Category: Northern News

My short course in Working with Difficult People

By Steve Matarazzo

This is about arrogance in the public sector workplace, what might be behind it, and how it tends to play out.

If you are reading this, I am probably not writing about you being either an arrogant planner or a bureaucrat. I expect, however, that you will relate to this article, as the two types of “arrogant planner” I will describe are ubiquitous in the California public sector city-planning landscape. Keep in mind, I am only describing two types of high and mighty planner — and most of us are collegial, team players, and delightful in every way.

Over the past 40 years of my planning career, most of which has been within city and county planning departments, I have encountered two types of arrogant planner.

One appears to use arrogance as a defense mechanism, employing obnoxious behavior to keep fellow planners and other bureaucrats at bay. This planner tends to have a “hubristic arrogance,” or an overestimation of his or her competence. But on close examination, he turns out to be less than fully qualified for the position he holds and doesn’t want anyone to know about it. So he or she behaves abhorrently to repel people.

The second type of arrogant planner is imperious because he or she is better qualified and more competent than most of the other planners around. This planner has what I call a “prideful arrogance” based on his or her superior abilities compared to the other planners with whom she works or engages.

His holier than thou attitude bears results similar to the behavior of the first type: he tends to repel close, working relationships with other planners in the department.

Regarding the first type of arrogant planner, I have found little to gain from their knowledge, or lack thereof, so I have tended to give them the space they seek and deserve. But it is the second type of arrogant planner I have found most intriguing, and will engage with, no matter how strongly repulsive or condescending. Why? Because the imperious planners, like them or not, have had something to teach me. I have garnered significant vocational benefits from them over the years.

And then, of course, there are planners — arrogant or not — who may be difficult or repulsive for other reasons. Some may have had to attend several late night meetings in a row, or carry unreasonable workloads, or are going through adverse domestic situations. These planners may have barely slept for weeks while trying to solve major planning problems for the cities for which they work. It’s no surprise that they also tend to give you short shrift. So if you work with or around any of these planners — and there are quite a few these days — cut them some slack!

For the past three years, Steve Matarazzo has been planning director at the UC MBEST Center at the former Fort Ord, California. Before that, he was with Michael Baker International, and served as Sand City community development director (14 years) and city manager (six years) before retiring in March 2014. In earlier positions, Matarazzo worked for Santa Cruz County, Morgan Hill, and Woodside. He holds a master’s degree in urban and regional planning from San Jose State University and a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from UC Santa Barbara. Over the years, Matarazzo has written a number of op-eds for Northern News, most recently in March 2017.

Pro bono planning assistance for California communities
Kingsburg community meeting — a well-attended City Council workshop with great participation. CPAT

Pro bono planning assistance for California communities

By Robert Paternoster, FAICP

Do you know of a municipality or community group that desperately needs planning assistance to address a pressing problem but doesn’t have the resources to hire a planner or planning consultant? Or perhaps you know of a new or struggling planning function that could benefit from peer review and support?

APA California can come to the rescue with its Community Planning Assistance Team (CPAT) program. Modeled after an APA National program of the same name, Cal Chapter’s CPAT provides pro bono (i.e., free) planning assistance to communities in need.

CPAT pairs teams of expert planning professionals from throughout the State with local resident, business, and government stakeholders to address a specific planning issue. The team members engage the community representatives in a short but intensive planning process which might result in a vision for the community’s future, a strategy for achieving specific planning goals, a site plan for a developing area, an economic development strategy, or a collaborative planning process for resolving ongoing local planning problems. Recent projects have included an economic development plan for Hughson, CA (southeast of Modesto); a set of action priorities for a new downtown development coordinator in Oxnard; and a revitalization strategy for Downtown Kingsburg, CA (southeast of Fresno).

A CPAT team recently assisted Kingsburg, a city of 12,000 in Fresno County. L-R, Stan Hoffman; Alexander Henderson, City Manager; Cynthia de la Torre; Michael Dozier; Robert Paternoster, CPAT Team Leader; Michelle Roman, Mayor; Tom Ford; Emily Morishita; and Jolene Polyack, Kingsburg’s Economic Development Advisor.

Here’s how to bring this free and helpful service to a town or community group that needs such assistance: Tell a local leader who might champion the project about CPAT, and put him or her in touch with the program administrator, Bob Paternoster (562) 400-3825 or The program description can be found at There you will find links to complete the Community Planning Assistance Team Volunteer Form and to complete and file a Community Request for Assistance Form.

You may want to help the community fill out and submit the Request for Assistance. The only cost to the community would be the transportation and room and board costs for the team, usually no more than a few thousand dollars.

This is a great opportunity for communities throughout California. Please spread the word!

Robert Paternoster, FAICP, is an independent planning professional in the Los Angeles area. He served as Director of Planning and Building in Long Beach for 22 years and as Director of Community Development in Sunnyvale for six years. Bob holds a master of city planning from Harvard University and a BS in civil engineering from Lehigh University.

“A highway runs through it”
Aerial view of Oakland, California, looking east-southeast. Interstate 580 is on the left, I-980 is at the bottom, and I-880 is at the right. Photo: Dcoetzee,

“A highway runs through it”

“Inside the push to tear down an Oakland freeway”

By Nathanael Johnson, Grist, April 17, 2019

“ ‘Matt Nichols, Oakland’s transportation director, gazed down at I-980, which runs between downtown Oakland and the historically black neighborhood of West Oakland.

“Five lanes of traffic howled below at 70 miles per hour. Throughout the 1970s, Nichols’ predecessors had argued that Oakland needed to build this freeway to thrive. But when Nichols looks at it, he sees desolation.

“Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf thinks I-980 ‘remains a scar on our urban fabric. In its place we want livable infrastructure that creates local economic opportunity, reconnects neighborhoods, and connects the region.’ So the city government has made the freeway’s removal a part of its plan for a growing downtown Oakland.

Aerial view of Oakland, California, looking east-southeast. Interstate 580 is on the left, I-980 is at the bottom, and I-880 is at the right. Photo: Dcoetzee,

“Nichols, Oakland’s now-former transportation director (he retired earlier this year), told me [the freeway] was flawed from the start. First planned as a ‘racist moat-building exercise,’ then as a connection to a never-constructed bridge to San Francisco, and finally as a driveway to a shopping center that also was never built, it now carries less traffic than some of Oakland’s surface streets. To him, its existence seems ludicrous. ‘Why, why did anyone build that?’ he said.

“What, realistically, will happen to I-980?, a small organization dedicated to envisioning a neighborhood free of I-980, provided a vision. Mayor Schaaf provided the official sanction for ripping it out. Next, Oakland will need engineers to figure out what different options would cost, and facilitators to organize more conversations with residents about the best use of this land. Oakland’s city government won’t do that itself, Nichols said: The staff is stretched thin just trying to pave pothole-ridden streets. But he thinks MTC has the bandwidth to move the project forward.

“The I-980 teardown could become part of a regional push to relieve traffic congestion by building a second subway tunnel to San Francisco beneath the bay. The underwater tube trains currently traverse is like a two-lane road — with one lane seemingly always being repaired. The trains are crowded with passengers, and the bridges are even more crowded with cars. The system, according to [an MTC] study, is ‘bursting at the seams,’ and almost certainly requires another crossing.”

This is an excerpt. Read the full article here (3500 words).

2019 Northern Section Awards Gala June 7

2019 Northern Section Awards Gala June 7


Join us on June 7 at our 2019 Awards Gala as we honor innovative plans, projects, and distinguished APA members.

This year, meet and mingle with fellow planners as we present our Northern Section awards at Starline Social Club, a restaurant/bar at 2236 Martin Luther King Junior Way, Oakland. Our Section winners often go on to win APA state and national awards.

We offer discounted ticket bundles, so bring your friends and colleagues. Come network, get energized, have fun, and meet your fellow and upcoming STAR planners.

  • Networking Reception: 6:00 to 7:15
  • Presentation of Awards: 7:15 to 8:30
  • Networking Reception: 8:30 to 9:30

NOTE: Oakland’s ‘First Friday’ event takes place the same evening. Parking in the area is limited, so we encourage you to take public transportation, use a ride share service, or carpool. Starline Social Club is a half-mile, 10-minute walk (or a six-minute bus ride on the 72M) from the 19th Street/Oakland BART Station.

Go here for tickets and more information.

Sustainable Chinatown wins the (Environmental Planning) Gold at NPC19
This affordable housing project (Ping Yuen) consists of three buildings with 234 units. It received upgrades to introduce solar panels and improvements to enhance water and energy efficiency while improving resident comfort.

Sustainable Chinatown wins the (Environmental Planning) Gold at NPC19

From APA, April 15, 2019

Sustainable Chinatown began in 2014 as a collaboration between the Chinatown Community Development Center (CCDC), San Francisco Planning Department, San Francisco Department of the Environment, and Enterprise Community Partners to create more affordable housing, improve access to public space, and provide services to residents and businesses — all while emphasizing environmental performance and long-term resilience in the face of threats such as gentrification and climate change.

Key projects include:

  • Renovation of the Ping Yuen affordable housing development (including water and energy efficiency improvements and a $1.5 million solar photovoltaic installation),
  • Community education on sustainability and resilience topics,
  • Efforts to introduce greening and stormwater infrastructure throughout Chinatown, and
  • A proposed ‘Resilience Hub’ to help the neighborhood withstand climate change and other natural and man-made disasters.
This affordable housing project (Ping Yuen) consists of three buildings with 234 units. It received upgrades to introduce solar panels and improvements to enhance water and energy efficiency while improving resident comfort.

Once a landmark public housing project intended to serve Asian American families, by the late 1970s Ping Yuen (and its neighbor North Ping Yuen) had become a community struggling with underfunded management and repair, crime, and a disconnection to City services and support. Chinatown Community Development Center acquired these buildings through the City’s Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program, and is rehabilitating them while also adding a much-needed community center for resident events and community activities.

New! Northern Section webinar series

By Shannon Hake, AICP, April 12, 2019

The National Planning Conference is always a great way to learn about innovative projects and best practices in planning from around the country, and this year’s event highlighted many Northern California successes. To keep the momentum of NPC19 going, APA California – Northern Section will hold a series of quarterly webinars showcasing Northern California’s best practices in planning throughout 2019.

The webinars will highlight members’ projects, plans, policies, and innovations (and allow members to earn CM credits throughout the year without needing to travel). The Northern Section has made it easy to participate — and unlike NPC, you don’t need to assemble a panel of speakers or apply to be a speaker eight months in advance.

We will hold webinars in May, August, and November, showcasing the great planning work happening in Northern California. The section will coordinate sessions based on similar topics, register the webinars for CM credit, and moderate the webinars. All you have to do is prepare a 15-minute presentation on a Northern California planning topic of your choice and we’ll take care of the rest.

Interested in presenting your work? Just complete this form by April 30 to let us know what you’d like to present and to be considered for the webinar series. Contact Distance Education Coordinator Shannon Hake, AICP, with any questions.

CA cities and counties move to comply with State housing law

Alicia Murillo, California HCD, April 12, 2019

As a result of Governor Newsom’s efforts to address the state’s housing affordability crisis, the California Department of Housing and Community Development is seeing significant progress from cities not in compliance with state housing law.

In February, Governor Newsom met with California mayors from cities not compliant with Housing Element law. Since then, three cities have come into compliance and 14 others have either submitted drafts or committed to specific actions toward compliance.

“Strong local planning is key to building a California for All, and progress thus far is encouraging,” said HCD Director Ben Metcalf. “We are seeing meaningful efforts by cities and counties that weren’t in compliance to get back on track and plan to meet the housing needs in their communities.”

Of the 47 cities that did not have a state-approved housing plan as of the Governor’s State of the State address, three — Orange Cove, Clovis and Soledad — are now in compliance, and Fillmore has submitted its adopted plan for final compliance review.

An additional 14 jurisdictions — including Lake County, Marina, and San Juan Bautista — are demonstrating progress by submitting drafts or committing to specific actions toward compliance.

SF is world’s most expensive city in which to build, study says

By Ted Andersen, Digital Editor, San Francisco Business Times

“The City by the Bay has dethroned the Big Apple as the world’s priciest place for new construction.

“This year, San Francisco removes New York from the top spot, having increased by 5 percent in the last year, according to a new report by consulting company Turner & Townsend.

“The study examined the average building costs in six different types of construction: apartment highrises, prestige office blocks, large warehouse distribution centers, general hospitals, primary and secondary schools, and shopping centers and malls.

“Average construction wages in San Francisco were $90 per hour in 2018, third-highest in the world behind New York’s $101.30 per hour and Zurich’s $110 per hour.

“Steel tariffs, passed in March 2018, have reportedly led to a 17-percent increase in the cost of reinforcement bars and a 30-percent increase in the price of beams in San Francisco.

[According to Roland Li, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, “A long-standing problem is the lack of construction workers, with many veterans leaving the industry after the 2008 recession. High housing costs also have caused some workers to move out of the area, and many commute for hours to reach job sites.”]

“Overall, the survey highlights the massive worldwide disparity between labor costs worldwide — China, India, and Africa had the lowest costs, while North America has the highest costs.

“The five highest cost cities in which to build are San Francisco, New York, London, Zurich and Hong Kong.”

SF Urban Film Festival news

By Fay Darmawi, April 12, 2019

SFUFF — the SF Urban Film Fest — had so much success in February 2019 that they have decided to hold their sixth season at the same time next year.

The festival will be coming to a theater near you from February 2 through 9, 2020.

In addition, the festival has extended its submissions deadline to April 30, 2019.

If you have a film about urban issues, you can submit it here.

Streetcar spurred development of an SF neighborhood 100 years ago
L Line Streetcar 170 and White Brand Motor Coach Possibly From 2 Ocean Bus Line at 48th Avenue and Taraval Street, May 15, 1925 (Courtesy SFMTA Photo Archive)

Streetcar spurred development of an SF neighborhood 100 years ago

From an article by Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez, San Francisco Examiner, April 10, 2019

“One century ago, San Francisco’s West Side resembled photos of the Sahara desert: Sand dunes stretched far into the horizon.

“Then came Muni’s L-Taraval line, and everything changed.

L Line Streetcar 170 and White Brand Motor Coach Possibly From 2 Ocean Bus Line at 48th Avenue and Taraval Street, May 15, 1925 (Courtesy SFMTA Photo Archive)

“Today the Sunset District and Parkside neighborhoods are home to roughly 70,000 people, according to city data. The seed of that development is one little streetcar route that connected downtown to the dunes, said Rick Laubscher, president of the Market Street Railway nonprofit and museum.

“ ‘It really did build out the Parkside and Sunset,’ Laubscher said. ‘None of this would exist without the streetcars.’

“On Friday, April 12, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency celebrated the centennial of the L-Taraval. That’s 100 birthday candles for the route that now runs from the Embarcadero to the San Francisco Zoo. Now trains called ‘light rail vehicles’ run along the line where their precursors, streetcars, used to roam.

“ ‘What made the L special,’ Laubscher said, ‘was that The City as a matter of policy wanted to use investment in transit to develop what was an open part of San Francisco.’ [It first operated] ‘as a shuttle.’ It wasn’t until October 15, 1923, that the line began running all the way ‘to the ferries,’ Laubchscer said.”

This is an excerpt. Read the full article here.