Counting Our Way to More Trails!



2015 marked the seventh consecutive year that Callander staff volunteered to help the City of San Jose with their annual trail user count.

Each year, the City conducts an annual count and shares this information with funding agencies when applying for grants to build trails.  The data adds a greater level of detail to their applications than other agencies competing for these limited funds and as a result, the City has been very successful in winning grants and getting trails built!  According to their website, they now have 56 miles of trails, with an ultimate goal of 100 miles by 2022.  Callander staff have played a significant role by helping out  for the past seven years!  And why not?  It is hard to imagine a greener, more sustainable cause than promoting the use of trails.  It’s definitely one of the ‘feel good’ opportunities of the year, as volunteer events go.  44 more miles of trails by 2022?  It’s an ambitious goal, but they might just make it if the economy holds!  It would be pretty amazing.

Here are some thoughts and photos shared by the Callander staff that volunteered at this year’s count! We hope to see new faces on the trail next year!


MS_trailcountMark Slichter: Returning to the location of my count from last year was interesting in ways I hadn’t anticipated.  What a difference a year makes!   Only last year it was not the best place to pass the time.  But as the old Del Monte warehouses and canning facilities are giving way to high density housing, parks and trails the area is transitioning.   This neighborhood is exactly what they are referring to when they talk about gentrification.  Last year it was all just folks on a mission; getting to work.  This year there were folks walking their dogs.  Maybe next year I’ll see runners out on a club run, people with strollers and independent groups of kids going to school?  Stay tuned, anything is possible!  Go trails, GO!






MM_trailcountMarie Mai: It’s always been a great excuse to get out of the office and reconnect with nature for a few hours, while helping further the cause for trail development and funding in the South Bay.  What’s different this year? A lot of the riparian and creekside vegetation appeared really stressed, and some appeared to be dying, no doubt due to the lack of water. The scene just reiterated the need to conserve (and maybe do a rain dance for El Nino to come this winter!).








NR_trailcount Nate Ritchie: This was my first year volunteering for the trail count, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I arrived on bicycle to get a firsthand experience as a trail user. What a great way to travel! My shift ran through the lunch hour and there was lots of activity to behold. Overall, I was amazed at the quantity of people and modes of transit – waking, running, cycling, skateboards, rollerblades, scooters, strollers, and segways. It seems there are endless ways to enjoy these transportation corridors.









Tristan Williamson: As a regular bike commuter, I will often go out of my way to ride this section of trail. I observed, for the second year, a lot of different people using the trail here: from a cross-country team doing practice, to people getting out of work, to dog-walkers and skateboarders.


We Love A Good Field Trip!

Callander Associates staff recently took advantage of our beautiful Bay Area winter weather to visit Boething Treeland Farms, a wholesale plant nursery located in Portola Valley.

As landscape architects, we had all taken the requisite plant identification and horticulture classes in school, keeping abreast of new plant varieties primarily through in-office research (latest edition of Western Garden book, anybody?).  It was a refreshing change to see ‘in the flesh’ many of the plants we have specified.  It reinforced some planting design truisms as well as prompted some thoughts regarding the plant selection and specification.


Plants of different species (and varieties) within the same container size will have a different ‘bulk’. One element that can be frustrating as plant specifiers is the range of plant sizes within each species, and the visual impact that larger container sizes oftentimes (but not always) make on the completed landscape. There is a wealth of information on the mature size of plants; what is not so easy is discerning the likely size of a plant in a one gallon container compared to a five gallon container. Plant habits, growth rates, mature sizes, and other factors make it difficult to predict the size of a plant. As designers we try to locate and space plants according to their mature size.  Doing so is more sustainable (less hedging required) and budget-friendly (fewer plants). The challenge is in the selection of the right container size for each species that maximizes their ‘Day One’ appearance so that they don’t look too sparse.

Mass planting can provide a striking visual impact. Some styles of planting design and personal preference result in a complex mosaic of multiple plant species, with plants enjoyed at an individual and intimate level. In stark contrast, a forest of Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’ maples, rows of white-barked birch, or masses of Skyrocket and Moonglow juniper provide a striking visual effect, enjoyable from a distance as an almost abstract canvas of color and texture.


Projects rarely have an off season and plants should be chosen accordingly, based on the characteristics they offer throughout the year. We tend to show clients images of plants when they’re flowering and how (beautiful and green) they look at their peak, but that usually only occurs for 2 to 3 weeks out of the year.  The middle of winter, when deciduous plants are at their most bare, best showcases the year-round potential of plants. Without any leaves on them, we get a much better idea of other characteristics they have to offer, like their bark, seed pods, branch structure, and form. Two examples of stand-outs were Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’ (Red coral bark maple) and Chionanthus retusus (Chinese Fringe Tree). The Sango Kaku maple had stunning reddish color that stood out from a distance. We normally specify the Chinese Fringe Tree for its flower but its beautiful peeling bark also gives it year-round interest.


Balance deciduous with evergreen plants. Leafless trees have a reduced visual impact due to their more spindly, bare forms. Mixing in evergreen trees helps counteract that. Deciduous grasses can look ragged, especially if they have become overgrown or allowed to brown out. These types of grasses should be well integrated with other plants.

Marie Mai, Associate Landscape Architect


Invaluable Inspiration: LADAC


As a proud graduate of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo I have wanted to find ways to give back to the school beyond financial contributions.  Over the years Callander Associates has hired many Cal Poly graduates, both full time and for internships, so I have found some personal gratification in that.  However, this past year and a half I have been fortunate to become a member of the Cal Poly Landscape Architecture Department Advisory Committee (LADAC).  Comprised of former graduates who have become leaders in the profession, LADAC aims to provide the Landscape Architecture department aide in fulfilling its mission and goals. In practice the group convenes on campus three times a year to volunteer time towards guest lectures, desk critiques, and provides the department a resource to discuss curriculum and trends in the industry.

Thus far from the LADAC sessions I have attended I have been surprised how rewarding it has been.  As a guest critic in several design studios I have had the opportunity to work one on one with students as they work through their projects.  I have been pleasantly surprised at the quality of design work and graphics of the upper class students.  Specifically the care and attention put towards communicating design intent through simple, graphically rich, infographics and photorealistic simulations.  Their graphics are clearly supporting strong designs based upon a well thought out analysis of site and demographic information rather than cloaking a poor design.  I have also really enjoyed working with the first and second year students as they struggle with the design process.

Most surprisingly, however, is how great these trips have been in recharging my own personal batteries.  Being exposed to the creativity of the students and to that of my fellow LADAC members has given me a renewed focus to my own work and fodder for design inspiration.  More specifically I have been reminded how important it is not to totally succumb to the pressures of budget and schedule, which typically results in rushing the design process, but rather take the time required for analysis and research to help develop truly unique but context sensitive solutions.  I look forward to many more years of LADAC service and thus many more years of invaluable inspiration.

Brian Fletcher, President

Revitalizing the Waterfront

It’s interesting to note the disparity in the success of various waterfronts.  You might think that, what with all the built-in interest that a waterfront provides, you couldn’t help but have a successful facility if you’re next to the water.  Not true!  There are a lot of waterfronts that are not great places to hang out.  The great waterfronts didn’t happen by accident. They came about because people saw the potential and cared enough to make the investment in time, energy and capital to make them happen.  Witness Jack London Square and San Francisco’s Embarcadero.  Both tremendously vibrant waterfronts.  But at one time neither of them was a place where you would linger. These places became great places through a lot of hard work.


Right now, the City of Redwood City is hoping that the Port of Redwood City experiences a similar renaissance, and they’re making the effort to see that it happens.   And the private sector is getting behind the effort.  This is that story.

Callander Associates was recently introduced to a tenant of the Port of Redwood City and asked to look at the opportunities for improving the waterfront.  The site is directly adjacent to the waterfront and benefits from a fantastic view over Redwood Creek and Estuary to Bair Island.  On clear days, the profile of Bay Area landmarks can be seen in the distance.  The site is entirely within BCDC’s jurisdiction and as such, provides unimpeded public access.  It’s a site with tremendous potential, but it’s underutilized.  To a significant degree this is a function of its remoteness from downtown Redwood City.  It serves primarily as an amenity to the offices located just beyond the shoreline band.


How do you overcome this sense of separation?  Host a party and invite everyone to come!   That’s what Redwood City does every year with an event called Portfest.  Portfest is now in it’s 3rd year, and gaining traction.  Great fun!  Food, boat rides, crafts, music, all adding to the natural vibrancy of the setting.


We are fortunate to enjoy working on significant projects like this, where our efforts can make a big difference in the experience of locals and visitors alike.  Our goal/challenge/objective: make this site the best host it can be for the annual Porfest, while revitalizing the space to nurture broader use by the community on a year round basis.  In short, do our part to put the Port of Redwood City back on the map!

written by Mark Slichter, Principal

On Reflection, Education, and Appreciation…

It seems “We should…” always is trumped by “I have to…”

The idea of “should” is usually derived from a level of inward reflection that arrives at a conclusion of some sort of pathway to improvement.  Unfortunately, the “I have to” is often the latest short term squeaky wheel that is forced upon us, demands our immediate attention, and bullies the “We should’s” of professional growth, social interaction, continuing education, cultural development  on to the back burner to be dealt with later.  I’m not sure if this condition is avoidable.  But, when the “We should…” finally happens and everyone participates, it needs to be appreciated… maybe even celebrated.  And the person who continues to believe in the idea and manages to convince the rest of us that this particular activity they have organized is worth forsaking our current project crisis of “whatever” should be congratulated and their efforts recognized.


Each year Melissa Ruth, in our Valley office, sets up tours of local parks.  Their value from a professional education and growth standpoint are unquestionable.  Their benefits in business and client development are subtle but just as valuable. We get to see, first hand, how others have approached design challenges with varying degrees of success or failure.  In the vacuum of information, we exercise our deductive reasoning and critical thinking muscles to extrapolate reasons decisions were made, who made them, and the events that led up to their application.  Obviously, we look at the real world failures with a critical eye and try to learn from them so we can avoid similar circumstances in our own future projects.  So many things can “go wrong” in a design.  To think of every variable and “what if” is impossible.  So, when given the opportunity, we should never forget to take note when a design works exactly the way it should and try to figure out why.  It’s an illogical concept, when you think about it, to believe we can judge a design with such little information.  Our conclusions may be completely incorrect (and they probably are), but the exercise in arriving at those conclusions will only strengthen our own designs.

So, thank you Melissa, for sticking with it and helping the rest of us set aside our daily “I have to’s” for just a little while to become better landscape architects and consultants.

Written by Erik Smith, Principal

Solving Stormwater Problems One Mentorship At A Time

Sometimes opportunities present themselves when you least expect it and the opportunity to mentor a group of civil engineering students at Sacramento State was something I couldn’t pass up. You may ask why a Landscape Architect would have any business mentoring engineering students… Well, when the class is focused on green infrastructure, low impact development and stormwater management, then count me in!

Callander Associates has been very supportive of my interests in stormwater management including construction stormwater and post construction low impact development and I wanted to share this knowledge with the students. The CE190 class this semester has included in their curriculum the USEPA’s 2nd Annual Campus Rainworks Challenge.


This is a competition for college and university students to design creative and innovative green infrastructure for their campus.  I mentored a group of 6 students who were as eager and excited to team up on this project.  Throughout the semester we met to brainstorm master plan concepts, discuss innovations in green infrastructure and prepare for the competition. The students prepared Master Plans and Concept Plan Reports and presented their concepts through video presentations. I had the opportunity to interact with the other student groups during presentation and Q&A’s and also met the other mentors who came from various engineering backgrounds. We shared a common interest in exploring new ways to capture, collect, reuse and reduce stormwater discharge from polluting our waterways.


It was a great experience meeting the students and other mentors and was exciting to see what innovative ideas the students came up with for the competition and to further explore these in the profession.

There is a new standard found more often in our projects that require stormwater management. As designers we are always striving to find creative and aesthetic ways to integrate it into the site. If I had one goal from this experience, it would be to teach the engineering students to look beyond solving a stormwater problem and more towards creating an experience. I think they met that goal.


I have to thank Colleen Salveson (our marketing guru in the San Mateo office) for approaching me about this opportunity; Colleen’s cousin, Dr. Matthew Salveson, an Associate Professor at Sacramento State who invited a Landscape Architect into the world of civil engineering; and Ben Woodside who teamed up with me as a guest lecturer for the class.

A couple of selected groups were then invited to refine their reports and videos for the national competition. Winners will be announced in February and March.  The winning teams will receive a cash prize and the opportunity to apply for a grant to help implement their design on campus. For more information on the USEPA’s 2nd Annual Campus Rainworks Challenge, go to:

Melissa Ruth, Project Manager, RLA, QSD/P

Melissa works out of our Rancho Cordova office. Her experience at Callander Associates has included a variety of projects such as parks, trails, playground design, planting design, master planning, stormwater pollution prevention plans and landfill studies. She is our resident expert on Stormwater Pollution Prevention and is a Qualified SWPPP Developer/Preparer (QSD/P).