Excerpts from an article by Bianca Bruno, Courthouse News Service, February 18, 2021
On Feb. 18, “California state Senator Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, introduced two new pieces of housing legislation aimed at giving teeth to local zoning rules to help boost the critically missing supply of multifamily housing units and ensure laws already on the books are being implemented effectively. [His] Senate Bills 478 and 477 … round out the state senator’s 2021 legislative housing package.
“SB 478, the Housing Opportunity Act, aims to ensure locally zoned density and state housing laws are not undermined by restrictive lot requirements [that] make building multifamily units impractical in areas [otherwise] zoned to allow them. [It] sets minimum … FARs … and minimum lot sizes for land zoned for duplexes to 10-unit buildings.
“Wiener said … the rules represent the ‘wonky’ type of ‘housing nerd concepts’ which ‘are profoundly important because these are two issues and two strategies that far too many cities use to make it impossible … to actually build to that zoning.’ … The proposed legislation would not raise the height limit or otherwise change the way a parcel is already zoned, [just] ensure housing could actually be built to the allowable density.
“Current state laws already preempt local FAR regulations for accessory dwelling units. SB 478 would require an FAR of 1.5 on multifamily-zoned lots.
“Senate Bill 477, the Housing Data Act, strengthens California’s housing data collection so the state and local governments can better understand the impact of housing laws already on the books and take stock of what’s working and what isn’t. … The data would be collected as part of a new accountability unit implemented by Governor Gavin Newsom in the state Department of Housing and Community Development.
“Local governments will be required to submit additional data to [HCD] as part of their annual progress reports … [specifically] regarding the location and number of development permits approved, building permits issued, number of units constructed, [and] information related to building applications submitted under accessory dwelling unit statutes.”
February 3rd marked my one-year anniversary as a Senior Environmental Planner with the City of San Francisco. While the anniversary came and went, I paused to reflect on my unusual first year as a professional. The past year of working from home made me wonder: are we even urban planners if we are not working in or interacting with our cities? Can the work of urban planning sustain a work-from-home culture?
Until recently, when I introduced myself and people asked me what I do, I’d proudly say “urban planner” or “environmental planner.” Part of that identity came from being surrounded by other city makers, interacting with the public and applicants in person, spinning ideas with co-workers, and coming up with new ways to look at old concepts. I loved my San Francisco commute. I loved interacting with co-workers. How proud I felt when I walked into the Planning Department knowing that I was helping to build the City.
I was lucky to have previously known some of my new co-workers from American Planning Association events, and I met others in the short month and a half I was in the office. Besides learning new systems, “office culture,” and meeting my new co-workers remotely, I was also relearning how to define my professional self.
I have been asking myself if I am still the same urban planner when I am not in the office surrounded by city makers and shakers.
Yes, I had (and have) projects and meetings with applicants and colleagues. But they are all online. I miss my morning walks in San Francisco and my morning commute looking over the city and thinking to myself, “I live in a postcard, and I help shape it.” However, I also love being able to go on lunchtime walks from my home, getting to my desk in a few minutes, having my dog by my feet under the desk, and never dealing with someone else’s dirty dishes in the sink or their science experiment in the fridge.
What will the future hold?
How are we going to make space for that work-from-home flexibility while still serving our communities? What is the next “new urbanism,” and to what extent will the pandemic shape it?
I recently read this advice about work and being:
“Whatever the work is do it well — not for the boss but for yourself.
“You make the job; it doesn’t make you.
“Your real life is with us, your family.
“You are not the work you do; you are the person you are.”
Assemblymember calls for social housing in California
California State Assemblymember Alex Lee has introduced a bill calling for a massive infusion of social housing in the state, according to a report in the San Jose Spotlight. The bill promotes social housing, owned and operated by the public and affordable to people at a wide range of incomes, as a solution to California’s long-simmering housing crisis. It cites successful examples of social housing in Vienna and Singapore, where majorities of residents live in apartments owned by the government, according to the report.
“Families are increasingly being priced out of the communities they’ve built and are leaving California for more affordable housing markets,” Lee said in a press release. “We have an opportunity to reshape how we view housing — not as a commodity, but as a fundamental human right. Social Housing is how we provide housing as a human right.”
The bill itself is a declaration of intent to build statewide social housing, rather than a mechanism to actually implement it. Lawmakers in New York recently called for a massive investment in social housing as well, as Next City reported. In all cases, social housing programs still require large infusions of new money from the government.
“I think it comes down to the investment,” Ray Bramson, the chief operating officer of Destination: Home, a public-private partnership that works to reduce homelessness in Santa Clara County, told the San Jose Spotlight. “This is a strategy that can and will produce large housing opportunities at scale, but it needs a deep financial investment and commitment from the state to make it feasible and a reality.”
Hawaii lawmaker calls for social housing, housing savings accounts
In Hawaii, State Senator Stanley Chang has introduced a slate of bills aimed at addressing the state’s housing shortage, according to a report in Maui Now. The bills include a reintroduction of Chang’s ALOHA Homes proposal, which Next City has covered. The proposal, inspired by Singapore, would direct the state to build around 65,000 social housing units on state-owned land near transit stations. Another bill would create a system of “housing savings accounts,” calling on employers to let workers contribute to the accounts through payroll deductions, according to the report. In a separate op-ed, Chang wrote that Singapore’s residents use income withheld by the government to pay for housing. His proposal would allow Hawaii workers to create the accounts but would not require them to use the money for housing or any other purpose.
A third bill would declare all state-owned land within a mile of a rail station as “important state lands to promote the development of homes priced below market rates for Hawaii residents who are owner-occupants and own no other real property,” and require state and local tax and planning policies to promote their use for housing. The final bill would place the Hawaii Community Development Authority, Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corporation, the State Office of Planning, and the Hawaii Public Housing Authority all under the direction of a new state Department of Housing.
“This Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the critical need for government to take this housing crisis seriously,” Chang said, according to the report. “These bills provide innovative solutions to our housing crisis and I look forward to working with my colleagues as we tackle this issue in the months ahead.”
Jared Brey is Next City’s housing correspondent, based in Philadelphia. He is a former staff writer at Philadelphia magazine and PlanPhilly, and his work has appeared in Columbia Journalism Review, Landscape Architecture Magazine, U.S. News & World Report, Philadelphia Weekly, and other publications.
Northern News has received a copy of Brave New Home by Diana Lind (Bold Type Books, 2020. Hardcover, 257 pages. ISBN 9781541742666). Lind is a writer and policy specialist who has worked at Architectural Record magazine, Next City (where she served as editor-in-chief and executive director), the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the University of Pennsylvania.
From the back cover: “Despite a different and more diverse America, our housing is stuck in the 1950s. In Brave New Home, Diana Lind shows why a country full of single-family houses is bad for us and for the planet. With stops in several cities and other changing communities, the book offers a diagnosis of the crisis and a reimagining of what is possible.”
We asked in this notice for volunteers who would like to receive this book and write a review for Northern News, first come, first serve. As of 10:00 am February 23, we have a reviewer: Krystle Heaney, AICP, of Arcata. Look for her review in an upcoming issue.
The deadline to apply for the APA California Northern Section Awards is approaching and we can’t wait to see your application. For a description of the awards categories, rules, and applications, please visit norcalapa.org/awards. For questions or information, please contact Brynn McKiernan at email@example.com
Elizabeth Burks, AICP, is now Executive Director of the Humboldt County Association of Governments. She had been with LACO Associates, Eureka, for eight years, most recently as planning principal. Before that, Burks worked for Humboldt County Planning from 2005 to 2013. She served as Board Member and Board President of Housing Humboldt, a non-profit affordable housing provider, from 2005-2017. Burks is a returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Nepal, 2002-2004) and holds a BS in natural resources planning from Humboldt State University.
Lakshmi Rajagopalan, AICP,recently joined the City of Oakland as a Planner III. Previously, she was an analyst at LAFCO of Santa Clara County, 2017-2021. Before that, she worked with the mayor’s sustainability office in Newton, MA, conducted research abroad on sustainable transportation practices for the World Resources Institute, and was a senior planner/urban designer for PMC (now Michael Baker International). Rajagopalan holds a master’s in sustainable international development from Brandeis University, a master’s in urban planning from San Jose State University, and a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Thiagarajar College of Engineering (Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India).
Stephanie Steinbrecherhas joined the Northern Section team as UC Berkeley Student Representative. She has worked with the national Sierra Club as the associate press secretary. Steinbrecher is a master in city planning candidate at UC Berkeley and holds a BA in English (minor in environmental analysis) from Scripps College.
Mark Wardlaw is now Director of the City of Walnut Creek’s innovative Community Development Department. He had been the director of the County of San Diego’s Planning and Development Services. Before San Diego, Wardlaw was the community development director for the Town of Mammoth Lakes, 2005-2012, and deputy community development director and planning manager for Culver City, 1998-2005. He holds a master of environmental planning/urban design from Arizona State University and a BS in city/urban, community, and regional planning from the University of Utah.
Ed. Note: As planners and agents of change, we know the truth of that headline. I saw the following post on LinkedIn’s Urban Planning Group on February 11 and decided to track the comments. As of February 22, the post had drawn 657 reactions and 55 comments.
The post’s author is Ludo Campbell-Reid, Director of City Design and Livability for Wyndham, “the fastest-growing municipality in Australia.” From 2006-2019, he held various urban design positions in Auckland, New Zealand. Campbell-Reid holds a postgrad diploma and an MA in urban design from Oxford Brookes University (Oxford, UK), and a BA in urban planning from the University of Westminster (London, UK).
I selected eight supportive and seven argumentative comments that are reasonably of interest to planners in northern California and edited them lightly to conform with North American grammar.
I’ve always felt that we should be psychologists before we are planners, architects, traffic engineers, or economists. Cities are about people, after all.
Transforming or adapting cities is as much about behavioral change as it is about physical change.
As I mentioned at a recent Property Council Victoria session on Precincts, city solutions are never binary. Never black or white. Mostly shades of gray.
Undertaking urban change or renewal involves disruption of all sorts. Many good projects never see the light of day.
So in terms of persuading, it’s not just about heart, it’s also head. Finance (or economics) plays a massive part in the decision-making process and needs to be addressed concurrently, as audiences are diverse.
As urbanists, we need data that powerfully articulates the argument for a U-turn in the way we currently plan our cities. That’s [not] just a lesson for the US but for Australian cities and many of our low-rise, sprawling, auto-dependent areas. This graphic is one of the best.
Eight supportive comments on LinkedIn
Yangbo Du, Social Business Architect, Facilitator. The figures Ludo Campbell-Reid shared are well within bounds of plausibility. … For Australia-New Zealand, Melbourne is comparable in spatial layout and population trends, albeit at a much bigger size (5M versus 1.5M pop.) whereas Adelaide, Perth, and Auckland are comparable by size class. Figures from comparable cities in the U.S. can be expected to be far worse in terms of funding gaps, given urban cores are much weaker in terms of residential and job density.
Harry Boxler, AICP, Sr. Supervising Environmental Manager at WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff. Thank you for this quote: “I’ve always felt that we should be psychologists before we are planners, architects, traffic engineers, or economists. Cities are about people, after all.”
Pete Zadeian. For me, planning has always been about change,’ from strategy of goals or directions to policy to assessments/approvals to demonstrations and enforcement. Planners need to be brave, think differently, and articulate why change is good — easier said than done, of course.
Christopher Whittaker, AICP. The cost of fire and police is factored in, as is the cost of public services. Keep in mind that because there are more folks living in a smaller area, the need for a large amount of fire and police infrastructure on a per capital basis to meet response times for ISO drops significantly. Also, the higher cost of housing in cities is a product of the free market. There is greater demand, and supply is unable to meet it due to the need to include parking (mainly structured) and stormwater.
Usmaan Farooqui, Ph.D, Research | Public Interest | Project Development. Love this graphic. I would only add that, in addition to approaching planning as a multidimensional practice, it’s also important to treat it as a bottom-up phenomenon. I think it would be wonderful to encourage people to take part in, and ownership of, necessary urban change.
Joseph A. Pobiner, FAICP, Principal at Perkins Eastman. That’s a great graphic and it does show a significant difference between the two. But this also isn’t an “either/or” issue — there are numerous shades of gray. Is a small village or township “urban” or “suburban”? Maybe both or neither, depending on how it is built and where it is. The distinction between urban and suburban also doesn’t always reflect regional cultural differences. Joel Garreau’s “Nine Nations of North America” (1981) is a good read. (You can argue with the lines he’s drawn, but his premise still holds.) And we’ve seen in the US that the voting patterns in the last few presidential elections have tended to reflect an urban/suburban split along liberal/conservative lines. So it’s not an easy “either/or” scenario.
M. Sultan Al-Asailan, chief architect, Ministry of Transport, Riyadh.(Translation from Arabic via LinkedIn) One of the basics for urban planning and design engineers is to study the human behaviors and the multiple cultures, as well as management. All of this helps us in planning, climate science, and nature; and services and facilities onsite are more important than the inhabitant itself. We must plan and design for man and nature.
Rebecca Aird, Director, Community Engagement, Ottawa Community Foundation. Yes, the study is dated (2013) and relates to a particular municipality with lower than average suburban density. But the data shows that public sector (taxpayer) funded costs are almost 2.5 times higher to support a suburban vs. a rural household. That’s such a significant difference that mitigating factors like higher suburban density and more efficient public transit are not going to bridge it. We need to believe in, expect, and build high-density, amenity-rich, nature-graced and affordable cities. Many parts of many cities already demonstrate these qualities. If it exists, it’s possible!
Seven argumentative comments on LinkedIn
Alexander Clarke, Business Consultant, Naples, Florida. Is urban sprawl an opposite of urban renewal? This is such a fun thought! Building up either means higher building in currently suburban neighborhoods, or it means large land-use plans in undeveloped areas. Each decision has its own costs. Each project should have its own analysis.
Benjamin Loveday, Director at Oviiso Pty Ltd, Adelaide. Everything you say is correct, but we are simply not connecting with the customer. And when we do, there it is again: the binary choice between a big conventionalist house and an out-of-date townhouse with three floors that are difficult for older people and children to navigate, and there’s no backyard and fresh air. Arguing the graphic is “symbolic” is a diversion, because the customer does not have a futurist informed vision of what they need. No one has offered it. There the binary choice is … in your graphic, at the top in the primary position in your graphic. The customer then asks “can I afford the $3462”, and the bank says yes, and the [real estate] agent says “way to go” rubbing their hands with glee; the approval authorities rubber stamp it because that’s what they do, and professionals like us say nothing, because we are not in the room. We need to get into the room and offer them an alternative that meets their needs. Australia needs 1 million affordable houses that are aligned with Australian needs and desires, that are economically, environmentally, socially, and dare I say it, culturally sustainable.
Graham Marshall, Expert Advisor, High Street Task Force. You need appropriate spaces before you can live (behave) sustainably — place comes first. But just creating space and moving people in doesn’t work: they bring their old behaviors with them and reshape the place around those. People have to be involved in the future of their places so that both grow together — and the mechanism is about people being future-focused. To do any of this, as you say, the facilitators of change need to understand human psychology, especially evolutionary psychology. We need to take a PIE approach — Psychologically Informed Environments.
Joseph Herbert, Consulting Analyst at Sailfast Development, Toms River, New Jersey. Unfortunately, Ludo Campbell-Reid completely ignored the cost of public safety and public services. Additionally, the costs stated are completely skewed. For example, a one bedroom apartment in NYC or Philadelphia costs >$1700 a month, $800 more than my mortgage. NYC costs a worker 64 percent of his income in taxes alone. In my town that is down to 44 percent of income.
David T. Your point is a good one. It would certainly be great to have more research into the relative environmental, social, and financial “costs” of suburban sprawl versus urban intensification. Unfortunately, however, this graphic is misleading and not especially helpful. The graphic comes from research undertaken by Halifax Regional Municipality in Nova Scotia, Canada — not the US — in 2015. The “suburban” example refers to a low-density suburb at 16 people per acre — hardly a typical modern suburb. Typically we are seeing densities of 24 people per acre in our new suburban neighborhoods, more like the low-density urban neighborhoods in the Halifax study. You’re right, as urbanists we need reliable data. Misleading graphics are not helpful.
J.D. Eagles, Owner, Just Bee Farms, Colton, Oregon. I have always thought that in order to plan, the agreement must be formation of a community, be it city or suburban area. Covid isolation, and lack of public health, ‘bubbles’ to sustain education, and [un]employment are byproducts of a lack of community. If anything, we must learn from these experiences and prepare for more of these same occurrences unless or until we are able to control our toxic emissions and annihilation of our forests. Your statement, “our view of planning must not be black and white, but must include gray areas,” needs to be taken one step further. Our plans must include green spaces, parks, and streets into pedestrian shopping parks, as well as LEED construction and remodeling of living space, and clean low cost public transportation.
Dennis Schijffout, IMOSS bureau, Utrecht, Netherlands. Over the last 150 years, our design of cities was about cars, streets, sidewalks, and parking lots. Change our concept of mobility and we change our city. Use practical and useful biodiversity and sustainability measures in design and we’re on our way! The binary choice between urban and sub-urban is not necessary.
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