Category: News

A rewarding profession

A rewarding profession

By David Woltering, AICP, June 24, 2020

DESPITE THE OCCASIONAL CHALLENGES we planners experience, our profession is a noble one, and it can be immensely satisfying. Over the past 35 years, the planning profession has given me the opportunity to help communities articulate and meet their goals for growth and preservation. I’m tremendously grateful to work in such an extremely interesting field, involving many disciplines, with the objective of creating and maintaining safe, healthy, and livable communities for all people.

The path taken

In 1977, I graduated with a BA in political science from UC Santa Barbara and was hired by a Menlo Park transportation consulting firm to assist with a San Francisco Bay Area Paratransit study. There I met staff members with backgrounds in geography and city and regional planning. Inspired by these co-workers, I went back to school and completed coursework in city and regional planning and geography at San Francisco State University. Years later, in 2009, I earned a master’s degree in public administration from the University of San Francisco.

I’ve worked in community development/city and regional planning since 1984. I joined the American Planning Association in 1985, and became a certified planner in 1990. My work has mostly been for small northern California communities with populations less than 25,000 — Los Altos Hills and San Carlos (Contract Planner, 1984-87), Rocklin (Principal Planner, 1988-93), Windsor (Planning Director, 1993-99), Cotati (Director of Planning, 2001-2008), Clayton (Community Development Director, 2008-2013), and San Bruno (Community Development Director, 2013-2018). Each presented unique challenges and had set important goals to meet.

A trying night

In the late 1980s, I invited my brother, a journalist from New Orleans, to attend a public hearing in Rocklin where I would be presenting a citywide transportation improvement plan for the city. Rocklin’s population was just under 20,000 (it’s now about 70,000), and planning for future growth of the huge Stanford Ranch area and the broader community was underway. Many residents had mixed views about the current and projected growth in that area and the transportation improvements needed to accommodate that growth.

The standing-room-only meeting lasted for hours. As a key staff presenter, I was grilled by councilmembers and endured a number of harsh comments from the public. I maintained my composure and stayed professional while my consultant and I responded to questions. Despite the difficult meeting, the city council unanimously approved the citywide transportation improvement plan.

Afterwards, my brother shook his head and energetically asked, “Why in hell did you ever choose this profession? I was about to throttle some of those people for what they were saying to you, but somehow you remained calm. How do you do that?” I responded that change makes some people uncomfortable. My job is to stay calm, communicate information as clearly and accurately as possible, acknowledge and understand the various concerns, and help find solutions to meet the community’s needs. That is the art of what we planners do. That also was the first and last of my public hearings my brother attended.

I have had two mantras during my 35 years in the planning profession: “finding a way through” and “the art of what we do.”

Gaining knowledge

As an entry-level planner, I enjoyed being assigned to smaller communities because I worked directly with city managers and various department directors including police, fire, public works, planning, and building. I learned about the organization’s operations and interactions among city council members, planning commissioners, and citizens. I saw the direct connection between staff actions and their results in the communities. I became knowledgeable about entire communities, their properties, people, and traditions. Compare that to working in a larger community where I might have gained similar knowledge, but of only a district or segment of the city.

My entry-level efforts for the communities of Los Altos Hills and San Carlos gave me experience in current planning, development review, advanced planning, general plans, specific plans, and zoning codes. It was satisfying work to create livable, well designed, efficient, sustainable, and aesthetically pleasing communities.

Each community I have worked for has had its challenges: Windsor was drafting its first general plan; Clayton was deciding the Town Center land use and distribution; San Bruno was determining the mix of commercial and housing (and parking standards) for a Transit Corridors Specific Plan. I watched, listened, and advised as the elected officials made their decisions. We work in political environments, but in our role as professional planners we can encourage broad-based participation and ethical processes in the decision-making.

A significant transition

A milestone in my career came in October 2018 when I retired as San Bruno CDD. Since retiring, I have assisted Clayton and Healdsburg as Interim CDD, where I’m addressing challenges ranging from staffing issues to “finding a way through” on complex development projects.

Over the years, I have assisted in preparing general plans, specific plans, and land use (zoning) codes; and have dealt with controversial private development projects, difficult code enforcement cases, and challenging circumstances involving staff and decision-makers. I learned from others, shared my knowledge, contributed to making a difference, and developed a network of friends and colleagues who, like me, are passionate about public service.

Grateful for lessons learned

In our line of work, we are stewards of the urban environment. We address the challenges our communities face and help them achieve their core objectives — creating and maintaining livable communities. Our work extends from visioning to adoption to implementation of the plans that will guide our communities. As planning professionals, we use our learned principles to help guide constructive, knowledge-based, and inclusive decision-making. We offer ethical, professional, and well-researched recommendations. And we offer fair-minded solutions to real problems.

Although challenging at times, I am incredibly pleased and grateful to be in this profession. I highly recommend it to others who seek an interesting career, working to make communities safer, healthier, and livable for all, with real opportunity to make a meaningful difference.

David Woltering, AICP, lives in Santa Rosa. You can reach him at

Bay Area of 2050 will be more crowded — planners want to make it more equitable, too

By John King, The San Francisco Chronicle, July 20, 2020

Plan Bay Area 2050 anticipates less growth in San Francisco and Oakland than had been forecast in the past — though both would continue to develop — and more in San Jose and nearby parts of Santa Clara County. It also warns that even with governmental and investment strategies to try and preserve a diverse population, lower-income residents will still be under pressure from housing and transportation costs.

“The blend of forecasts and policy goals were released this month by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments. And while the findings were revisited this spring as the coronavirus upended daily life, officials involved in the effort say the pandemic’s long-term impact is likely to be relatively minor.

“Plan Bay Area 2050 — which still must go through public review and receive final approval — is the latest in a series of regional plans dating to 1970. But this one could have more impact than most: Funds related to needs such as bay restoration and transportation upgrades increasingly are allocated on a regional basis.

“Overall, the plan anticipates that the region’s population will grow from roughly 7.9 million in 2020 to 10.3 million by 2050. The number of jobs within the nine counties would climb from 4.1 million to 5.4 million.

“It also emphasizes 25 ‘bold strategies’ for making the region ‘affordable, connected, diverse, healthy and vibrant for all.’ Many are aspirational, with price tags but no current source of funds — such as an annual $1.5 billion pool to help the region build and preserve affordable housing. Another goal, to provide child care subsidies to low-income workers across the region, would cost an estimated $30 billion over time.

“‘We need to prioritize equity in setting the region’s direction,’ said Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin. ‘It’s going to be a challenge, but it’s critical to add housing to areas that already have seen an explosion in jobs.’”

Read the full article here.

Public comment on Plan Bay Area 2050 is open until August 10, 2020.

“After years of debate,” San Jose may charge non-residential developers to support affordable housing

By Sonya Herrera, San Jose Spotlight, July 18, 2020

“San Jose has taken the first step [to] charge high-tech office developers fees to fund affordable housing. Right now, San Jose only charges such fees on residential developments — not commercial — at about $18 per livable square foot.

“A study released July 17 examines how much the city should charge commercial developers to fund affordable housing projects. The buildings subject to the new fee include office, retail, hotel, industrial, research and development, warehouse, and residential care.

“The city’s consultant, Keyser Marston Associates, found that a fee of up to $176 per square foot for new retail buildings would ‘reflect the cost of mitigating affordable housing impacts of new development.’ The consultant identified $151 per square foot as the reflective cost of new high-tech office buildings.

“Kim Walesh, the city’s director of Economic Development, said in a memo the new fees she’ll propose to the City Council will be far lower than the amounts identified in the nexus study.

“Housing advocates have proposed a commercial linkage fee for San Jose for some time. Years ago, the Civil Grand Jury of Santa Clara County published a report recommending the fees, listing them as an important source of funding for affordable housing.

“City officials will present their commercial linkage fee recommendation to the City Council on Aug. 25. If adopted, the fees would become effective on Nov. 14.”

Read more here.

Riots long ago seeded luxury living today

By Emily Badger and Quoctrung Bui, The New York Times, July 16, 2020

“Across Washington and in other American cities, high-end development rises directly on top of Black neighborhoods that suffered the greatest damage during civil unrest decades ago.

“And there is an economic logic to it: The sheer scale of harm to Black neighborhoods — from the conditions that led to unrest, from the buildings that burned then, from the years of neglect that followed — made it easier, when the time finally came years later, for developers and new businesses and residents to amass wealth.

“In Philadelphia, apartments for college students have begun to fill the vacant lots on a strip with a storied jazz past that burned in 1964; in Miami’s Liberty City, gentrification feels just over the horizon decades after 1980 riots; in South Los Angeles, the Black population has declined significantly since the 1992 Rodney King riots.

“Far more of the Black neighborhoods nationwide that experienced unrest, or the forces that drove it, have remained in decline than have gentrified. And past unrest is no required precondition for gentrification today. But the economics that turn destruction into opportunity are most visible in these places.

“Many of these neighborhoods had bargain real estate, but also grand old housing stock, close to downtown, close to transit, with built-in commercial corridors. They also had vacant land and city-owned lots that could be assembled into larger developments.

“And because entire communities had been devalued, it was possible to redevelop at the scale of entire neighborhoods.

“As destructive as these events were, … said [historian Robert Margo], the destruction combined with expectations that these communities would remain risky places to invest or live in. … ‘But what is actually happening is one form of profit-making and speculation and capitalism is replacing another, with gentrification,’ said N.D.B. Connolly, a historian at Johns Hopkins University

“This cycle is clearer still in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood bordering downtown Cincinnati. Rioting erupted there in 2001. [An] earlier decline of the neighborhood facilitated its transformation, and Cincinnati ended up ‘with a collection of 19th-century buildings out of neglect rather than by purposeful preservation.’”

Read more here.

The 15-minute city as Covid-19 recovery

By Patrick Sisson, CityLab, July 15, 2020

“An international coalition of cities believes that the only path forward for mayors is funding green stimulus plans focused on job creation.

“Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, traditional working, shopping, and commuting patterns in the U.S. have been disrupted. Remote work has transformed the lives of millions of white-collar professionals, and many offices are unlikely to reopen soon. Meanwhile, many commercial spaces — suburban office parks, shopping malls, and low-density retail districts — are struggling for survival.

“A new C40 Cities report touts Paris’s [15-minute city] for putting essentials within close walking or biking distance as an economic boost for coronavirus-ravaged municipal budgets.

One core idea: Cities are the “engines of the recovery,” and investing in their resilience is the best way to avoid economic disaster.

“The agenda — for CC40’s Global Mayors COVID-19 Recovery Task Force — recommends that ‘all residents will live in 15-minute cities,’ echoing the transformative ambitions of Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo. ‘Fifteen-minute cities, micromobility, and more space for walking and biking are innovative solutions that will help our cities rebuild and restore our economy while protecting lives and cutting dangerous pollution,’ said Carol M. Browner, former EPA administrator and board chair of the League of Conservation Voters, in a statement supporting the agenda.

“It’s not a new idea. But the C40’s embrace of the 15-minute city concept may be the most concise and catchy way to repackage the idea as a pandemic economic recovery tool.”

Read more here.

For more on the 15-minute city, see “Equitably resolving public space in the time of Covid-19,” in this issue of Northern News.

The hidden toll of California’s Black exodus

By Lauren Hepler, CalMatters, July 15, 2020

“Around 275,000 Black Californians have left high-cost coastal cities in the last three decades, sometimes bound for other states or cities, but more often to the state’s sprawling suburban backyard. Many pack up for the promise of homeownership, safety, and better schools.

“Housing-rich Elk Grove has gained nearly 18,000 Black residents since 1990 — a 5,100 percent jump mirrored by increases around the Delta, Inland Empire, and Central Valley.

Map: Lauren Hepler. Source: U.S. Census and ACS data. Created with Datawrapper

At the same time, Black renters have been disproportionately forced out of cities as costs and evictions climbed — the Black population has plunged 45 percent in Compton, 43 percent in San Francisco, and 40 percent in Oakland. While a version of this geographic scramble is playing out for working and middle-class people of all races, the distinct obstacles that Black residents encounter in new communities raise the question: How far do you have to go today to find opportunity?

“As Black Lives Matter protests collide with COVID-19’s disproportionate Black death toll and anxiety about a coming wave of evictions, will these overlapping crises accelerate California’s Black exodus or force a reckoning inside and outside major cities?

“In 2000, California had the country’s second-largest Black population — more than 2.2 million people — [while] a seismic shift was happening in where people lived, the opportunities they chased, and the social networks they relied on.

“The state went from 7.7 percent Black in 1980 to 5.5 percent Black in 2018, even as it added 15 million residents who were mostly Latino, Asian, or multi-racial. Nearly 75,000 Black Californians left the state in 2018 compared to 48,000 Blacks who moved in. The three most popular states for Black ex-Californians were Nevada, Texas, and Georgia, reflecting both a national reversal of last century’s Great Migration and a move to emerging middle class hubs for Black homeownership, education, and entrepreneurship.

“Deirdre Pfeiffer, an associate professor of geography and urban planning at Arizona State University, found that some L.A. transplants to the Inland Empire did find upward mobility in the 80s and 90s. But that’s been difficult to maintain because of both a slow-down in building, and patterns like a racial ‘tipping point’ in suburban real estate, where white residents tend to flee as areas diversify. From there, in some cases, property values sink, tax rolls shrivel, and public services like schools start to decline.”

Read the full article here.

‘A mini-urban miracle,’ new Berkeley homeless housing could be model for the state

By Emilie Raguso, Berkeleyside, July 10, 2020

“On Thursday night, the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board unanimously approved a new project from Panoramic Interests for a 39-unit complex made from modular construction to house people who were formerly homeless. Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency (BOSS), a 49-year-old Berkeley nonprofit, will run the operation, which could open within a year, barring delays.

“Commissioner Denise Pinkston said it was ‘nothing short of a mini-urban miracle’ to see what is essentially a market-rate building provide homeless housing.

Panoramic’s business development director Michael Thomas said the complex at 1367 University is the first of its kind for Panoramic, which is looking to replicate the model at other sites in the Bay Area and around the state if it can secure the investment needed to proceed.

“Project architect David Trachtenberg, of Berkeley’s Trachtenberg Architects, said 1367 University could establish a prototype for addressing homelessness on small sites across the state.

“Zoning board members said they too hope to see the model gain traction with other developers in Berkeley and elsewhere.

“The new complex is set to cost 30%-40% less than buildings using the traditional approach to construction, said Patrick Kennedy, Panoramic’s founder. Construction is slated to take 14 weeks and could begin by September.

“Commissioner Igor Tregub said he wished there had been more neighborhood outreach but also noted that the project complies with the state’s Housing Accountability Act, meaning that the board is legally required to approve it without substantive changes.

“‘It is absolutely crucial that we do everything we can to support transitional housing for folks transitioning out of homelessness,’ Tregub said.”

Read the full article here.

One to four: the market potential of fourplexes in California’s single-family neighborhoods

By Paavo Monkkonen, Ian Carlton, and Kate Macfarlane

Excerpts from the abstract and article, published online at UCLA’s Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies on July 7, 2020.

“The State of California seeks to increase housing production by regulating the number of homes local zoning allows, yet the market feasibility of delivering units under more expansive zoning is rarely acknowledged and mostly unanalyzed.

“New guidelines from the Department of Housing and Community Development emphasize the need to assess realistic capacity of sites, including the feasibility of new housing development during the upcoming planning period. One statewide policy push is to allow three- and fourplexes in single-family zones.

“To assess the impact of this zoning change, we analyze the market feasibility of homebuilding under fourplex zoning on the 6.8 million parcels with single-family homes built in California prior to 2005.

“We find that at present, there is potential for 1.5 million new units in the form of accessory dwelling units and juniors, but that allowing fourplexes on these sites would nearly double this number, creating the market-feasible potential for 1.2 million additional new homes.

“We estimate that increasing development options through fourplex zoning will dramatically reduce mansionization, by making the most profitable redevelopment option for a single-family parcel something other than replacing the single-family home with a larger one.

The authors also found that, “cities differed in terms of how many parcels become newly feasible for redevelopment. For some cities additional units are feasible on new parcels, whereas for others larger projects pencil on parcels where some redevelopment was already feasible.”

Read the full research memo here.

Read the recent guidelines from HCD, released June 10, 2020, on assessing the development capacity of sites here.

New research: “Eighty-five percent solution: historical look at crowdsourcing speed limits and the question of safety”

By Brian D. Taylor and Yu Hong Hwang

Excerpts from the abstract and article, first published online in the journal Transportation Research Record on June 30, 2020.

“The ‘85th percentile rule’ is commonly used to set speed limits in jurisdictions across the U.S. Modern interpretations of the rule are that it satisfies key conditions needed for safe roadways: it sets speed limits deemed reasonable to the typical, prudent driver, reduces the problematic variance in travel speeds among vehicles, and allows law enforcement to focus on speeding outliers.

However, Taylor and Hwang found that, “while most observers trace the rule to safety research and a 1964 report … the 85th percentile rule actually emerged decades earlier,” when the transportation profession emphasized efficient vehicle movement.

“[T]he originators of the 85th percentile rule in the 1930s and 1940s saw considerable wisdom in setting speed limits based on the behavior of typical, prudent drivers, but were clear that such drivers would not always travel at the optimally safe speeds for a given road segment, and that adjustment might be necessary.

The authors conclude, “[T]o remain valid today, the 85th percentile requires a wide array of conditions to hold … But it is not clear whether any of these conditions still hold today, and there is scant evidence that they are being systematically considered. Yet, as we have shown in this analysis, the originators of the idea viewed the 85th percentile as a starting point in setting speed limits, and not the final word. We can find no evidence from the intervening decades that this perspective should have changed.”

Read the full article here (paywall).

Related: On July 22, NACTO released its guide for setting safe speed limits on urban streets.

Who’s Where

Who’s Where

Deland Chan, AICP, was appointed by the Board of Supervisors on May 19 to the San Francisco Planning Commission for a term ending July 1, 2022. She is the Director of Community Engaged Learning in Urban Studies at Stanford University, where she teaches courses on urban planning and sustainability and directs the Human Cities Initiative. Chan was formerly a senior planner for land use and transportation planning projects at the Chinatown Community Development Center, 2009-2012. She holds an MA in sociology from Stanford, an MCP from UC Berkeley, and is working toward a PhD in sustainable urban development from the University of Oxford.  

Beth Altshuler Munoz is now an independent consultant working at the intersection of planning, public health, and environmental and racial justice, assisting public agencies, nonprofits, and foundations with policy, facilitation/engagement, data analysis/mapping, and training. She had been with Raimi + Associates since 2010 — most recently as a senior associate leading the healthy community planning practice — and now serves as a strategic advisor. Prior to Raimi, she was at MIG and the SF Public Works Department. Altshuler Munoz was Northern Section’s Planners4Health committee chair (2018-2019) and is currently co-organizing APA California’s COVID webinar series. She holds master’s degrees in both city planning and public health epidemiology from UC Berkeley and a BA in sociology from Cornell University. 

Afshan Hamid, AICP, is now Planning Director for the Town of Moraga. Previously she was planning manager for the City of Vallejo, where she led the zoning code update and improved development processing. Earlier she was a senior planner for the City of Concord, and had worked in urban design and planning for the City of Walnut Creek. Before coming to the Bay Area in 2014, Hamid was principal planner for the Village of Arlington Heights, Illinois, and an architect with Skidmore Owings & Merrill, Chicago. She holds an M.Arch from MIT and a BFA in industrial design from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Hamid, her husband, and their two daughters live in Danville.  

William (Billy) Riggs, PhD, AICP, LEED AP, has been promoted to Associate Professor at the University of San Francisco, where he has taught since 2017. He is a global expert and thought leader in the areas of autonomy and smart transportation, housing, economics, and urban development, and has authored more than 100 publications in these areas. Riggs holds a PhD in city and regional planning from UC Berkeley, a master of urban planning (economics and spatial analysis) from the University of Louisville, and a BA in history from Ball State University. He lives in Palo Alto, where he is on the city’s planning and transportation commission.  

Kyle Rose joined G2 Integrated Solutions in July as a Permit Facilitator. Previously a GIS freelancer since 2016, Rose also worked for the City of Monterey as a planning assistant. Before that, he worked at Apple and at Maricopa County (Phoenix) as a GIS analyst. He holds a master of urban planning from San Jose State University and a BA in geography from the University of Miami.  

Matthew Taecker, AICP, is Manager of Station Area Planning for California’s High Speed Rail Authority at WSP USA. He previously led his own urban planning and design firm (2013-2020) where he co-authored with Bruce Appleyard and othersLivable Transit Corridors: Methods, Metrics, and Strategies” (TCRP Report 187, 2016). Taecker was a principal with Dyett and Bhatia; principal planner with the City of Berkeley (developing its award-winning Downtown Area Plan from 2005-2011); and a principal with Calthorpe Associates (1990-2001). At UC Davis Extension, Taecker teaches principles for sustainable development. He holds an MCP and M.Arch. from UC Berkeley and a BA in economics from the University of Chicago. He lives in Downtown Berkeley.  

Libby Tyler, PhD, FAICP, is now Planning Manager at the City of San Pablo. Previously a senior project manager at MIG, Tyler was also a consulting planner in the Bay Area and adjunct lecturer at the University of Illinois. Before that, she was the community development director for Urbana, Illinois, 2000-2017. She holds a PhD in regional planning from the University of Illinois, a master of landscape architecture in environmental planning from UC Berkeley, and a BA in environmental conservation from the University of Colorado Boulder. A resident of Albany, CA, Tyler has been Northern Section Ethics Director since 2018 and Vice Chair of the American Planning Association’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee since January 2020.