Category: News

Northern News February 2021

Northern News February 2021

Northern News


A publication of the American Planning Association, California Chapter, Northern Section

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Northern Section news and announcements

Register now for AICP Exam Prep Trivia Night (Virtual)

This virtual event will help you test your planning knowledge using actual questions from past AICP exams, and responses are timed.

Director’s note: New Year, same you, with an opportunity to grow

By Florentina Craciun, January 19, 2021. Let’s bring our authentic selves to our profession. Let’s help pave the path towards a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive planning profession and world.

Call for nominations – Get recognized by the APA Calif. Northern Section!

Don’t wait. The deadline for nominations is Friday, March 12. To serve as a juror, submit your résumé by Feb. 26.

28 planners added AICP to their names last year

If you recently passed the AICP exam and your name is not on this list but should be, please write us at

Sacramento City Council votes to allow fourplexes in all single-family zones

By Jared Brey, Next City, January 22, 2021. The proposal does not increase existing height restrictions in single-family neighborhoods, and would not affect historic protections for existing houses.

Climate-resilient economic recovery, racial equity, and public health

By Sandra Hamlat, January 25, 2021. The City of San Francisco’s Climate Resilience Team recently prepared a white paper on a Climate-Resilient Economic Recovery.

Who’s where

By Hazel Choi, associate editor. News about Carolyn Fahey, AICP; Arielle Fleisher, Brendan Hurley, Darcy Kremin, AICP; Edgar Maravilla, Brynn McKiernan, AICP; Carolyn Neer, Leslie Trejo, and Ellen Yau.


We publish 10 times each year as a forum for the exchange of planning ideas and information. Entirely the effort of volunteers, Northern News is written and produced by and for urban planners in northern California.

Planning news roundup

San Francisco office vacancy rate eclipses financial-crisis high

By Noah Buhayar, Bloomberg, January 12, 2021. There are already signs of an early rebound in leases.

Newsom’s proposed budget includes intergovernmental Housing Accountability Unit

Josh Stephens, California Planning & Development Report, January 11, 2021. The unit will act as a housing ‘ombudsman’ and help cities navigate RHNA compliance.

SF, UCSF community benefits package for Parnassus Heights project not enforceable

NBC Bay Area, January 4, 2021, and SF Examiner, January 11, 2021. The hospital modernization and expansion promises investments in housing, transit, and workforce training, but supervisors want legal assurance of UCSF’s commitments.

Caltrain talks regional rail

Curtis Driscoll, Daily Journal Staff, January 8, 2021. A possible partnership with BART would integrate transit schedules and services.

Newsom wants to send $600 to millions of Californians, extend renter protections

Ben Christopher, CalMatters, January 8, 2021. It’s not clear when these proposed measures will be formally introduced and if they actually pass the legislature.

New study suggests Uber and Lyft could increase car ownership

By David Grossman, Inverse, January 7, 2021. Contrary to their expectations, researchers found a slight increase on average across 224 cities.

‘Slow Streets’ disrupted city planning. What comes next?

Laura Bliss, Bloomberg CityLab, January 6, 2021. City planners and equity advocates in Oakland and across the country reflect on the potential for trauma-informed planning.

Steep rent declines across the Bay Area in 2020

By Kellie Hwang, San Francisco Chronicle, January 5, 2021. Seasonal effects on rents mean they are likely to stay low for several more months.

Residential redevelopment of commercially zoned land in California

New analysis finds untapped potential statewide for mixed-use and infill development.

Why don’t we treat housing as infrastructure?

Sarah Karlinsky and Cristian Bevington, City Monitor, December 22, 2020. A new SPUR report showcases international strategies for housing production and affordability.

2019 APA California Annual Report

2019 APA California Annual Report

By Derek Wong, VP Administration, APA California

We’re pleased to attach the APA California Annual Report 2019 highlighting the many pro-active and supportive activities for our membership.

While the report may appear rather late in its delivery, we collectively have been challenged in many ways last year with so much unfolding. Your contributions to making this report possible is greatly appreciated.

In addition to saying “thank you” for your respective contributions, special thanks go out to Chapter contractors who helped with the grunt work, including Dorina Blythe and Carol Malin.

I hope you enjoy the 2019 edition of how our Chapter makes a difference in the field of Planning and within our communities.

American Planning Association, California Chapter. 2019 Annual Report. This Annual Report reflects the American Planning Association's California Chapter, which is comprised of eight sections: Central, Central Coast, Inland Empire, Los Angeles, Northern, Orange, Sacramento Valley, San Diego

Northern Section counties receive over $543 million for transportation projects

By Jasmine Lee, Daily Californian, December 7, 2020

“On December 3, the Bay Area received a total of $407 million from the California Transportation Commission (CTC) to fund 11 projects.

Northern/Sierra region counties received $9.55 million for four projects. Monterey Bay counties received $127 million for three projects.

“According to CTC’s press release, BART received $60 million to start construction on its Train Control Modernization Project. The project is part of the Transbay Corridor Core Capacity Program, which aims to increase the number of trains able to travel through the Transbay Tube between San Francisco and Oakland.

“‘The funding provided here will allow Caltrans to keep working on projects that keep California’s transportation infrastructure operating and in step with multi-modal needs now and in the future,’ Caltrans spokesperson Vince Jacala said.”

Read the full article here. Read CTC’s funding announcement here.

Return to Northern News here.

Housing measure puts San Mateo in production quandary

By Sarah Klearman, CP&DR, December 6, 2020

“The narrow passage of Measure Y, a ballot item extending previously implemented height and density caps on developments in San Mateo, could hinder the city’s quest to build more housing and alleviate the severity of its housing crisis, critics say.

“Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco CEO Maureen Sedonaen, who publicly voiced her opposition to Measure Y, said of the height and density caps, ‘It’s sort of a collision of factors that in some ways make you feel you’re back in the 1980s. There’s all this demand (for housing). And we’ve built up all these industries, created all of these jobs — and we still have this suburban mindset driving decisions.’

“The vote comes against the backdrop of an aggressive push for housing from Sacramento, in the form of Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA).

“San Mateo’s Housing Manager Sandra Council said she was unsure of what Measure Y’s impact would be on the city’s ability to meet its new obligation for 3,300 units during the 2015-2023 RHNA cycle.

“‘What we do know is that we need to figure out where we are going to be able to accommodate that allocation,’ City Attorney Shawn Mason said.”

Read the full article here. (~4½ min., requires subscription)

Return to Northern News here.

Richmond council approves controversial shoreline mixed-use project

By Annie Sciacca, Bay Area News Group, December 3, 2020

“A controversial plan to build a mixed-use project with thousands of homes atop a contaminated waterfront site can move forward after the City Council approved the necessary permits, development agreement, and environmental mitigation measures for the development.

“As part of the deal, the developer agreed to commit millions of dollars in community benefits that include money for Richmond schools and community programs, improvements to a city fire station and community center, the use of union labor, and to build a grocery store in the first phase of the development.

“While the site remediation plan was approved by the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, activists and some residents have argued that method doesn’t go far enough. They want a more thorough removal of the soil, which the council had recommended before endorsing the capping method.

“Councilmember Ben Choi, who voted in favor of the project, pointed out that the state Department of Toxic Substances Control is the agency overseeing the cleanup and has already issued its decision. ‘I don’t think we actually have the choices that people think we have,’ Choi said.”

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

Return to Northern News here.

‘Overdue’ ordinance requires SF landords to report vacancies

By CBS SF Bay Area, December 3, 2020

“A new law will allow San Francisco to track just how many units are sitting empty.

“The city does not have a record of how many apartments are owned by corporations and sitting empty, keeping speculation high.

“Under this new ordinance, landlords will be required to report the following to the city every year: The approximate square footage of each unit, whether it’s vacant or occupied, and the date of any vacancies over the past 12 months, plus each tenant’s base rent. Failure to comply means a landlord’s license to raise the rent will be suspended.

“Cynthia Fong with the Housing Rights Committee says everyday scared tenants who can’t pay rent ask her, ‘Where are the vacancies? What are we doing about them? What’s happening with rents? These are questions that we get asked and we go back to them and say, well, actually our city has no idea.’”

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

Return to Northern News here.

West Coast cottage reforms lead to explosive rise in permits

By Nisma Gabobe, Sightline Institute, December 2, 2020

“A first step for many cities and states combatting exclusionary zoning, particularly on the West Coast, has been to liberalize rules for accessory dwelling units (ADUs) to spur housing production. From states as large as California to small suburbs like Tigard, Oregon, removing barriers — such as parking requirements and anti-renter owner-occupancy rules — unlocked demand for backyard cottages and mother-in-law suites.

“Permitting data show the reforms are working. In California, ADU permits jumped by 10,000 in a single year.

“In the summer of 2019, Seattle passed the best local ADU policy of any large US city. The city adopted new rules to allow two ADUs per lot, as well as eliminate parking and owner-occupancy mandates.

“A joint report from UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation and Center for Community Innovation confirmed that restrictive regulations are not the only barrier to ADU production. Financing can be a formidable hurdle for lower-income homeowners who want to add an ADU to their property.

“To spread the benefits of ADUs equitably across people of all incomes, subsidy programs may be necessary. This is the next step for jurisdictions that have taken the necessary but insufficient first step of removing code barriers.”

Read the full article here. (~5½ min.)

Return to Northern News here.

Livermore development fight over new major solar farm

By J.K. Dineen, San Francisco Chronicle, November 30, 2020

Developers of the Aramis Solar Energy Generation and Storage Project propose converting 410 acres of grassland, now used mostly for grazing cattle and harvesting hay, into the Bay Area’s largest solar farm and battery power storage facility. But conflict is brewing after a 2-0 vote to approve the project at an East County Board of Zoning Adjustments meeting.

“Opponents say the project would gobble up protected agricultural land, decimate the valley’s rural character, and threaten important native species like the California tiger salamander and the burrowing owl. Project supporters counter that it would bring good union jobs, millions of dollars in investment, and is a good public use for a piece of private land they consider underutilized.

“With California committed to producing 100 percent zero-carbon electricity by 2045, the sort of fight being played out in Livermore could become more common, said Rob Selna, an attorney representing a group of ranchers and environmental groups opposed to the project.

“‘It’s really a wildlife preserve, in a sense,’ said Chris O’Brien, a ranch owner who lives near the project site. ‘It’s the last valley in the Bay Area that is not developed with housing. And that is because of Measure D.’

“Alameda County Measure D allows wind farms, like the one on Altamont Pass, but doesn’t specifically allow solar installations. County planning staff contends that two previous solar projects, one in 2008 in Mountain House and one along the Altamont Pass in 2011, established precedent allowing solar installations.

“But some Livermore residents object to the fact that much of the power generated would not go to the East Bay but rather San Francisco. That’s because CleanPowerSF, a renewable energy aggregator administered by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, has entered into a contract to purchase 75 percent of the energy generated. The Livermore City Council has also voted to oppose the project.

“Critics also took issue with the fact that the project is being approved before the county completes a long-awaited study of where large solar development should be located.

“But several proponents of the project countered during the zoning board meeting that the Bay Area has to shoulder some of the solar infrastructure burden.”

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

Return to Northern News here.

San Francisco, trade unions at odds over modular construction

By J.K. Dineen, The San Francisco Chronicle, November 27, 2020

San Francisco’s first 100 percent affordable modular supportive housing project, assembly-line-built by Vallejo-based Factory OS, has drawn praise for the speed at which it is being built and its cost savings versus conventional development.

However, “San Francisco building trades leaders argue that modular construction lowers construction standards and pushes down wages. In September, in a letter to Mayor London Breed, Larry Mazzola Jr., San Francisco Building & Construction Trades Council board president, called the 833 Bryant St. complex ‘unacceptable’ and a ‘direct insult’ to union members.

“‘We are against modular housing unless it is built in San Francisco with union workers and craft-specific employees,’ he stated in the letter.

“Factory OS co-founder Larry Pace said San Francisco has been the least receptive Bay Area county to factory-built housing.

“‘Oakland is embracing us with open arms. So is L.A., the South Bay. They need the savings,’ Pace said.

“Factory OS workers are members of the East Bay carpenters union, but, ‘They are getting paid less than what carpenters get paid on construction sites and they are doing other people’s work,’ Paulson said. The factory production model also means less work for plumbers, electricians, drywall lathers, glaziers, and other trades.

“Paulson said the trades are still hoping a modular factory can be built in San Francisco.

“‘To lower the wages of workers as a way to cut costs is absolutely unacceptable and obscene, considering the cost of housing and real estate in San Francisco,’ he said. ‘To say that it’s OK because it’s supportive housing and affordable housing and to use that as an excuse to cut workers’ wages? Over my dead body.’”

Read the full article here. (~6 min.)

Related: Factory OS has raised $55 million from Google and Facebook, among other corporate investors, to expand its operations across California. Read more from Roland Li in the San Francisco Chronicle here.

Return to Northern News here.

Ambitious Sonoma Coast project paves way for ‘managed retreat’

By Rosanna Xia, Los Angeles Times, November 27, 2020

“With the realities of climate change looming ever closer, California transportation officials are now moving a key stretch of highway more than 350 feet inland — one of the first major efforts by the state to relocate, or ‘manage retreat,’ critical infrastructure far enough from the coast to make room for the next 100 years of sea level rise.

“At least $8 billion in property could be underwater by 2050, according to recent legislative reports, with an additional $10 billion at risk during high tides. Heavier storms and more intense cycles of El Niño could make things even worse.

“The painful reimagining of Gleason Beach [a few winding turns past Bodega Bay] offers a glimpse into the future for other communities now clashing over the costs and compromises of living by the sea. At the heart of this $73-million project is a reckoning over what is worth saving — and what is worth sacrificing — and whether it’s possible to redesign a treasured landscape so that it survives into the future.

“‘You don’t have many choices when it comes to sea-level rise … whichever way you choose, you’re going to have some kind of impact,” Caltrans district division chief of environmental planning and engineering Stefan Galvez-Abadia said. ‘These are the difficult decisions that we will all have to make as a region, as a community, for generations to come.’”

Read the full article here. (~7 min.)

Return to Northern News here.