Tag: 2020-05-nn-roundup

VTA drops plan for massive S.J. BART tunnel

By Nico Savidge, The Mercury News, April 19, 2020

“The Valley Transportation Authority is again changing its plans for the multimillion-dollar project to bring BART through downtown San Jose, dropping a proposal to bore the world’s largest subway tunnel for nearly five miles beneath the city and reopening the process for designing an extension that already is severely delayed.

“What remains unclear is how much this redesigned version of the project will cost, or when BART trains will finally roll into the center of the Bay Area’s largest city.

Critics had raised questions about VTA’s ability to pull off audacious plans to bore a 55-foot-wide tunnel under downtown San Jose, particularly as the agency is nearly two years late delivering the far more conventional stations in Milpitas and Berryessa.

“The tunnel design that the agency’s staff spent a year pursuing is about $4 billion more expensive than initially believed and substantially riskier than other designs, General Manager Nuria Fernandez told the agency’s board.

“The agency’s planners won’t be starting from square one with the new designs. They will work within a design framework that already has gotten environmental clearance and will keep the extension’s route.”

Read the article here. (4 min.)

Approval process for Balboa Reservoir project gets underway

By Ida Mojadad, San Francisco Examiner, April 9, 2020

“The Balboa Reservoir project received the first approval needed to rezone 17 acres of public land into housing.

“At its first-ever virtual public meeting on April 9, the San Francisco Planning Commission unanimously approved the initiation of a General Plan Amendment for the 1,100-unit Balboa Reservoir project in Ingleside.

“The project, which the City began looking at in 2014, would turn a parking lot owned by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission … into an estimated 1,100 units. Half of those units would be permanently affordable to those with up to 120 percent of the area median income … about $143,000 for a household of four, as set by the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development.

Base Plan. Image source: Balboa Reservoir, CAC presentation, April 9, 2018

“About 150 below-market rate units will be reserved for City College faculty. But City College advocates, like instructor Wynd Kaufmyn and faculty union AFT 2121 President Jenny Worley, maintain the project needs to be 100 percent affordable housing and accessible to the community.

“Planning Commissioner Theresa Imperial also raised concerns over securing the public funding promised to keep 17 percent (sic) of all units affordable. But several speakers were in favor of the project moving forward after six years of community outreach.

“Planning commissioners sought more details from Planning Department staff on mitigating traffic and environmental sustainability, like boosting electric vehicle charging stations, but largely praised the 50 percent of units dedicated to affordable housing.

“ ‘I think it’s a very mature, forward-looking project,’ said Commissioner Katherine Moore.”

Read the full article here. (1 minute)

Go here to read about a SPUR panel discussion on this project from the July-August 2018 Planning news roundup. (less than a minute)

Telecommuting will likely continue long after the pandemic

By Katherine Guyot and Isabel V. Sawhill, Brookings, April 6, 2020

“The COVID-19 pandemic is, among other things, a massive experiment in telecommuting. Up to half of American workers are currently working from home, more than double the fraction who worked from home (at least occasionally) in 2017-18.

“Until now, telecommuting has been slower to take hold than many predicted when remote work technology first emerged. This inertia probably reflects sticky work cultures as well as a lack of interest from employers in investing in the technology and management practices necessary to operate a tele-workforce.

“But the pandemic is forcing these investments in industries where telework is possible, with more people learning how to use remote technology. As a result, we may see a more permanent shift toward telecommuting. As the economist Susan Athey recently told the Washington Post, ‘People will change their habits, some of these habits will stick …, and this will accelerate that.’

“There are pros and cons to more telecommuting. On the plus side, workers tend to prefer working from home, it reduces emissions and office costs, and it helps people (especially women) balance work and family roles. It may even make us more productive. The downsides: managing a telecommuting staff can be difficult, professional isolation can have negative effects on well-being and career development, and the effects on productivity over the long run and in a scaled-up system are uncertain. …

“Overall, about half of employed adults are currently working from home, though a recent paper estimates that only a third of jobs can be done entirely from home. Either way, this is a massive shift. Between 2005 and 2015, the fraction of workers who regularly worked from home increased by only about 2 to 3 percentage points, according to Mas and Pallais (2020). Even at that growth rate, telecommuting has been the fastest-growing method of commuting over the last several years. If our new telecommuting culture sticks, the pandemic will have accelerated this trend dramatically. Already, nearly one in five chief financial officers surveyed [at the end of March] said they planned to keep at least 20 percent of their workforce working remotely to cut costs. …

“Technological limitations could be a barrier to the development of an American tele-workforce. … If there is one piece of critical infrastructure that will provide jobs to those in left-behind places, it is high-speed broadband.”

Read the full article here (8 min., two graphs).

Rapid urbanization abroad threatens old buildings, traditional markets

Cities rush to build office blocks and rail networks

By Rina Chandran, Thomson Reuters Foundation, April 1, 2020

“ ‘Delhi was established as the capital of the Indian empire in 1911, when the colonial British rulers moved the capital from the eastern city of Calcutta, now called Kolkata.

“A two-mile stretch in Delhi featuring some of India’s most iconic landmarks is to be redeveloped, angering historians and conservationists who say the move will rob the country of its heritage and valuable public space.

“Federal authorities last month said they would change the land use for the 86-acre (35-hectare) area that includes Parliament House, the presidential palace, and the India Gate war memorial to ‘government use’ from recreation and public facilities.

“Conservationists fear that the Central Vista redevelopment project will obliterate the history and character of the area, which also has among the biggest public spaces in a city of more than 20 million.

“ ‘The Central Vista is significant for historical, lived, and architectural heritage. Equally importantly, it is a public-use area for tourists and residents, and a green area,’ said Kanchi Kohli, a senior researcher at the Centre for Policy Research.

“In India, as in many countries, rapid urbanization is putting greater pressure on governments to build office blocks and rail networks, which has led to the razing of old buildings and traditional markets.

“Shashi Tharoor, a member of the opposition Congress party, said in a recent tweet that the money earmarked for the project must instead be used to deal with the pandemic, which has devastated the country’s poor communities.”

Read the article here. (5 min)

First-ever regionwide analysis of sea level rise impacts on Bay Area

March 31, 2020 – In an official press release, Caltrans, MTC/ABAG, the Bay Area Regional Collaborative, and the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) announced the release of “Adapting to Rising Tides (ART) Bay Area”:

“ART Bay Area is a product of a multi-agency collaboration, illuminating shared vulnerability to sea level rise across regional systems that Bay Area residents depend on to live and thrive.

“Rising sea level will fundamentally change our relationships with the Bay, including threatening our public access to the shoreline and enjoying of shoreline recreation.  And our natural habitats are truly at risk.

“But these impacts do not have to happen — some local planning is underway, and we need more, faster, and more coordinated planning to face the full magnitude of impacts. Planning how to adapt is an opportunity to address current issues and future threats.

“To support the region-wide analysis, 32 local deep-dive studies were done to understand how these impacts could play out within a community. These systems and locations were analyzed at a total of 10 flood levels ranging from 12 inches to 108 inches to show a wide range of impacts over time.

“Nearly 600 community members, nonprofit organizations, city and county planners, business representatives, elected officials, and state and federal staff were also engaged in developing this study over the past three years.”

BCDC’s Dana Brechwald, the ART Resilience and Climate Adaptation Manager, writes on LinkedIn: “This report provides a better understanding of where we are vulnerable and lays out a pathway to plan for the future. This project has been over three years in the making and involved hundreds of wonderful people whose contributions have ranged from thousands of hours of staff work to participating in meetings around the region. I am so proud of the ART staff — current and past — for making it to the finish line!”

Adapting to Rising Tides is a program of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC). According to the Commission’s “About” page, “BCDC is the State agency responsible for leading the Bay Area’s preparedness for, and resilience to, rising sea level, tides, and storm surge due to climate change.”

Go here for the press release and here for the “short” and “main” reports, as well as additional details about the findings.

For a March 31 San Francisco Chronicle article on this report, go here (4 minutes, paywall).

What now for dense housing near transit?

By Debra Kahn, Politico, March 27, 2020

“The coronavirus could have a chilling effect on the state’s efforts to build more apartments near public transportation to solve its housing crisis.

“Gov. Gavin Newsom and Democratic leaders have championed urban housing as a way to address the ever-rising cost of living in California.

“The Democrats’ argument had been gaining traction, especially among younger residents desperate for cheaper housing and less inured to car ownership. It was also a weapon in Newsom’s fight against homelessness.

“But the coronavirus will likely stand in the way of that momentum. Opponents of infill and transit-oriented development are blaming population density as a primary factor behind the pandemic’s spread in urban areas.

“ ‘I think it’s absolutely going to impact people’s appetite for housing density,’ said Susan Kirsch, founder of the group Livable California.

“For two years, battle lines have been drawn over bills by Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat. ‘Of course people will abuse the coronavirus pandemic for other political goals,’ Wiener said. ‘This contagion is not about whether you live in a densely populated area or a less densely populated area; it’s about whether you have a good public health response to a pandemic, and Hong Kong and Singapore had a fantastic response,’ Wiener said. ‘The U.S. did not.’

“ ‘California’s set up so every single potential risk under the sun exists somewhere in the state,’ said Dan Dunmoyer, president and CEO of the California Building Industry Association. ‘You push people out of the wildland into the urban lands, you have the biggest seismic risk possible. … You go back to the urban areas, you’ve got Covid.’ ”

Read more here. (6 min)

Coronavirus: Fate of Lafayette’s big housing plan postponed

By Jon Kawamoto, East Bay Times, March 26, 2020

“A key vote on Lafayette’s controversial, 315-unit housing plan known as the Terraces of Lafayette has been postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The project was scheduled to be heard April 6 by the Lafayette Planning Commission, but that meeting was cancelled — as were all meetings, events and activities by the city because of the Bay Area’s shelter-in-place order.

“The target date for the next Terraces hearing is April 27, according to city spokesman Jeffrey Heyman.

“The Terraces has been the subject of 20 public hearings since it was first proposed in March 2011. But a new housing law, Senate Bill 330 by state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Oakland, limits the number of public hearings to five for new applications.

Lafayette. Credit: APA California

“The Terraces apartment plan was revived soon after Lafayette voters in June 2018 rejected Measure L, which would have allowed the developer to build 44 houses instead of apartments on 22 acres off Deer Hill and Pleasant Hill roads.

“Because a hearing on the revived housing plan was held in January, only four more can be scheduled before the planning commission makes a decision, according to Robert Hodil, an attorney hired by the city to advise it on the Terraces project.”

Read more here. (1 min)

Boost for BART: Economic deal could send $1.3 billion to Bay Area public transit systems

By Nico Savidge, East Bay Times, March 25, 2020

“Bay Area public transit systems that have been battered by massive ridership drops and bracing for a recession are breathing a sigh of relief.

“That’s because the $2 trillion stimulus deal hammered out in Washington includes a $25 billion boost for public transportation nationwide — of which an estimated $1.3 billion would flow to agencies in the Bay Area.

“Randy Rentschler, a spokesman for the region’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission, said the estimate is based on the funding formulas the federal government typically uses to allocate money to different parts of the country.

“The extra money for public transportation will be used to patch what could have been devastating budget gaps for bus, rail, and ferry systems around the Bay Area.

“BART has been lobbying lawmakers for emergency funding with increasing urgency since its ridership began falling dramatically earlier this month. With all of California now under orders to stay home except for essential trips, just 32,117 passengers rode BART on [March 24] — down 92 percent from a typically weekday of over 400,000.

“That’s a big problem for agencies such as BART and Caltrain, which has also seen ridership plummet, because they rely on passenger fares and parking fees for most of their operating budgets — unlike the vast majority of public transportation agencies, which are mainly funded with taxes.”

“And another threat has been looming for Bay Area’s public transit systems: Declining sales tax revenue in a souring economy. That would further drain BART’s resources, but it would represent a much bigger hit to other transit agencies, such as VTA, that get most of their funding from taxes.”

Read the full article here.  (2 min)

Bay Area’s largest housing development appears dead

By J.K. Dineen, San Francisco Chronicle, March 25, 2020

“In a 3-2 vote Tuesday night, the Concord City Council rejected legislation that would have extended the current exclusive negotiating agreement with Lennar Concord LLC, which was set to expire at the end of March. The 5,000-acre redevelopment of the mothballed military base calls for 13,000 housing units, 8 million square feet of commercial space, 2,500 acres of open space, and potentially a college campus.

“Guy Bjerke, the city’s director of community reuse planning, said in a statement, ‘Concord will comply with the terms of our existing agreements with Lennar, and we will look ahead to how we can get this project moving again once our community gets through the COVID-19 public health crisis and the city better understands the pandemic’s impact to the regional economy and the city’s finances.’

“The developers said that agreeing to an all-union job site would make the project infeasible, raising construction costs by $542 million and cutting the project’s profit margin from 17 percent to a loss.

“As part of its agreement with Lennar, the city will return unspent funds advanced by Lennar for the project.

“Lennar had agreed to a package of community benefits, including 25 percent affordable housing, that has become increasingly difficult as construction costs have soared in recent years.

“‘This project could have been an absolute lifeline, a massive jobs machine during the coronavirus crisis, when we could be looking at double-digit unemployment. It’s an absolute tragedy, said Matt Regan of the Bay Area Council, a business group.

“‘As time moved on it became clear they [Lennar] were not interested in hiring a local workforce,’ said Bill Whitney, who heads up the Contra Costa Building Trades Council.

‘They were going to flood the project with out-of-area workers at lower wages. That was appallingly negligent and we opposed that.’”

Read more here. (3 min)

Coronavirus: Lockdowns slow Bay Area home construction, future projects

By Louis Hansen, The Mercury News, March 23, 2020

“Shutdowns in local government offices have distanced city planners and inspectors from developers, making the already sometimes Byzantine development process more complicated. Staff in Bay Area cities are shifting as many development functions as possible online. Residential builders and small contractors are struggling to understand and adapt to the variety of new work policies and limits forced on local governments by the coronavirus.

“‘Things will be slower,’ said Bob Glover, executive officer of the Building Industry Association of the Bay Area. But industry insiders say no one yet knows how long the delays will last.

“Much of the work needed to finish and fill a home or condo — from final inspections to recording of title — depends on government services. Bay Area cities have shuttered planning and inspection services, telling developers and contractors to call or email.

“Rosalynn Hughey, director of the San Jose Department of Planning, Building & Code Enforcement, said the office has switched to its emergency plans to keep projects going. Most planning functions are being done online or through email, videoconferencing, and by phone.

“The city is setting up video inspections for small home renovations like kitchen remodels, and plans to grant final sign-offs remotely.

“California Housing Partnership CEO Matt Schwartz said the delays could seriously impact project deadlines and financing. As the economy weakens, investors become more cautious. If bankers pull back from new investments in affordable housing, he said, bold projects to address the state’s housing needs could be knocked back on their heels.

“ ‘Right now, the dominant factor in the market seems to be fear,’ Schwartz said. ‘That could be devastating for housing production generally.’

“Developers of affordable housing say tax incentives and financing are tied to strict construction deadlines. Missing target dates could endanger projects.

“Smaller contractors are also wrestling with shelter-in-place guidelines. Despite pent-up demand for new housing and home improvements, an extended shutdown could stifle projects and lead to industry layoffs.”

Read the full article here. (4 min)