Urban Planning

RECENT POSTS

Filling the Gaps in Oakland’s Climate Plan

Study could help city prepare for impacts already on the way

Craig Miller

Oakland aims to shrink its carbon footprint by more than a third. But what about preparing for impacts already on the way?

The City of Oakland is forging a comprehensive Energy and Climate Action Plan aimed at mitigating climate change. Even by California standards; it’s ambitious, calling for a 36% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2020 (statewide emissions decreased 5.3% between 2005 and 2009, the most recent year for which numbers are available). It also lays out the policies and programs needed to make it happen. What the plan doesn’t answer is how the city will cope with the climate change that has already been set in motion.

Enter a study prepared by Oakland’s Pacific Institute for the California Energy Commission, published in July but not widely circulated until this month. It fills in the holes in the city’s approach by advancing “climate adaptation planning,” in which local governments prepare for dealing with climate change on a short-and-long-term basis and across all segments of the population. Continue reading

Coastal Erosion in SF Prompts Planning and Debate

City planners are looking at ways to reconfigure the city’s western edge

Sigma./Flickr

One of the challenges for the Ocean Beach Master Plan is how to slow the erosion of Ocean Beach's sandy cliffs.

San Francisco’s Ocean Beach is eroding; that’s not up for debate. But planners are still figuring out the best way to handle the erosion that’s already happening, and how to prepare for sea level rise. And that’s going to take a lot of planning: Ocean Beach itself is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, managed by the National Park Service, but there are also the nearby residential neighborhoods to consider; plus the Great Highway, a wastewater treatment plant, the parking lot at the beach, endangered species, surfers, dog walkers and the occasional hopeful sun bather.

The Ocean Beach Bulletin, a local news site and one of KQED’s News Associates, has been covering the development of the new plan for San Francisco’s coastline, called the Ocean Beach Master Plan, which will attempt to address erosion and rising sea levels, while balancing the myriad social and environmental needs.

Over the weekend, the New York Times weighed in, too:

Continue reading

Blame My Driving Habits on that Parking Spot

Being the true confessions of a solo driver in L.A.

Hear Krissy Clark’s companion radio feature from The California Report.

Craig Miller

Afternoon rush hour with a mostly-empty HOV lane

I’m a Bay Area native who has about evenly divided my adult life between San Francisco and Los Angeles. So, I have a schizophrenic relationship to driving. Which is to say, I have the same kind of relationship that California as a whole has to driving.

Here’s what I’ve learned during my intra-state sojourns: my transportation habits have very little to do with how environmentally conscious I am as a person, and have a lot to do with parking spots.

When I lived in San Francisco, my daily life was 90% car-free. I owned a car but aside from moving it on street sweeping days (or trying to remember to), I barely thought about the thing unless I was leaving for a weekend trip. My bike, my feet, the bus, BART and the transbay ferries were my chariots. Some of it had to do with the city’s human-scaled streets and efficient public transit. But mostly, it was just too damn time-consuming–or expensive–to find a parking spot most of the places I wanted to go. I couldn’t be bothered to drive. Continue reading

Visualizing California Climate Change

An engrossing one-stop shop for California’s climate future goes online

If you’re like me, and you spend a good part of every day thinking about climate change and California, you may have already lost yourself in the treasure trove of climate data and mapping fun that is Cal-Adapt, a comprehensive series of online tools just released by  the California Natural Resources Agency and the California Energy Commission.

And if you’re not like me, it’s still worth checking out.

Built by UC Berkeley’s Geospatial Innovation Facility, Cal-Adapt is designed to aid local and regional planners in preparing to adapt to climate change by providing scientific data from institutions like Scripps Institute of Oceanography, U.S. Geological Survey, UC Merced, and the Pacific Institute, and integrating it with mapping and charting capabilities from Google. The result is an attractive, interactive experience that enables you to view potential future climate-related scenarios for any location in California, and to sort by topics such as sea level rise, wildfire, and snowpack.  Importantly, data sources are prominently displayed. Continue reading

State Struggling to Reduce Vehicle Emissions

This post was originated by our content partners at California Watch.

Report says driving needs to be more costly to get us out of our cars

By Marie C. Baca

Drivers now pay $6 to cross the San Francisco Bay Bridge during peak traffic hours. "Peak pricing" is one strategy to push commuters to alternative transit. (Photo: Craig Miller)

California faces significant obstacles in complying with a 2008 state law aimed at reducing passenger vehicle usage, according to a report by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California.

The report points to unrealized rail transit investments and resistance to pricing tools like fuel taxes as factors that have slowed reduction in car usage.

The two-year-old SB 375 mandates that California’s major metropolitan areas reduce per capita emissions from driving by 7 percent by 2020 and by 15 percent in 2035. While the primary focus of the bill is a reduction in the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, the legislation places a special emphasis on addressing traffic and public health concerns by reducing the number of miles residents drive. Continue reading

Photograph High Tides, Glimpse the Future?

High tide at Pier 14 in San Francisco on January 19, 2011 (Photo: Jack Gregg)

This week another round of extremely high tides will hit the California coast, providing a glimpse of what the state can expect as sea levels continue to rise. These “king tides” will roll in from February 16th through the 18th, with the highest swells expected on the morning of the 17th, between 7:30 and 9 a.m.

A consortium of environmental groups is again calling for help documenting these high tides. The San Francisco Bay National Estuarine Reserve (NERR), which is spearheading the local effort, has set up a Flickr site where members of public can share their photos.  Organizers launched the site last month, in time for the king tides in January, and since then more than 80 photos have been uploaded by dozens of contributors. Continue reading

NASA’s Closer Look at the Bay Area


Taking global climate models and “downscaling” them for use at the local level is an ongoing challenge for scientists and for planners.  But thanks to new climate projections from NASA, the Bay Area now has a sharper view of what may be in store.

BCDC map showing 16 inches of sea level rise in the SF Bay, which the agency projects will occur by mid-century.

NASA says two-thirds of its facilities are at risk from sea-level rise, including Ames Research Center, which sits at the southern edge of San Francisco Bay.  So, it’s not exactly altruism that motivated the agency to deploy its own scientists to take a closer look at what climate change will really mean on the ground in places where it’s heavily invested. Continue reading

King Tides Could Preview Sea Level Rise

Photo of Distillery Point near Half Moon Bay, a contribution to the King Tide Photo Initiative. (Photo: jsutton8, Flickr)

This week, seasonal high tides, known as “King Tides” will roll into the Bay Area, providing a preview of what the region might face if sea level rises over the coming decades as predicted.

So the organizers of the Bay Area King Tide Photo Initiative want you to grab your camera and help document the tides.  The San Francisco Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) has set up a Flickr site for the photos, where participants can upload their “before, during, and after” shots. Continue reading

Hidden Treasure: An “Eco-City” in SF Bay?

Thousands roar by Treasure Island every day without a passing glance. That could soon change…radically.

Listen to Alison Hawkes’ companion radio feature on The California Report, Monday morning, and see a slide show of the island’s transformation, below.

Architect's rendering of a proposed "eco-city" on Treasure Island, in San Francisco Bay.

San Francisco’s twin islands in the Bay – Treasure Island and Yerba Buena – are not exactly jewels of nature. Although they have stunning views, a half-century of use by the U.S. Navy and years in redevelopment limbo have taken a toll.

Some sites on Treasure Island are severely contaminated, and much of the island is cracked asphalt and derelict buildings. Yerba Buena is solid rock but Treasure Island is entirely artificial, conjured from bay mud as an engineering showcase for the 1939 World’s Fair. As time passes, a corner of Treasure Island is gradually sinking into the sea. Rising sea levels as a result of climate change could subsume the island entirely, returning it back to its natural state, which is to say underwater.

In short, the place needs some serious help and this is where a massive multi-billion dollar redevelopment takes stage. Private developers want to transform the islands into a high-density “eco-city” with as many as 20,000 residents, making use of the best that technology and city planning have to offer in sustainable development. Continue reading

Antidote for Urban Heat: More Trees

When the temperature shoots up, cities usually feel the heat the most. But some cities feel the heat more than others.

Scientists studying urban heat islands in 42 cities in the Northeastern U.S. have found that the greatest temperature differences between urban areas and the surrounding environment are in places you might not expect. Continue reading