Tag: 2021-11-nn-feature

Cultivating community in San José’s SoFA pocket park

Cultivating community in San José’s SoFA pocket park

Inside the SoFA Pocket Park, managed by local nonprofit Veggielution. Photo: Matt Gustafson

By Master’s in Urban Planning students in San José State University’s URBP 295, Fall 2021, December 10, 2021

At the southern edge of downtown San José lies an arts district known locally as SoFA (South of First Area). In recent years, the area has seen an influx of investment activity as developers set their sights on the highly gentrifiable landscape. Enter Veggielution, an urban agriculture nonprofit tasked with repurposing an abandoned lot in the area while the site awaits future development. Veggielution has ambitious plans for the site — dubbed the “SoFA Pocket Park” (SPP) — aiming to create a vibrant place of belonging for all community members, especially those often overlooked by the usual placemaking efforts.

Alongside Veggielution, 12 urban planning graduate students at San José State University and faculty members Richard Kos, AICP, and Gordon Douglas, Ph.D. — in partnership with CommUniverCity, Mineta Transportation Institute, and community leaders — engaged with residents and businesses during the Fall 2021 semester.

Veggielution staff give students an orientation at their main farm in East San José. Photo: Matt Gustafson

Veggielution’s mission is to gather people around three types of connections essential for humanity: to our land and food, to each other in community, and across barriers that divide us. To that end, they committed to designing the SPP’s programming to honor the vision of local residents, making sure to center and include in local decision-making those community members who have historically been marginalized. Veggielution asked for the SJSU students’ help to build awareness of the SPP and to collect detailed input from community members on what they would like to see in the park. Thus began a three-month collaboration to guide future park design.

IN PHASE 1, students focused on getting to know two study area neighborhoods adjacent to SoFA: Guadalupe Washington to the south, and the South University Neighborhood to the east. They researched neighborhood histories, demographics, and priorities from past student planning efforts and went on walking tours led by community members to learn first-hand of community histories, priorities, and concerns.

South University Neighborhood is home to an abundance of college students as well as owners of some of the oldest houses in San José — and is among the youngest and lowest-income neighborhoods in the city. Guadalupe Washington is a historically working-class neighborhood with a thriving small business district along “Calle Willow” and a strong, public cultural identity, which students saw expressed through murals and shops throughout the neighborhood. This predominantly Hispanic-identifying neighborhood is becoming increasingly unaffordable, and many working-class residents face displacement. Both neighborhoods ranked parks deficiency and safety among their primary concerns.

Rosa Maria Gordillo Garfunkel (white mask, center), Veggielution’s Environmental Education Manager, speaks to students at SoFA Pocket Park. Photo: Matt Gustafson

IN PHASE 2, students conducted community outreach and collected data using a survey developed in collaboration with CommUniverCity and Veggielution. Questions were designed to plumb local residents’ parks needs and usage, desired additions to the Pocket Park, and access to fresh produce.

The survey was made available in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, and Mandarin — with digital and paper options to respond.

Graduate student Yu Chiao (seated) administers a survey. Photo: Rina Horie

Students engaged people with the survey both formally and informally. As a formal survey approach, they talked with people throughout the neighborhood, asking them to take the survey either on paper or online. Many students verbally administered the survey. As an example of an informal approach, one student team connected with Panaderia Oaxaca, a newly-opened bakery that is now a community favorite. The students conversed informally with owner Monse, asking general questions about the neighborhood and engaging in a warm conversation that provided insight and built rapport.

In order to engage with as many residents as possible, students leaned on events in or near the Pocket Park. Those included the weekly Downtown Farmers Market, an evening art walk, an open streets event (“Viva CalleSJ”), and two Pocket Park exploration events. These proved invaluable in allowing the students to connect with community members in a casual and enjoyable environment.

Viva CalleSJ

Students used Viva CalleSJ, a popular open streets event in San José, to gather feedback about the SPP from as many community members as possible. The students talked to more than 100 people during the course of the event and facilitated a crowdsourcing activity in which 85 people provided feedback. That “sticker and poster” activity reduced barriers to feedback and attracted many participants, including children. Others were drawn to the area because they were curious about the poster and the nearby space. That led to many fruitful conversations and invitations to explore the Pocket Park.

Students engage with participants at San José’s popular Viva CalleSJ event. Photo: Matt Gustafson

Pocket Park Exploration Events

To promote the park and create opportunities to survey neighborhood residents and youth, students hosted multiple SoFA Pocket Park exploration events. One event featured Latino Urbanism specialist James Rojas, the founder of Place It!, and Latino Urban Forum. Rojas utilized trinkets and toys to generate conversations about parks and open spaces, inviting participants to build their ideal park and explore their favorite childhood memories. These discussions led to rich conversations and insights about what connects people, including children, to the places and people around them. They also produced some interesting ideas for the Pocket Park, such as an installation of dinosaurs!

Youth from local elementary schools visit the Pocket Park for an exploration event. Photo: Matt Gustafson

IN PHASE 3, students focused on analyzing 235 survey responses and preparing a professional-level report for Veggielution. The study’s focus neighborhoods, Guadalupe Washington and South University, fall within the 95110 and 95112 zip codes; but just 91 survey respondents live in these zip codes. Students therefore organized the survey findings to differentiate among respondents living inside and outside of the study area since the SPP primarily seeks to serve local residents’ priorities.

The survey questions were arranged in four categories: general park usage, SoFA Pocket Park feedback, accessibility to produce, and demographics.

Demographics and findings

Among respondents, the largest ethnic or racial group is Hispanic or Latino, followed by White and Asian. Of particular note is that study area respondents have lower incomes than those living outside the study area. Educational attainment within each group was fairly even.

Most survey respondents living within the study area believe the number and quality of parks in the area to be inadequate, demonstrating a need for the SPP. Overall, respondents highly approved of the SPP’s appearance, amenities, and contribution to their neighborhoods. They were especially interested in having more open hours, additional activities for kids and families, picnic tables, and shaded areas for use during the day. When asked about the type of events the residents would like to see held at the SPP, the most popular response was some type of food/culture/music festival, followed by farmers’ or makers’ markets. Many respondents asked specifically for play structures or more kid-friendly areas and activities.

The SJSU graduate student team presents findings to project stakeholders at SoFA Pocket Park on December 1, 2021. Photo: Gordon Douglas, Ph. D.

Solutions

Based on survey results, the graduate students offered several short-term and long-term recommendations to Veggielution.

Short-term recommendations include larger and more prominent signage for the Pocket Park to reduce confusion about open times. Also recommended:

  • promoting events on social media
  • creating postable flyers for local businesses and markets
  • seating and picnic areas for residents, and
  • more events for families with children.

Long-term recommendations include:

  • expanding operating hours to align with residents’ availability
  • adding play structures for children (to encourage families to visit regularly and learn more about Veggielution’s community-serving programs), and
  • getting commitments from the San José Downtown Association, area developers, and the City to support and fund the construction of more parks in the area.

What’s next

These recommendations reflect needs and desires voiced by neighborhood residents —notions and ideas that might otherwise have remained unknown. The graduate student team hopes that Veggielution will be able to build on connections made and lessons learned during this project, thereby fulfilling the community’s visions for the space.

A full report containing project background, methodologies, and survey findings will be available to the public on San José State University’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning website by late January 2022. The report’s findings, in addition to guiding future programming at the SoFA Pocket Park, could also shape the design of future temporary or permanent parks in rapidly-evolving central San José.

About the authors

Matt Gustafson was born and raised in the Bay Area. He earned a BA in mathe­matics and art history from Wil­liams College and has years of work experi­ence with nonprofits. Now a community organizer and educator with SOMOS Mayfair in East San José, he hopes to use urban planning and policy as a tool for liberation in marginalized communities.

Jean Reynolds was born and raised in San José, California. She re­ceived her BS in en­viron­mental studies with a con­cen­tra­tion in re­new­able energy from San José State Uni­versity. She aspires to utilize technology in urban planning through geographic information systems. Reynolds is passionate about real estate development as a means to drive innovation, prosperity, and community.

Xiomara Aguirre was born and raised in Vallejo, California. She earned a BS in earth sciences with an emphasis in weather, ocean, and climate from San Francisco State University. She aspires to make a difference in her community. Now an intern with the City of San Jose DOT Emerging Mobility team, she uses her knowledge of earth sciences and urban planning to help promote positive change in equity, innovation, and adaptation.

Ana Lopez was born and raised in Hunt­ing­ton Park, a small city just south­east of Los Angeles. She earned a BA in social wel­fare and Spanish lan­guage from UC Berkeley, where she works as a project and program analyst at the Safe Transportation Research and Education Center. She is passionate about improving the public health of communities through a better built environment.

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SolarAPP+ shines in Sonoma

SolarAPP+ shines in Sonoma

By Bradley Dunn, December 8, 2021

This November, Sonoma County became the first county and fourth jurisdiction in the country to launch SolarAPP+, an automated application for permitting new residential rooftop solar and storage systems. The portal helps solar installers get nearly instantaneous permits, cutting wait times and costs for installers and homeowners. SolarAPP+ will encourage property owners to fight climate change by investing in renewable energy generation right on their own roofs.

Lowering the cost and increasing the speed of rooftop solar installation can have a significant impact on a system’s cost. Installation costs twice as much in the United States as in countries like Australia or Germany despite similar wages and equipment costs. This difference is due in part to installation costs including interest on home equity loans and costs incurred while waiting for applications to be processed. For a solar customer, these added expenses can amount to as much as $5,000 for a typical residential solar system (PDF, 120 pp., 10.5 MB).

SolarAPP+ helps governments and providers cut rooftop solar permitting costs. Developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Energy and in the public interest, SolarAPP+ provides a web-based portal that streamlines and automates permit reviews. The app integrates into existing local government permitting software and is free for local jurisdictions. A May 2021 report by SPUR, the California-based think tank, found that the nationwide deployment of solar permitting tools like SolarAPP+ will lead to a three-fold increase in solar installations critical to meeting California’s clean energy targets and will help generate 780,000 jobs in the solar industry.

With supply chain challenges brought about due to the pandemic, the uncertainty surrounding permitting can add additional challenges for solar installers and wholesalers. Typically, power companies require the specific serial number of equipment before it can be installed. Permitting delays can force installers and wholesalers to choose between costly equipment storage or selling the equipment to another end user and restarting the permitting process.

“Streamlining rooftop solar can be a game-changer for California’s move to 100 percent clean energy and tens of thousands of solar installers around the state,” said Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director at the California Solar and Storage Association, an organization representing hundreds of contractors who build more than 430 rooftop solar systems every day in California. “Already, rooftop solar is growing fastest in low- and working-class communities,” she said, “and by lowering costs further, we can put solar in the hands of more people. Growing rooftop solar is extremely popular in our state, and it is encouraging to see so many local leaders eager to make solar more accessible to their constituents and maintain California’s commitment as a solar state.”

Rooftop solar can play an even more important role in Sonoma County. The county has seen firsthand the devastating effects of wildfires exacerbated by climate change. Since 2017, wildfires have killed dozens of people and caused billions of dollars of losses in the county. With Pacific Gas & Electric de-energizing their transmission lines as a part of the Public Safety Power Shutoff program to minimize wildfire risks, rooftop solar and onsite storage can make the supply of electricity more resilient.

“The launch of SolarAPP+ is not just a win for the thousands of Sonoma County residents who have thought about getting rooftop solar but have been concerned about the soft costs involved,” said Lynda Hopkins, Chair of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. “It is also a win for our ability to meet the North Bay’s climate adaptation and resiliency needs and generate thousands of good local jobs.”

The number of jurisdictions expected to follow the lead of Sonoma County and adopt SolarAPP+ is projected to dramatically expand in the coming year on the heels of the recently adopted California state budget which includes $20 million for technical assistance targeted to local jurisdictions planning to adopt expedited permitting software such as SolarAPP+.

“I congratulate Sonoma County for leading the way on critical resiliency initiatives like SolarAPP+ in the wake of the climate crisis we face,” said State Senator Mark McGuire (D-Healdsburg), who chairs the Senate Government and Finance Committee. “This year I was pleased to support a climate budgetary package that included $20 million to streamline local solar and storage permitting, which will allow more Californians to make their homes climate-resilient and create thousands of good-paying jobs.”

SolarAPP+ illustrates the power that federal, state, local, and industry partners have when they come together to cut red tape and spur investments in renewable energy. As more government entities adopt the technology, the standardizing of permitting requirements and practices across jurisdictions with SolarAPP+ can create training and other efficiencies to further enhance the benefits. Those new jurisdictions can look at Sonoma County and other early adopters to help the sun shine on more rooftop solar installations across Northern California.

Bradley Dunn is Policy Manager for Permit Sonoma, Sonoma County’s land-use and natural resources agency. He previously was the public information officer for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency from 2016-2020. Dunn holds a BA in politics and economics from Willamette University, Salem, Oregon.

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San Francisco rolls out e-scooter program that accommodates people with disabilities

San Francisco rolls out e-scooter program that accommodates people with disabilities

By Hayley Zhao, November 24, 2021

Electric scooters are making their way into cities across America. However, most e-scooters on the market now can’t accommodate people with disabilities. To solve the problem, scooter operator Bird, in partnership with mobility equipment rental company Scootaround, launched a pilot program in the Bronx that provides electric wheelchair and mobility scooter rentals in July. Now they’re taking this program to San Francisco, according to a Bird spokesperson.

“As micromobility options such as shared bikes and scooters continue to expand, we must ensure the benefits of these improved transportation networks be made as widely available as possible, including to persons with disabilities. Innovative partnership programs like this are an important part of that process, and we welcome Bird’s proactive participation in bringing them to life,” Scootaround CEO Kerry Renaud said, in a press release announcing the launch of the New York pilot.

The ongoing Bronx pilot allows users to rent three- and four-wheel scooters, specifically designed for people with disabilities, as well as power wheelchairs, through the Bird app. Different from other e-scooter programs that charge by the minute, users rent these scooters and wheelchairs for $5 per day for up to 14 days and are able to select a convenient pick-up and drop-off location. An in-person tutorial is provided on the day of the reservation to help users get comfortable with riding the scooters and offer instructions on how to properly charge and store the vehicle. Bird has not shared any data publicly on how many people have used the service since it launched in July, but a Bird spokesperson told Next City that the company is pleased with the initial rollout and the pilot is going as planned in the Bronx.

Dustin Jones, a New York board member of the Center for Independence of the Disabled, has been a wheelchair user for ten years. He is excited about programs that accommodate people with disabilities but thinks the current service areas are too limited. When Citi Bikes, the city’s bikeshare system, and shared e-scooters first came to the streets of New York City, he felt left out.

“The way they advertise it — all New Yorkers can come and have this experience — That’s not true. I can’t. So what am I? You’re saying I’m not a New Yorker? I don’t exist? We don’t exist? That’s hurtful,” says Jones.

A Bronx resident himself, Jones is disappointed that the neighborhood he lives in still isn’t covered in the current pilot area. He is moving to Chelsea soon, where he sees a lot of people riding Citi bikes and e-scooters. He hopes that the companies could expand the program soon so he can go hang out in the park with his friends on nice winter days.

“I’m really hoping that somehow they could bring something over, to make something work. I would definitely love to run around Central Park or just wander around the city and do things that people are doing [on e-scooters] because obviously this is the future,” he says.

The San Francisco program launched on Nov. 15. This ongoing program runs similarly to the New York pilot, though users in San Francisco will have to book vehicles through Bird subsidiary Scoot. Bird plans on making this partnership available to other cities in the Bay Area soon, according to a company spokesperson.

Hayley Zhao is the INN/Columbia Journalism School Intern with Next City for fall 2021. She graduated from Columbia Journalism School in May 2021 with a focus on education and environmental reporting. Republished with permission.

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Make small-scale manufacturing a zoning priority in America’s downtowns

Make small-scale manufacturing a zoning priority in America’s downtowns

By Ilana Preuss, December 7, 2021

America’s downtowns were struggling before the COVID-19 pandemic — with vacant storefronts common, especially in formerly industrial communities and smaller rural cities. Now they’re common in business districts across the country, too. It’s time to bring our downtowns back to life by making small-scale manufacturing a zoning priority — to increase business growth, add needed vitality, and enhance racial equity.

Small-scale manufacturers (from hardware to handbags to hot sauce) are distinguished by the fact that they sell their products both in storefronts and online. That’s key because it means they have multiple sources of revenue. They are not solely dependent on foot traffic for sales, as so many struggling downtown shops are. Yet they benefit from the increased visibility of a storefront location and add to a downtown’s appeal to residents and tourists alike. Their production is modern manufacturing — clean and quiet — and fantastic experiential retail when people walking by can see things being made.

Fashion incubator workspace in Honolulu. Photo: Recast City

Historically, however, small-scale manufacturers have been overlooked, as recent downtown development efforts have focused on attracting major-brand chain stores downtown for large footprints of space. Those efforts failed in many cases and, even when successful, led to homogenized undistinguished downtowns that easily lose their value, lose their tenants, and lose their draw.

Where then do you look for small-scale manufacturers? Right in your own backyard.

That’s the beauty of it. Every community has them. They’ve just been overlooked, because they are often home-based, in a backyard garage, or tucked away into older small industrial buildings.

Their business ownership is also typically broadly diverse — crossing racial, ethnic, income, and other divides in our communities. That’s because their unique products draw on the heritage and skills of a wide variety of individuals and communities. These businesses also create good jobs for people with a broad range of skills and generate community wealth.

The challenge is to draw those businesses out of homes and hidden industrial corners and into downtown or neighborhood main streets. There they can create the distinguished business districts that thrive on local products, offer unique handiwork, and provide a reason for people to linger and visit. That’s where zoning can be so vital.

Too often, zoning simply designates what is not permitted. Or provides broad brush strokes of “mixed use” without thinking about who benefits from the space. But it should be a vehicle for encouraging what’s needed — not just in broad terms (commercial vs. residential) but nuanced ones.

That requires an understanding not only of community interests, but also of the specific needs of the businesses to fill those spaces. It requires discussions with property owners to understand their challenges and flexibilities — and, in some cases, to create incentives for them to invest in new approaches.

Local policies can provide incentives to draw businesses out of their current settings and into downtown. Zoning can also encourage an appropriate set of real estate options to ensure the right amount and types of spaces. The space’s size must fit the business’s needs, but its nature is also crucial. It could be a shared retail or production facility, or scale-up space. It could also be specialized, as in a shared kitchen facility, a collection of certain businesses, or an area of micro-retail spaces for small businesses. Alongside the appropriate types of spaces, the zoning also needs to allow the diversity of uses — retail with production in the same space. Events and programming, food and beverage — all can be ancillary uses that bring energy and excitement to the area.

Using zoning in this way is not without precedent. But it should become prevalent.

New York City’s famed Times Square was brought back to life in the 1980s through special purpose zoning. There, new buildings above a certain size must reserve at least five percent of floor space for entertainment and theater-related uses. That requirement created an incentive for developers to seek out theatrical entities that might otherwise have been in obscure space (“home-based” in effect) and bring them “downtown” to add to Broadway’s vitality.

Columbia, Missouri, recently revised its zoning code to encourage artisan manufacturing in The Loop, a commercial and industrial corridor north of downtown. The new designation will allow that corridor to develop into a more vibrant place with space for local product businesses to bring new energy and good-paying jobs to the area.

Ithaca, New York, has a downtown Central Business District zone that allows most uses — but not manufacturing at any size. The only place to include this use is in grandfathered buildings because they were “manufacturing” before the current zoning was established. That means one developer could create micro-retail space for production only because it was formerly the newspaper printing press building. No neighboring building could do the same

Too often zoning focuses on simple classifications when it should play a far more nuanced and central role in the revitalization of downtowns. It should be tailored to each community’s needs, but it should amplify the role of small-scale manufacturing.

We know how to create vibrant downtowns. We just need to build on existing strengths — homegrown businesses and local zoning — to incentivize small-scale manufacturing to move downtown.

Ilana Preuss is Founder and CEO of Recast City and author of Recast Your City: How to Save Your Downtown with Small-Scale Manufacturing (Island Press, 2021). Previously, she led the technical assistance program at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Smart Growth Program and served as vice president and chief of staff at Smart Growth America. She holds a master’s in city planning from the University of Maryland and a bachelor’s degree in urban and regional studies from Cornell University. You can reach her at ilana@recastcity.com.

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Meet a local planner: Darin Ranelletti

Meet a local planner: Darin Ranelletti

Darin Ranelletti is Policy Director for Housing Security in the Mayor’s Office, City of Oakland. He has been with the city since 2002, where he most recently was Deputy Director of Planning in Oakland’s Planning and Building Department. Ranelletti holds a bachelor of arts in geography from UCLA and a master of city planning from UC Berkeley. He received Northern Section’s 2021 Award of Excellence for Best Practices for his work (along with MTC/ABAG and Urban Planning Partners) on Innovation in Oakland, an initiative to promote cost-efficient forms of innovative housing construction.

What has been the focus of your professional practice?

Housing insecurity has had a devastating impact on Oakland. Three years ago, I joined Mayor Libby Schaaf’s office to support her work to promote safe, healthy, and affordable housing in our city.

Give us some context of the challenge.

In the past, Oakland was an affordable place to live. Recently, however, rents and housing prices have skyrocketed. Now, if you can’t afford it here, you will likely be displaced, either out of the region or onto the streets. As a result, homelessness has doubled in the last four years.

We are aware of Oakland’s place in the greater Bay Area and think about housing from a regional perspective. Decisions made in one community impact others, and those are playing out on Oakland streets. We believe in a multi-pronged approach to addressing the housing crisis called the “3 P’s:” produce (units for all incomes), preserve (existing units), and protect (tenants). There must be commitments at the local, regional, state, and federal levels to ensure everyone can afford a home.

If something isn’t working, how do you facilitate change?

City governments are risk-averse because of their responsibility as stewards of public money. Compare that with the private sector where many new ventures will fail but some are successful. We need to be more willing to take risks in the public sector.

When we were working on Oakland’s cabin communities (tiny homes) for residents experiencing homelessness, I recall the Mayor turning to staff and saying that it is OK if it fails but we must try. If we fail, we will learn and improve.

It takes leadership to try new things when people fear change. Leaders can come from any level. Even an entry-level planner can provide leadership, which is the courage to try something new. Whether as staff or political leaders, we must foster a culture of creativity and show that there is a supportive environment to do that.

Are there success stories about overcoming risk aversion?

Mayor Schaff believes in creating pilot initiatives with money from philanthropy or private sector and scaling up effective programs with government funding.

In 2018, we launched “Keep Oakland Housed” with private funding that provided case management, legal representation, and emergency financial assistance for people at risk of homelessness. The program helped some 5,700 families to remain housed (not be displaced). We were then able to expand the program by adding state and federal resources to build on a concept that had proven results.

What can planners do to prevent burnout?

A sense of purpose motivates my colleagues and me. Our work is meaningful. I have a really hard job, but I love my work. Bureaucracy is challenging. Acknowledging that we don’t have all the tools we need is really tough. But the work is extremely rewarding.

People in an organization are more productive if they feel supported and are part of a team that is really contributing to a positive outcome. Employees must be recognized and heard, and they want to see their ideas incorporated. The culture of the Oakland Planning and Building Department is highly collaborative. That fosters a sense of shared commitment and community.

How can planners navigate politics?

Don’t act politically, but think politically. Planners sometimes see politics as a dynamic to be ignored or avoided. Be aware of the political world you work in, so that you can be more effective as an expert advisor.

How do you feel about your shift from traditional planning to working directly with elected officials?

In some ways, it is liberating: I can be a stronger advocate. I can be political in my capacity. Planners are generalists. I reached a point in my career where I wanted to dive deeper into a specialized area, so I made the move to the Mayor’s Office to focus on housing. My time as a staff planner has benefited me in this position because I know how the bureaucracy works and that there is more to planning than legislating. It is important to know how things are implemented and the constraints on staff. When we consider initiatives, the politics and bureaucracy must work together. I communicate and meet regularly with planning staff to coordinate our efforts.

What have you recently observed in the planning field?

When I started out in planning, the hot issues were urban design and sustainability. They are still important, but it has been great to see new planners bringing social equity and racial justice to the conversation, and they are comfortable engaging with their communities about these issues. Being able to translate community input into policy is the present and future of the profession and a skill to be honed. Planners with that skill and an orientation to community will be more likely to be effective.

You said you have “a really hard job.” What do you do to unwind and relax?

Family is important to me, so I love spending time with my wife and kids. We have two teenagers and we love exploring Bay Area neighborhoods and restaurants together and going to movies. I also enjoy working in our garden.

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

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