Eight Chapters, Thousands of Members, One Voice

Inclusive Decision Making

A vibrant and engaged community is more likely to be safer, healthier, resilient, more economically sustainable and economically robust. Civic input has a profound impact on the policies that drive the decision making process in all neighborhoods and communities in California.

Civic input is highly valued by elected officials, in part, because the Administrative Procedures Act of 1946 codified the process for public participation in terms of regulatory rule making. This means elected officials are required to solicit public input. But that is not the full story of why elected officials seek civic input and appreciate high levels of public participation.

MLK Park OaklandThe key reason decision makers love for residents to be engaged at the very beginning and through every step of the decision making process is that it provides ownership to the community. MLK Park in Oakland is a great example of this notion. The soccer/football fields are 3 years old and are still in pristine condition. Since the community designed it, they take care of it.

The current model in many communities throughout California relies on a ‘traditional’ set of tools to engage residents, among these more traditional tools, public surveys, visioning workshops, town hall meetings and public hearings are most frequently used. In theory, these numerous tools all sound like fine engagement strategies, but anyone who has sat through one of these traditional meetings knows…well…that they are not always fun. Moreover, they are often scheduled inconveniently, making it difficult for the community members to show up. Hence, this model of public participation processes can be exceptionally disengaging, even for those who care deeply about the issues involved.

Cities throughout California have identified this problem and begun to move to a more digital form of engaging readily available, they are often challenging to locate and understand. More usable interfaces are needed, as well as broader web-based on the record communication between governments and citizens. Simply put, the power of networks and the web have not reached their full potential, yet. social media icon images

The time has come to transition from yet to now. In doing so, the public participation processes ought to be reformed to accommodate more extensive and effective participation pertaining to all community stakeholders. Making the engagement process fun and more effective through the use of creative civic engagement tools is the next watershed breakthrough in community decision-making.

By introducing more public participation opportunities, decision makers and organizations alike can offer communities the opportunity to find the most appropriate method of involvement and participation for each individual stakeholder. This can be done by using innovative visual-art techniques, social-networking, smartphone apps, computer simulation games, exhibits, music, performances, festivals and community gatherings to engage residents and spur them to share their thoughts on civic issues.

Creating simple, engaging, and easily available updates fosters a greater possibility and likelihood of ongoing participation. This is extremely important when implementing statewide policies, such as SB 375 the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008.  As the implementation of state policy rolls out, tools such as ISEEED’s Streetwize platform presents a significant opportunity to digitally engage residents, especially youth!


Streetwize, as well as a myriad of other software programs, such as Community PlanItNeighborhland, and Texizen, offer residents the ability to connect to their local governments. An added benefit of utilizing digital tools, such as these or others, is that they ought to allow residents and decision makers the ability to benchmark building and neighborhood performance data. This fosters an implementation process that ensures outcome-based approaches

While the digitizing of civic engagement creates opportunities for expanded public participation in the decision-making process, this does not mean that a complete tradeoff ought to be made. Yes, communities should carefully examine what technological tools are available to spur civic engagement. Notwithstanding, they should also continue in-person meetings for those residents who prefer talking in person. The prime goal ought to be to increase stakeholder participation, not trade one input segment of our communities for another.

Designing Resilient Food Systems

Current environmental conditions are catapulting community resilience to the forefront of the public agenda.  Because of climate change, extreme weather conditions have made food security not just a problem faced by the “Third World” (IPCC, 2007), but now an impending issue faced by all members of the globe.  Unsustainable water consumption, pollution from nitrates and pesticides, as well as GHG and particulate matter air pollution have become widespread and resulted in adverse, cumulative impacts.


Thankfully, legislatures have recognized the need to incorporate innovative food production systems into urban settings and are finding ways to stimulate this sector. In 2014, California passed AB 551 permitting counties to establish “Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones.”  These zones allow private property owners to receive property tax incentives in exchange for restricting the use of their property to urban agriculture for 10 years.  Additionally, San Francisco recently opted in to the AB 551 program and passed a land use and economic development ordinance that further “connects City residents to the broader food system.”  There is no question that this new policy environment will enable local food production to proliferate throughout the Bay Area as well as in other cities that opt into the Incentives Zones initiative.

However, legislatures are not the only ones who recognize the need to change common practices.  One innovative response driven by agricultural entrepreneurs is taking root in the urban setting. These community-oriented actors are working to localize food supply chains using aquaponics.  Their hope is to create resilient and sustainable food systems with minimal environmental impacts.  For them ‘business as usual’ is off the menu.

AquaponicsTraditionally, there have been two main barriers to efficient urban food production; insufficient yield to meet local demand and the inability to financially break even.  According to Aqua Gardens Family Farm, a leading aquaponic grower in Northern California, the advantages of aquaponics over conventional practices address these barriers.  Aquaponic systems yield 4 to 10 times more produce per acre than field grown methods and, because of the contained nature of aquaponic systems, have lower operating expenses and use significantly less resources.

Given the many positive environmental benefits associated with aquaponics, such as 90% less water consumption and zero water and air pollution, when compared to conventional agricultural practices, Aquaponics is clearly the sustainable food production system for the future.  Hopefully, given the shifts in public policy, such systems will go from being innovations for the future to the reality of today.



mayor chip johnson

Great Ideas, Cool Plans & IFDs

By Scott Watkins

mayor chip johnson“A healthy community is not just a feel-good thing – it impacts economic development and fiscal health,” says Hernando, Mississippi mayor Chip Johnson.[i] Current projections put Mississippi’s obesity liabilities hitting $3 billion within the next 4 years on a total annual state budget of $5 billion. Yet Mayor Johnson has found a way to reduce Hernando’s resident’s taxes 15% percent a year and give city employees a 2% pay increase at the same time.

All of this was made possible by employee participation in Blue Cross & Blue Shield’s Healthy Workplace program. Imagine working at a place that requires you go for a walk on your lunch break – and gives you a raise for making it a habit! While you’re out on a mid-day walk, you pick up fresh fruits and vegetables at the local farmers market for lunch and dinner. Not only will you receive a pay increase but you’ll also feel better and help strengthen your local economy[ii] by putting cash directly in the hands of local farmers.

Understanding the connection between health and the economy can be a missing link in creating thriving communities. Of course, capital-financing strategies to implement successful programs that help residents live healthy with new playgrounds, walking trails, bike paths, as well as a farmers’ market and a community garden can be a major stumbling block to succeeding at Hernando’s level.

map_of_hernando_msBut making it easier for residents to be active within the context of their everyday routines doesn’t take an overwhelming amount of cash. Existing deficiencies within communities built environment can be funded through a wide number of funding methods.

A simple way to fund healthy neighborhood improvements is by coupling design standard enhancements with developer impact fees. By strengthening and streamlining community design standards through general plan, specific plan or neighborhood plans, communities can spur development. Along with updated design standards, communities ought to reexamine the nexus between their fee schedules and development costs associated with tying new developments with existing.

Often the combination of a “timing gap” and a developer preference for developing where communities have already invested in infrastructure make impact fees alone impractical to fund comprehensive infrastructure projects.

In California, Senator Lois Wok’s promising SB 33 sought to remove some of the barriers to Infrastructure Funding Districts (IFDs) and create a more viable funding and financing mechanism for comprehensive infrastructure by “capturing” incremental increases of property tax revenues from future development.[iii]

But unfortunately, IFDs face an upward climb in a hostile climate. They have a very similar approach to funding projects as the now defunct California Redevelopment Association’s Tax Increment Financing Fund. Due to the perceived similarity between the two, the historic misuse of redevelopment funds, and Governor Brown’s 2012 veto of Senator Wolk’s substantially similar SB 214, this may be an idea ahead of its time. SB 33 was recently placed in the Assembly inactive file.

A combination of emerging funding techniques such as Social Finances’ “Social Impact Bonds” may be the financing vehicles to foster social innovation and improve existing infrastructure.

A Social Impact Bond is an innovative financing mechanism designed to raise private-sector capital to expand effective social service programs. SIBs are a way to finance pay-for-success contracts, which allow government to pay only for results. If a program funded by SIBs achieves successful outcomes,[iv] which are defined and agreed upon in advance by all parties to the contract, government repays investors their principal plus a rate of return based on the program’s success. If outcomes are not achieved, on the other hand, government is not obligated to repay investors.[v]

Social Impact Bonds are already being leveraged to mediate the impact of complex social issues, such as Recidivism and Asthma, in 11 states across the country.[vi] [vii] The California Endowment and the Rockefeller Foundations are playing a key role in helping to accelerate the rigorous data collection and evaluation procedures associated with demonstrating the social and financial benefits of using Social Impacts Bonds.  According to the Rockefeller Foundation’s Kippy Joseph, Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) are the “tip of the spear of innovative financing instruments that can be put to use for the benefit of society.”[viii]

Eventually the conversation ought to change to “cool plan… who’s going to save from it?” and the answer ought to be the taxpayers.

[i] Bailey, H. (2011, February 23) Hernando: A Small Mississippi Town Bucks a Statewide Trend. Memphis Daily News, pp. A1, A4

[ii] Mitchell, S. (2000). The Home Town Advantage: How to Defend Your Main Street Against Chain Stores… and Why It Matters. Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

[iii] City of Salinas Site Opportunities and Constraints; Salinas Economic Development Strategy (2014). Economic & Planning Systems

[iv] Historically, government payment to service providers has been based on outputs rather than outcomes. The metrics associated with outputs usually focus on head count, for example the number of people enrolled in a program or the number of families served. Outcomes measurement, by contrast, focuses on the impact of the service with regard to achieving desired benefits, such as the reduction in prison recidivism or the number of people who gain long-term employment as a result of the program.

[v] Hughes, J. Scherer, J. (2014) Foundations for Social Impact Bonds; How and Why Philanthropy Is Catalyzing the Development of a New Market. Social Finance

[vi] Harvard Kennedy School, Social Impact Bond Technical Assistance Lab. Accessed April 17, 2014 http://hks-siblab.org

[vii] Asthma management demonstration project in Fresno, CA paves way for Social Impact Bond. (2013) Social Finance. Accessed April 17, 2014 http://www.socialfinanceus.org/sites/socialfinanceus.org/files/Fresno%20Asthma%20Demonstration%20Project%20Press%20Release.pdf

[viii] Reflections from the Aspen Institute Event on “Foundations for Social Impact Bonds.” (2013) Social Finance. Accessed on April 17, 2014 http://socialfinanceusblog.wordpress.com/2014/03/13/reflections-from-the-aspen-institute-event-on-foundations-for-social-impact-bonds/

Local Farms on the Edge

By Joel Devalcourt

The Bay Area loves chowing down on local food. Yet pressure to pave over our farms and ranches—a huge part of the greenbelt—still exists, especially in Brentwood, east Contra Costa County’s agricultural gem.

Tom Bloomfield—owner of Bloomfield Cherries and grower of wine grapes, alfalfa, and of course cherries—knows intimately the threat that sprawl poses to the future of agriculture in the Bay Area. When real estate speculators buy up farms and turn one after another into sprawling subdivisions, even those farmers who want to stay in agriculture get discouraged. “Farmers don’t want to invest and sign mortgage payments if they don’t see a future for agriculture,” says Tom.

Recent proposals for Brentwood’s update to its General Plan—the city’s blueprint for how to grow and develop—run counter to the goal of alleviating pressure to sprawl onto agricultural lands. So, Greenbelt Alliance, area residents who support Brentwood’s agricultural heritage, and other organizations are gearing up to defend the farmland at Brentwood’s urban edge.

“Brentwood’s [agricultural land] is a resource to the county and the Bay Area that is unique,” says Tom. “If the proper tools aren’t in place to protect it, it will fail.”

about our work to protect local farms and ranches.

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Source: Greenbelt Alliance

It Takes a Village

By Michele Beasley

It takes a village to plan a village. The process to plan for the future of the Five Wounds-Brookwood Terrace neighborhood in San Jose proves this rule.

Neighborhood residents, local business owners, public high school students, and more flocked to community meetings and offered suggestions for the future of their community. As the plan emerged, a keystone became its proposed town square. San Jose High Academy students suggested the town square idea. The students were inspired by neighborhood residents of Portuguese decent who brought their memories of beautiful parks in the Azores islands to the planning process.

“The highlight was bringing many different people, businesses, and organizations together to work toward a common goal,” says neighborhood leader Davide Vieira. “Everyone involved, young and old, understands they are doing something important—designing the future of the neighborhood.”

The community’s hard work paid off in November when the San Jose City Council unanimously approved the neighborhood plan. Centered on the future Alum Rock BART station, in addition to the community square the plan features new homes and transforms an unused railway line into a pedestrian trail. What has happened in the Five Wounds-Brookwood Terrace neighborhood is a peek into what’s coming in San Jose. The city’s strategy for how it will grow envisions roughly 70 “urban villages” and it will take engaging people in neighborhoods across San Jose to bring this vision to life.

Read more about the plan for Five Wounds-Brookwood Terrace and what Greenbelt Alliance is doing in other urban villages.

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Source: Greenbelt Alliance

Are we creating family-friendly cities? If not, shouldn't we be?

By Kaid Benfield

new apartment tower, San Francisco (by: Sam Breach, creative commons)

Kaid Benfield, Special Counsel for Urban Solutions, Washington, DC

As much as anyone, I have touted changing demographics in the US that show the growth of childless households as a portion of overall population. Given that families with kids are the traditional market for sprawling suburban subdivisions, this trend is seen by many, including yours truly, as helpful to our need to establish more compact development patterns that conserve land, reduce rates of driving and global warming emissions, and strengthen walkability.

Indeed, real estate analysts believe that, while there will be a continuing demand for homes with larger suburban lots, that portion of future demand can be met by current supply. The growth in the housing market will be for small-lot and multifamily housing, for which there is now a shortage compared to future demand projections.

So far, so good. But is there a fly in the ointment? The portion of families with kids may be smaller than in the past, but it is not insignificant. In our rush to promote higher-density urbanism, are we inadvertently creating child-free zones that are inhospitable to families with kids? And, if so, are we diminishing part of the cultural diversity that makes great cities?

Aaron Renn, in an article published last week on his popular blog The Urbanophile, is troubled by the trend. He believes that many inner cities essentially lost the family market some time ago and now appeal mostly to a growing, but nonetheless limited, demographic of “singles, gays, and empty-nesters.” Aaron writes that, of the 61 municipalities in 2010 that had 300,000 or more people, urbanist exemplar San Francisco ranked “dead last” in percentage of children under 18 at 13.4 percent. “The bottom ten is heavily populated by an urbanist who’s who,” he continues, “including Seattle, Washington, Boston, Portland, and Minneapolis.”

Here’s a chart of the bottom-rankers, their population of children, and the share of children in each city’s overall population:

Rank Municipality 2010
1 San Francisco city, CA 107,524 (13.4%)
2 Seattle city, WA 93,513 (15.4%)
3 Pittsburgh city, PA 49,799 (16.3%)
4 Washington city, DC 100,815 (16.8%)
5 Boston city, MA 103,710 (16.8%)
6 Urban Honolulu CDP, HI 58,727 (17.4%)
7 Miami city, FL 73,446 (18.4%)
8 Portland city, OR 111,523 (19.1%)
9 Atlanta city, GA 81,410 (19.4%)
10 Minneapolis city, MN 77,204 (20.2%)

The national share of children in the US population (as of late 2012) is 24 percent, down two points from 1990, and expected to decline by another point by 2050, according to the Population Reference Bureau, a nonprofit research group in Washington that studies global and U.S. trends. Roughly a quarter of the population remains a statistically important segment, and a particularly important one given that kids represent our society’s future.

As it happens, Aaron isn’t the only one who has been thinking about the implications. In the revitalization chapter of my book People Habitat, I discussed a decline in kids in Washington, DC, where I live, even as the population as a whole has been growing (finally, after decades of decline). Busboys & Poets, Washington DC (by: stab at sleep, creative commons)According to Jonathan O’Connell in the Washington Post, a census analysis published in 2011 showed that almost all of the city’s population increase since 2000 can be accounted for by an increase in residents between 20 and 35 years old. The number of children younger than 15 actually dropped by a fifth.

What happens when these 20- to 35-year-olds outgrow their one-bedroom condos? Is it good for the city to lose them to the suburbs?

In his article, Aaron takes the question a step further. What if the overwhelming majority of kids left in the city are from families who have no choices about where to live, and are dependent on government subsidy for their well-being? Aaron writes:

“My impression is that a large percentage of the urban stories [in today’s urbanist media] that are about children involve hand-wringing over the need for social service spending. Notwithstanding the real need for social services, a life of public housing, food stamps, and Medicaid is not aspirational. The fact that so many children in the city are in fact those whose parents are too poor to get out and who need extensive public support just to survive is not something to be celebrated.

“If we expect cities to be part of the answer to the problem of climate change, the financial unsustainability of sprawl, or anything else, then it has to be a place where children can be raised to thrive in the world . . . This doesn’t mean necessarily junking the urbanist agenda, but it does mean building a bigger tent and not overly obsessing the needs of niche market segments.”

Intuitively, I agree.

A big part of the answer, of course, lies with improving the unfortunate state of urban education in the US. My very imperfect sense is that some school systems, including Washington’s, are indeed making progress, but at a snail’s pace. I wish I were qualified to make suggestions for better city schools, because there are environmental consequences when perceptions about public schools send conscientious parents out of the city.

New York City (by: Elton Lin, creative commons)

But perhaps some answers lie in the character of the built environment, too. Should we diversify our urban housing stock to include larger as well as smaller homes, to include playgrounds as well as trendy espresso bars? What about more kid-friendly restaurants?

We definitely should include more parks and other green space concurrent with dense development; while highly urban districts are unlikely to include large private yards, we should take advantage of vacant lots and other opportunities to integrate more shared green space into dense residential neighborhoods. This brings benefits in addition to accommodating families, such as absorption of stormwater and reducing the impact of urban heat islands. As I implied in my last post, I think smart growth and urbanist advocates sometimes underestimate the power of nature to soothe some of the harder edges of city living.

These things would be a start. What ideas do readers have for cultivating more kids in the city? I know that some parents love cities so much that they and their kids will stay, even if they have options and even if they have to put up with some urban hassles. But some of these statistics suggest that, at present, there may not be enough of them. If we’re as committed to diversity as we like to say, shouldn’t that include children?

Move your cursor over the images for credit information.

Kaid Benfield writes about community, development, and the environment on Switchboard and in the national media. Kaid’s new book is People Habitat: 25 Ways to Think About Greener, Healthier Cities, available from booksellers nationwide.

Source: NRDC

Strong support for a sustainable Concord

By Joel Devalcourt

In October, the City of Concord unveiled initial strategies for revitalizing its downtown at the second in a series of community workshops on the forthcoming Downtown Specific Plan.

Greenbelt Alliance and our Community Coalition for a Sustainable Concord partners were there to ensure the plan creates a thriving neighborhood near transit, bringing new life to Concord’s economy and making downtown more livable. Read our community platform (PDF).

We were excited to see a great deal of public support for a plan that brings new homes affordable to a range of incomes to the area. In particular, many attendees noted that homes near the BART station on publicly owned land—particularly BART parking lots—could have a strong catalytic effect in Concord. Fortunately, the City’s current proposal includes a “housing-focused” land-use strategy utilizes publicly owned sites for residential and mixed-use development.

We encouraged the City to continue building strong inclusive policies for bringing homes to downtown and to prioritize the development of affordable homes on catalyst sites to make sure all Concord residents will benefit from new economic activity downtown.

Traffic safety in Concord is also a serious concern as many streets and intersections are unsafe for walking and biking. The community voiced strong support for enhancing Concord’s strategies for calming traffic and improving safety throughout the downtown area. In particular, many attendees urged the City to focus on the large arterial boulevards that cut through downtown and to widen sidewalks in the plan’s current design for key pedestrian and retail streets such as Grant Street.

We urged the City to continue the pursuit of robust strategies for creating safe conditions for walking and biking throughout downtown and greater Concord, especially on the most dangerous streets. We’re pleased that the Concord is increasingly recognizing the need to address these challenges and urge them to continue the pursuit of strategies for creating a safer environment for pedestrians and cyclists.

There was also strong support for proposed strategies to create more flexibility in parking requirements for new downtown developments. Putting people before cars will make it easier for Concord to make downtown more vibrant and safer.

The City will now spend several months working on an environmental impact report and will return early in 2014 with a draft Downtown Specific Plan. We look forward to working with Concord’s elected officials, staff, and residents to ensure the city adopts a great plan that enhances the community and improves the well-being of all Concord residents.

For more information about the Downtown Concord Specific Plan, please contact Joel Devalcourt at jdevalcourt@greenbelt.org.

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Source: Greenbelt Alliance

Morgan Hill releases EIR and agricultural preservation program

By Michele Beasley

The continuing saga of the future of Morgan Hill’s Southeast Quadrant (SEQ) started a new chapter on Friday with the long-awaited release of the draft environmental impact report (DEIR). Earlier this month, Morgan Hill also released the Draft Agricultural Lands Preservation Program. This activity comes in the middle of the City’s General Plan update.

The timing of these simultaneous processes makes things interesting.

The 2001 General Plan clearly called for a Greenbelt Plan to create a permanent buffer between San Jose and San Martin. Unfortunately, the committee tasked with establishing an urban limit line (ULL) to create a greenbelt failed to achieve this vision. Nowhere was the establishment of a permanent greenbelt more contentious than in the Southeast Quadrant, 1,250 acres of mostly working farms abutting San Martin. Comprised of several SEQ landowners who had a personal stake in maximizing the development value of their land, the committee prevented the establishment of a complete ULL around the city, leaving the SEQ in limbo for the next eight years.

Now, the General Plan Advisory Committee is planning for the next 20 years without the benefit of understanding this history or reconsidering the adoption of an ULL that excludes the SEQ from development. Each general plan growth alternatives map [PDF] identifies the SEQ as a project area, but leaves out potential land uses. SEQ planning is on a separate track, excluded from the General Plan conversation—despite its significant size and greenbelt and farmland roles—as if development is a foregone conclusion.

But is it? Morgan Hill needs to address the following issues while updating its general plan:

  • What are the environmental, economic, and energy challenges ahead that the City should be preparing for now?
  • Is a greenbelt buffer that includes viable agriculture part of Morgan Hill’s future? And if so, how do we sincerely achieve this vision?
  • If the goal is to focus on downtown, then why does the City plan to annex lands on the edge of town? And what are the costs to residents for doing so?

Morgan Hill residents should be having a spirited debate around these questions, but so far, only a small group is making development decisions that impact everyone.

Preserving agricultural lands and creating thriving communities go hand in hand. We cannot continue paving over the orchards and farmland that once defined the Valley of Heart’s Delight with housing subdivisions and shopping malls. Silicon Valley has thrived on innovation—innovation that isn’t limited to technology but that can also apply to the sources of the Bay Area’s fresh, local food—like the mushrooms, cherries, and strawberries grown in Morgan Hill.

Greenbelt Alliance invites residents to review Morgan Hills draft EIR and agriculture preservation program and to speak up for your vision of a thriving, verdant community.

The next General Plan Advisory Group meets on Thursday, January 9 at 6:30pm, location to be determined.

Contact Michele Beasley for more information.

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Source: Greenbelt Alliance

Density, Urban Frabric and an Aging Populace

Does density build strong neighborhood bones?

Density is an essential element to healthy sustainable neighborhoods. Yet the definition and perception of how density affects neighborhoods remains largely divided among its residents. Ask 2 or 20 people walking down the street, regardless of profession or academic background, what their thoughts are on density in their town and you are likely to receive contrasting viewpoints.

Often when my family gathers around the dinner table, the conversation naturally turns towards our community’s future. Before long, the subject of the conversation turns to how new city policies are transforming the fabric of our community. My family’s perspective varies as much as anyone!

The fact is our local, national and global populations expected growth continues at alarming pace. Our communities will have to absorb larger populations. In order for us to absorb the growing population, we will need all of our neighborhoods to shoulder the load and gain density.

Many within our community view this growth as a second baby boom the real growth in our communities is coming from the other end of our life spectrum, our aging adults (which is also a good thing).

This brings to light a fact that our growing population carries with it a complex problem. How do we reasonably, comfortably and sustainably accommodate more people?

The answer is to see increasing density as an opportunity for improving the quality of all residents’ lives. Higher density can improve residents’ lives and improve the health of the neighborhood directly and indirectly.

Direct benefits include residents saving money by being closely connected to services and community. Proximity to and close connections save money and time on travel, historically by car. Another direct benefit is an increased ability for residents to supplement income with adding rental units to existing property and small businesses having additional customers in a smaller regional area.

Indirect improvements to residents and the neighborhood are connected to environmental improvements e.g., improved air quality with less driving to everyday needs and services. Density creates a cascade of additional indirect or co-benefits such as the ability of elders to age in place by weaving ‘context appropriate’ features into existing neighborhoods.

Density means business – shrinking the regional pull of a business customer base, which in-turn often leads to an increase in small business start-ups. The health, diversity and economic impact of an increase in businesses within existing neighborhoods, especially when they are local-independently owned, are an often overlooked, yet key co-benefit, of increasing density.

Local merchants recirculate substantially more revenue in a regional economy than do their chain competitors, and the impact of that recirculation can be credibly measured. This measurement or ‘Local Premium’ has a higher local Economic Impact, measure only the money left in the local economy after the initial purchase is made, due to recirculation of money and the creation of local business multipliers.

The money they keep in the local economy through extra employment, contracted services, and local profit leads to more total output, income, and employment within the local community. This, in turn, leads to a further increase in retail sales, which are then taxed to generate additional income for public services.

Moving forward, communities ought to keep in mind that the world is changing at a rapid pace. All of us, when making community wide decisions must to keep our changing needs as well as the needs of our families, both before and after our own generations, in mind.

Accounting for seniors with limited or low mobility, who can walk perhaps ½ mile round trips, the LEED for Neighborhood Development rating system is a great tool for analyzing and mapping where additional density and businesses should be introduced.

In addition to his role leading the Sustainable Neighborhoods Committee at the Northern California Chapter, Scott is a licensed California General Contractor, a LEED AP, and previously enforced building code, permits and zoning regulation for the City of Alameda. In all his capacities, Scott works to identify practical green building techniques that implement an integrated approach from design to operation. This is part of an occasional series about views of land use and development issues from the ground up, where one can take time to consider the human-scale impacts of planning strategies and decisions.

(Prop/SB/AB) 39 Roadshow

You know that old adage about showing up being some large percentage of the job? Well, the movement to get Prop 39 fairly implemented within California took to the road recently with Senator de León convening the Subcommittee on Fiscal Oversight and Bonded Indebtedness in San Jose and San Diego. USGBC California has been an early, active and enthusiastic supporter of Proposition 39, which will raise $2.5B over the next five years for public energy efficiency projects, and arranged to have accomplished representatives appear and testify at both hearings. While it will certainly take more than showing up to assure that funds are distributed wisely, we want to continue working with implementing legislative authors Senator de León (SB39) and Assemblymember Nancy Skinner (AB39), Tom Steyer and Kate Gordon of the Center for the Next Generation and other stakeholders to realize the shared vision of improving existing school building performance across California, with special emphasis on previously under-served districts.

alice sung_1.23.13
Alice Sung testifies in San Jose.

Prop 39 was favored by a strong 60% mandate of California voters this past November. We agree that zeroing in on targeted improvements within schools will demonstrate progress across a wide range of communities and keeps building on the public trust of stewardship and wise use of this special revenue source.

In the first hearing at San Jose’s sprawling Independence High, longtime Northern California Chapter schools advocate Alice Sung of Greenbank Associates zeroed in on the important link between healthy classrooms and learning. Speaking as a LEED AP, member of AIA, CASH, CHPS, AASHE, technical advisor to the State Architect and Department of Education Schools of the Future Program, but especially as a mother of two daughters enrolled in the public school system, Alice stressed the theme that where children learn matters. Beyond the societal benefits of lower environmental impacts and reduced energy usage, green schools can improve student academic performance and general health. Pointing to a large library of research data, Alice described how natural daylight aids cortisol hormone production, improving concentration and academic achievement, and how “smartly-controlled” HVAC systems providing proper ventilation and improved air quality increase student task speed and offer a sanctuary from asthma-inducing neighborhoods impacted by freeways, factories, or other air pollution sources. Alice’s ability to combine the science of healthy green buildings with the passion of a committed parent made for a very strong and effective presentation.

Sean Hulen_San Diego
Sean Hulen speaks in San Diego.

Two days later in San Diego, Sean Hulen, VP at Balfour Beatty Constriction (second largest U.S. educational builder), father of two school-age children and San Diego Green Building Council Board Member, spoke from a different perspective. Representing the “Big Tent” diversity of USGBC members across California, Sean relayed his history as a carpenter working out of the back of his ’73 Buick Convertible and builder. Touching on the reversal of the effects of the Broken Window Theory that he has seen, Sean applauded efforts to find stable funding for facilities maintenance and operations and for modernization of aging schools. He pointed to the local Santee School District program and the community pride of ownership (and rising test scores) that the retrofits have engendered, as well as a related example of governmental leadership in healthy building about which he has first-hand experience: the LEED Platinum Wounded Warrior Facility at Camp Pendleton, which is designed to provide the best possible living and working conditions to heal our injured and ill Marines returning from the wars overseas.

Lastly, Sean quoted a Kenyan proverb that sums up his building aspirations: “If there are to be problems, may they come during my life-time so that I can resolve them and give my children the chance of a good life.” Prop 39 implementers would be well-advised to take just this view.

Additional hearings are planned for LA, the Inland Empire and the Central Valley, and USGBC California will look to provide perspective from our deep bench of statewide green building practitioners.