The Urban Land Institute’s Daniel Rose Center for Public Leadership in December 2013 brought its 2014 Class of Daniel Rose Fellows from Honolulu, Indianapolis, Memphis and Portland, Ore. on a 72-hour whirlwind study tour to learn from public, nonprofit, and private-sector experts and policymakers in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Since 2009, the Rose Center’s Daniel Rose Fellowship has provided leadership training and technical assistance to high-level public officials from 20 major cities around the country. Its annual study tour, a key component of the fellowship program, gives fellows the chance to delve into land use challenges as they convene in a destination city. Lessons learned are then applied to development projects in each participating city. Previous visits have taken fellows to Toronto; Manchester and Liverpool, England; and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The Rose Fellows who participated in this year’s study tour—who included city managers as well as directors of their cities’ planning, economic development and transportation departments—met with planners from the City of San Francisco, the unique regional planning think tank and advocacy organization SPUR, representatives of the urban manufacturing support organization SFMade, and local ULI members from the private development community. As an added bonus of this year’s study tour, the current class of fellows received a special opportunity to visit with Rose Fellow alumni from the City of Oakland to explore the legacy of their fellowship year with a visit to the Broadway corridor, the site of Oakland’s land use challenge in 2012.
San Francisco: Dealing with Growth’s Impacts
“It’s an interesting time here. The demographics are changing, fast, and we are seeing a huge shift in regional economics,” said John Rahaim, director of the San Francisco Planning Department, as he greeted the Daniel Rose Fellows early in the morning on the first day of their visit to the city. The recent technology boom in adjacent Silicon Valley has fueled unprecedented growth in the region’s economy.
However, “the flipside [of this growth] is the creation of an enormous housing crisis. We have perhaps the least affordable housing stock in the country,” Rahaim said.
“Everyone says you’d rather be in a boom economy than in an recession economy, and that’s true,” said George Atta, a Daniel Rose fellow who participated in the study tour, as he compared the situation in San Francisco to his own experience as planning director of the City and County of Honolulu. “But the boom economy creates economic pressure that tends to make affordable housing unaffordable, and that’s a problem.”
“We have a huge problem with gentrification and affordable housing,” said Susan Anderson, director of the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability in Portland, Ore. “Everybody wants to live within two miles of downtown and everybody else [who can't afford it] is getting kicked out.”
But Portland lacks tools that might alleviate such inequities. In 1999, the Oregon legislature passed a ban on incentives for affordable housing. Planners have since relied on tax-increment financing to assemble affordable housing developments on a piecemeal basis, but the approach is not sustainable.
“We’ll need non-regulatory solutions once [funding generated by] TIF runs out,” Anderson said.
For some of the participating fellows, the issues faced in hot real estate markets like San Francisco offered a lesson in contrast.
“It’s nice to see how the other half lives,” joked Reid Dulberger, chief economic development officer for Memphis and Shelby County, Tenn. “In places like Memphis and Indianapolis, our challenge is attracting growth.”
Further complicating San Francisco’s development challenges is a climate of rigorous environmental review.
“Every type of approval in San Francisco is discretionary, rather than administrative,” with the exception of signs, explained Rahaim. “According to the city charter, any permit—not just building permits, any permit—can be appealed. Development is viewed as a privilege, not a right.”
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. “The work we’re doing today is more detailed and more robust than it’s ever been,” Rahaim said.
SPUR: The Bay Area’s “Special Sauce”
Day two of the study tour took the fellows to SPUR, a planning and development think tank that serves up what Deputy Director Sarah Karlinsky describes as its “special sauce”—a unique blend of public outreach, policy analysis, and advocacy. The organization, founded over a century ago as the San Francisco Housing Association, has recently expanded its mission to tackle regional planning issues for the entire Bay Area.
Consulting with SPUR staff, fellows compared and contrasted land use challenges from their home cities and explored the changing nature of urban planning. Fellows sought advice on affordable housing and tax-increment financing, transportation and job sprawl, and other issues.
Brad Beaubien, planning administrator for Indianapolis and Marion County, Ind., looked to SPUR as a model for how planning might be accomplished in the future.
“I’m faced with planning for a city of almost a million people, 372 square miles with only five long-range planners,” Beaubien said. “So the question I’m looking at is, how do you plan cities without centralized planning anymore?”
Noting that planning is increasingly outsourced to consultants with the “intellectual capacity” to tackle complex projects, Beaubien speculated as to whether organizations like SPUR will begin to play a larger role throughout the United States.
“It’s really interesting that they can do both the research, and the advocacy—and live to tell the tale,” said Dulberger.
George Atta thought the solutions discussed at SPUR were useful in reimagining how Honolulu might approach thorny development and land use problems.
“I thought SPUR was a really novel institution,” Atta said. “We don’t have such a thing in Honolulu, but we are beginning to look at land trusts to deal with our affordable housing problem. Seeing how other cities are dealing with housing policies helps us to think creatively about how we are going to be addressing that problem.”
SFMade: Supporting a Vibrant Manufacturing Sector
The study tour also included a visit to SFMade, where Senior Director Janet Lees described her organization’s mission: to bolster a fledgling manufacturing sector in a city where industry is no longer central to the economy.
SFMade has only existed since 2010, but it has already strengthened the city’s traditional industries such as apparel, brewing and winemaking through technical assistance as well as networking and promotional opportunities for San Francisco’s manufacturing entrepreneurs. For example, it teaches a monthly class about how to manufacture apparel that regularly sells out.
The organization’s brand and logo have added value and name recognition to a diverse line of local products, while educational and vocational training programs have worked to ensure a supply of skilled workers.
Michael Huber, president and CEO of the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, like the other Indianapolis fellows, came to San Francisco seeking inspiration for the reuse of three vacant industrial sites in their city. He listened intently at a lunchtime meeting with Lees. Huber compared the work of SFMade to Indianapolis nonprofits People for Urban Progress and Pattern (the former repurposes building materials, and the latter supports the city’s growing fashion industry).
Although Indianapolis already supports a strong manufacturing base, the visit to SFMade was instructive, he said.
“For us, the goal is to create a stronger sense of identity for Indianapolis-made brands,” Huber said. “SFMade gave us a lot of ideas about how we can unite local manufacturers, especially niche manufacturers, around a common identity, and how they can support each other.”
Anderson saw connections between San Francisco’s industries and other major industry sectors in her city of Portland.
“There is a real connection among the kinds of companies that are locating all along the West Coast—San Francisco and Oakland, Portland, Seattle too,” Anderson said. “We stand to learn a lot from each other.”
Oakland: A Rose Center Success Story
Across San Francisco Bay, nearby Oakland—a Rose Fellowship city in 2012— historically has struggled to attract its share of regional prosperity. The city worked with the Rose Center to redefine Broadway to support an emerging arts, entertainment, and restaurant district that had established itself as a new regional destination. Less than 18 months after the conclusion of Oakland’s fellowship year, the present class of Rose Fellows toured the progress made by their Oakland colleagues.
“In the past 18 months we’ve had more than 50 new developments open up in the area, most of them restaurants or entertainment,” said Gregory Hunter, Rose Fellow alumnus and director of the City’s Office of Neighborhood Development, as he led the group of fellows through the district. “Our industrial vacancy rate, too, is the lowest ever.”
Mayor Jean Quan also proudly noted Oakland’s the 3-5 percent residential vacancy rate.
The Rose Center helped the fellows build on this momentum by addressing gaps in the area’s urban fabric, such as windowless storefronts, vacant, fenced-off lots and an expressway overpass that was uninviting to pedestrians.
Brian Kendall, urban economic analyst with Oakland’s Office of Neighborhood Investment, called the improvements “a real ULI success story” due to the positive impact that can already be seen in the Broadway district.
Strategies implemented by the Oakland fellows included street closures, complete streets and the innovative use of temporary “pop-ups”—art installations, retail storefronts, and parklets that work to generate interest and pedestrian activity in an area.
Atta paid particular attention to the pop-up scene.
“We’re in a similar situation in Honolulu,” he said. “We passed a complete streets ordinance recently, and now the council has passed a resolution asking us to do a comprehensive study of parklets.”
“I noticed that the parklets in Oakland were mobile—you can bring them in, and then you can take them back out, if you want to,” Atta observed. “A lot of what we saw in Oakland is very relevant to what we are doing in Honolulu.”
To learn more about the Rose Fellows’ experience in San Francisco, read one of the in-depth Q&As with Susan Anderson, George Atta, Michael Huber, or 2010-2011 Alumnus Fellow, John Hodgson, Founder and President of Sacramento, Calif.-based The Hodgson Company.