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  Another Great Ahwahnee Conference
March 20, 2011

I just returned (barely) from another inspirational weekend in Yosemite at the Local Government Commission “Building Livable Communities” conference (also known as “The Ahwahnee Conference”). I say “barely” because we left in a blinding snowstorm, and two of the three exits from Yosemite were closed. The only route open was Highway 140 down the Merced River Canyon, and it was all but blocked from multiple rockslides.

Below, cascade flooding into the Merced River Canyon
Photo One

But, we arrived home safely on this first day of Spring, finding our once healthy and emerging vegetable garden pounded to shreds by hail.

Janet Abelson of the El Cerrito City Council accompanied Shirley and me to the weekend event, which was somewhat special because it marked the 20th anniversary of The Ahwahnee Principles, a visionary declaration adopted at Yosemite in 1991 that heralded the advent of Smart Growth, the Congress for New Urbanism and the Livable Communities movement that has long since gone mainstream (for most of us) and is now embedded into both California and Federal public policy.

Below, Yosemite falls on the First Day of Spring.

Photo Two

Jean Quan, who succeeded me as chair of the LGC, opened the conference on Friday night after a pre-conference session the night before.

As usual , the conference featured a cast of leading state policy implementers and private practitioners. The keynote talk on Friday night was by Shelley Poticha, Director for Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. From Jerry Brown’s government came Heather Fargo, Executive Director, California Strategic Growth Council, Panama Bartholomy, Deputy Director, California Energy Commission and John Laird, Secretary for Natural Resources.

The high point was probably a pair of presentations on Saturday night, first by Congress for New Urbanism co-founder Peter Katz, now Director of Smart Growth/Urban Planning for Sarasota, FL and Michael Freedman, Principal, Freedman Tung + Sasaki Urban Design of San Francisco.

Not in any particular order are the following excerpts from m my notes:

  • Did you know that Government Code Section 66473 requires solar orientation for subdivision approval? (Take note Planning Department)
  • Did you know that AB 1103 will require disclosure of energy usage on sale for commercial buildings?
  • Energy Upgrade California is a website contracted to the Local Government Commission that provides detailed information by location of energy-related subsidies and rebates available to all Californians?
  • Check out Sustainable Communities for a wealth of information for non-profits and policy makers.
  • The presentations of Peter Katz, Michael Freedman and Ryan Coonerly, Mayor of Santa Cruz painted a picture of a whole new world of work and future jobs that is nothing like we have ever seen before. Ryan Coonerly (in his day job) runs NextSpace, a co-working organization. He noted that it is a lot easier to bring 200 self-employed entrepreneurs to your city than to move a company there with 200 employees, and the results are much more effective. Freedman talked about end of a 50-year experiment with cities and we know them, the city as the driver of innovation and the rise of the creative class.
  • Noel Perry, managing Director, Next10 provided a statistical look at how green jobs are leading California out of the recession.


Photo Three