Tag: 2020-03-nn-roundup

Marina CA shows cities can retreat from rising seas

By Rosanna Xia, Los Angeles Times, February 24, 2020

Ten miles north of Monterey, [Marina offers] sand dune[s and a] sandy beach that stretches for miles along the bay. Not much of the California coast feels like this anymore.

At a time when Del Mar, Pacifica, and other coastal cities are fighting to defend their homes and roads from the rising sea, Marina residents are learning how to adjust with the ocean as the water moves inland.

Sea walls are forbidden, and sand replenishment projects seem unnatural. Officials instead require real estate disclosures for sea level rise, move infrastructure away from the water, and work with the private resort in town to relocate its oceanfront property — a policy known as managed retreat.

A controversial sand mine on the beach is shutting down after a century of dredging away the coast. Residents are fighting a large water company trying to build a desalination plant.

With sea level rise, the mere suggestion of making room for the ocean and turning prime real estate into open space has upended other cities up and down the coast. But Marina is different, a [100-page, 2019] city report (212 MB) declared, and the city instead will show the state and country how to adapt to a changing planet — ‘a really powerful message to the rest of California.’

Figure 5-1 from city report. Overview of threatened areas of Marina off Reservation Road. Credit: Coastal Records Project

Much of the shoreline remains undeveloped — making decisions today a lot less complicated when it comes to planning for sea level rise. The city points developers instead to parcels downtown and farther inland. A new planned community, Sea Haven, is now advertising the benefits of “homes near the sea.”

As more than 35 coastal cities and counties in California agonize over the difficult costs and choices, Marina stands out as a community enthusiastic about choosing managed retreat.

The plan lays out a framework over the next few decades for when office buildings, a sewer pump, and an aging water treatment facility should consider moving away from the sea. Beach amenities, such as a parking lot and public restrooms, might also need to relocate.

Triggers will be identified on when these decisions should be made, based on how much time it takes to permit new construction. When the sea rises to a certain threshold or erosion gets within a certain distance, for example, park officials should begin plans to move the parking lot — rather than just cornering off sections when they collapse.

Read the full article here.

Public meetings are broken. Here’s how to fix them.

Neighborhood planning is governed by a biased, unrepresentative system

By Patrick Sisson, Curbed, February 12, 2020

“The public meeting has become enshrined in this nation’s local politics as the conduit for the opinions of the common citizen and [as] an essential part of grassroots democracy.

“The problem of misrepresentation at public meetings, neighborhood councils, and other such hyper-localized public forums stems from their design.


“Held at times of day that can make it hard for many people to attend without missing work, usually without day care options, and sometimes in locations not favorable to those with disabilities or who rely on transit, these meetings already exclude many groups before they even start. Then there’s the matter of format: Experts and officials typically sit behind a table and give speeches and make presentations, with a microphone set up to take comments from neighbors who can spare the time to spend hours waiting for a few minutes on the mic.

“ ‘The dynamic is just so unproductive,’ says Sara Aye, a designer and executive director of Greater Good Studio in Chicago, which focuses in part on improving public engagement.

“In 2018, Ayes and team at Greater Good Studio designed a public engagement plan for Raising Places, an initiative by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to enlist community members to design their own programs to promote healthy childhoods.

To make a meeting work, get started before the event

“Greater Good approached the project like organizers. They reached out to the community, held lots of one-on-one conversations, and enlisted community groups to take leadership roles and help with outreach. The nine-month outreach program focused first on diagnosing and understanding the issues, with weeks of events focused on observation, immersion, and the discussion of root causes with the community, as well as framing goals. 

Greater Good Studio has also experimented with meetings that turn what’s normally a staged, one-at-a-time [public comment] conversation into something more freeform. … In five California cities for the state government, Greater Good organized feedback events into something more akin to a science fair. Different stakeholders and local coalitions set up at tables spread around the room, and community members circulated around the stations all night, chatting and delivering feedback and having conversations.

Is local control a good idea in the first place?

“There’s another school of thought that says the best meeting may be not having a meeting at all. If the benefits of building certain projects are diffuse, says Boston [University’s Katherine] Einstein, it means assembling a supportive coalition at a neighborhood level may be too high a bar to set. Maybe the better process is setting more policy at the city or even state level, to allow more projects to move forward to benefit the community as a whole.

Read the full article here.


A plan to combine the Bay Area’s dozens of transit networks

SF-based Assemblymember David Chiu wants to put different agencies on the same track

By Adam Brinklow, Curbed, February 5, 2020

“The Bay Area almost has more public transit than it knows what to do with — and that’s the problem according to Assemblymember David Chiu. 

“His new bill Assembly Bill 2057 would establish a single universal bus fare across the Bay Area and one single discount standard for every agency, create a combined transit map and departure time reference, and develop a new type of transfer that works across every transit line.

“The legislation also establishes a consulting team for bigger, more grandiose implementations down the line, like a single fare for all Bay Area transit, and (the holy grail for harried commuters) a scheduled alignment between different systems.

“Eventually, someday, the region could achieve something like unity, merging dozens of disparate systems into a single one. Or that idea could breakdown if, as is often the case, agencies can’t force compatibility between so many moving parts designed to work separately. In any case, Chiu’s initial foray will help suss out how this vast project might work.

“Most Bay Area commuters use more than one system, but there’s little if any coordination between the agencies. Caltrain and BART will time transfers at Millbrae station, for example, but switching from BART to Muni or AC Transit is a gamble at best most days.

“For now the bill remains a hazy outline. But once there’s more meat on its bones, it will pass through committee hearings in Sacramento at a later date.”

Read more here. 


Fighting sea level rise the natural way

An interview by Lori Pottinger, Public Policy Institute of California, February 3, 2020

PPIC interviewed Letitia Grenier, a member of PPIC’s Water Policy Center research network and a senior scientist at the San Francisco Estuary Institute. Below are selections from the interview.

“We tend to think of climate change as causing a slow, linear rise in sea level, but it’s not always gradual … We could see quick changes and sudden jumps in sea level.

“Rising seas will affect how we manage runoff from major storms. It’s not enough to manage water coming down rivers and rising from groundwater — we also have to account for concurrent king tides and storm surges … [and] build infrastructure that … takes into account flooding from behind and below.

“Our water infrastructure was developed to address specific issues … [without] figuring out how to make the overall watershed work well for all the things we need it to do. Instead, we optimized the system in each location for one function.

“There is huge potential to redesign systems to let natural processes help us solve some of our complicated problems.

“Compared to a concrete flood basin, a marsh provides not just flood protection but also creates habitat for at-risk species, protects the shoreline, sequesters carbon, filters and breaks down contaminants, and creates recreational opportunities. And traditional engineered infrastructure has a lifespan… In contrast, ecosystems are always changing; they can adapt in ways that engineered solutions can’t.

“We also need to work across jurisdictions… Our current system has too many agencies with missions that aren’t well aligned. So we’ll need to voluntarily coordinate to make our watersheds work as they should — and provide incentives to bring agencies together over watershed planning. It will take time to make this change, and … these big social challenges are harder to resolve than the science side.”

Read the PPIC interview here.

Danville ballot measure sparks debate over open space

A view of the property. Photo Credit: Guy Marzorati/KQED

By Guy Marzorati, KQED, February 11, 2020


“Just south of the entrance to Mount Diablo State Park, in the East Bay town of Danville, horses and livestock roam more than 400 acres of emerald-green hillsides, a rare vestige of the Bay Area’s agricultural past.

“The future of this pastoral land, owned for decades by the Magee family of ranchers, is at stake in one of the region’s most controversial measures on the March primary ballot. The debate over the measure has residents split over the benefits (and even the definition) of open space.

“If it passes, Measure Y would uphold a plan to turn the privately owned hills into a 69-home development, while unlocking public access to [213 acres of] hiking and bike trails.

“The ballot fight is an example of the ‘development paradox’ that confronts cities and environmental groups hoping to add or maintain open space in the expensive Bay Area, said Daniel Press, an environmental studies professor at UC Santa Cruz.

“Open space ‘means different things to different people,’ Press said. ‘Technically, that property could be developed. Just because it’s open right now reflects past history; [it] is a statement about right now and it’s not a statement about the future.’

 “But the Danville Open Space Committee gathered thousands of signatures to challenge the project on the March ballot. ‘It is blatantly illogical to have a campaign that says we’re bringing open space by slamming a 69-home development on open space,’ said a member of the Committee. ‘The open space, as you’re looking at it right now, exists.’ 

“But to supporters of Measure Y, the Magee land isn’t open space, it’s private property. ‘This view is open right now. It is a stunning vista. But you can’t hike here. You can’t be an equestrian here,’ Danville Mayor Karen Stepper said. ‘It’s not your land to use, but it will be when it’s owned by East Bay Regional Parks.’

“The alternative, Stepper said, could be a future development that dedicates the entire ranch land to more sprawling housing construction. ‘That would be 78 homes on five-acre lots, so that doesn’t leave you any room for trails, bikes, or even the limitations and the traffic improvements,’ she said. ‘So we don’t want to see that happen.’ “

Read the full article here.

This aerial view shows the Magee Ranch Preserve housing plan and open space that was approved by the Danville Town Council on July 2, 2019. The proposal is the subject of a referendum, Measure Y, on the March 3 ballot. (Town of Danville, via East Bay Times)

Height limit exemption effort starts in San Mateo

Group’s initiative would allow higher buildings, greater density, at transit

By Zachary Clark, Daily Journal, February 7, 2020

“With Measure P set to sunset by the end of the year, a group of San Mateo residents is pushing to extend existing building height limits in the city while exempting areas around transit from those restrictions. 

“The initiative would extend voter-approved height and density limits in the city for 10 years while removing those restrictions around the city’s three Caltrain stations until new height limits are established through the general plan update underway. The initiative also contains provisions that remove barriers to affordable housing development in the city. 

“Measure P, a 2004 extension of a measure approved by voters in 1991, caps building height in the city, including areas around transit, at 55 feet, and limits density to 50 units per acre. 

“ ‘Don’t be fooled, this measure is not trying to meet the region’s most pressing problems,’ said Michael Weinhauer, a member of San Mateans for Responsible Government. ‘It’s nothing more than a Trojan horse for unrestricted high-rise development of 12 stories or higher in downtown, Hillsdale, and other transit sites. It ignores the traffic and infrastructure problems associated with more housing, no matter where it is located in our community.’

“Housing advocates, on the other hand, support the proposed initiative and argue it’s necessary to bring about construction of much needed homes.”

Read the full article here.


Bay Area gets boost to affordable housing from unlikely source

Advocacy groups push successfully for affordable housing near train stations

By Emily DeRuy, Mercury News, February 6, 2020  

“New apartment complexes built near Caltrain stations must reserve at least 30 percent of their units for low-income residents. 

“The board that oversees the transit agency approved the policy on February 6, along with rules that residential projects built on Caltrain land must be at least four stories and hold at least 50 units per acre.

“[The board] rejected a request from advocates to give affordable housing developers the right of first refusal on properties that can be developed.

“ ‘Generally, they don’t work out very well for any of the parties,’ said Jim Hartnett, Caltrain’s executive director, of such requirements.

“Robust competition, added Brian Fitzpatrick, manager of real estate and property, ‘is our best bet.’ 

“Caltrain, the pair said, must create space for the rail network to thrive and grow in the coming years and also determine how best to use what little land the agency thinks it can spare. That means weighing what will bring in the most revenue with community demand for affordable housing.

“ ‘For us it’s about balance,’ Fitzpatrick said, later adding, ‘if you create affordability, you are going to take a hit’ when it comes to revenue.

“There’s also no requirement that such sites be reserved for housing, although several board members agreed housing should be the priority.

“Board member Ron Collins, the mayor of San Carlos, said setting minimum on-site affordability and density requirements will set an example for how cities and counties can spur affordable housing development in the region moving forward.

“Collins pointed to recently built homes near the San Carlos train station as a cautionary tale, noting that the council ultimately allowed a three-story development rather than the six that were initially proposed.

“That, he said, was a ‘monumental mistake,’ because while the city had a requirement that 15 percent of the units be affordable, the lower density made that unrealistic. In the end, he said, just 10 percent of the 220 units were designated for lower-income residents. ‘That was a hard lesson for me to learn,’ Collins said, adding that when a city reduces density, ‘you also reduce your leverage.’ ”

Read the full article here.  


San Mateo may be first in state to use AB 1763 for low-income units

By Emily DeRuy, Mercury News, February 16, 2020

“San Mateo may become the first [California] city to use a new state law to increase the number of affordable housing units on a new project east of downtown.”

The project is five stories and 164 units. Developer Mid-Pen Housing had asked for concessions, including an increase in FAR from 3.0 to 3.39, according to a city staff report on the project from April 2019, prior to enactment of AB 1763. The project still needs final approval from the City.

“Assembly Bill 1763 says that low-income housing projects can be denser and taller, regardless of local guidelines. Projects near major transit hubs can be up to three stories taller.

“The [office of] Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, [the bill’s author, said] the project is the first they are aware of to rely on the new law. But it won’t be the last.

“The law, said David Garcia, policy director at UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation, ‘is going to be impactful for affordable housing projects, particularly in areas where zoning [doesn’t provide] the density needed to make a project pencil out.’

“Without AB 1763, [the City of] San Mateo said in a news release, height and density limits approved by city voters would have limited the number of affordable homes that could be built on the site.”

“The president of the neighborhood association where the project is to be built, [who is also] a member of San Mateans for Responsive Government, urged the council to push back against the larger project. San Mateans for Responsive Government said it supports affordable housing but the new design does not include enough parking, and the city is rushing the process without adequately hearing or considering the needs of the surrounding community.

“In addition to providing the land for the project, San Mateo is set to contribute $12.5 million toward the $182 million project, which includes a standalone parking garage for residents and downtown visitors.

“San Mateo Mayor Joe Goethals said in a statement, ‘We have over 2,000 units in the development pipeline and with the housing community that Mid-Pen is building, along with the increase to our below-market-rate program, we’re providing opportunities for every income level.’ ”

Read the full article here.

Best urban designs to reduce road injuries

From Mirage News (Australia), January 28, 2020. Hat tip to “The Overhead Wire”

“City design that combines more public transport and rail networks with smaller, low speed blocks were the best to reduce road transport injuries, according to a new study, A global analysis of urban design types and road transport injury: an image processing study.

“Published in The Lancet Planetary Health, the research identified the best and worst performing city designs with respect to road injuries.

“Researchers from Australia, Spain, and the United States compared maps of almost 1700 cities across the world with injury data to understand urban design factors that contribute to the most road injuries.

“Cities were categorized into nine unique design types ranging from locations with highly organized road and rail network (‘High Transit’, ‘Motor City,’ and ‘Intense’) to areas with almost no public transport and sparse urban design.

Figure 4. Global distribution of identified city types. Source: A global analysis of urban design types and road transport injury: an image processing study, Lancet Planet Health 2020; 4: page e37

“Lead researcher Dr. Jason Thompson said the research aims to highlight the importance of urban design and planning as a key factor in reducing transport related injuries across the world.

“The study found ‘High Transit’ cities with strong rail networks like Barcelona, Durban, Jerusalem, and Toronto had the lowest rates of road injuries compared to ‘Informal’ type cities across India, China, and Africa, where poor urban design contributed to twice the injury rates.

“ ‘If reducing the road toll is your ultimate goal, it is better to invest in safer alternative transport options rather than continuing to focus on car-based safety interventions,’ Dr. Thompson said.

“The study also found that the income of a country did not necessarily relate to road injury rates. High-income countries like Saudi Arabia, the United States, and United Arab Emirates were experiencing high road injury rates as a result of city designs that encourage motor vehicle use.”

Read the full article here.

Download the full report, “A global analysis of urban design types and road transport injury: an image processing study,” Lancet Planet Health 2020; 4: e32–42, from the Northern Section website here. (PDF, 5.1 MB)

“Three lessons 21st century housing policy could learn from ‘Little Women’ ”

By Jenny Schuetz, Brookings’ The Avenue, February 5, 2020

“It may just be the meticulous recreation of 19th century New England in Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women” that has the most to say about American homes, even offering some bold yet sensible lessons to improve our own 21st century housing policy.

“1: Middle-class homes do not drag down property values of nearby mansions

“A primary goal of modern zoning codes is to maintain homogeneous residential neighborhoods: New homes must be the same size, architectural style, and price as their neighbors [etc.]. …

“If 19th century Concord, Mass., had such limitations, the main characters in ‘Little Women’ might never have found true love. … The budding romance … depends on the adjacency of their homes, despite clear differences in their economic and social status.

“2: Waiving quality standards allows low-income families to live in expensive communities

“Houses today must meet minimum quality standards, detailed in building codes … [which] also raise the cost of constructing new housing.

“The house occupied by the March family’s impoverished neighbors, the Hummels, does not appear to satisfy minimum quality standards. … There is no separate kitchen, no running water, and only a single fireplace for heat and cooking.

“Today, these sorts of standards — even if well-intentioned — effectively bar poor families from living in high-opportunity communities.

“3: Bring back the urban boarding house!

“When Jo March decides to follow her literary ambitions to New York City, she lives where most urban singletons of the 19th century did: a boarding house.

“Most importantly, boarding houses were inexpensive. Boarders paid fees for a private bedroom, with access to some shared common space (parlor, bathroom) rather than a fully equipped apartment.

“Second, because of the communal aspects, boarding houses offered some introductory social life to newly arrived migrants.

“The concept behind boarding houses … is making something of a comeback under the new brand of ‘co-living.’ But these new purpose-built facilities are substantially more expensive than their progenitors.

Less zoning equals more social equity — and more romance

“Can we imagine a return to communities where mansions, middle-class homes, boarding houses, and low-income housing can co-exist without legal restrictions or social prejudice?”

Read the complete, delightful, and short article here.