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The Parklet Project was a success! We set up 3 parklets on Main Street and blocked a section of street to create a pop-up plaza last Saturday. The 3 Main Street parklets were all of the same design; plywood floors on sleepers to align with the sidewalk, and OSB walls to offer some separation from the adjacent traffic.

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The 3 parklets were customized by the adjacent businesses, or by The Core Project for the parklet in front of the bike shop. People were really interested in what we were doing and most feedback was favorable. There is a severe lack of pedestrian space on Main Street, and the parklets offered the opportunity to relax and have a conversation, or catch up on some reading, out of the flow of pedestrian traffic along the sidewalk.

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Being a small town, you invariably run into someone you know while walking downtown. When you stop to chat you end up blocking the sidewalk. A parklet gives you an opportunity to step aside and carry on your conversation without blocking the flow. And the walls of the parklet gave a surprising amount of separation from the adjacent traffic lanes. They really had a cozy feeling to them.

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The fourth parklet was really more of a plaza. We realized that shade was a premium for this space as it was a relatively warm day. Once we repositioned the umbrellas we had, and re-located several from the Main Street parklets people were more apt to populate the space. And as more people ventured to Screamin’ Mimi’s later in the afternoon, the pop-up plaza really came alive.

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parklet 6The event showed that people will use more space, when we give them more space, and that the space allowed for spontaneous interactions. One parklet even hosted a birthday party (my wife and several friends brought down a cake for my birthday, to my surprise) that resulted in sharing birthday cake with passersby.

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Several businesses expressed interest in creating permanent parklets. I’m hoping this event showcasing what could be will inspire one or more of them to create something more permanent.

The Parklet Project

The Core Project and the City of Sebastopol are sponsoring The Parklet Project, tomorrow, Saturday, April 29th. The Core Project has been working to bring parklets to Sebastopol and was instrumental in getting the city to adopt an ordinance to allow their development. We have participated in PARK(ing) day several times and sponsored a lecture by Robin Abad Ocubillo from San Francisco’s Pavement to Parks program to introduce the community to the idea and the benefits parklets have shown to have in San Francisco.

For those not familiar with parklets, the idea is simply to convert a street parking space to a space for people. Parklets provide for an expansion of the sidewalk for places to stop, rest and relax. It is one way to reclaim part of the public realm for people.

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Sebastopol PARK(ing) Day park on Main Street

The Parklet Project will consist of 3 parklets on Main Street and the creation of a plaza from a strange underutilized section of street for one day. The 3 Main Street parklets will be at The Gypsy Cafe/Sebastopol Cookie Company, Retrograde Coffee Roasters and West County Cycle Services. The blocked street is in front of Screamin’ Mimi’s ice cream shop, Glass Fusion and Pottery Too, and Thrive Yoga.

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The Parklet Project Locations

As downtown Sebastopol sits at the intersection of two state highways we applied for and received a Caltrans encroachment permit for the event. We’re hoping that this project will show the community the benefits of parklets and in improving the pedestrian realm which is dominated by cars. And we hope that it makes it easier to get an encroachment for a more permanent parklet from Caltrans in the future.

So if you are anywhere near Sebastopol, come by and check out the parklets tomorrow. Sit, relax, converse, support our local businesses and imagine a more people-friendly downtown Sebastopol.

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Standardized Parklet Project Design

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The Parklet Project Apple Blossom Festival Parade Entry, April 22, 2017.

The Happy City

Just read a great blog post from Mr. Money Mustache. Check it out The Happy City and our $20 Trillion Opportunity. It is a succinct description of the inefficiencies of our current development paradigm in the United States. It relates very directly to work I’ve been doing with Urban Community Partnership and the work of Strong Towns.

Mr. Money Mustache is a great blog and I’d suggest you check out some of his other posts. The blog is generally about creating personal financial freedom. Enjoy.

(For background on this issue, see these previous posts: Smart School Siting, Smart School Siting – 2Smart School Siting – 3Smart School Siting – 4, Smart School Siting – 5, Charter School Proximity to Residential Neighborhoods.)

It’s taken me awhile to get to writing this, but the long-playing saga of my opposition to the Sebastopol Charter School’s move to an out-of-town location is finally over. And I lost. The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors held a public hearing on the matter on Oct. 23rd. After an approximately 4 hour meeting and around 40 public comments the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the Use Permit application. So the City of Sebastopol is about to get a new charter school campus outside its Urban Growth Boundary. scs-campuses

I must say I’m not surprised by the outcome. The school has been working on this for years and did a very good job meeting with supervisors beforehand and doing their political homework. And who can say ‘no’ to a school? I always knew it would be an uphill battle for me and to be honest I didn’t always have the time or energy required to really fight this. But when I did, I was surprised about how little support I received in my opposition. Maybe it’s just me and this really is a great idea. I find it hard to believe.

The most support I received came from the Sebastopol City Council. They wrote 3 letters expressing opposition to the project. But to be honest, the letters were less opposition to the project than opposition to the impacts of the project to local traffic. Not one of them said simply, ‘We do not want this school to be located on this site outside of our Urban Growth Boundary.’ They talked about traffic impacts, and concern about safety for kids walking and biking to a location that while located adjacent to a bike/walking trail is not a very walkable location and asked that these things be ‘mitigated’. One council member went with me to meet with the supervisor who represents the district, but not a single city council member attended the hearing. A fact that was not missed on the supervisors. The supervisor with whom we had met noted that if this issue was so important to the city council he would of expected ‘at least one of them’ to show up at the public hearing. I don’t disagree. Would it have made a difference? Probably not.

I tried to solicit support from the Greenbelt Alliance. The Greenbelt Alliance has been working for years to protect open space in the Bay Area and has been a leader in the establishment of Urban Growth Boundaries. But when this school proposal came forward directly outside the UGB, the local representative was told not to get involved. Isn’t this what they are about, protecting the open space outside the UGB? I’m not sure why we go to the trouble if we just sit back and watch auto-oriented projects get built outside the UGB. It seems like a waste of time if the UGB is not used to actually focus urban growth within the boundary. The head of the county planning department said this was a great ‘infill opportunity project’. Really? This is infill development? Outside the edge of town? Am I missing the boat on understanding infill development?

I tried to solicit several other local non-profits to get involved, without luck. Again, probably would not have made a difference. The Board of Supervisors saw a great opportunity for an ‘infill site’. There was some concern expressed by several of the supervisors about hundreds of cars crossing the bike trail on a daily basis (as the applicant pointed out this would only happen the 180 days a year or so that school is in session), but not enough concern to withhold their approval of the project. The Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition did write a letter and speak out about the crossing of the bike path. But not on the inappropriateness of the site for a school.

We are a completely auto-oriented society and will continue to be if we keep expanding our auto-oriented development patterns. A real opportunity to create a 21st century in town school has been missed. The school feels confident that walking and biking to school will increase at the new location. I hope they are right, but I just cannot imagine it. Look at the image above. While a 1 mile radius from the existing in town school location basically includes the entire town, a 1 mile radius from the proposed location doesn’t even reach half the town. And the pedestrian/biking infrastructure is horrible to that location. Yes, yes, it is located on a bike path, but nearly every child will have to cross a very busy state highway to get there. I just don’t get it. Children will continue to be driven to school for as long  as the school remains open. And we are all the worse off for it.

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Sidewalk and state highway near the location of the proposed school. This environment continues for at least 1/2 mile from the school. As you get further from the school there is more development and curb cuts.

I must say I’m happy that I don’t have to consume brain space for this anymore. It did weigh on me as my daughter had attended the school, and I actually really like the school and the education my daughter received. I do want to see the school succeed. And it was difficult to be on the opposite side of this issue from many friends. But I still truly believe this is a mistake for our community. We can, and must, do better than this.

 

This post in in the response to the following comment from the Press Democrat Close to Home published by advocates of the Charter School.

Paul, I read your opinions as being very much centered on your own neightborhood. Not very many people live in walking distance of the current campus. I wish you could approach the situation from a slightly larger point of view. The potential of the new campus is that many more people would be able to get there without cars than is the case at the current campus. This is what is exciting to me about the new campus from a let’s-not–drive-if-we-don’t-have-to point of view. I realize that there is a risk that it might not develop this way, But if we can put the infrastructure in place — a campus served by a bike trail — then there is a possibility that it WILL happen. For me it is worth the risk.

My Response:

I wish I could believe that John. I did an overlay on an aerial photo with a 1 mile radius circle centered on the existing downtown campus, the existing K-2 campus and the proposed campus. The downtown campus circle encompasses pretty much the entire city limits of Sebastopol. The proposed campus gets almost to Bodega Ave., leaving out anyone south of there. Which yes, that includes my neighborhood, but it also includes about half of the residential neighborhoods of town. Unless there is some strange coincidence that the families of the Charter School only live north of Bodega Ave., I’m not sure I understand where you are coming from.

The blue circle is a 1 mile radius from the existing downtown campus. The yellow circle is a 1 mile radius from the K-2 campus and the red circle is a 1 mile radius from the proposed campus. The blue circle clearly encompasses more of the residential neighborhoods of Sebastopol than the red circle. Am I missing something?scs-campuses

The end is near. After many years of working with and against the Sebastopol Charter School on a new facility a final decision from the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is scheduled for October 25th for a proposed new campus for the school. I have been encouraging the school to stay in town expand the downtown campus, and share the local facilities available at that location. The other alternative would be to work with the local school district and other charter school to develop a long-term facilities plan for all the students given the fact we have fewer students than we did 20 years ago. There must be empty classroom space somewhere. But the school has relentlessly pursued a location on the edge of town, adjacent to, but outside of, our Urban Growth Boundary.

Existing Schools Plus Proposed Sebastopol Charter School Campus

Again, circles represent a half-mile radius centered on school campuses. The red circle is centered on the location of the proposed Sebastopol Charter School campus. Note how few homes are located within a half mile of the site.

I had an op-ed published yesterday in the local paper. It was co-written by Sebastopol City Council member Patrick Slayter. Here is a link to the op-ed. The primary focus of the op-ed is that Patrick and I, and others, do not believe the county should be approved an auto-centric use like this school campus right outside the City of Sebastopol’s Urban Growth Boundary. If the county approves these kinds of projects, why do we go to the effort of creating Urban Growth Boundaries?

I will say it has been disappointing to try to rally significant opposition to the project. I’m not sure if people are simply afraid to say no to a school for fear of being anti-education or what. Or maybe I’m crazy and this really is a good place for a school. I hope that is not the case.If you’re interested in reading more history, I have 4 other posts about it which you can read here, and here, and here and here. And if you are interested in writing a letter to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors you can find their email addresses on the county’s website. If you want to attend the meeting it is schedule for October 25 at 2PM. At least a final decision will be made at that time and I won’t have to devote any more time or brain space to this issue. It’s been going on for many years and I am ready to move on. But having said that, if the supervisors do not approve the use permit and the school wants to discuss other options, I would be more than happy to engage them. I believe their is an alternative that can work for everyone. This proposed site only serves the school without consideration of the impacts on the wider community.

This is a great blog post on how infrastructure decisions are made depending on who is paying for them. If they are publicly funded you get one level of infrastructure. If residents have to pay for their own infrastructure, you get a different level. Why do we continue to subsidize suburban development which doesn’t come close to paying for the infrastructure required to serve it?

Granola Shotgun

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Here’s the American Dream. If you can pull together $700,000 you can live large in a beautiful home like one of these. Three car garage. Great room. Massive kitchen. Formal dining room. Four or five bedrooms. Three or four baths. A front lawn. A swimming pool. An exclusive public school district. Privacy. A secure enclave far from big city problems.

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Let’s pull back a bit and get a sense of context. These homes exist in a part of Los Angeles County that’s really far from the city. It’s even far from other far flung suburbs. It’s not just far horizontally. It’s far vertically. This subdivision is so remote that there aren’t any commercial buildings of any kind for several miles. That’s by intentional design. The people who choose to live here self select for a particular lifestyle.

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How much do you think the federal, state, county, and municipal governments spend…

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