Tag: 2020-04-nn-feature

Planning grad: Welcome to the working world

Planning grad: Welcome to the working world


By James A. Castañeda, AICP, June 2015

I was asked to participate in a panel discussion at the American Planning Association’s conference in Seattle (“Planning Grads in the Working World”) and offer some advice to emerging planners entering the field.

I felt some trepidation: Exactly what sort of guidance could I offer?

I remembered all the times that things didn’t go right. Perhaps the best advice I could give people entering my line of work is to be prepared for negative experiences. I have many stories about projects that didn’t go as planned, applicants who despised our work, and the endless challenges I faced.

But I also recalled the opportunities I had, the challenges I met, the obstacles I overcame, and the fulfillment my years as a planner has brought.

The real world started for me right after I graduated from college, when I was hired by Maricopa County, Arizona, as an assistant planner. An alert and eager graduate, I joined the Board of Adjustment team, working on variance cases in the unincorporated Phoenix metro area. Unsurprisingly, my early staff reports looked like they were bleeding, the result of copious red-ink edits from my supervisor. But as I refined my technical writing skills, I was trusted to sit in the hot seat and present my cases to the Board of Adjustments.

Eventually I moved to California and took on the challenge of being a planner for San Mateo County. It was a different ballgame. I was thrown into various planning projects — from basic, staff-level plan checks, tree-removal permits, and front counter work, to public-hearing projects. Some of my earlier experiences were transferable, but there was still a lot of learning to do. For a while, it was hard not to feel I was in over my head, but I embraced the challenge, got up to speed on zoning regulations, and learned all the little things from my new and helpful co-workers.

Most of my experience in California has centered on current planning, and while it had been my goal to practice in the Long Range division (the actual planning that most people think of when they talk about urban planning), the work in current planning has been valuable and plays a crucial part in identifying policies that need fixing.

Over time, I’ve been trusted to work on our more complex and controversial projects, including better ways to collaborate with stakeholders. I became the program coordinator for the venerable SFO Community Roundtable, which advocates for aircraft noise reduction over communities on the San Francisco Peninsula.

Thinking back on my 11 years as a public planner, here’s my advice to emerging professionals who are getting ready to be planners in the real world.

  • Have empathy. After reading tons of regulations and writing endless reports, you might forget who’s benefiting from your work; so remember to be patient with the audiences who might not live and breathe planning.
  • Don’t forget your inspirations. You may not have the most glamorous assignments when starting out, but don’t lose sight of why you became a planner — to help improve the places where people live.
  • Hold on to your passion. You may not have a lot of hard skills to offer in your first interview, but genuine passion speaks volumes. And your love for planning counts. I was a C+ student who took seven years to receive an undergraduate degree, as I switched my major from computer science to music education to civil engineering before discovering city and regional planning. When I finally figured out that this is what I always wanted to do, I was hooked and never looked back.
  • Feed your ambition. Your first job in planning might not be not what you were expecting, but keep working toward the place you think you should be. Stay hungry.
  • Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. You won’t know a lot of the answers at first — that’s expected. But don’t shy away from opportunity. You’ll figure out everything else along the way.
  • Don’t be afraid to fail. It took me longer than many of my colleagues to get out of school, and it took three tries for me to pass the AICP exam. The important thing about goals is not how long it takes to reach them or how many times you fail. What’s important is that you succeed in the end.
  • Don’t be afraid to question how things are done. If it doesn’t make sense to you, you might be the lever that can lead to change.
  • Share ownership of process. The most successful collaboration with community members happens when you give them a role beyond their writing angry letters. Welcome them into the process.

Never lose sight of who you are, what you’re doing, and, most importantly, why you’re doing it.

James A. Castañeda, AICP, was Northern Section’s Communications Director at the time he wrote this. He went on to become the Section Director, a position he held until February 1, 2020 when he exchanged his long time position in San Mateo County for a new post in Los Angeles.

Meet a local planner – Martin Carver, AICP

Meet a local planner – Martin Carver, AICP

By Catarina Kidd, AICP

Martin Carver, AICP, is Managing Partner of Zero­City, LLC in Santa Cruz, Cali­for­nia. He holds a master of city and regional planning from Cor­nell Uni­ver­sity and a BA in en­viron­men­tal studies ­/politics from UC San­ta Cruz. As a volunteer, he has served as a board member for Tierra Pacifica Charter School, Insight Santa Cruz, and Bloom of the Present.

What is your professional focus? 

We work with muni­ci­pal­ities, school districts, and uni­ver­si­ties to achieve net zero green­house gas emis­sions using com­mu­ni­ty-scale renewable energy projects. I work with a partner to combine comprehensive city and climate action planning with implementation of energy projects. The time has come to think bigger about collective efforts with public/private partnerships to increase renewable energy production and move beyond the modest “one-rooftop-at-a-time” approach.

What led you to this work?

Around 2000, I began consulting with my own firm, Coastplans. This was mostly general plan work, advance planning, housing elements, and CEQA documents. In 2015, as a result of the recession’s impact on my firm and my clients, my private practice was reinvented with a partner, and became “ZeroCity, LLC.” The firm offers energy planning, which is what I have focused on for the last five years.

What are the concepts in this particular specialty? 

We saw a need for local cities to gain a foothold in energy development and community choice aggregation. In the Central Coast area, I served on the formation committee of Monterey Bay Community Power. Even before PG&E’s power safety shutoffs started, we thought the technology and economics were there for local microgrids with which local cities could sustainably provide more reliable and cheaper power.

What is a microgrid?

Essentially, a combination of solar, batteries, and wind power feeds into your own poles and wires, and not into PG&E transmission lines. There could even be room for building one or two additional wind turbines to feed into the microgrid, and opportunities for nearby landfills to provide gas. The prices for power are set by how much it costs to produce energy. To be competitive, microgrids cannot charge more than PG&E.   

Most cities have opportunities in terms of public rights-of-way and excess land around water treatment plants and other facilities that can potentially host microgrids. The microgrids form a basis for a new municipal finance, a new way for cities to fund operations. 

Any recent examples? 

I put together a team and am currently working on a plan to provide power to major customers in the Gonzales Industrial Park, which hosts tenants such as Del Monte Foods, Taylor Foods, and Constellation Wines. These are multi-billion dollar companies with large energy needs. Microgrids are an approach that makes sense and sets them on a path of sustainability. We are now in the final stages of negotiating a public-private partnership, and the key factor for viability, private money, has come to the table. With Phase 1 producing as much as 80 Gigawatt hours (GWh) a year, it would be one of the largest microgrids in California. 

Where can we learn more about energy sustainability?

Over the past several years, I have written several papers about the foundational ideas, recent developments, and analysis of microgrid programs. They can be found here: http://zero.city/news.

What advice do you have for new or mid-career planners?

Think about what draws you in. I always gravitated to long-range planning in private consulting. I started my post-graduate planning career in Sacramento at Mintier-Harnish where I learned about housing elements, general plans, and CEQA. I also worked for the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission and the Monterey County Resource Management Agency’s Long-Range Planning Team. In addition, I worked on the Marine Science Campus Coastal Long-Range Development Plan, the Science Hill Master Plan, and the Silicon Valley Center/NASA Ames Campus Master Plan, all through the University of California. All of these were rewarding experiences. 

It’s good to do both public and private sector work — it rounds you out. The idea that you just stay in one organization or job for 20 years doesn’t fly anymore. Truthfully, I never did that well in public sector offices and their politics. I always wanted to focus on the work, and consulting matched with my personality and work style. You should consider those factors when deciding your path.

Talk about your experience dealing with recession and business cycles. 

It’s important to understand the economics of planning as a business. When the 2008 recession began, it became obvious that housing markets drive city planning. Not entirely, but a lot of it. So when the bottom drops out, there are no consulting jobs, no agency planner jobs. I was lucky because I had a large general plan project underway through 2011 that kept me whole for that time. 

After 2012, there was no work for the year, and it was a pretty tough time for me and for many planners, public and private. I took on temporary work with the County of Monterey for a few years. In 2015, I started getting calls from former clients. Since then, there has been a lot work; however, there is always the possibility of a downturn. Be sure to have enough resources and savings to stay afloat during the hard times, and know the lean times will pass.

Interviewer Catarina Kidd, AICP, is senior development manager at FivePoint and a guest writer for Northern News. All interviews are edited.

Coronavirus: Top 10 issues for employers

Coronavirus: Top 10 issues for employers

By Esra A. Hudson and Michael E. Olsen, Manatt Employment Law, March 9, 2020

Republished with permission

The coronavirus outbreak has caused concern for companies worldwide as they navigate and plan for its impact on their business operations. While different industries will be affected in different ways, there are some steps that all employers can take to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Here are the top ten issues employers should keep in mind when formulating a coronavirus response.

  1. Ensure good and open communication

Good communication with employees regarding the outbreak and the company’s response is essential. Employees should be reminded of relevant policies and practices, such as sick leave, paid time off and telecommuting policies. Employees should be informed as soon as reasonably practical about the company’s plans and expectations, and should be updated regularly.

  1. Ensure a safe workplace

Employers can and should take steps to ensure a safe work place, including instructing sick employees to stay home and educating employees about proper hygiene (disinfecting hands and surfaces), social distancing, and how to recognize COVID-19 and its symptoms. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued guidance on preparing the workplace for a flu pandemic, which can be found here.

Additionally, an employee who contracts the coronavirus in connection with their employment may be eligible for workers’ compensation. Certain categories of workers (e.g., healthcare workers such as nurses) may be granted a presumption that they contracted the disease in the course of employment.

  1. Consider telecommuting

To prevent community spread, some employers may choose to expand telecommuting options for employees. Employers should review or consider implementing telecommuting policies to permit remote work and make the terms and conditions of such work clear. In addition, employers should ensure that technology and administrative support are in place in the event mass telecommuting becomes necessary. Companies that do not already have video conferencing capabilities chat apps and other technology that makes telecommuting more effective should consider acquiring these now.

  1. Develop a plan for employees who cannot telecommute

Not all employees can telecommute. For example, service workers cannot perform their work remotely. For those employees, a variety of issues need to be considered, including any obligations to pay employees who either cannot or are required not to come to work, and whether they can be required to use sick leave or vacation benefits if they cannot come to work. In California, employees may use paid sick leave and must be compensated consistent with state and local paid sick leave laws. California’s Labor Commissioner has taken the position, however, that employers cannot require employees who are quarantined to exhaust paid sick leave.

Employees in California who report for their regularly scheduled shift but are required to work fewer hours or are sent home, must be compensated for at least two hours or no more than four hours of reporting time pay. For example, a worker who reports to work for an eight-hour shift and only works for one hour must receive four hours of pay, one for the hour worked and three as reporting time pay so that the worker receives pay for at least half of the expected eight-hour shift. An exception to reporting time pay is where operations cannot commence or continued when recommended by civil authorities. Similarly, exempt workers who perform only some work during a workweek due to a shutdown of operations are entitled to a full week’s salary, with deductions permitted for full weeks where no work is performed.

Employers should also consider the broader public relations and morale issues implicated by payment decisions in the context of this worldwide epidemic.

  1. Evaluate options for limiting business travel and managing international employees

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is routinely updating its recommendations regarding travel, often on a daily basis. Review the CDC resources frequently and consider canceling, postponing or limiting nonessential business travel to high-risk locations. In some circumstances, there may be a need to bring home employees who are working internationally. In that case, there may also be a need to evaluate whether those employees immediately return to the workforce or need to work from home for some time.

  1. Don’t discriminate, and evaluate your obligations to provide leaves of absence

Employers should be mindful that COVID-19 implicates various state and federal laws pertaining to discrimination, leaves of absence and reasonable accommodations. For instance, employers must make reasonable accommodations for disabling conditions unless it would impose an undue hardship or pose a direct threat to the health and safety of other employees. Although a transitory illness like those caused by COVID-19 is not necessarily a disability under federal or state law, each case must be evaluated individually. Similarly, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and state law equivalents require covered employers to provide qualified employees time off for serious medical conditions, both for themselves and to care for certain family members.

  1. Be mindful of privacy rights and medical examination guidelines

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and equivalent state laws, employers must be mindful of what constitutes a permissible medical inquiry. For example, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued guidance pertaining to pandemic preparedness in 2009, which advised that taking an employee’s temperature to determine whether the employee has a fever is a medical examination under the ADA; however, if the pandemic has become widespread in the particular community—as determined by the CDC or state and local authorities—employers may measure employees’ body temperature. The full guidance from the EEOC regarding permissible inquiries and reasonable accommodations under the ADA during a pandemic is found here.

Similarly, state law (California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act) and federal law (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act) prohibit discrimination on the basis of, among other things, race or national origin. Employers are prohibited from treating employees differently based on national origin (e.g., avoiding or isolating employees because their national origin is associated or connected to a region affected by coronavirus). Employers should be mindful of messaging with respect to COVID-19, including reminding employees of company policies with respect to harassment or discrimination. In the event of alleged harassment or discrimination, employers should be prepared to take swift action to investigate and remediate any issues.

Additionally, while an employer can request that employees inform them if they are planning to travel or have traveled to countries the CDC considers high-risk areas, employers may not generally inquire into areas of medical privacy, unless such an inquiry were part of a voluntary wellness program and/or the inquiry is job-related, consistent with business necessity and there is objective evidence that due to a medical condition, the employee is unable to perform essential job functions or will pose a direct threat to other employees. Likewise, employers may not disclose medical information about an employee—even an infected employee—to other employees. In the event an employee is infected, steps may be taken to protect the workforce without specifically identifying the affected employee.

  1. Have a plan for layoffs and be prepared to provide WARN notices

In the event of a widespread outbreak that disrupts business or prevents business altogether in the case of work that cannot be performed remotely, employers may be required to layoff portions of its workforce. In such cases, generally, employers covered by the state and federal WARN Act must provide 60 days’ notice to affected employees. In unforeseeable circumstances, the company must provide “as much notice as is practicable”—which is a defense to an action brought under the WARN Act.

For employers with group health plans, the plan documents will spell out how long employees may not be working before they are no longer eligible for coverage. In such cases, a COBRA notice must be provided to employees. Similarly, those individuals who are temporarily unemployed due to an outbreak and who are not themselves ill may be eligible to claim unemployment benefits.

  1. Stay up to date on the latest developments

Employers should also keep abreast of various resources and information issued by local, state and federal agencies in response to the outbreak. Some of these resources are:

  1. Know your resources

For additional assistance with respect to compliance and concerns regarding your company’s response to COVID-19, please reach out to a member of the Employment and Labor team at Manatt.

Here’s a March 11 update from the same firm.

RAPID Climate Action Network starts up

RAPID Climate Action Network starts up

By Mindy Craig

There are lots of big visions and strategies for acting on climate change. But what should be a priority, and what can be done to catalyze immediate action?

In January, BluePoint Planning launched the RAPID Climate Action Network as a way to amplify and accelerate action for climate change. The effort was born out of the numerous climate emergency resolutions and the lack of actual action related to the emergency.

The RAPID Climate Action Forum, hosted by BluePoint, ReScape California, and BayREN in San Francisco on January 23 provided the motivation and foundation for the Network. Five RAPID Action Platforms were designed, with teams now meeting to achieve six-month goals in these areas (links open PDFs):

The model for the forum and post-forum engagement — clarifying existing work and making it actionable — can be scaled and replicated in California and nationally. In response to the demand to host more forums, we are actively planning one in Sacramento, another in Boulder and Denver and with the City of Boulder, Colorado, and a third in Contra Costa County with a consortium of nonprofits.

I am interested in the need for rapid action, sharing the concept, and inspiring engagement from planners who are very often left out of the discussion. The Forum process can help.

You can check out the Network website here.

Mindy Craig is Owner and Principal at BluePoint Planning, which she founded in 2011. Before that, she was a principal at MIG, 2000–2011.


BluePoint Planning is a for-profit DBE consulting service based in Oakland, California, that provides policy and strategic planning, facilitation, communications, and financial feasibility services.


RAPID Climate Action Network is in the process of becoming a nonprofit project to coordinate and convene nongovernmental activities related to climate change.