Tag: 2021-05-nn-roundup

Calif. officials announce plan to house 75% of Bay Area’s homeless population by 2024

By Jana Kadah, SFGate, April 14, 2021

“Local and state leaders, housing experts, businesses and social justice advocates from all nine Bay Area counties have united to create a Regional Action Plan (RAP) that aims to [house over 25,000 individuals of the area’s more than 35,000 homeless individuals identified in a 2019 HUD report] by 2024.

The strategy has lots of moving parts but focuses on two main areas: creating more housing and preventing more people from falling into homelessness.

“[The plan has an initial focus on extremely low-income residents with an emphasis on racial equity.] To address the racial inequities, the coalition is calling on the state to create and expand practices to measure equity levels across California to observe progress and increase accountability for outcomes by tying funding to demonstrated progress toward closing disparities.

“The second major component of the RAP is actually getting people into interim or permanent housing [accomplished through what the coalition calls a 1-2-4 framework].

“Essentially the plan outlines that for every one unit of interim housing built, there should be two units of permanent housing and four units of homeless prevention interventions to keep people housed.

“All of the aforementioned ideas brought by the coalition are not new, but a regional, comprehensive plan with input and organizing from the Governor’s Office, local governments, philanthropic partners and many others is new, the leaders said [at a news conference announcing the plan].”

Read the full article here. (~3 min.)

Return to Northern News here.

Millbrae blocks housing deal that would create hundreds of apartments near SFO

By J.K. Dineen, San Francisco Chronicle, April 14, 2021

“A developer is suing Millbrae over the city’s refusal to process an application for a 384-unit apartment complex near San Francisco International Airport on El Camino Real Boulevard, the latest example of residential builders using the state’s tough pro-housing laws to force cities to approve projects.

“Anton Development is proposing to redevelop the 6.7-acre property currently occupied by El Rancho Inn, a sprawling Mission Revival style hotel that over the last 70 years has been among Millbrae’s most recognized landmarks […]

“The crux of the disagreement is whether the city was legally allowed to rezone the property in 2020 from a mixed-use designation to a “planned development” — a change that would cost Anton $18 million in fees.

“YIMBY Law’s Ben Libbey, who is managing the case for Anton, said that when the project was submitted it was consistent with the city’s general plan. It required no zoning variances. And it added housing to a city that over the last eight years has only produced 8% of what is required under the state’s housing goals. Despite that the city has deemed the proposal “incomplete” six times and refused to give the project the go ahead.

“In a letter to Millbrae Mayor Reuben Holober, the California Department of Housing and Community Development warned that Millbrae’s zoning change violated state law. The agency warned that it would refer the case to the Attorney General if the city is found to be in violation of state housing law.

“ ‘El Rancho Inn has been a wonderful part of Millbrae, but her time has come,’ [said “John Wilms, whose family owned the hotel for 70 years”] at a recent Millbrae City Council meeting. ‘Please let her go with dignity and not be a blight on our community.’ ”

Read the full article here. (~5 min.)

Return to Northern News here.

San Francisco Bay: Protection from costly disasters is being thrown away, scientists say

By Paul Rogers, San Jose Mercury News, April 13, 2021

“[A]s sea level rise threatens to cause billions of dollars of flooding in the coming decades, the bay is going to need to be filled again — but this time in a different way, according to a new scientific report out [April 13].

“Twice the amount of sediment excavated for the Panama Canal will be needed to build up the bay’s shoreline, researchers say, to protect communities from disastrous flooding and rising seas that could climb as much as six feet by the end of the century.

“[Much of that sediment can be recovered from] the mud and silt scooped up when the bay’s harbors and shipping channels are dredged every year.

“Using what has been considered a waste product to protect the bay from flooding would be a transformation similar to society realizing that aluminum cans and glass bottles shouldn’t be thrown in landfills, or that wastewater could be cleaned and used again for irrigation, said David Lewis, executive director of Save the Bay, an environmental group in Oakland.

Lewis added, ‘There are places where we are going to need to raise levees and seawalls. But in most of the bay we can use natural infrastructure. And that costs less than seawalls and brings more benefits,’

“Among those benefits are habitat for birds, fish and other wildlife, and recreational trails for the public.

“Lewis said a key challenge is convincing the Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency that does most of the dredging, to change its longstanding practices.

“Another big challenge is the pricetag.

“[I]f the federal or state government doesn’t provide more funding, [Jim Haussener, executive director of the California Marine Affairs & Navigation Conference, said he] worries local ports either won’t be dredged as often or will see their fees go up.

Read the full article here. (~5 min.)

Return to Northern News here.

Stocky modular buildings are popping up in East Bay – developers share their experience

By John King, San Francisco Chronicle, April 10, 2021

“Modular construction has been touted for years as a way to trim development costs and get more housing built in the Bay Area. But by time the Logan [204 apartments that were assembled on-site from 572 prefabricated modules, located in Oakland’s downtown Temescal district] opened late in 2020, the development firm had closed its factory and put all future projects on hold.

“While the potential of modular housing has attracted considerable attention in the past decade, the first large batch of residential buildings using the method is only now being completed. Sometimes the savings meet expectations; often, they don’t.

“ ‘It can be less expensive, but it’s not a slam dunk,’ architect Ken Lowney said of modular construction. ‘You have to know in advance what you’re doing, and design that in from the start.’

“[Developer Rick Holliday has a] project nearing completion […] which will open this spring near the West Oakland BART Station. It stacks 110 apartments into a pair of six-story rectangles, one long and one squat.

“The design is by David Baker, whose 53-person studio last year was selected the state’s top firm by the California Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. His approach to modular projects is to keep things simple but add a few bold accents.

“The complex in-house design [of the Logan] added to the costs, no question. But [Randy Miller, founder of Oakland’s RAD Urban that designed the Logan,] said that the main impact on the budget came from unexpected costs in preparing the site, which hid long-forgotten building foundations and an incorrectly mapped underground creek.

“ ‘We’re regrouping and re-evaluating,’ is how Miller described his company’s current status. ‘I’m not done with modular … (but) it has been an incredibly challenging journey.’ ”

Read the full article here. (~ 4 min.)

Return to Northern News here.

Google-backed affordable home site in downtown San Jose could sprout near Shark Tank

By George Avalos, San Jose Mercury News, April 7, 2021

“[In 2018, Google acquired three properties near SAP Center.] At the time, the transactions raised eyebrows because the properties were outside of the emerging footprint of the tech titan’s proposed Downtown West neighborhood. Property experts said the purchases primarily suggested that the Google transit village was expanding into new territories.

“Google intends to donate the land to the city for the development of affordable homes at that site, according to Google, city officials, and municipal documents.

“The proposed development agreement for the Downtown West neighborhood that Google filed with city officials on April 6 included plans for 4,000 homes to be developed on Google-owned lands within the transit village’s footprint.

“[…] 1,000 would be affordable, according to the development proposal Downtown West, a mixed-use village of offices, homes, shops, restaurants, hotel facilities, entertainment hubs, cultural centers, and parks where Google could employ up to 20,000 people.

“Receiving land from Google for affordable development is crucial because Google’s increasingly visible interest in the creation of a dramatic new neighborhood on the western edges of downtown San Jose near the Diridon train station and the SAP Center has also shoved real estate values higher in the vicinity.”

Read the full article here. (~3 min.)

Return to Northern News here.

HUD report – new approach for estimating costs of homeless encampment responses

HUD also released a supplement focused on San Jose’s encampments and costs of their response

From HUD User, April 6, 2021

A new HUD funded study conducted in 2019 assessed homeless encampments and local government responses in four U.S. cities: San Jose, Chicago, Tacoma, and Houston.

“Across the four cities, the greatest expenditures related to encampment-related activity were for outreach, while efforts related to cleaning, clearance, and shelter/housing placement varied considerably based on local priorities and approaches.

The authors caution: “This study was not designed to measure the relative effectiveness of approaches to encampments. However, these findings demonstrate that permanent resolution of any given encampment (resolving homelessness for the people in the encampment and preventing formation of a new encampment at that site) requires substantial investment, both in services and housing/shelter options, but that mitigation, management, and removal efforts in isolation all come with considerable costs.

“Findings from this study – the report on costs, individual site summary reports, and the literature review – are intended to help federal, state, and local policymakers and practitioners understand the nature of encampments, strategies for responding to encampments, and the costs associated with those approaches.”

Read the report overview and access it here.

A supplementary report focused on San Jose includes: an overview of encampments in San Jose, implementation partners involved in encampment, San Jose’s encampment response, and encampment costs in San Jose. Access it here.

Return to Northern News here.

The ideology hiding in SimCity’s black box – with comment from James Castañeda, AICP

By Clayton Ashley, Polygon, April 1, 2021

“[Game designer Will Wright began creating a] game about simulating cities after he started reading more on urban planning, specifically, the book Urban Dynamics, by Jay Wright Forrester.

“This book attempted to turn the idea of a city into a computer model, and then used that model to test social policies. Despite the seemingly neutral veneer of its formulas, the book concludes that many of the social policies meant to help cities are in fact detrimental to their success.

“While Urban Dynamics was meant to be taken very seriously, SimCity was never meant to be a super realistic simulation, à la the flight simulators that are used to train pilots. When asked what he thought people could learn from SimCity, Will Wright said that ‘it’s kind of hopeless to approach simulations like that, as predictive endeavors. But we’ve kind of caricatured our systems. SimCity was always meant to be a caricature of the way a city works, not a realistic model of the way a city works.’

“[Rather than a true simulation where formulas and models can be inspected and modified,] SimCity was hiding its formulas in a ‘black box.’ This is a concept that comes from computing and engineering, where a system with inputs and outputs doesn’t reveal the internal workings of how it actually went about turning those inputs into outputs.

“How SimCity’s hidden ideology affects the people who play it is difficult to untangle. An article from 1992 quotes a player saying ‘I became a total Republican playing this game,’ and even modern versions of the game contain oddly conservative viewpoints, including a preference for regressive taxation.

SimCity’s black box may just be inside a game, but it’s important to know that it exists. Because if you don’t know what’s inside the box, then you don’t know what it’s capable of doing to you.”

James Castañeda, AICP, comments: “I like to think that most planners work off available data but with a humanized approach. I’m still an avid player of SimCity, and it’s easy to forget that the game is based on rules and algorithms. Cities are evolving, organic organisms whose officials employ algorithmic predictions to guide change in the built environment. But it’s nearly impossible to model for all aspects of a city, which is why we need observant, curious, problem-solving planners.”

Read the full article here. (~6 min.; Video version: ~13 min.).

Return to Northern News here.

New urban village development threatens to displace San Jose’s 60-year-old Berryessa flea market

By Jennifer Wadsworth, San Jose Spotlight, March 31, 2021

“For undocumented workers who might otherwise labor away for low-wage under-the-table cash, the [Berryessa flea market] offers an increasingly rare shot at upward mobility. An untold number—untold because no one has yet made the effort to track it—grew into some of East Side’s marquee brick-and-mortar businesses, including the Shoe Palace, Ramos Furniture and Calderon Tires.

“[Now, plans] 20 years in the making to bring 3,450 homes and 3.4 million square feet of commercial space to the 120-acre property are approaching an important milestone.

“[In] May, the City Council expects to vote on rezoning the flea market to pave way for a $2.5 billion development pitched as a crowning glory to San Jose’s Berryessa BART Urban Village, a blueprint for the dense, transit-centered development needed to reduce the city’s carbon footprint.

“With the market at risk of being displaced out of existence, sellers are organizing.

“ ‘We do need the city or county to step up,’ said [Erik Schoennaeur, a land-use consultant representing the property owners] in a recent phone call with San Jose Inside. ‘Because the flea market can’t afford to exist on market-rate land—the rents vendors pay to operate just don’t support that.’

Berryessa flea market business owners and their representatives expect the city or some other public entity to help prevent displacement and gentrification. “[Last summer’s] professed commitment to equity by [San Jose] leaders gives the public a new standard by which to hold them accountable, [Jesus Flores, the founding president of Latino Business Foundation Silicon Valley] notes.”

Read the full article here, including profiles of Berryessa flea market vendors and the significance of the flea market in the San Jose economy. (~12 min.)

Return to Northern News here.

President Biden’s infrastructure spending plan could benefit big Bay Area transit projects

By Michael Cabanatuan, San Francisco Chronicle, March 31, 2021

“President Biden’s infrastructure spending plan, unveiled Wednesday, was light on details but appeared likely to provide substantial amounts of money for Bay Area and California transportation projects.

“The plan is expected to include money to get BART to San Jose and Santa Clara and increasing its capacity, extending the Bay Area’s express lane network and connecting high-speed rail to the region, according to Randy Rentschler, legislative director for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

“And a section of the plan calling for reconnecting communities divided by transportation projects in the past could help Oakland’s aspirational idea to bury Interstate 980 and turn it into a boulevard lined with housing, parks and room for transit, including a connection to a second transbay rail tube.

“California’s transit agencies, struggling to recover from the pandemic, stand to benefit from increased funding as well, [Michael Pimentel, executive director of the California Transit Association] said, receiving more than double the usual amount in federal funding. The proposal includes eight times as much funding for rail projects, and could benefit Caltrain’s modernization and electrification efforts.

“California’s beleaguered high-speed rail project is also likely to be a winner. Rentschler said more rail funding might be used for the so-called ‘Valley to Valley’ connection between the San Joaquin Valley and Silicon Valley, as well as needed improvements to bring high-speed trains up the Peninsula on Caltrain tracks into the Transbay transit center in San Francisco.

Read the full article here. (~3 min.)

Return to Northern News here.

New research: urban and transport planning linked to 2,000 premature deaths per year in Barcelona and Madrid

From Barcelona Institute for Global Health, March 30, 2021

“The new study (paywall), published in Environmental Research, estimated the impact of non-compliance with international exposure level recommendations for air pollution … as well as excess heat, traffic noise and lack of green space on residents over 20 years of age in Barcelona and Madrid, cities with different urban planning practices.

“This study is the first to estimate premature mortality impacts and the distribution by socioeconomic status of multiple environmental exposures related to urban planning and transport in the two cities.

“As for methodology, the researchers used a tool called Urban and Transport Planning Health Impact Assessment (UTOPHIA) (open access), which was developed by a team at ISGlobal. ‘We compared current exposure levels with international recommendations and estimated the fraction of preventable premature deaths that could be avoided if we were to comply with those recommendations,’ explained [Tamara Iungman, lead author of the study].

“The findings showed that non-compliance with WHO’s exposure recommendations for air pollution, noise, and access to green space, along with excess heat, were associated with 1,037 premature deaths per year in Barcelona.

“For Madrid, the total number of deaths attributable to non-compliance with international recommendations was 902. Lack of green space was the exposure associated with the highest premature mortality (337 deaths per year) […]

“Co-author Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, Director of the Urban Planning, Environment and Health Initiative at ISGlobal, commented: ‘This analysis is in line with previous research showing that people living in more deprived neighborhoods tend to be more exposed to harmful environmental exposures compared to those living in wealthier areas, although this inequity varies according to the design characteristics and historical development of each city.’ ”

Read a summary of the study here. (~6 min.)

Return to Northern News here.