Elizabeth “Libby” Tyler, Ph.D., FAICP, is Planning Manager at the City of San Pablo. She holds a Ph.D. in Regional Planning from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, an MLA in environmental planning from the University of California, Berkeley, and a BA in environmental conservation from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Tyler serves as Ethics Director on the APA California – Northern Section board and is on the steering committee for PHEAL (Planning for Health, Equity, Advocacy and Leadership). She is Vice Chair of APA national’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee. Tyler is a charter member of APA, having joined in 1978 as a student. She was the first woman in Illinois to be recognized as a Fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners in 2008.
How can planners be more inspired?
I think planners should take a broad view of planning. You are a world citizen, not just on the clock at your job. When you travel, locally or otherwise, you are learning and viewing things with informed eyes. To further your practice, be intentional and volunteer or choose things to work on that especially interest you.
Examples of that curated experience?
Planners are such versatile professionals. There is so much to be done right now with new conversations about planning and public health and the need to build more equitable places. And we need to start assessing racist practices in planning and how they can be corrected. If not planners, who can do this work? There is no room for cynical or limited thinking such as, “I am just a cog in the wheel,” so I can’t effect change. If you are feeling cynical, stretch yourself. Take even a little side-step in your career and you will never regret it. If you look for opportunities, you can find the impact you were meant to have.
You recently joined the City of San Pablo. What are your goals there?
Developing planning staff, supporting economic opportunity for our residents, and accelerating housing production — which requires updating the General Plan and Housing Element. Also, many properties in the city are not zoned to accommodate more intensive development, and I’d like to see that change.
We just completed the ADU ordinance for San Pablo. Our ADU production has more than doubled over the past year. People are investing in their homes in a way that is adding value to the city and offering residents more choices.
Your planning work has been diverse.
I was fortunate to work in both the public and private sectors and in planning education. My longest tenure — 17 years — was as Community Development Director for the City of Urbana, Illinois. I also taught planning as an adjunct lecturer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
What project stands out and why?
Rebuilding public housing sites in Urbana for more affordable housing. With innovative work and careful community engagement, we were able to change the way planning for affordable housing was done. It was a big stretch for me to work with HUD and to obtain grant funding so the work could be accomplished — but the outcomes were important, and there are now two new beautifully designed affordable communities in the city, including Crystal View Townhomes and the adjacent Highland Green Apartments.
Your comments on retirement?
I retired from a job (Urbana), but not from making a difference. I enjoy having the freedom of being selective and giving more love to things that bring me satisfaction. Those include teaching, consulting, and working with new planners. When I was that overworked mid-career planner, I imagined a total release with retirement. But retirement is not an all or nothing proposition, and for me, it does get better with time. People are becoming more creative in retirement. Planning is a great field for retirees who want to be creative.
What mindset has made you successful in your career?
I would think of three key approaches for success in the planning field:
Dare to be versatile.
Since planning is such a broad field, you have an opportunity to be many things — an environmental planner, a transportation specialist, a housing expert, or an economic developer. You can actually do it all if you wish.
Realize you can make an impact.
If you can make things better than they would have been, you can make a huge impact, incrementally, over time. Project reviews, daily administration, outreach — they all add up. You make things better even if you are not in a position with great visibility.
But don’t overplay your hand!
The community must be in charge. Planners who want to put their personal mark on something miss the point. Keep your ego in check. Find the tools and the right people to work on a project — it might not be you. Maybe it is your staff or a community leader — and if so, let them shine. The important thing is not who is doing what but doing what is right for the community.
Interviewer Catarina Kidd, AICP, is senior development manager at FivePoint and a guest writer for Northern News. All interviews are edited.
By Timothy Rood, AICP, and José Ruano, December 2, 2020
Equitable transit-oriented development
The 250-acre area around San José’s central rail station, Diridon Station, presents an outstanding opportunity to advance the vision of integrated uses and travel efficiency. Planning for this vision began a decade ago, but significant changes on the ground in recent years required amending an area plan adopted in 2014. The City began the amendment process in November 2019, following more than a year of extensive public outreach. Additional public input was desired and planned — then the pandemic intervened. Here’s what the City has done and is doing to reach all stakeholders, including populations that are typically underrepresented in planning processes.
The pattern of land uses across the 180 square miles of the City of San José — the Bay Area’s largest city in both land and population – is much like a quilt, a classic Euclidean pattern of distinct patches of residential, commercial, and industrial uses. San Jose’s rapid expansion after World War II — when land was relatively cheap and gridlock had yet to become a concern — resulted in separated low-density zones with low-slung buildings. Other Bay Area cities, often the employment centers for San Jose’s vast residential areas, developed in similar patterns, spurring the prevalence of car travel and surface parking within San Jose and across the Bay Area.
Currently, solo drivers make about 80 percent of trips within San José. Modern urban planning in San José, beginning with the Envision San José 2040 General Plan that was approved in 2011, seeks to remedy the separated land uses and reduce car travel and surface parking by planning for redevelopment of lower-intensity, primarily commercial properties in urban villages and other growth areas with more intense and mixed land uses. By 2040, the goal is to make three times as many trips as today by walking, transit, bicycle, or other alternatives to single-occupancy vehicles.
The 250-acre area around San José’s central rail station, Diridon Station, presents an outstanding opportunity to advance the vision of integrated uses and travel efficiency. Diridon Station, at the western edge of Downtown San José, is now being planned through an interagency partnership as the West Coast’s largest multimodal rail station, where planned BART and California High-Speed Rail service will converge with existing commuter rail, light rail, and bus services. These agencies project an eightfold increase in daily passengers coming through Diridon Station. Following an intensive two-year study and public engagement, the agencies reached consensus on a preferred concept for a redesigned, integrated rail station that could reconnect the surrounding neighborhoods and minimize impacts.
To address the lands around the station, the San José City Council adopted the Diridon Station Area Plan in 2014 after five years of extensive community outreach. The plan envisioned the incremental transformation of the area — now dominated by parking lots and old industrial buildings — into a dynamic, mixed-use, urban neighborhood anchored by a world-class transportation hub, a planned major league ballpark, and the SAP Center, better known as the “Shark Tank.”
Market conditions changed, however, and the ballpark plans fell through. But the largely undeveloped land close to an international airport and a growing downtown did not go unnoticed. Google, LLC, began buying up properties and in 2017 stepped forward with a proposed Downtown West Mixed-Use Plan for 80 acres around the station. This was a game-changer: It’s rare for a private developer to assemble property at this scale, unusual for a large redevelopment project to have an owner-occupant, and uncommon for tech companies to locate in a city center. With up to 7.3 million square feet of office (twice the size of Cupertino’s Apple Park); up to 5,900 housing units; and up to 500,000 square feet of retail and other active uses, Downtown West would be a mixed-use development at a scale seldom seen in any U.S. city.
The project’s approval hearings before the City Council are planned for Spring 2021.
Amending the Diridon Station Area Plan
Between the withdrawal of the ballpark proposal, the new rail station concept, the proposed Google Downtown West project, changes in the BART project, and a 2019 City Council decision allowing greater building heights, clearly the 2014 Diridon Station Area Plan needed to be amended. The City began the amendment process in November 2019, following more than a year of extensive public outreach on goals for the broader Diridon Station Area, and the authors have been privileged to be managing the effort as staff in the City’s planning division.
Along with staff from the City’s transportation, parks, and public works departments, we began by going through the 2014 plan line by line to identify what was still valid and what needed updating. The City also initiated studies and implementation plans on affordable housing and parking – the latter being a concern to the Sharks given the City’s obligations under the SAP Center lease.
The work resulted in draft amendments that adapt the 2014 Plan to current conditions and reflect the City’s goal to advance equity as development and investment occur. Major changes include expanding the Plan boundary, adding development capacity, increasing building height limits, and updating sections on land use, urban design, open space, and mobility. The draft amended plan affirms the original goals and objectives but updates the vision to be more mixed-use, with housing and jobs closer together in more places, increased building height limits to help support equitable development, and new trail links and open space concepts. The proposed amendments build on the new urban design direction of the 2019 San José Downtown Design Guidelines and Standards, which received the APA California 2020 Award of Excellence in Urban Design.
Similar to the Downtown West Project, the City Council will hold hearings in Spring 2021 before adopting the plan amendments.
Engagement during a pandemic
As part of the 2018 community engagement process, the City Council appointed 38 organizations to a Diridon Station Area Advisory Group (SAAG), which met regularly over a two-year period. The City also set up a website as a public clearinghouse of information and held a variety of events and activities to engage the general public.
City leaders and staff wanted to hear from all segments of the San José community, including downtown businesses, developers, transit riders, and affordable housing, labor, and environmental advocates. An additional round of focused outreach was conducted with residents living in and around the station area, including the Diridon Area Neighborhood Group (DANG), a coalition of representatives from nearby neighborhood associations.
To reach populations that are typically underrepresented in planning processes, the City established a small grant program and partnered with seven community-based organizations to assist with outreach and engagement. The City also offered many of the meetings and materials in Spanish and Vietnamese, the two most prevalent non-English languages in the area.
During 2020, the engagement process necessarily evolved with the Covid-19 crisis. The City extended the engagement process timeline and transitioned to digital tools, including virtual meetings, online surveys, and recorded video presentations posted to the project website. “Virtual office hours” on various topics allowed informal Q&A with project staff on a drop-in basis, ideal for those busy with work and household obligations during the pandemic.
Engagement events originally envisioned as in-person gatherings were instead held as Zoom meetings and webinars, frequently using advanced features including audio channels for different languages, polls, and facilitated breakout rooms. Online procedures had to be developed for all City meetings and hearings, including timers for public comment, procedures for administering the speaker queue, and technical assistance for participants if needed.
Key engagement lessons learned
The advanced features of Zoom can be challenging for new users, requiring patient facilitation and a lot of behind the scenes support. Also, many of the advanced features exclude telephone-only participants, who can listen and provide audio comment but cannot participate in polling or interpretation due to software limitations. Posting presentations as PDFs in advance made it easier for participants to follow along, particularly during online poling.
It will take decades for full buildout of the transit projects, once funded; for realization of Google’s Downtown West, once approved; and for full implementation of the amended Diridon Station Area Plan. For the Downtown West project, individual building designs will be reviewed for conformance with the approved standards, and other station area development will go through the typical public review and hearing process once the area plan is adopted. The City will track measures for affordable housing and avoidance of displacement, among others, to ensure this megaplan fulfills its potential as a global model of equitable transit-oriented development. Stay tuned!
The authors work for the City of San José Department of Planning, Building and Code Enforcement. Timothy Rood, AICP, is the Division Manager overseeing the Diridon Station Area Plan amendments and review of Google’s Downtown West project. He holds M.Arch and MCP degrees from UC Berkeley and an AB in architecture from Columbia University. José Ruano is the project manager for the Diridon Station Area Plan amendments. He holds an MS in city and regional planning from Pratt Institute and a B.Arch from UC Berkeley.
A collection of 1,750 scanned historical reports and archived publications is now available to the public on HUDUser.gov.
Since its creation as a HUD office in 1973, the Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) has sponsored and disseminated groundbreaking research. Among PD&R’s first tasks was marshaling the work of economists to analyze existing housing subsidy programs, designing evaluation processes for new programs, and developing the Annual Housing Survey — an effort to collect data on demographics, income, tenure, rent and mortgage payments, utility costs, and housing conditions from a sample of housing units and occupants. PD&R has continued to pursue a mix of housing studies, technology research, program evaluations, surveys, demonstrations, and other types of research, amassing a substantial archive of reports and documents with ongoing relevance. In addition to this trove of research, PD&R serves as the custodian of housing documents that predate PD&R and even HUD itself.
Now PD&R reports that initially were available only in print as well as the historic documents are available through theHistorical and Archived Reportsdatabase at HUDUser.gov, providing the public with access to original reports and research. The collection includes 1,750 scanned historical reports and archived publications that address a range of topics and originate from a similarly eclectic body of sources, from long-defunct international conferences to still-extant local government divisions. HUD librarian Eric Erickson described the document preservation efforts in a July 2020PD&R Edgearticle.
The oldest records in the archive date back to 1910: a copy ofHow to Know Architecture: The Human Elements in the Evolution of Stylesby Frank E. Wallis and “The Housing Awakening,” a collection of essays about slums in the United States from the National Housing Association. Records from the 1920s include papers of the then-biennial International Housing and Town Planning Congress. And beginning with the “First Annual Report of the Federal Housing Administration” in 1935, the archives contain each subsequent Federal Housing Administration (FHA) annual report through FHA’s merger with HUD in the 1960s.
Many of the documents in the archive are entries in serial publications. Some, such as HUD’sfour-volume guidefor participants in the 1970 Operation Breakthrough home construction technology demonstration project, have been preserved in the archive in their entirety. Others, such as the late-1930s series of more than50 technical digestsby the National Bureau of Standards in the U.S. Department of Commerce, are only partially present, with a small number of missing installments.
PD&R invites readers to explore the wealth of documents in the archives for insight into how housing conditions and policies have changed over time and how lessons from the past can inform policies today.
By Justin Flynn and SJSU fall semester DUP graduate students, December 2, 2020
The Guadalupe River Park (GRP) is a three-mile, 254-acre linear park along the western edge of downtown San José. It lies between the Mineta International Airport and Diridon Station, a major transit hub within the planned site of Google’s mixed-use Downtown West project. Our class of 14 urban planning graduate students at San José State University spent the fall 2020 semester helping several partners — CommUniverCity, Guadalupe River Park Conservancy, and SPUR to measure the impact of prioritizing our public spaces, with a focus on the Guadalupe River Park, as part of the national Reimagining the Civic Commons Initiative. This initiative is supported by The JPB Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, William Penn Foundation, and Knight Foundation (organizations that are both national and local supporters). Richard Kos, AICP, and Jason Su, who is also executive director of the Guadalupe River Park Conservancy, led us in this effort.
RCC has aided successful public space activations in nine cities, primarily in the East Coast and Midwest. San José will be their first on the West Coast. Four RCC pillars — civic engagement, socioeconomic mixing, environmental sustainability, and value creation — guided these activations, fostering a sense of unified civic identity and pride while strengthening communities financially and environmentally.
Our graduate research team conducted its GRP activities in two phases, beginning with observations of physical conditions and surveys of park users. Our goal was to observe how many people visit the park, the areas of the park most visited, and the demographics of park users. Our survey asked what the users liked about the park and wanted to see improved, where they lived, and their level of engagement with the park. The surveys were conducted under challenging conditions — pandemic and wildfire smoke — but a surprisingly high 153 park users were each willing to spend five to 10 minutes answering our questions.
More than half of surveyed park users visited the park more than once a week, and more than 60 percent stayed for at least an hour. Survey respondents often highlighted the park’s much-desired natural setting in the middle of the Bay Area’s largest city; this aligned quite strongly with RCC’s “Access to Nature” goal of attracting those who live within a 10-minute walk of a park or public open space. They also highly value GRP’s trails for exercise and recreation and staff efforts to keep the park clean in challenging times.
When asked about things they would like to see improved, many users expressed concern about the large numbers of unhoused residents in the park. Most users were sympathetic to the needs of these residents. Some pointed out efforts by staff to place trash and restroom facilities near encampments, but others reported that access to these amenities can be unpredictable.
Several respondents mentioned illegal dumping of trash and waste into the Guadalupe River, which could be the result of a lack of convenient and legal disposal alternatives.
Questions pertaining to safety revealed that only 29 percent of respondents would feel safe walking the park at night.
Surveyed users of the park skewed male (61 percent) as were 73 percent of observed but un-surveyed users. Safety perceptions could account for some of this gender imbalance, as one female respondent succinctly remarked: “Too many men, people are afraid to come.” The nearby location of LifeMoves, a men’s shelter whose residents use the park as a safe space for rehabilitation, likely also shaped users’ feelings and our findings. Another factor is that the Rotary PlayGarden, which would normally bring more families to GRP, is closed during the pandemic.
As civic engagement is one of the pillars of the RCC initiative, we asked a series of questions designed to gauge the level of user engagement with the park’s amenities and local politics. We found that almost half of respondents (43 percent) had recently talked to a friend or posted on social media about GRP. While only 7 percent of respondents had joined an advocacy group or attended a public meeting about the park, 84 percent said that GRP had a somewhat or very positive impact on the neighborhood.
A second RCC pillar is the ability of civic assets to foster socioeconomic mixing, something strongly evident in Guadalupe River Park.
About 40 percent of respondents reported their ethnicity as white, while 22 percent replied Hispanic or Latino, the second largest self-reported ethnic group.
According to 2010 Census data, the median annual income for the neighborhood was $117,828.
Just over 60 percent of respondents reported meeting a stranger or friend of a friend for the first time in the park.
Just over a quarter of users had come to GRP from outside San José. One family told us that GRP lies halfway between their home city and the hospital where they had to make frequent visits, so they would make the multi-hour round trip into a family day trip and spend hours at the park.
A third RCC pillar is the link between transportation and environmental sustainability. Our survey revealed that 45 percent of park users arrived on foot, 40 percent drove, 9 percent bicycled, and 6 percent reached the park via public transportation. Our cyclist count may be low because we had difficulty flagging down cyclists to complete our survey. Nevertheless, we concluded that, even during the pandemic, the majority of surveyed park users arrive by means other than driving.
Our team generated several recommendations, many of which are already being carried out by the Guadalupe River Park Conservancy, Reimagining the Civic Commons, and other partners. These include:
removing — and subsequently preventing — trash and waste in the river and park;
hiring local artists through organizations like POW! WOW! San José to create public art works to bolster the park’s identity;
improving the network of walking and cycling trails in and around the park; and
improving the wayfinding and signage to orient users and unify the sense of identity for the park and its subareas.
We also encourage the programming of more events, gatherings, and cultural installations with artistic and functional seating post-pandemic.
Taken together, these improvements could enhance the park’s local image and reputation, strengthen its role in furthering the RCC’s four pillars, and serve as a centerpiece in transforming downtown San José into a vibrant “24/7” urban core. A full report on our findings, recommendations, and conclusions will be available on the San José State University’s Dept. of Urban Planning website, sjsu.edu/urbanplanning.