Council to Consider Minimum Wage Delay

On January 1, 2019, the minimum wage in Sunnyvale is scheduled to raise from $15.00 per hour to $15.53 per hour. Per the San Jose Mercury News, Sunnyvale and Mountain View are ahead of neighboring cities in raising the minimum wage.

San Jose, Palo Alto, Los Altos and Cupertino will increase their minimum wage rates from $13.50 to $15 in January, Santa Clara from $13 to $15 in January and Milpitas to $15 by July 2019. The statewide rate will jump from $11 to $12 next year and incrementally rise to $15 by 2022. Campbell, Los Gatos, Gilroy, Saratoga and Morgan Hill are following the state’s lead.

In July, City Council voted to consider delaying the scheduled increase to the city’s minimum wage in order to achieve a more consistent minimum wage level with neighboring cities. There is a fear is that businesses may move to cities like Palo Alto or Santa Clara in order to reduce wages.

A vote on the issue has not yet been annuonced, but is expected in September.

Per the San Jose Mercury News:

Although Vice Mayor Larry Klein and council members Gustav Larsson and Nancy Smith expressed support for delaying the next increase for a year, councilmen Russ Melton and Michael Goldman didn’t.

Melton worried about the “pocketbook impact” that delaying the increase would have on the city’s minimum wage earners. He said that for a couple who works full-time, 53 cents an hour can make a difference of roughly $2,200 a year. “On average, that’s a monthly rent in Sunnyvale. I actually think the public interest would be served by having other cities keep apace with Sunnyvale. I would argue that they accelerate instead of Sunnyvale decelerating.”

Russ Melton has a call to action on his Facebook page.

Sunnyvale Attracts the Nation’s Highest Proportion of Millenial Residents

Per the Daily Mail:

Sunnyvale, California had the highest influx (76.6 percent) of Millennials in the country in 2016 – which makes sense given the big tech employers like Google, Apple, and LinkedIn located in that area.

Millennials-on-the-Move_edits1_4

This map illustrates which cities had the most success attracting international Millennial talent in 2016, the most recent year for which data is available (porch.com)

 

How to Cover Urban Planning: A Guide for Local Journalists

By Nolan Gray, republished from Strong Towns

So, you’ve been assigned to write a story about urban planning. Maybe there’s a rezoning underway that would allow for more apartments in a downtown neighborhood. Or perhaps there’s a proposal to expand an already-six-lanes-wide suburban stroad. Or let’s say the city is moving to add a protected bike lane to a busy downtown street.

At this point, you’ll typically encounter three variables: First, there will be a group of people who are extremely pissed off about the proposed change and very vocal about their concerns. Second, you’ll find that, for all the surface-level local focus, the outcome of this planning initiative could have important impacts on citywide affordability and mobility. Third and finally, you will discover that a vast and complicated web of regulations, agencies, and ulterior motives are at play, which you are now expected to learn and distill down to 600 words.

All of this is to say, you have a lot on your plate! Which might explain why journalists at all levels so frequently get the reporting wrong on urban planning issues. For those of us who follow these issues with a passion, a lot of local coverage of urban planning can be a painful experience, littered, as it tends to be, with victim blaming, myopia, and uncritical restatements of special interest talking points.

To address this, I have a compiled a list of 11 friendly suggestions for local journalists covering these issues. I hope this set of guidelines will improve your reporting and leave your readers better informed. And if you’re reading this and you’re not a journalist, consider sharing it with a local reporter.

1. Don’t overemphasize the angry naysayers for things like rezonings, street diets, etc. Don’t give them the lead or headline unless you (or your editors) value clicks over quality reporting. Remember to mention supporters of the initiative and not just the developer or contractor who serves to benefit. Depending on the issue, seek out your local housing affordability or mobility activist groups and ask for their opinion.

2. The people who show up at the meetings are one unique slice of the community, not “the community.” Not everyone has the time or resources to show up for a three hour weekday evening meeting to share their mild approval of a proposed road diet. But that doesn’t mean that their voices should be ignored. As with the last suggestion, make an effort to reach out and hear the other side of the story.

3. Put the issue in the appropriate broader context. Speaking of “the other side of the story,” don’t get swept up by parochial concerns. If you only listen to the angry locals at the community meeting, the rezoning you are covering might sound like the end of the world. But if you take a step back and look at the bigger picture, you may find that proposal ties into broader citywide issues. Small planning decisions have big impacts on citywide affordability and mobility. When it comes to things like housing affordability, that “bigger picture” might even be national. Clue your readers into the full story.

4. If you are covering a rezoning, explicitly name and describe the current and proposed zoning. It’s actually a bit remarkable how many articles I read about rezoning that don’t once mention the zoning districts at play or the details of how they’ll regulate development. Sometimes an article lists a proposed change without actually explaining the current laws. You wouldn’t report on an election and not say the names of the candidates or whose seat they’re running for; why leave out such basic details in urban planning coverage?

5. Always link to the relevant public reports, studies, hearing recordings, etc. Most of the reports and studies you are citing will be publicly available online as PDFs, and many cities now have their public hearings recorded and posted online. This simple addition adds depth for the more engaged readers, without boring casual readers.

6. Confused? Ask the city planner assigned to the case. Their job is literally to explain this stuff to elected officials and the public, and they will almost always have a comprehensive knowledge of the situation. Plus, if they are professional, they won’t editorialize, unlike most of the other people, you will be interviewing.

7. Things that strike you as crazy might actually have solid evidence-based support among experts and professionals. For example, let’s say your city is considering pricing on-street parking or removing a lane of traffic. Everyone in the room might be up in arms about how this will make parking and driving harder, but both of these initiatives have rock-solid researched evidence to support them and to explain their benefits to your community. That doesn’t mean these sorts of decisions should be an open-and-shut case, but leaving out such details impoverishes your reader’s perspective.

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Typical pedestrian-blaming in a headline (Source: CT Post)

8. Blaming the person hit by the car is bad form. Sadly, pedestrian and bicyclist deaths are an all-too-common story that you may be forced to cover at some point. Don’t overemphasize some tiny “error” on the part of the pedestrian/bicyclists (for example, “she wasn’t wearing a helmet,” “he had had a few drinks,” “she didn’t walk a mile down to the crosswalk,” etc.) especially if the driver was known to be speeding and/or distracted. Don’t implicitly (and inappropriately) assign blame simply by the way you structure sentences (for example, say “the bicyclist and the semi-truck collided,” not “the bicyclist collided with the semi-truck”). Police reports may, at times, engage in this kind of lazy victim blaming, but know that you don’t need to overemphasize it, as stories of this nature frequently do.

9. It’s “traffic crashes,” not “traffic accidents.” “Accident” assumes that there was nothing that could be done about the incident. This is rarely the case, and I’m not just talking about careless drivers here. In many cases, grossly negligent street design makes traffic crashes practically inevitable.

10. Not everyone drives. Keep their perspectives in mind. If you are a driver, it can be easy to assume that everyone drives. But if you are reporting in a mid-size city or larger, or a college town, chances are good that anywhere from one in 10 to one in four of your readers commute via by transit, walking, or bicycle. Furthermore, every city has plenty of residents who don’t drive because they are too young, too old, disabled, can’t afford a car, etc. Some of your readers may be reading your article about a proposed dedicated bus lane as they sit on a bus stuck in traffic. Don’t leave out that perspective.

11. Try to conclude with how an interested reader can get involved. When you first report on a local planning issue, the fight is almost certainly far from over. Share the dates, times and locations for upcoming hearings. Perhaps even let your readers know who in government they might contact about this issue. Local journalism matters, in part, because it strengthens local democracy—the level at which America’s ideals come closest to reality. Make it easy for your readers to join the discussion about the future of their community.

Planning Commission: July 23, 2018

Municipal Link: https://sunnyvaleca.legistar.com/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=575384&GUID=E4A53C8E-C5BA-41D2-9AEA-B7377C56B83E

Study Session A: 18771 E Homestead Road

The developer is planning to subdivide a 0.8-acre site near the Apple campus into five lots for single-family homes. The new homes will be arranged around a shared driveway off of Homestead Road. Three of the houses adjacent to Eichlers on Lorne Way will be single-story, in a modern style evocative of Eichler design. The homes adjacent to Homestead will be two-story homes.

Planning Commissioners were concerned with the quality of the facade facing Homestead, and the variety among the facades within the site. Neighbor Craig Molito shared a concern that residents on Lorne Way wanted to remain a cul-de-sac, and avoid the prospect of reduced safety due to cut-through traffic from Homestead. The current plans call for no access to the site via Lorne Way.

Study Session B: Consideration of Usable Open Space in Required Front Yards

City Staff are researching whether the shared front yard space in residential complexes can be counted toward their requirement for usable open space. Deviations have been granted previously for some smaller townhouse developments on corner lots, which had a lot of frontage. Planning Commissioners expressed a preference for having a flexible policy, especially for smaller developments on corner lots, but not creating an excuse for developers to swallow up usable open space at the rear of the property.

Community Outreach meetings on this topic will be held at the West Conference Room in City Hall on Thursday, August 2 at 10am, and Monday, August 6 at 6pm.

Agenda Item 2: 1441 Norman Drive

This project is to demolish a one-story home and build a two-story house. The Planning Commission needed to review this project because the floor area exceeds 3,600 square feet and the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) exceeds 45%.

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Project Rendering: 1441 Norman Drive

The proposed house is 6 bedrooms, including an Accessory Dwelling Unit. The high quality of the design was praised by Planning Commissioners, but there was concern expressed that the Floor Area Ratio of 59% was out of scale with the surrounding neighborhood.

The owner, Nirmal Sharma, explained that due to the cost of land, it is important to build as much house as possible, so that he may provide a home for his family, multiple sets of grandparents, and the children, and that living arrangements of this nature are intuitive to families from his native India. City staff opined that while the house was large for the neighborhood, that concern was compensated for by superior design.

Voting 5-2, the Planning Commission denied the project, with instructions to staff to work with the applicant to redesign the home with a goal of around 50% FAR, including the ADU.

Agenda Item 3: 863 San Pablo Ave

This project is to add a 498 square foot addition to the second story of a two-story home. The Planning Commission needed to review this project because the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) exceeds 45%.

 

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Streetscape Elevation: 863 San Pablo Ave

Due to the timing of this home expansion relative to previous home expansions, there was a concern as to whether the timing and scale of this home expansion was made to avoid a Fire Code requirement to add sprinklers to the house. The homeowner, Mr. Jagait, explained that the phased development of the house was due to construction costs, balanced with the changing needs of his growing family and that if required to do so, he would be willing to add sprinklers. City staff cautioned that sprinkler requirements were outside the authority of the Planning Commission.

Planning Commissioners were pleased with the design of the extension, and that the expansion would make the front of the house appear more balanced. The plan was approved unanimously, with amendments requiring matching window treatments on the upper and lower floors, that the Fire Code would be met, and that Mr. Jagait was encouraged to install sprinklers.

Agenda Item 4: 982 Yorktown Drive

This project is to demolish a one-story home and build a two-story house, with an attached Accessory Dwelling Unit. The Planning Commission needed to review this project because the floor area exceeds 3,600 square feet.

 

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Front Elevation: 982 Yorktown Drive

Spencer Tsai explained that his family has lived in the existing house on the corner for many years and that he had long yearned for a second story view. Planning Commissioners expressed concern with the security of the sliding glass door on the ADU. Due to the small size of the ADU, a sliding door was preferred over an inward-opening door. It was also noted that due to the shape of the lot, the sliding door was facing toward the side of the property, and less visible from the street.  There was some confusion over a fifth parking space jutting off the side of the driveway in front of the house, which had at one point been added to accommodate the ADU, but later removed when it was noted that the ADU does not require additional parking.

An additional concern was noted that the layout of the house, which includes an upper floor and a basement, made it amenable to being subdivided into multiple unpermitted accessory-type units. Mr. Tsai explained that the layout was intended to provide adult members of the extended family some space, including a man cave in the basement.

The Planning Commission approved the project unanimously, with amendments that staff would exercise discretion in determining that the ADU door was sufficiently secure and that if desired, a fifth parking spot could be added by widening the driveway with a semi-permeable material.

Agenda Item 5: Rezone Two Lots from R-1 to R-0

The project requests that two lots be rezoned from R-1 to R-0. The Planning Commission makes a recommendation to the City Council.

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Zoning Map: 932 Eleanor Way and 1358 Hampton Drive

In Sunnyvale, R-1 and R-0 are both low-density residential zones which permit 7 units per acre. A primary difference is that the minimum lot size for R-1 is 8,000 square feet, while the minimum lot size for R-0 is 6,000 square feet. The R-1 designation provides a “large lot” feel for neighborhoods.

The applicant, Cyrus Fakhari, who lives at 1358 Hampton Drive, was concerned at plans to rebuild the neighboring 932 Eleanor Way to include a two-story Accessory Dwelling Unit in the rear, which would have a good view of surrounding neighbors. He purchased the lot to avoid this outcome. Mr. Fakhari prefers the “small home” feel characteristic of Hampton Drive. He explained his concern that the “large lot” R-1 designation had, due to economic circumstances described by the meeting’s previous applicants, become a palette for oversized homes that were inconsistent with the original intentions of R-1 zoning. Mr. Fakhari’s ambition with the proposed zoning change was to reconfigure the two large lots into three smaller lots, with modest-sized homes on each lot, which would be consistent with many of the surrounding houses.

Mary Sullivan and Henry Alexander III spoke in opposition to the zoning change, citing concerns with neighborhood character, population density, and parking. Mr. Fakhari responded that the immediate area had plentiful street parking and that three smaller homes would collectively be required to provide more off-street parking than two larger homes.

The Planning Commission, citing concerns with spot zoning, neighborhood character, neighborhood opposition, and the city’s policy to maintain different zoning designations to facilitate different housing types, voted 6-1 to reject the proposed zoning change. This recommendation will be considered by the City Council, which has final authority on zoning changes.

Planning Commission: July 9, 2018

NOTE: I serve on the Planning Commission, and I have been taking some decent notes at the last few Planning Commission meetings. This is an experiment to see whether I can convert that effort into informative blog posts. -danny

Municipal Link: https://sunnyvaleca.legistar.com/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=575383&GUID=6713B19D-AAF8-4395-B21F-62B6C9E0B744

Study Session A: 370 San Aleso Avenue

The developer intends to convert an industrial lot to 18 two-story duplexes and 47 three-story townhomes. The two-story townhomes will sit at the perimeter of the property, backing to a concrete wall that separates this property from the adjacent residential neighborhood, which is mainly single-family houses.

Three deviations are contemplated. One deviation for height will be earned due to green building. The second deviation is for 1′ at the front of the property, due to a widened sidewalk. The third deviation of 2′ from the rear would be for optional covered patios for the duplex units.

Planning Commission feedback expressed skepticism about the merit for the deviation to allow the covered patios, along with plentiful discussion regarding the architectural design and the quality of the elements. I noted that it would be nice if residents in the duplexes and residents of the adjacent neighborhood could have the option to tear down their respective sections of the wall and replace it with a more neighborly fence, to better integrate the new development with the existing neighborhood. The developer noted that at community meetings, residents were adamant that the wall needed to stand, unbreached.

Agenda Item 2: 669 & 673 Old San Francisco Road

The developer wants to merge two single-family lots on Old San Francisco Road, and build a 6-unit townhouse complex. A similar project was approved last year for this site, but denied by City Council.

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Project Rendering: 669 & 673 Old San Francisco Road

The developer requested a continuance to the August 13 Planning Commission meeting. Maria Hamilton and Cecilia Morrison, chair of the adjacent Pebble Creek HOA, each outlined numerous reasons why they oppose the project.

Agenda Item 3: 348 Morse Avenue

The applicant is expanding the first floor of the house and adding a second floor. The Planning Commission needed to review this project because the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) exceeds 45%.

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Streetscape Elevation: 348 Morse

The application was unanimously approved, with a condition that a portion of the roof ridge will be extended to avoid sloping into a vertical wall.

Agenda Item 4: 1159 Northumberland Drive

This project will demolish a one-story home and build a two-story home. The Planning Commission needed to review this project because the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) exceeds 45%.

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Project Rendering: 1159 Northumberland Drive

Neighbors to the rear, including Robert Kucher and John Daly, expressed concerns at a rear window on the second floor, 6′ wide by 4′ tall, that would look out on their backyards. City Staff were satisfied with the window, given that the house is set back generously from the rear lot line, and the applicant had agreed to plant trees to provide additional privacy. The Planning Commission discussed options, including relocating the window, raising the sill, and use of frosted glass. Because the window is otherwise consistent with the city’s design and privacy guidelines, the Planning Commission unanimously approved the project without modifying the window.

Agenda Item 5: Expand Boundaries of Lawrence Station Area Plan

This is a General Plan Amendment Initiation: Planning Commission recommends to City Council whether or not to add properties at 932, 945, 950, and 955 Kifer Road to the Lawrence Station Area Plan.

LSAP

Additional Industrial properties to add to the Lawrence Station Area Plan

The properties are owned by Intuitive Surgical and lie within a maximum of 0.7 miles from Lawrence Caltrain. By adding them to the LSAP, the plan area, and Intuitive, would have more flexibility to redevelop commercial space within the plan area. The Planning Commission unanimously supported their inclusion in the LSAP, and this recommendation will be considered by the City Council.

Agenda Item 6, 7, 8: Selection of Chair, Vice Chair, and Seats

After contemplating seniority, prior service, and willingness, the Planning Commission elected Daniel Howard as the new Chair and David Simons as the new Vice Chair. Chair Rheume was thanked for his service for the past year.

City seeks Public Input: Vision Zero, Caribbean Drive

As part of the ongoing Vision Zero program to eliminate all traffic fatalities, Public Works have identified ten priority locations where they will work to improve safety. Public input is welcome online until 5pm April 27. Project locations include:

  1. El Camino Real between Mary and Mathilda
  2. El Camino Real between Taaffe and Fair Oaks
  3. The El Camino-Fremont-Wolfe triangle
  4. Remington / Fair Oaks between Iris and Manet
  5. El Camino Real between Henderson and Helen
  6. Mathilda and Maude
  7. Fair Oaks between Balsam and Taylor
  8. Fremont between Sunnyvale Saratoga and Floyd
  9. Homestead between Heron and Wolfe
  10. Mary between Remington and Fremont

Sunnyvale_Carribean_Drive_MapJPEGforWebsite 10-16-17

Additionally, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission (BPAC) will be meeting on April 19 at 6:30pm to review options to improve bicycle and pedestrian connections to the Bay Trail near the Water Pollution Control Plant and Caribbean Drive. To date, vigilant citizens have been engaged in this project ensure a safe, high-quality connection between Borregas and the Bay Trail.

Cyclist Death and a Call to Action

Last week, a cyclist was killed by a big rig truck at Borregas and Sunnyvale Ave, near the SMaRT recycling station. This is where Sunnyvale’s principle North-South bicycle corridor connects to the Bay Trail. There is further coverage at the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition.

The SVBC has posted a Call to Action for City Council, which meets Tuesday evening. Folks are invited to contact City Council and request that the consent item for the Green Street Demonstration Program along Carribean Drive be pulled from the agenda and that additional review is made to ensure safety.