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City Planning

Louis Sauer, architect: Low-rise dense housing in an urban setting

Reading time: 5 minutes -- The architect Louis Sauer specialized in high-quality, high-density, low rise housing. His urban designs were typically just three stories tall, with configurations of intertwined townhomes, set in patterns so that each home had a separate and private yard. 

“Mio” apartments in Seattle — Density of 205 units per acre

Reading time: 5 minutes -- The "Mio" apartments in Seattle are 41 units with a density of 205 units per acre. I present it here not as something we can copy for Arcata, but as an example of what can be done. I do not like all of the design choices, nor believe that this design in its entirely would be suitable for us. Yet I feel we can learn and profit by looking at its design.

US Congress Research reports: Housing Trends & Policy Considerations

Reading time: 5 minutes to an hour -- At their September 12, 2023, Planning Commission Yodowitz introduced a Congressional Research Report on housing. This article contains that 16-page report , excerpts, and commentary. Plus 3 shorter reports (3, 4, 5 pages) and links to the full 50-page report to Congress.

US Congress Research reports: Housing Issues report – July 14, 2023

Read time: Charts 2 minutes. Full report 60 minutes -- The report to Congress from June 2023 on housing. Includes 4 easy-to-view charts:  Median rent prices, Median sale prices, Mortgage rates, Consumer price index for Shelter expenses.

Inclusionary Zoning, objective design standards approved in Santa Cruz

Read time: 7 minutes. Skim: 2 minutes. -- We can look at how Santa Cruz has dealt with some of the same issues we face here in Arcata. Santa Cruz already had an existing 20% inclusionary requirement. New proposal: Projects with a 25% inclusionary requirement get a 30% density bonus. Projects with a 30% inclusionary requirement get a 50% density bonus. Other issues: Public hearings for new larger construction.

The Myth of “Privately-Owned Publicly-Accessible” Open Spaces

Reading time: 14 minutes -- The "Privately-Owned Publicly-Accessible" Open Space program is another ill-conceived aspect of the Gateway Plan. Again, noble in concept -- and unlikely to give desired results in its execution. A look at the design of the Privately-Owned Publicly-Accessible Open Space program, to see how it can be improved. With maps, commentary, and SOLUTIONS.

Arcata Fire District Director: Eric Loudenslager – August 4, 2022

Eric Loudenslager, Board of Directors member of the Arcata Fire Protection District, weighs in on some of the challenges of the Gateway Plan, and some requests for information and involvement.

Planwest 3D Massing Diagrams are non-existent — No 3D diagrams to evaluate the Gateway heights and massing

Reading time: 4 minutes -- The "Gateway Area Form-Based Code Enhanced Content & Outreach" contract amendment with Planwest for $118,000 was approved at the December 21, 2022 Council meeting. The "Plan Area Massing Diagram" would be especially useful at this time, as we are discussing massing and building heights. Eight months later, and it's never been delivered.

3D Modeling and Visualizations have been removed from the draft Gateway Area Plan

The 3D Modeling and Visualizations have been removed from the draft Gateway Area Plan. There was a placeholder page titled "Visualizations" (Page 42) and now that page is gone. On Tuesday, August 22, 2023, the Council & Commission are being asked -- once again -- to discuss building heights. And they do not have the basic tools that any planner would need in order to accomplish this.

Dave Ryan says: Abandon the L-K Street Couplet & Embrace the Pathway

At the August 2, 2022, Transportation Safety Committee meeting Chair Dave Ryan spoke for 9 minutes on just why the plan's L-K Street Couplet should be abandoned -- and replaced with an L Street Linear Park and walking pathway -- and why this is the heart of a successful Gateway plan for Arcata.

Arcata General Plan 2045 Environmental Impact Report – Notice of Preparation

The "Notice of Preparation" for the EIR for the Arcata General Plan 2045, including includes analysis of the Draft Gateway Area Plan as a new  element of the General Plan. Dated:  February 2, 2022.

A vision of sustainable housing for all of humanity – Vishaan Chakrabarti

Vishaan Chakrabarti in a 10-minute TED talk. I believe that the answer is hiding in plain sight, that there is what I call a “Goldilocks” scale that sits between the scale of housing and towers: two- to three-story housing that should actually look very familiar to most of you, because we built the most beloved parts of our cities with it.

State Density Bonus Laws / Inclusionary Zoning / Community Benefits — David Loya presentation

“And our design standards and Community Benefits programs are unlikely to be implemented due to waivers and concessions.” --- Arcata's Director of Community Development David Loya has provided this video presentation of the various affordable housing programs. 15-1/2 minutes, July 28, 2023. VIDEO and full TRANSCRIPTION.

Linear Park and Woonerf examples for us to look at

What concepts for a full-width Linear Park in the L Street Corridor would work for Arcata? Here are some images from other cities to show what's worked for them.

Former Commissioner John Barstow: Building Height, the Form-Based Code

John Barstow served Arcata on the Planning Commission and the earlier Design Review Committee for 30 years. He retired in October, 2022. He favored a four-story building height and was not optimistic about the Community Benefits program. He also recognized that "The development of the Form-Based Code is really the hard part of this process."

Podium Construction: New apartment buildings all look the same

The buildings are five to seven stories tall and have a boxy shape. The ground floor is a parking garage, sometimes combined with shops. Four or five stories of apartments or condos sit on top of this concrete “podium,” so they’re often called podium buildings. They cover a large area compared to older apartment buildings, often taking up a considerable portion of a block face. These buildings are prevalent because they maximize developers’ profits by balancing leasable floor area (more is better) with construction cost (less is better). Simply put, podium buildings represent a proven formula for creating marketable housing at a reasonable cost.

Why do so many new apartment buildings seemingly look the same?

SHORT ARTICLE *** If you think every new apartment looks the same these days, you aren’t alone. Boxy mid-rise structures have cropped up in cities across the country, drawing the ire of neighbors and some architecture critics who find the buildings bland or downright ugly. ***** Why do so many of these “podium” apartments – built in cities from Nashville to Los Angeles and which typically include retail stores or parking on the first floor – look the same? And does that even matter during a housing crisis when more units are needed? 

America’s New Apartment Buildings Look the Same

LONG ARTICLE *** These buildings are in almost every U.S. city. They range from three to seven stories tall and can stretch for blocks. They’re usually full of rental apartments, but they can also house college dorms, condominiums, hotels, or assisted-living facilities. Close to city centers, they tend toward a blocky, often colorful modernism; out in the suburbs, their architecture is more likely to feature peaked roofs and historical motifs. Their outer walls are covered with fiber cement, metal, stucco, or bricks.

No Parking in the Gateway area? Banks may be unwilling to provide financing

The Gateway Area Plan has a maximum number of parking spaces allowed -- either one parking space for every 4 apartment units or one space for every 2 apartment units. The financial lenders and the developers themselves may be unwilling to accept this.

Gateway Density and Feasibility Study – Introduction

This is the introduction to the lengthy article on the Urban Field Studio "Code Site Test. PLEASE READ THE FULL ARTICLE ALSO. It will take about 30-45 minutes to read. The full article has both critique and support by an expert of the Gateway Plan, and a good Q&A from Arcata's Planning Commissioners.

Density and Feasibility Study – from Ryan Call of Urban Field Studio – July 11, 2023

IMPORTANT presentation to the Planning Commission, July 11, 2023. Can high-density tall buildings be constructed in the Gateway Area? This report presents findings on four specific sites. The answer: In theory, yes. On a practical, economically-feasible, realistic basis -- the answer is NO.

3D Modeling: We’re still waiting

Original article: June 16, 2022 --We've been promised the 3D modeling for at least four or five months now. *** ONE AND A HALF YEARS NOW **** Why is 3D Modeling so important? Look at the pictures here and decide for yourself.

Redwood City Downtown Precise Plan – Form-Based Code

Redwood City's Downtown Precise Plan includes Form-Based code and Planning Commission review. It all took 4 years to develop. The Form-Based Code can serve as a model for Arcata.

Complete Nonsense: David Loya’s May 23 Staff Report on Ownership Opportunities

Providing housing for people is the key purpose of the Gateway Area Plan. "Home ownership opportunities” is defined as owner-occupied housing that’s affordable to people of all income ranges, including middle-income and even lower-income households. *** David Loya told the Planning Commission how these home ownership opportunities could happen. In my view, what he describes as being feasible is nonsense.

Condensed version of Complete Nonsense: David Loya’s May 23 Staff Report on Ownership Opportunities

Providing housing for people is the key purpose of the Gateway Area Plan. "Home ownership opportunities” is defined as owner-occupied housing that’s affordable to people of all income ranges, including middle-income and even lower-income households. *** David Loya told the Planning Commission how these home ownership opportunities could happen. In my view, what he describes as being feasible is nonsense.

MIG City Planning and Design: Communities can plan their own futures

MIG is a design and planning firm with over 200 employees in 14 locations, founded in 1982. "We believe that the environment around us has a profound impact on our lives. We plan, design and sustain environments that support human development." "We are a community of designers, planners, engineers, scientists and storytellers engaging, involving and acting with people in creative problem solving."

MIG Design: Streets Reconsidered — Streets Are for People

Let’s go the next step beyond travel lanes and bike lanes, sidewalks and crosswalks. Let’s design streets for living, not just driving. *** We used to grow up on the street. We’d play, we’d walk to the neighbors with a casserole for the block potluck, we’d ride bikes, play games, hang out, socialize. So would our pets. Drivers knew enough to watch out for us. We all survived and thrived. We want that again. ***

Utah Senator Mitt Romney calls bike lanes “the height of stupidity”

This just goes to show that almost anything can become controversial. Last year, Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton warned Fox News viewers that Democrats "want to make you live in downtown areas, and high-rise buildings, and walk to work, or take the subway, or ride an electric scooter" and "make us all poor."

Gary Patton: Let’s not wait around for someone else to tell us

Gary Patton: Let's not wait around for someone else to tell us what has happened to us, and about the history that has been made in our names. Let's talk to our neighbors, and friends, and get to work. We have challenges and opportunities to confront, and it's not "the government" that is supposed to do things. WE are supposed to do things.

Prime Agricultural Land Threatened — Come to the Planning Commission meeting

DO NOT REZONE Agricultural Land for development. **** DO NOT eliminate the protective language in the General Plan. Arcata's staff is recommending to remove the protections that we've had for 20 years. **** PROTECT our Prime Agricultural Land to the West and North of Arcata's city limits by taking these parcels out of the City's "Sphere of Influence."

​“Anxiety on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”

At their March 1 and April 5, 2023, meetings, the Arcata City Council formally directed the Planning Commission to do as much as it can -- as fast as it can -- to create complete and workable drafts of Arcata's new General Plan update, the new Gateway Area Plan, and the brand-new first-time-ever Form-Based Code for the Gateway area. The Council has requested complete working drafts of these three documents by the end of June, 2023 -- now (at the time of this writing) under 3 months away. ---- As the former Community Development Department long-time employee often said: "ANXIETY ON YOUR PART DOES NOT CONSTITUTE AN EMERGENCY ON MY PART."

Uniontown Revisioning: Put housing over CVS and Safeway

In May, 2020, six HSU students created a proposal to build apartments in the space above Uniontown Shopping Center, at 7th and F Streets.  With a height limit of 35 feet (3 stories) the plan included 66 apartments of sizes from 350 square feet to 1800 square feet. The report also includes a discussion of Form-Based Codes and required design elements and considerations.

Dan Duncan: “2022 Arcata: 18 Ways of looking at a City”

Daniel Duncan is a retired contractor and present-time architectural commentator who has lived here in Arcata for over 50 years. His articles on Arcata planning, housing, and design appeared first in the Mad River Union, and now the eighteen articles from 2022 have been collected in his new book. Dan's book is available now at Northtown Books in Arcata and Booklegger in Eureka. The price is $10.

The $300,000 starter home is going extinct

The figure of $300,000 is shown as a house that is "attainable" for a couple or small family, based on earnings and ability to pay the mortgage and expenses. And a house at $300,000 or below just is not available anymore. --- The answer? Smaller units. Higher densities -- apartment buildings, that is. And if there cannot be condominiums (see: The Housing Market Needs More Condos. Why Are So Few Being Built?), then this equates to renting and not owning. Ownership opportunities have become a part of the past.

Density Bonus Laws explained — David Loya to the Planning Commission

Community Development Director David Loya provided a concise explanation of California's myriad Density Bonus housing laws in the March 2023 Planning Commission staff reports. It is included it here so it can be referred to at any time.

Windowless bedrooms? Sunlight is considered a luxury benefit

In recent years, windowless bedrooms have become somewhat normalized on college campuses. Students at the University of Texas, Austin and the University of Michigan are currently renting dorm bedrooms without windows. Sunlight in your bedroom could become a luxury as cities debate allowing landlords to rent windowless rooms in former office buildings to alleviate the housing crisis.

Sea Level Panel Discussion – March 28, 2023 – The Meeting Outline and Objectives

From the Agenda Packet for the March 28, 2023, Joint Study Session on Sea Level Rise. Includes "balancing future climate risk with current and future social and community needs" and discussion to "develop a better understanding about sea level rise risk and the factors to consider when balancing policy options for future growth and development." -- More information is good, and making appropriate decisions is even better. But why is the City still allowing -- even promoting -- development on South G Street?

OLLI Presentation on Sea Level Rise – Aldaron Laird – March 16, 2023

This is the link to the video for the March 16, 2023, OLLI presentation on Sea Level Rise & Humboldt Bay. Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) of Cal Poly Humboldt has been offering a monthly special interest group Zoom meeting on Sea Level Rise & Humboldt Bay. The presentations are facilitated by environmental planning consultant Aldaron Laird and Humboldt County history (and general knowledge) specialist Jerry Rhode.

Gateway: No Cars Allowed

In the Gateway Plan, if a developer does not want to supply any parking whatsoever for the residents of newly-constructed apartments, that's an option. But if the developer wants to include enough parking spaces to make those apartments be competitive with other apartments in Arcata? Can't do that. The number of parking spaces that can be provided AT A MAXIMUM amounts to one parking space for every 4 to 8 residents.

The Housing Market Needs More Condos. Why Are So Few Being Built?

The Gateway Area Plan's stated intent is to have "home- ownership opportunities" -- that is, condominiums -- in the Gateway Area. The share of condo units built for sale in 2021 was less than 5.4 percent, nationally. The rest were rental units. The shortage of condos adds to the lack of affordability in the homebuying market.

Getting rid of parking in Arcata: A social engineering experiment

The Gateway code includes a MAXIMUM number of parking spaces at 1 per every 4 units -- which works out to one per every 4 to 8 tenants. A restaurant with a staff of six and hosting 35 or 40 diners would have a MAXIMUM of ONE space. How will this work out for Arcata?

Planning Commissioner Matt Simmons calls Arcata neighborhoods “segregated”

Why did new Planning Commissioner use the word "segregated" when describing existing Arcata neighborhoods? Was his purpose to inflame the discussion? To add confusion to the conversation? -- Unless what Matt Simmons means is racial segregation, there is no valid use of this word -- other than to create controversy.

New Commissioner Matt Simmons proposes huge changes to established neighborhoods

Planning Commissioner Matt Simmons proposed a change in the zoning of established Arcata neighborhoods, from Residential Low Density to Residential High Density. What is behind his rationale? Would such zoning change help people find housing?

Form-Based Code Workshop – February 23, 2023 – Streetscape, Mobility and Parking, and Privately-Owned Open Space Standards

This workshop was attended on Zoom by 26 participants, plus five members of the City Staff and the Form-Based Code consultant Ben Noble. -------- The public offered their viewpoints on the topics of Streetscape Design, Mobility and Parking, and Privately-Owned Open Space for a total of only 20 minutes. ------ This is not the way to have the community involved in helping to make decisions that will change the form and life in Arcata. 

Visualizing Compatible Density

Examples of a range of density housing, with photos and descriptions. -- Density is a controversial subject in virtually all American communities and is often viewed as a thing to be feared. Density can be ugly. More bigger buildings, more asphalt and concrete, fewer trees and green space, less sunlight and privacy, and even less air to breath.

The Tale of Melon City

"The Tale of Melon City" is a parable of a well-meaning king whose desire for justice becomes confused by questions of responsibility and blame. --- "The ruler of a certain city one day decided that he would like a triumphal arch built, so that he could ride under it with all pomp, for the desirable edification of the multitude. But when the great moment came, his crown was knocked off: The arch had been built too low."

Berkeley modular “village” housing with rooftop garden

Garden Village is a 77-unit student-orientated apartment building located in Berkeley, California completed in August of 2016. Designed to echo the massing and rhythm of the community, the innovative design departs from the standard single-volume building. Instead, 18 distinct building volumes are spread out in a garden and linked by exterior walkways in a design that seamlessly integrates into the surrounding fabric of the community.

Pre-Fab Modular Housing – a dozen articles and more

Modular housing could be an answer to state housing crisis. A collection of articles from other sources, and lots of photos. Modules can be assembled into apartment buildings 40% more quickly and 20% cheaper than traditional construction. ------- From factories in Vallejo, Sacramento, Klamath Falls OR, Idaho, Canada, and China.

Berkeley approves housing plan, with pledge to upzone wealthy neighborhoods

The Berkeley City Council voted  unanimously to approve their 656-page Housing Element, an eight-year housing plan. The plan shows how Berkeley will add at least 8,934 new homes over the next eight years. The plan commits to rezoning several major streets in an effort to encourage denser development in some of the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods.

Can the Superblocks of Barcelona work in Arcata? Yes!

The Barcelona "Superblock" design that is capturing the imagination of city citizens in Europe and all over the world -- Can this concept be applicable here in Arcata? The answer is a resounding YES. It is perfect for us here in Arcata.

Building and Massing 5: Financial Feasibility of Development

The Building & Massing Presentation that arrived on August 12 provides so much needed information, along with the first glimpses of the long-awaited 3D modeling. 5: Financial Feasibility of Development

Building and Massing 4: Height Ratios and Unit Calculations

The Building & Massing Presentation that arrived on August 12 provides so much needed information, along with the first glimpses of the long-awaited 3D modeling. 4: Height Ratios and Unit Calculations

Building and Massing 3: Proposed Setbacks and Massing Impacts

The Building & Massing Presentation that arrived on August 12 provides so much needed information, along with the first glimpses of the long-awaited 3D modeling. 3: Proposed Setbacks and Massing Impacts

Building and Massing 2: Solar Shading

The Building & Massing Presentation that arrived on August 12 provides so much needed information, along with the first glimpses of the long-awaited 3D modeling. 2: Solar Shading.

Building and Massing 1: Current and Proposed Height Standards

The Building & Massing Presentation that arrived on August 12 provides so much needed information, along with the first glimpses of the long-awaited 3D modeling. 1: Current and Proposed Height Standards.

Building & Massing Presentation – Overview

The Building & Massing Presentation that arrived on August 12 provides so much needed information, along with the first glimpses of the long-awaited 3D modeling.

“Housing Units” and “Housing Density” – Why these are terrible ways to measure housing success

To regard a three-bedroom apartment in the same way — as one “housing unit” — and equal to a studio apartment is just engineering-thinking. Instead, count the bedrooms. Count the number of people — adults and children — who might be living there. Homes are for people. Let’s not forget that.