Tag: 2022-07-nn-feature

When the Valley of Heart’s Delight started to become Silicon Valley

When the Valley of Heart’s Delight started to become Silicon Valley

By Don Weden, June 8, 2022

I recently ran across a publication titled “Planning Progress 1956,” published by the Santa Clara County Planning Department, Karl J. Belser, Director. It provides a brief snapshot of the Santa Clara Valley in 1956, as the “Valley of Heart’s Delight” (as it was then widely known) was making way for what eventually became known as “Silicon Valley.”

“Planning Progress 1956” provides a contemporaneous view of some of the changes that were occurring in the county at that time, how the rural agricultural landscape was rapidly being transformed, and conflicting public attitudes about the changes that were occurring.

We are currently experiencing a similarly transformative change in the Santa Clara Valley’s physical landscape as it is rapidly evolving from a predominantly suburban place to an urban/suburban hybrid — with many taller and denser developments rising throughout the Valley, within the lower density suburban landscape that surrounds them.

I found the similarities between 1956 and today so striking that I extracted a portion of “Planning Progress 1956” below and added the section titles.

Change is all around

Santa Clara County carried on a brisk “business as usual” during extensive alterations of its landscape from 1954 to 1956. Hammer in hand, the county went noisily about the job of transforming itself from a rural to a metropolitan community.

Bulldozers leveled orchards for thousands of homesites. The steel webbing of new factories spread over former hay fields. Acres of asphalt marked the parking areas of new suburban shopping centers. Service stations sprang up like mushrooms along our major thoroughfares. Fleets of ready-mix trucks disgorged concrete into the foundation forms of every kind of building — in every part of the county.

New industries

New industry was the catalyst in this brew of rapid change. One hundred thirty-four new plants have located in Santa Clara County in the past five years, giving employment to 10,762 workers.

One of the largest of these, the new Ford Plant in Milpitas, opened its doors on May 17, 1955, and began turning out 540 new cars a day. Thirty-five other industries settled in the county in 1954, spending $14.5 million in capital outlay [$156.6 million today]. Eighty-nine established industries spent $5.5 million to expand their facilities [$59.4 million today]. Twenty-six of the nation’s 500 largest industrial firms had established plants in Santa Clara County by 1955.

Three new industries, with plans to employ from 3,000 to 5,000 workers, announced their intention to build plants in Santa Clara County in 1956. They were an International Business Machines research and development center [well south of San Jose], a Lockheed guided missiles plant near Moffett Field, and a General Motors automobile assembly plant near Sunnyvale.

Basic industries can engender a total population equal to seven times the number of factory workers. These three industries, therefore, could bring 63,000 to 105,000 new people into the county.

Rapid population growth

Combined with the attractions of a mild climate and pleasant living conditions, these new employment opportunities promise a dynamic rise in county population.

Population estimates by the California Taxpayers’ Association of 403,900 for January 1, 1955, and of 456,800 for 1956 indicate that the county gained 52,900 people in a single year — enough to populate a city of the size of Palo Alto, with over 10,000 people left over.

This rate of increase, averaging 4,400 people a month, was the highest of the nine-county bay area.

A year ago, we spoke of 2,000 people coming to the county each month. Now we must adjust our thinking to the consequences of an influx of over twice that many.

Whereas we had talked of a million people by 1990, it now seems probable that the million mark will be reached by 1970. [It was.]

Mixed Public Attitudes

Old residents view the county’s frenzied growth with mixed emotions.

Some see this growth as “progress,” a condition implying speculative opportunity or reflected economic benefits.

The farmer views with alarm the disappearance of the county’s farmlands under the onslaught of urbanization.

The suburbanite sees his “country living” threatened by the spread of the solid city.

Some people are inclined to welcome newcomers to the valley, remembering their own delight in its attractions.

Others fear the blighting effects of smog and traffic congestion, which come with concentrations of people.

Some are glad for the boom in the building industry.

Others look at our sprawling rubber stamp subdivisions and wonder if these are “the slums of tomorrow.”

Some hail the increase in assessed valuation brought by new investment.

Others are staggered by the prospects of increased taxes for new schools, larger capacity sewers, flood control works, parks and recreation, and other public services.

[End of excerpt from “Planning Progress 1956”]

Interestingly, analogues of the mixed public attitudes of 1956 about the transformations that were occurring can be found within today’s residents of the Valley. Without the transformation that began back then, most of us might not be living or working in Santa Clara County today — and our local and national economies might not have evolved as they did.

Don Weden retired as Principal Planner, Comprehensive Planning, in 2003 after 34 years with the Santa Clara County Planning Office. In 2013, he was inducted into the Planner Emeritus Network of the California Chapter of the American Planning Association. He holds a master’s in city and regional planning from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and a BA in political science from the University of Minnesota. You can reach him at weden@ix.netcom.com.

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50 years of BART: Inside the original BART cars

50 years of BART: Inside the original BART cars

BART News, June 10, 2022. Republished with permission.

In celebration of its 50th Anniversary on September 11, 2022, BART looks back at the transit system’s five decades of service and innovation in a new series of stories.

Upholstered seats, gold plush carpet, tinted picture windows — the original BART cars were the epitome of stylish design and comfort.

“It felt like you were in a den or library,” said Jay Bolcik, the former BART Manager of Schedules and Service Planning and a rail historian at the Prelinger Library in San Francisco.

The interior of the original BART cars.

Manufactured by the aerospace company Rohr in Chula Vista, California in the late 1960s, the interiors of the original BART cars express that classic 1960s aesthetic with faux wood paneling and sponge-padded wool carpet which one newspaper described “gold-greenish.” The 22-inch-wide seats, another newspaper wrote, were “comparable to those in the most luxurious automobile or jet airliner.”

The need to best automobiles was ever-present. BART’s early planners and designers were tasked with luring Bay Area residents away from their private vehicles and introducing them to the wonders — and convenience — of mass transit.

“The inside of the cars was designed to meet or exceed the comfort of your car,” Bolcik said. “The goal being that as motorists are in traffic, the BART train with its passengers zips by at 70 or even 80 miles per hour, flashing past them. In other words, BART was just as comfortable as a car, but faster, and someone else was doing the driving.”

Unlike many automobiles at the time, the BART cars were also air-conditioned, and every rider was promised a comfy seat on which to sit. The cars contained 72 seats apiece; some seats were later removed to make room for wheelchairs and bicycles. They did not initially contain grab bars or hanging straps, as later trains did. The cars were also insulated and “very quiet” — in stark contrast to the older subway cars found on the East Coast, Bolcik said.

“They were trying to set a new standard and not look like a traditional subway,” Bolcik said. “What doesn’t look like a subway? Big windows, carpeting, good lighting, and comfortable, wide seats.”

At the time of BART’s opening, in 1972, the transit agency serviced about 100,000 riders a week, meaning the initial design was viable. The story changed as ridership rose over the next few decades. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, BART served upwards of 400,000 people each day.

The Rohr-manufactured cars had to be redesigned to accommodate the increasing number of customers — more standing room and fewer seats equals more passengers in a car — and to contend with the wear and tear that accompanied the additional riders.

Tragedy also spurred change. The initial seats were made of vinyl fabric over polyurethane stuffing. The latter material proved to be highly flammable, despite having been treated with flame retardant.

On January 17, 1979, an electrical fire erupted on a San Francisco-bound seven-car train in the Transbay Tube. Though all passengers and BART personnel were safely evacuated by a passing train, firefighter William Elliott died while attempting to extinguish the fire.

In response to the incident, BART worked with California Public Utilities Commission, to identify and reduce hazards, spurring a fire-hardening program that lasted into the 1980s. BART officials conducted extensive testing and research to improve safety. The tests determined that the polyurethane seats had to go. They were switched for spring-padded seats.

“The interiors of all the original cars were redone to improve safety,” Bolcik said. “The effort gave the cars that ‘new car feel’ as it welcomed passengers back.”

The cloth seats did not stand the test of time — and proved to be a vector for grub, grime, and especially gum. In 2014, BART spent $1.9 million to replace the old cloth seats with easy-to-clean vinyl seats.

“Cleaning the wool seats required sending them out for dry cleaning,” a BART press release from 2015 explained. “BART spent about $6,000 on dry cleaning each month. The new vinyl seats are nice and clean after a wipe down with an inexpensive antibacterial wipe.”

Starting in 2008, the carpet went, too, and BART’s bluish-gray carpeting — an artifact of the 1990s — made way for easy-to-clean vinyl flooring. Before the change, the carpet required frequent deodorization and machine scrubbing.

The vinyl seats that replaced BART’s wool seats.

By the early 2010s, it became clear that BART needed new cars entirely to make way for significant improvements in propulsion, communications, and fault monitoring.

They’re also designed with maximum cleanliness and capacity in mind. (Read more about the Fleet of the Future and find answers to frequently asked questions at bart.gov).

“The whole concept of the new cars was flexibility,” said John Garnham, BART’s Group Manager of the Rail Vehicle Capital Program. “For the next 40 years, we can change the interior configuration to match the demand and preferences of the commuting public.”

According to Garnham, the seat configuration in the new cars can easily “be rearranged and changed.” Seats can be taken out, put back in, and positioned to meet the needs of riders, whether it’s a New York-style subway configuration, with seats on the perimeter, or “lounge-style seating,” in which the seats form a sort of L shape.

A look inside a Fleet of the Future car.

To Bolcik, there’s something “sleek” about the old, Space Age-era cars.

“They made incredibly elegant decisions that balanced design with engineering,” he said.

This rendering, courtesy Hernandez-Eli Architecture, depicts a legacy BART car transformed into a short-term rental and residence.

Fortunately for rail historians like Bolcik, a handful of BART’s legacy cars will be preserved. Earlier this year, BART announced eight groups who will receive decommissioned cars to transform them into everything from vintage arcades and bike sheds to bars and short-term rentals. There will also be a BART History Center at the Western Railway Museum in Rio Vista CA with preserved cars.

The legacy cars have served BART riders for five decades, and with BART’s repurposing program, they will continue to serve Bay Area residents — albeit in a different capacity — for years to come.

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Markets, machas, and municipalities: a planner’s walking tour of Santiago

Markets, machas, and municipalities: a planner’s walking tour of Santiago

By Veronica A. Flores, June 21, 2022

With encouragement from loved ones and the blessing of my supervisor, I embarked on a three-month sabbatical earlier this year through Argentina, Chile, and Peru. My goals were simple: complete a volunteer project, practice Spanish, explore, and eat good food. I was nervous because I had never been away from home for so long, but the challenge made the experience that much more rewarding.

My schedule allowed me to linger in places for longer and travel to cities and towns that tourists usually skip. It also gave me a chance to meet with locals and to get a stronger sense of Santiago, the capital of and largest city in Chile (metro population 7,000,000). I appreciated discovering and returning to my favorite markets or restaurants, eating one of my new favorite appetizers of machas a la parmesana, and people-watching in the plazas, including Plaza de Armas and Plaza Baquedano. I stayed just a few blocks from Cerro Santa Lucia (Santa Lucia Hill) which provides a 360-degree view of the city.

Santiago from Santa Lucia Hill

I frequented the parks with a picnic lunch and a book, and enjoyed walking through and sitting in all the different paseos including Paseo Bandera with its nearly four blocks of rainbow-colored pavement swirls (image later).

Looking back at my varied experiences, one standout was meeting with local professionals: Northern Section’s International Planning Directors, Hing Wong, FAICP, and Alex Hinds, provided me with an email introduction to David Silva and Roberto Moris, two members of PLANRED.

Roberto Moris, left, is a professor of architecture at Escuela de Arquitectura & Estudios Urbanos UC. David Silva, right, is a practicing lawyer with Correa & Silva Abogados.

PLANRED stands for “Red de Planificadores de Chile,” or “Planners Network of Chile.” It is the APA equivalent in Santiago. Wong, Hinds, Silva, and Moris previously collaborated on a virtual series, “COVID-19 Conversations,” which discussed how different countries were responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Silva and Moris first met while working for the government and they aren’t practicing planners. But they have taken leadership roles in PLANRED, which emphasizes the relationship between planning and other fields.

After I shared that I was interested in learning about the “real” Santiago and eating local dishes, what started as a lunch turned into an impromptu walking tour. We started in the Lastarria neighborhood, known for its restaurants and lively nightlife. It was very walkable, with a mix of restaurants, shops, hotels, some residential buildings, and the Museo de Visual Artes.

Jose Victorino Lastarria historic area

The northernmost end of the neighborhood’s main street, Jose Victorino Lastarria, ends in a mini-alley closed to cars. Different vendors line the alley 24/7. A 10-minute walk got us across the Mapocho River to Mercado Tirso de Molina, a local market and food hall, which we reached via a shortcut through the busy, very crowded, and tourist-oriented La Vega Central just across the street.

During our walk, I noticed a change in the type of architecture and the height of the buildings we passed. David and Roberto pointed out a building that was modeled after a ship, with “port windows.” At Mercado Tirso de Molina, I learned there is no “must-try” Chilean dish. David and Roberto explained that traditional Chilean food is really just Peruvian food, and we all ordered ceviche. (I was in both Chile and Peru during this trip, and I enjoyed the ceviche in Chile much more than in Peru.)

After lunch, we made our way towards the historic city center. We passed a number of interior malls — I presumed the indoor shops provided an escape from extreme heat or weather. But the Mapocho River looked about as dry as some California reservoirs, so the shops could not have been a refuge from rain. It turns out that these galerías were formerly aqueducts. Walking around, I saw that various buildings were connected by a number of canals-turned-malls. I later used some of these galerías as sheltered shortcuts.

Paseo Bandera, a popular pedestrian street

We walked along the rainbow-colored path of Paseo Bandera, where I learned that the beautiful pavement was never meant to be permanent. It seems Bandera Street, located near the main plaza and the city government palace, was closed to traffic while the Santiago Metro was under construction. During that time, the four-block stretch was converted into a temporary pedestrian promenade. As construction neared completion, locals, including the mayor, realized they enjoyed the pedestrian promenade too much to allow it to revert to a busy street. Eventually, enough support was gathered, along with funding, to make this a permanent installation (video 2:19) with a grand opening in 2018. I had walked along the colorful street before, not knowing it was the result of community effort.

Another interesting tidbit I learned from David and Roberto: Santiago comprises a number of municipalities, and each municipality has its own mayor and makes its own rules. This came up as we were walking northbound along La Paz, a main thoroughfare straddling the Independencia and Recoleta municipalities. I saw a lot of potential for street improvements along this main thoroughfare, but the mayors of the two municipalities could not agree on what to do.

Santiago municipalities. Credit: Osmar Valdebenito, CC BY-SA 2.5

We had gone only a few blocks from the bustling business neighborhood of Bandera Street, but I could see and feel the change as we walked towards the Recoleta and around La Vega Central. Recoleta was very colorful and vibrant, despite a number of what appeared to be abandoned buildings. I saw real potential and was surprised that past rehabilitation efforts did not pan out. That emphasized for me how the existence of so many different municipalities within Santiago made it hard to realize some building developments and street improvements, especially where projects straddle municipal boundaries.

Our walking tour concluded near Plaza de Armas, Santiago’s main central square. Before parting, David and Roberto showed the path of our walking tour on one of the brass maps embedded in the plaza pavement.

Santiago map on pavement of Plaza de Armas

I had joined a handful of walking tours during my sabbatical, but this one with David and Roberto was my favorite. Both graciously shared their time and knowledge and encouraged me to ask about what I was seeing. I’m so thankful I was able to meet with these local professionals, and even more grateful for the opportunity to go on this sabbatical. While I enjoyed some tourist sites, an experience like this made my trip memorable.

Veronica Flores is a senior planner in the Legislative Affairs Section, San Francisco Planning Department, and the elected administrative director of Northern Section, where she has served on the board in various capacities since 2016. She holds a master of urban planning from San Jose State University and a B.A. in sociology from UC Berkeley.

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How some cities are legally undermining SB9

How some cities are legally undermining SB9

California’s Senate Bill 9, also known as the HOME Act, allows owners of a single-family residential lot to potentially build four homes after splitting the parcel in two. “Localities have the option to adopt [SB 9] as-is without the pressure of implementing a local ordinance,” write Muhammad Alameldin and David Garcia in a report published June 8 by the Terner Center for Housing Innovation.

But while some cities and towns are fine-tuning their local ordinances to accord with the new law, others are doing what they can to “stymie meaningful new homebuilding” that might otherwise occur under SB 9.

The Terner Center report analyzed “how cities are implementing SB 9 differently” and how these local “regulations might facilitate new home construction or hinder it.”

“To better understand how each city’s specific requirements might impact SB 9 uptake,” the authors examined “10 cities with SB 9 implementing ordinances. The cities were selected based on size and geography to reflect different types of communities.”

The report includes an 11-column table that displays how the 10 cities are implementing SB 9. The analysis found, for example, that six of the 10 cities adopted height limits of 20 feet or less for housing constructed under SB 9, and at least one city adopted “specific allowable exterior materials and architectural designs” that could affect affordability.

Other cities require “deed-restricted affordable housing for HOME Act projects,” something that seems laudable but which “may make it challenging — or impossible — for projects to financially pencil without subsidies or offsets.”

Among other locally enacted regulations, the authors found requirements for significant easements, requirements for open spaces or courtyards between units, and the mandated planting of mature trees or bushes. Such local, objective, design standards, note the authors, “can create a legal loophole that moves away from the intended ministerial approval” of SB 9 proposals “and revert the process of splitting a lot to a project-by-project local review.”

Read the full analysis here.

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