in the Campus Planning and Development Department of CSU Monterey Bay. He received his bachelor’s degree from CSU Monterey Bay in social and behavioral sciences.
Anthony Nachor, originally from Manila, the Philippines, is an aspiring transportation planner currently residing in Novato, California. He received his bachelor’s degree in urban studies and planning at San Francisco State University.
Carolyn Neer is an Environmental Planner at Rincon Consultants, Inc. She received her bachelor’s degree in history from University of California, Berkeley.
Mindy Nguyen was raised in San Jose and received a bachelor of science in biochemistry and a minor in studio art from Santa Clara University. She is a Registered Environmental Health Specialist with the County of Santa Clara.
This year’s conference theme is A Resilient Future. Conference co-chair Tess Harris noted that resiliency means something different to each of us. She hopes the theme will spark dialogue, create partnerships, provide networking opportunities, and foster discussion of what A Resilient Future means for communities across California.
The conference will tackle pressing issues, including climate change, housing, energy, transportation, diversity, sea level rise, sustainability, economy, disaster, and recovery.
Central Coast Section will host APA California’s opening reception on September 15 at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, an iconic Santa Barbara landmark. (Be sure to climb to the top of the clock tower for a panoramic view of Santa Barbara while you are at the conference.)
“Mountain View’s proposed ban on large vehicles has provoked a stern warning from civil rights attorneys who say it would discriminate against the city’s homeless.
“In a [nine-page, footnoted] letter to the city, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley both urged Mountain View officials not to move forward with plans to prohibit large vehicles over six feet tall from street parking.
“In March, the City Council gave initial approval to the citywide parking ban as a way to curtail the surging numbers of people living in vehicles on city streets, [saying] the city would be following other cities that have enacted similar restrictions. A formal ordinance with specific details is expected to be brought back to the City Council [in June].
“About 290 inhabited vehicles park on Mountain View streets, of [which] two-thirds are large RVs or trailers that would be impacted by an oversized vehicle ban.
[Among other reasons,] “the attorneys also argued that the proposal seemed designed to discriminate against the homeless, but almost anyone else who owns a large vehicle would get special consideration. The city’s March staff report noted that a future ordinance would carve out special exemptions for business owners, residents, government officials, and other groups to continue parking their oversized vehicles on the street.”