Perspectives

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Well, we are over half way through 2017 and the economy seems to just keep rolling along. Clients are looking to begin work on a wide variety of projects, from schools to streetscapes. This project mix has allowed for Callander Associates to hire more than a few new employees to meet the growing demand.  As construction needs rise, clients tend to be paying more for these services and for Contractors; the need to hire qualified laborers has increased. Many Contractors are looking for all types of workers, from general laborers to superintendents. With that, wages are on the rise and bids are increasing. All of this leads to the question of:  who pays?  In most cases, the answer to this is our client, the end user.

We typically put together cost estimates for our clients to give them an idea of how much their project will cost. We never want to be the “low bidder” but typically like to have a number within 10 percent of the lowest bidder. This held true until about the end of 2013 when we started to see the need to increase our unit costs for items like concrete pavement, asphalt, 24” box trees, storm drain, pavers, and more. Over time we’ve witnessed a roughly 33 percent increase across the board with no end in sight.

How do we, as consultants, guide our clients through the murky waters of getting a project built?

  • Start with a design that fits the client’s budget.
  • Be realistic with our estimates and check with contractors to make sure we are “in the ball park” with our numbers.
  • Specify materials that are readily available locally or within the U.S. and not “special order” or shipped overseas.
  • Contact contractors that are a good fit for the project.
  • Have tight specifications and clear plans that match, so there are no “surprises” and unwanted change orders.
  • Assist our clients during construction to help avoid those potential change orders.

Being able to present a good set of bid documents to a client who has the resources to oversee the project along with the selection of a reasonable contractor, we can get a project built on time and on budget

Shawn Sanfilippo, Construction Manager

How Can We Help During the Housing Crisis?

The housing boom continues to go full steam in the Bay Area. It’s crazy to see all the buildings coming down, cranes popping up, and new high-density housing being built in its place. Even with all this activity, housing is not being approved fast enough for some state leaders. This is evident in a new state legislative proposal that would require cities to provide expedited review for affordable housing developers.

Many communities are struggling with the amount of development and the changes it brings. I witnessed this struggle first hand at a recent Planning Commission meeting. Neighbors came out in large numbers to object to a proposed 10-unit four story condominium project along El Camino Real on the site of two single family detached homes. Concerns for increased traffic, privacy, and densification were vehemently voiced while a smaller group supported smart growth and voiced concerns for the regions’ lack of affordable housing.

Then I received this letter from SPUR, a group that promotes good planning and government within the San Francisco Bay Area, in my email;

Dear Brian,

The story of the Brisbane Baylands project — where a small town is in the position of making a land use decision that affects the whole region — has caught the imagination of people across California, especially now that a state legislative proposal to streamline multifamily housing is under consideration. This month, the Brisbane City Council is scheduled to make a decision on whether to approve a plan for 4,400 housing units and 7 million square feet of commercial space at the Brisbane Baylands, within walking distance of a Caltrain station. So far, the Brisbane Planning Commission has favored a low-density plan with no housing. A growing chorus of voices from around the region, including regional leaders, major technology companies and housing advocates, is calling for Brisbane to approve a mixed-use plan that includes housing. A recent report also concluded that a mixed-use plan with 1.5 to 2 times the amount of housing proposed would in fact be the most sustainable use for this site. But the residents of Brisbane (population 4,700) continue to resist outside pressures, citing environmental issues, fiscal concerns and the desire to preserve small-town character.

After a planned vote on August 7 was postponed, the next council meeting comes at the end of the month. While the city of Brisbane did not create the housing shortage on its own, it still has a chance to do the right thing and participate in the solution.

Best,
Kristy Wang
Community Planning Policy Director

The housing crisis is a struggle that is not going to end soon and change is difficult as “small” communities evolve to handle growth. I understand that we cannot keep adding thousands and thousands of jobs (see recent expansion plans of Facebook, Apple, Google, and Adobe) without adding more homes. It is just not sustainable. I would ask everyone within Callander Associates to be cognizant that the communities we serve, and their residents, are really stressed about this right now. They are bringing those stresses and raw emotion to our workshops and public hearings. Not just on housing projects but on park and trail projects as well. As leaders, we must be aware of these stresses, understand that emotions will run high, listen intently, build trust through responsive designs, and work collaboratively on developing the “right” solutions for the communities we serve. This speaks right to our vision statement “Great people building community through exceptional service and indelible design.”

– Brian Fletcher, President

Food for Thought!

Agricultural Awareness

If you are a parent reading this then you can probably relate to what I am about to say…raising kids is the greatest challenge of my life! My wife and I are raising two wonderful kids, ages 10 and 12, and not a day goes by without us stressing over some facet of parenthood. Our ongoing stresses include amount of screen time they have, encouraging them to talk vs text, how to be a good friend, and how to do your best in school. Often these turn into battles ripe with arguments and punishments as our pre-teens jockey for stronger positions. I am sure some of you can relate. Believe it or not, instilling knowledge in our kids of where our food comes from has been one of the lessons that our entire family has enjoyed learning. This has resulted in some pretty memorable adventures including a farmstay in Pennsylvania, a birthday celebration at a goat farm, and our own urban agricultural adventures; raising chickens and vegetables in our backyard. Recently we had the opportunity to visit two Northern California farms with distinctly different missions.

Farm Fresh To You – Capay Organics

For about a year now our family has really enjoyed receiving our CSA box of fruits and vegetables from an organization called Farm Fresh to You. If you live in Northern California you have probably seen them at farmers markets or know someone that is part of their CSA.  Every other week we receive a box full of freshly picked items with dirt still clinging from roots, beautiful in their imperfections, and still smelling of the farm…in a really good way though. All traits typically washed or hybridized out of our store bought produce in the effort to create pretty and transportable produce often at the sacrifice of taste. I promise I am not going to preach here! With an open weekend and a desire to learn more about the farm where our food comes from, we set out for their first open farm tour of the season.

If you haven’t been to the Capay Valley I would highly recommend the visit. It is a rich fertile valley along the banks of Cache Creek. North of Winters, Highway 16 links several small towns leading to Clear Lake including Esparto, Capay, and Guinda to name a few.  The drive was beautiful and the heavy winter rains resulted in spectacular green hills and a heavy flow on Cache Creek.  The farm itself is outside of Capay and is still run by the same family since the 1970’s. Our time there was spent talking to the 4H club and petting their collection of animals, taking a tractor tour of the fields, and learning more about the farm’s partners of local producers of honey, coffee, and even artisanal marshmallows of all things. We even got to pick some green garlic to cook with at home and plant seeds of pumpkin and beans.

Slide Ranch

Next on our tour was Slide Ranch. Perched upon a windswept cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean and just outside of Muir Woods sits Slide Ranch. Started back in 1970, and touting Jerry Garcia as one of the original donors, Slide Ranch has striven to connect children to nature. Throughout the year Slide Ranch provides programming for schools, camps, and occasionally opens their door for community events, such as the Spring Fling event our family participated in. Throughout the morning our kids were exposed to the farm, interacted with their volunteers and live-in teachers (yes they get to live on-site), sampled great tasting food (much sourced from the farm), made farm cheese, cleaned wool, pet chickens and goats, and squished mud and seed together to make their very own seed bombs (kaboom!).

While we know we have long road ahead of us raising our children and making sure we do it right, we definitely feel we nailed this lesson (score one for the parents!) and look forward to many more food adventures. Now we can move on to the next challenge…the teenage years! …wish me luck

Brian Fletcher, President, Parent, Food Enthusiast

What’s Trending : Parks & Recreation Survey

What’s #trending in parks and recreation? As park planners, we’re seeing an increased demand for non-traditional park amenities, and we want to hear what’s up-and-coming in YOUR community. Please take a moment to participate in our questionnaire. We’ll compile the results and share a snapshot of the current statewide trends at the CPRS expo. Be sure to stop by and visit us at Booth #607 to see the results!

So tell us – is pickleball or nature play a bigger hit in your parks? Click HERE to share your perspective on our online survey by 2/20/2017.

Water Wise is a Way of Life : Drought Update

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Many of us Californian’s are excited by the forecast of rain. In the winters following a drought, I find myself saying “Oh good, it’s raining, we need this rain”. But it’s been two winters since the Governor of California announced a Drought State of Emergency on January 17th, 2014 (Executive Order No. B-29-15), aren’t we out of the drought now? Well, as our principal Mark Slichter stated in his 2014 Perspectives article entitled “1990 All Over Again”, droughts in California are a regularly occurring phenomenon.

Since 2014…

What has changed?

The California Department of Water Resources: The Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance (MWELO) was revised and made effective on  December 1st,  2015 to encompass smaller sized projects, promotes use of reclaimed/graywater, requires use of high efficient irrigation systems and set’s more stringent calculations on water budgets.

California Department of Transportation: In 2014, Caltrans issued a memo restricting installation of roadside planting projects in Caltrans’s Right of Ways. As of November this year (2016), the emergency water restrictions will be removed and replaced with the water conserving methods described in the MWELO. We are happy to hear that some of our projects at Callander Associates will now have a green light to be installed.

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City of Woodland’s Interstate 5 and Country Road 102 Interchange Landscape Project

Where do we go from here?

On May 9th, 2016, the Governor issued Executive Order B-37-16, entitled “Making Water Conservation in California a Way of Life”. Our job as landscape architects and stewards of the land should always be mindful of designing our limited resource and help educate our community on the continued effort to conserve water. For us Californians, Water wise is a way of life!

Melissa Ruth, Project Manager out of the Sacramento Office

Designing Your Native California Garden

Given that I am formally trained in landscape architecture from the University of Kentucky, my breadth of knowledge dealing with the plants found in California was slim to none. California has a unique climate that is only found in 5 relatively small locations across the globe: the Mediterranean, most of California, Chile, South Africa and the Southwestern part of Australia. An opportunity arose, which allowed me to take a course at Stanford University called “Designing Your Native California Garden.”

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Yarrow, Rose Buckwheat and California Poppies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The course exposed me to plants that are native to California. I never fully grasped how many plants there are in California, but when considering the different ecological zones it makes more sense. Along with California’s unique climate is its diverse ranges of topography and floral areas, such as seacoast bluffs and coastal mountains, interior valleys, arid foothills, alpine zones, and two kinds of desert.

Lilium Pardalinum, the leopard lily, can be found in the California chaparral and woodlands habitats.

Lilium Pardalinum, the leopard lily, can be found in the California chaparral and woodlands habitats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The class had two field trips, one of which was a tour of the Regional Parks Botanic Garden in Berkeley, CA. This botanic garden is part of the East Bay Regional Park District in Northern California. The East Bay Regional Park District contains over 120,000 acres of land spanning across Alameda and Contra Costa counties on the east side of the San Francisco Bay. The EBRPD is actively acquiring land with the intention of using this land in preservation projects, open space, trails and parks for future generations to enjoy.

Juniper Lodge, found in the Regional Parks Botanic Garden, Berkeley, CA.

Juniper Lodge, found in the Regional Parks Botanic Garden, Berkeley, CA

When considering plants, one of the things we like to consider is how the plant will perform in its given setting. By using plants that are native to California, their chances of survival increase because they have spent many generations adapting to the unique climate found here. Not only will the plants thrive better, we can attempt to recreate the beneficial habitat that important animals and insects rely on for their survival.

Native Perennials growing in the cracks of a coastal cliff.

Native Perennials growing in the cracks of a coastal cliff.

Ben Craven, Designer in the San Mateo Office

 

Learning to Love California Gold : Part Two

As a self-professed plant geek, one of the most inspiring things to me is the abundance and diversity of life. Even after centuries of study, we continue to discover new and fascinating things about the workings of the natural world. In 1993, the first edition of the Jepson Manual estimated 5,862 species and subspecies of plants native to California. A 2001 study by the California Native Plant Society put that number closer to 6,500 species, and the current edition of the Jepson (now available as an online interchange) catalogues about 7,600 species, subspecies, and varieties native to California alone. Even a casual study of this diversity, and the many thousands more species that can be found across the globe, reveals patterns (some intuitive and some subtle) that provide insight into a plant’s origin. In looking at a plant’s form, its leaves and flowers, and its growth patterns, we can see evidence of its evolutionary history – the visual trademarks that distinguish it as uniquely able to survive in its native environment.

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1)Desert plants store water in succulent leaves or stems, and defend that precious water against herbivores with thorns. Cacti and other succulents growing in the Huntington Desert Garden by Pamla J. Eisenberg/CC BY-SA 2.0

2) Understory plants often have large dark leaves to maximize photosynthesis. Alocasia micholitziana ‘Frydek’ by James Steakley (Own work)/CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL via Wikimedia Commons.

3) Plants adapted to windy conditions (like near the shoreline) often have creeping forms, small leaves, or rosettes of leaves close to the ground to minimize wind resistance. Eriogonum latifolium (coast buckwheat) and Erigeron glaucus (seaside daisy)by oliveoligarchy/CC by 2.0

Using plants that adapted to thrive in our local climate makes sense as a simple way to reduce the amount of water, fertilizer, herbicide, and labor needed to maintain landscapes in the built environment. It also allows us to cultivate an aesthetic that is uniquely California and celebrates the natural diversity of our state. Many of our California native plants, as well as plants that originate from other dry-summer regions of the world such as the Mediterranean basin, Australia, South Africa, and central Chile, have adapted to go months without rainfall. Their coping mechanisms generally fall into one of the following categories:

  • Drought avoidance – plants avoid drought stress altogether with deep roots to find water, leaf shapes to minimize water loss, or dormancy during the dry season. Drought-avoidant plants won’t stay green and growing in the face of severe drought stress.
  • Drought tolerance – thanks to slowed growth rates, altered photosynthesis, or other cellular changes, drought tolerant plants can still grow and thrive even after months without rain.
  • Low water use – unlike drought tolerant or drought avoidant plants, some plants use very little water on average, but will not survive a prolonged period of dryness. Many hybridized or horticultural varieties of our native plants fall into this category. They would not survive in a non-irrigated landscape, but will do beautifully if regularly irrigated, even in small amounts, in a cultivated landscape.

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Many plants employ more than one water-saving strategy within these categories, and some that have the most impact on a plant’s use in the built environment include:

  • Slow growth – Many woody drought-tolerant species grow slowly, taking 5-10 years from the time of planting to reach a mature size. While the delayed gratification may frustrate those looking for instant impact, the tradeoff of a long life span means that they will look great for years to come. Examples include manzanitas (Arctostaphylos spp.), and oaks (Quercus spp.).
  • Summer dormancy – The largest group of summer-dormant plants is perennial grasses, which grow in the winter and spring and slowly fade to gold during their dormant state in the summer. A few woody plants are summer-deciduous, including California Buckeye (Aesculus californica) which is one of the earliest plants to leaf out in spring but will drop its leaves early during a dry summer.

Short life cycle – Annual plants also exhibit a kind of summer dormancy, but because their life cycle is only one growing season, this dormancy occurs between generations after the plants flower, set seed, and die in the spring and summer. Seeds lay dormant during the dry season, springing to life with the winter rains.

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  • Succulence – Like cacti and agaves, some plants store water in succulent stems and leaves, enabling them to survive long dry periods where water is unavailable.
  • Small fuzzy leaves – In hot sunny areas where more than enough light is available for photosynthesis, small fuzzy leaves can help keep plants cool and minimize water loss. Small hairs on the surface of the leaves create an insulating layer that minimizes air flow across the leaf’s surface and keeps leaf temperatures low. Plants with fuzzy leaves often look grey, silver, or dusty green and can infuse a variety of colors and textures into a plant palette. Examples include Flannel bush (Fremontodendron californicum), lavender (Lavandula spp.), and sagebrush (Artemisia).

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By understanding the mechanisms that plants use to save water, we can design landscapes that meet both the aesthetic expectations of landscape users as well as today’s standards for resource-use reduction. Moreover, we have an opportunity to create landscapes that are dynamic and vibrant, changing not just with the seasons but over time as they mature and evolve. In a newly-planted landscape, masses of quick-growing grasses and perennials can provide texture, color, and movement while slower-growing shrubs are still small. As the woody backbone of the landscape fills in, colorful perennials and textural grasses can serve as accents against a mature evergreen backdrop. With all the stunning variety of the natural world around us, it seems a shame to design a landscape that is static and unchanging, especially if we can achieve longevity and durability while still allowing for change over time. A rush of green followed by an explosion of color with winter rains and warm spring temperatures, the dappled shade of oaks in the summer, and golden grasses nodding in the autumn breeze. As landscape architects, we embrace the opportunity to create places that inspire, delight, and help us connect to the beautiful place we call home!

Brenna Castro is a Job Captain in our Sacramento Office and is also one of our resident Plant Experts!

Learning to Love California Gold : Part One

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Ask any Californian why they love the golden state and you’ll get a different answer every time – beaches, mountains, redwood forests, rolling hills, pleasant weather, fresh fruit and vegetables year-round, friendly people, good culture…it’s a place unlike any other. And as many Californians know, dry summers are a fact of life around here thanks to our Mediterranean climate. Unlike Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta (all of which average 3.5-4 inches of rain per month in summer) and so many other places around the country, California gets most of its rain during winter and hardly any at all during summer. Sacramento gets an average of just 0.1 inches of rainfall per month in June, July, and August. So whether or not this year’s predicted El Nino brings relief to our parched state, water conservation will always be an important goal in California, especially as we continue to strive to tread more lightly on the earth. As landscape architects, we are stewards of the environment and are uniquely skilled to improve our relationship with our great state’s natural resources.

If there’s a silver lining to this historic drought, it may be that it has brought our relationship with water to the forefront of our minds. Turf has received a particularly bad rap, especially as estimates show that at least half of the water used outdoors in California is used to irrigate lawns. But it seems that turf is here to stay; there’s little argument that it’s a great surface for picnicking, running, playing, and recreation. Instead of denouncing turf altogether, we should take a more nuanced approach and reexamine our relationship with the lawn – why is it so important and so ubiquitous?

Henry Coe Panorama by Bryce Edwards/CC by 2.0

Many of our early public parks were built with pastoral or picturesque landscape aesthetics in mind, bringing nature to the urban masses as a source of physical and spiritual renewal. America’s earliest parks (e.g. Boston Commons or Central Park in New York City) were based on a vision of nature as green rolling hills dotted with trees, and maybe some sheep – in other words, the local landscapes of England and New England, from which the pastoral and picturesque landscape aesthetics were derived. These were landscapes where turf grows and stays green year round with little effort, and parks soon became synonymous with open lawn, shade trees, and winding paths. In many places around the country, large expanses of lawn are beautiful, cost effective, and easy to maintain, sometimes even without supplemental irrigation.

But if you look around California in the summer, chances are that you’ll see a lot more gold than green – turf just doesn’t thrive in our hot dry summers. That’s true these past couple summers in particular, as many Californians and public agencies have let their lawns go dry as a way to save water. But that’s not a bad thing – in fact, it looks a lot more like our own native landscape. With the huge and beautiful array of drought tolerant or low water use plants available to us, we can create landscapes that are colorful, textural, sculptural, sublime, dramatic, and captivating in ways that a rectangle of green could never be. If a lawn isn’t going to be used for picnicking or playing (no one is going to play soccer in a median or picnic between the sidewalk and the street), let’s make it into something beautiful and resource-efficient. Now, as we Californians are forced to ask ourselves, “Why do I have this patch of grass?”, we can capitalize on what makes our great state unique and figure out for ourselves what makes a great California landscape. It won’t look like the green rolling hills of England, the verdant mountains of Appalachia, or the lush prairies of the Midwest, but that’s OK – let’s embrace what makes us Californians and learn to love our California gold.

Brenna Castro is a Job Captain in our Sacramento Office and is also one of our resident Plant Experts!

Align Your Passion!

Have you ever stepped back away from your day to day work life to think about what you are most passionate about in your profession?  Are you doing enough of that in your current job? If you could do more of it, would you then become more engaged in what you are doing?

As we all progress in our career we learn that there are going to be certain aspects about our job that we absolutely love and then there are other aspects that feel more like “work”.

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With that basic premise we set a goal in 2015 of identifying individual passions and aligning groups of like-minded people into “action groups”.  We are beginning with five different groups aligned with our five work categories: Recreate, Educate, Live + Work, Connect and Sustain. The idea is simple, support employee’s’ efforts in advancing their own personal knowledge and expertise and the by-product of their efforts will lead to firm growth, innovation, and leadership.

We are hoping that each group will meet at least once a month.  The groups will provide the opportunities to share lessons learned, discuss what is on the drawing boards or under construction, share projects the have visited, and discuss outside opportunities that are directly related to those employees passions. Group members will be encouraged to attend conferences, seek out educational opportunities/classes, read literature, and visit projects.  In addition, these groups will be a core component within formulating marketing strategies and developing content.

To be honest, we are still early in the process and have only had one action group meeting to date. However, we are encouraged by the enthusiasm of this first group and the potential this program represents for personal, professional and firm growth!  Because let’s face it…a truly great design is driven by passion, plus who wouldn’t want their day to feel a little less like “work”!

Brian Fletcher, President – Connect/Live + Work Action Group Mentor