Update on Project Activities
On Monday, we met our community partners Lauren, Alana, and Cecilia and exchanged contact information. We have set up a weekly time to confer over the phone and discuss our progress on the project and our plans moving forward. We also met independently later in the week to look over the scope of work packet and plan our next steps. We assessed the various skills that we could bring to the project and generally got to know each other so that we could establish a working partnership and lay the foundations of an effective communication base. Aitran’s diverse language skills (Mandarin, Vietnamese, Spanish, and English) and experience with community outreach projects will help make our actions in the community more directly effective as well as allow us to really dig in and get to know a correctly representative sample of individuals so as to try and figure out why more people aren’t using the hazardous waste disposal facility. In addition, Adam has a connection with a previous Seattle City Council President who years ago worked on a similar project to improve the HHW system in King County, Washington.
What We Observed and Learned
During our meeting in class, they gave us a basic overview of the project and explained to us how the Household Hazardous Waste disposal system works. Citizens must schedule an appointment with the HHW facility and deliver the waste themselves. Hazardous waste cannot be transported in containers over certain sizes: 15 gallons for liquid waste, 125 pounds for solid waste. Examples of common household waste include e-waste, compact fluorescent bulbs, pesticides, paint, medical sharps, prescriptions, Mercury thermometers, and some cleaning solutions. There were about 8,000 appointments made throughout the course of the 2013-2014 fiscal year, representing under 3% of San Jose’s population. We also learned that the City of San Jose tracks and keeps a record of all the waste that is delivered and processed through the facility. This may prove to be very useful in the future analyzing of what types of waste are being most commonly brought in, which could significantly inform and guide our efforts of education and outreach.
Based our in-class conversation and some subsequent email communication, it appears that Lauren, Alana, and Cecilia, and therefore we as well, are operating—we believe—under the higher oversight of Santa Clara County. When emailing them to try and set up a day for us to go down to San Jose to tour the HHW facility, they mentioned that this weekend would not work because they had not yet received the County approval that is needed. This would make sense because we believe the Environmental Innovation Center and the HHW disposal facility serve the whole county. However, this is not yet clear, and we will make point of clarifying the operation structure and scope of the facility’s jurisdiction in the near future.
Critical Analysis/Moving Forward
Breaking down the project into its fundamental parts, we have determined that the basic problem is one of both infrastructural inefficiency and environmental harm. Too much hazardous waste is undergoing improper disposal and ending up in landfills, where toxic chemicals can leach out into the soil and waterways polluting the natural environment. The inefficiency problem is due to the extremely low level of usage that the HHW is experiencing. Without yet knowing any specifics about its capacity—whether it is limited strictly by the volume of waste flow, or current amount of available labor at any one time etc.—it appears that the facility is now being underutilized. Therefore moving forward, our goals will be to address these two issues, with an order of priority yet to be determined. Our first step will be to tour the facility as soon as we can (most likely January 23rd) and learn more about the disposal process. An important part to this will be able to observe people actually coming to drop off their waste and note the ease with which they can do so and try to imagine the process from their perspective to gauge whether any difficulty in the physical disposal process is deterring people from using the facility.
After our tour, we will reach out into the San Jose community. Our current plan is to develop some sort of survey—whether that be distributed via pamphlet, going door to door, or stopping random people on the street—to analyze why more people aren’t using the facility. Is it that many people don’t know which household items are classified as hazardous? Do people care about disposing their hazardous waste properly? Do they think its not worth the effort? Do they know the HHW facility exists? We hope to get a sample of everyday people from varying neighborhoods around San Jose to try and develop a broader picture and hopefully answer the question: Why don’t more people use the facility? From there, we will begin efforts to build potential solutions to the problem that can be more focused on targeted weaknesses, whether that be through community education, working to create policy that would incentivize using the the HHW facility, or some other method.
With some 27 different transit agencies serving the region, few of which have transfer and fare-sharing agreements in place, the Bay Area suffers from severe transit fragmentation, undermining our goals around mobility and sustainable transportation, cleaner air and lowered carbon emissions, and equitably providing economic opportunity for all. Potentially, one simple idea could go a long way towards addressing all of those challenges, and make the commuting experience less confusing and more convenient besides: regional fare integration. For Silicon Valley in particular, now stands to be a particularly promising time to work on the issue, as MTC looks to update Clipper Card in the next few years; BART’s extension to San Jose, now under construction, is likely to dramatically increase transit interchanges; and leading stakeholders in the region are publicly interested in transit improvements, possibly seeking to place a transit funding measure on the 2016 ballot.
In those circumstances, our project on regional fare integration kicked off Monday when we met Adina Levin, Executive Director of Friends of Caltrain. We peppered Adina with a number of questions regarding both the challenges and opportunities around integration, whether technical, economic, or political. Perhaps unlike other groups, Adina indicated that, rather than zero in on one predetermined side of the issue, she welcomed us tackling whatever piece of the puzzle we felt we could best exert leverage on — which could mean anything from surveying low-income riders to generate data around the impact of fragmentation on their lives and commutes, to working with larger institutions in order to map out how the region might generate the political will to wrestle the issue to the ground. In other words, she encouraged us to consider: what question can we best address or solve in the 8 weeks we have together as a team?
Knowing that, we began working on two fronts: firstly, beginning a lit review of other metro areas around the world which have integrated their systems; and secondly, generating a wide range of questions we may want to address, investigate, and answer in the course of our project. On the first front, we began to study and report to one another on integration efforts in areas including Seattle, Los Angeles, a Netherlands-wide program, Singapore, and others. In researching these systems, we seek not only to discover the nuts and bolts of how each plan works but also, crucially, how they were politically willed into being, as well as any and all data we can find on their outcomes for their communities. In fact, the lit review even serves a way of starting to address that second front, by examining what we know, and thus what we can best contribute.
Simultaneously, we began to ask questions around fare integration. Here is just a sampling of our brainstorming so far:
Having already gotten to know one another, including discussing the respective strengths and background we each bring to the project, we will continue to work on our brainstorm and lit review, including beginning to cull our questions to identify which we might be most interested in and able to tackle. We coordinated schedules to find regular team meeting times, and are in communication with Adina about visiting Friends of Caltrain together soon. We eagerly look forward to sinking our teeth into this critical challenge facing the Bay Area — and while we may not have the entire region fare-integrated by the time we’re done, we certainly hope to have a substantial contribution to the public and policy conversation around the issue to offer in 8 weeks’ time!
Update on Project Activities
Monday marked the start of our project with Jason Tarricone of Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto (CLSEPA). The extent of what we knew before that day was a 2-page blurb written about the services that CLSEPA provides to clients facing eviction in areas within and around East Palo Alto.
During the meeting, Jason gave us an in-depth history of the Bay Area’s housing problem. He clearly relayed the expectations and desired outcome for this project, demographics for which to tailor our deliverables, and valuable suggestions for our future interactions with his clients. His enthusiasm and investment in this project and these people are infectious, causing our team to immediately want to hit the ground running.After the initial meeting, our team went to work on setting up the logistical infrastructure for our project to be successful. This entailed creating an email correspondence chain between ourselves and Jason, over which we are finalizing interview questions, creating the Google Voice account with which we will contact the former clients, and scheduling future meetings. Our group understands that the bulk of our project relies on the participation of the former clients, some of whom may be difficult to reach or communicate with, and thus, data collection should begin as soon as possible.
What We Observed/Learned
East Palo Alto—nestled between Facebook HQ, Google, several venture capitalist firms, and Stanford University—is considered the last 2.5-mile stretch of affordable housing in Silicon Valley. CLSEPA is trying to keep it that way and promote the idea that affordable housing needs to become more widespread in surrounding cities.
Currently, CLSEPA holds a clinic every Thursday from 9am to 12pm where they represent clients that are at risk of being evicted from their homes. CLSEPA negotiates and litigates against landlords on serious housing problems that affect the health and safety of community members. Lawyers attempt to settle these cases brought on by clients’ landlords in order to grant clients more time in their place of residence. More time affords these clients the ability to save up money and/or find a new place to live to avoid homelessness.
As part of the project, we’ve been asked to contact former clients via phone to ask them survey questions. We plan to focus on collecting quantitative data, which will emphasize the need for new legislation that will encourage a racially and socio-economically integrated community within Silicon Valley. Some of the questions we will ask the former clients are:
These and numerous other questions will help us identify if litigation against landlords is helping these clients; what patterns are emerging from clients’ movement out of their old homes and into new ones; and future steps that can be taken to protect future community members from losing their homes and furthering gentrification.
The current situation in East Palo Alto and other Bay Area cities tells the story of the unexpected consequences that comes with an industrial boom. The existing infrastructure for housing in EPA was not intended to support this movement of people to the valley. Critics of preserving affordable housing units state that it discourages new construction while encouraging alternative living situations, as in garages.
The “Not in My Backyard” movement also perpetuates this stigma of rent controlled apartments as somehow degrading the status of a community. If this school of thought continues to spread, there won’t be any place left for these displaced people to go. In most parts of the country, housing prices are at or at least near the cost of construction. Here, in the Bay Area, we know that is definitely not the case.
Providing enough housing for everyone is an entirely different problem, however, what CLSEPA aims to do is provide just outcomes for the people viewed as displaceable. Our contribution to their work is to provide concrete evidence of the problem to promote visibility and essentially a call to action.
I: Update on Project Activities
In our meeting with her last Monday, Victoria Salinas described many critical factors to take into account when implementing a retrofit strategy for Oakland. For example, while requiring the mandatory retrofit for most affected areas would be the most effective strategy from a technical point of view, the subsequent increase in housing cost would decrease the affordability of housing, especially detrimental given the low income status of the residents in the affected areas. Victoria also described where her agency was currently acting in the retrofit process. With funds from the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the government Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), her agency was beginning a pilot program to effectively allocate the $2.5 million total for a targeted retrofit program. First in the retrofit pilot program was the survey and demographic analysis of tenants, as although landowners were surveyed in 2009, the city has little background on the tenant demographics. Our first role in the project, Victoria suggested, would be to evaluate this survey and their current survey methods for collecting this demographic tenant information.
II: What We Observed and Learned
From our conversation with Victoria and the readings provided, a picture of the issues at hand emerged. Soft story buildings are frequently apartments with a number of separate living units. In a survey conducted by the City of Oakland in conjunction with ABAG, inspectors were able to identify about 1,100 soft story buildings, containing 19,000 rental units. Considering an average of 2-3 people per unit, that amounts to around 45,000 people at risk for the next big earthquake. Additionally, these buildings frequently offer affordable housing options to disadvantaged members of the community. Although only 11% of the housing stock in the city, ABAG estimates that soft-story buildings could comprise around 67% of units lost during an earthquake. What this means is that during an earthquake event, the disadvantaged are poised to be disproportionately impacted. Those in lower income brackets are less able to sustain themselves during the rebuilding phase post-earthquake, and may be forced to migrate to an area with more affordable housing (Antioch, Stockton, suburbs of the Central Valley) to make ends meet.
Oakland is a city with a huge amount of cultural heritage. This is due in large part to the intermingling of religious, ethnic and socioeconomic groups, which all bring a unique perspective to view the city from. A major disaster could cause these societal bonds to become more fragile, as well as promote a more gentrified city (as developers target damaged properties, they may be prone to build condos or similar properties that generate a larger return on investment). In order to keep Oakland's heritage alive, an attempt must be made to create communities that are resilient, able to survive and thrive in tough conditions. This is why the City of Oakland is promoting a retrofit program, and is what motivates our team to come up with a solution that promotes equity and targets the most vulnerable.
III: Critical Analysis/Next Steps
Moving forward, our group has decided to focus on what we identified as three key areas:
1. Economic feasibility
2. Identifying the buildings on which we want to focus, and
3. Community outreach
We believe one of the main areas we can help Victoria is by examining the financial framework through which most of these retrofits will occur. San Francisco conducted a similar program, Community Action Seismic Safety Plan (CAPPS) in which the city partnered with Deutsche Bank to provide affordable loans to tenants and landlords of buildings that were improved upon. An Oakland tenant currently pays 70% of capital improvement cost while the landlord pays the remaining 30%. We are planning on discussing with Victoria exactly how fixed that 70/30 split is and if there is potential to rework those numbers on a case-by-case basis. This way, we could ensure that lower-income tenants would not be prohibitively burdened by cost of retrofitting.
We discussed how a potential Retrofit Strategy would be useful in minimizing the cost of the retrofits. Given that the building taxonomy in Oakland is likely to show that buildings can have similar structural characteristics and configurations, it would be very efficient and practical to identify some typical retrofitting schemes that could reduce the seismic vulnerability of multiple buildings. Considering that perspective, simple and economical retrofitting strategies could be presented, such that the retrofitting costs would be roughly calculated and general financial decisions could be taken.
The City of Oakland has already conducted a preliminary survey of potential soft story houses, and has identified 1,400 houses as being soft story. Oakland, as well as being in an area of high seismic activity, also has a large percentage of area that the USGS has identified as having a 73% chance of liquefaction in case of an earthquake of magnitude 7.1 or greater. While we do not know the exact numbers, there is a high chance a good number of those 1,400 soft story houses also fall in a liquefaction area. If this is the case, and factoring in the limited funds available, it may be smarter to ensure that the houses the program focuses on are ones that would definitely be preserved.
The third goal our group outlined was to make a big push for community engagement with the issue. There has already been a flyer sent out to all the soft story homes, outlining the problem, but it was written in English. There was a small amount of Chinese, Vietnamese, and Spanish on the flyer but we think it may be better to print whole flyers in each language and distribute those accordingly. By building awareness about the pertinence of the problem, the community will react accordingly and retrofits would become common practice in all homes necessitating one. Additionally, we plan on reaching out to community organizers and attending community meetings to better understand the needs of tenants and landlords alike.
I. Update on Project Activities:
This week, after meeting our community partner, Janice, and learning about the SF Bicycle Coalition and the project we will be working on, we met to brainstorm about our project’s trajectory, to sync our schedules, and to generally get to know each other better. We discussed our strengths and areas of expertise as they relate to our project, and found that we possess a diverse array of skills that will come in handy for this project. For instance, Katie and Mia have experience with graphic design, and have worked on projects involving community outreach and event planning, While Ana Sophia has experience and knowledge surrounding behavior-change programs.
During our meeting, the three of us set a few basic deadlines, and scheduled group meetings that will occur over the next several weeks. We also clarified transportation plans for our upcoming visit to San Francisco, which will take place next Friday, January 20th. Most importantly, we developed a list of questions to ask our community partner, Janice, that will help us to gain a better understanding of her expectations, as well as of the project’s general scope and objectives. We emailed the list to Janice, and Mia will meet with Janice this Saturday to discuss these questions in person. The list of inquiries is as follows:
1. What are Janice’s expectations for the toolkit?
3. What is the objective of the toolkit?
Are we creating a roadmap for starting a Women on Bicycles program that someone else will use later on? Or are we implementing the program ourselves?
4. How do the focus groups relate to the toolkit?
5. What is the research component?
7. What is the general development and completion timeline for each component of the project?
Some of our key goals for Saturday’s conversation are to clarify the project components, and to ensure that Janice has a firm understanding of the skillsets that each of us have to offer. We are excited to hit the ground running with our project and have already begun to brainstorm for our Project Scope of Work.
II. What was Observed and Learned:
Who is the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and what do they do?
The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition is a member driven non-profit with a 10,000 current and active membership base. They were established in 1971 and their mission is to transform San Francisco’s streets and neighborhoods into more livable and safe places by promoting the bicycle for everyday transportation.
Why do they want to increase the number of women on bikes?
There were several motivations for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition to focus on women and biking and create this project for us to get involved in:
These lead to the driving question and purpose of the project:
How do we get more women on bikes in San Francisco?
Currently, our plan is to create our toolkit by drawing upon existing women-focused bike programs for inspiration. These programs include the Washington Bay Area Association Women & Bikes initiative, the Women Bike PHL, created by the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, and the WE Bike NYC campaign.
III. Critical Analysis:
The first week of class we looked at sustainable cities with a very multi-disciplinary lense. Not only did we evaluate a city’s sustainability by looking at its impact on the environment, but also by focusing on its impact on its community members. We will take the same approach in our project as we look at women’s bicycle ridership from a combined social, scientific, and environmental perspective. There are very tangible benefits to encouraging bicycle ridership amongst women. These include increased health for women, lower environmental impact, and reduced traffic congestion. Unfortunately, there are several barriers to women’s ridership as well, and these are less tangible, ranging from machismo and the cultural role of women in society to safety concerns and convenience.
The League of American Bicyclists suggests that a good way to increase women’s ridership is to focus on improving convenience, increasing women-oriented consumer products, increasing confidence amongst women, and building a community of women bikers. Regrettably, even if our group addresses all 5 of the the league of American Bicyclists suggestions, we can still expect to receive some cultural pushback from women in America. According to an article in The Guardian, “despite years of progress, American women’s lives are still disproportionately filled with driving children around, getting groceries, and doing other household chores – housework that doesn’t lend itself easily to two-wheeled transportation.” American society is simply not yet conducive to women’s bicycle ridership! Thus, we predict that such cultural issues will be one of the biggest challenges we will face in our project, but we look forward to tackling it head on.
Until next week,
Ana Sophia, Katie, and Mia