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Archives for October 1, 2013

Why It’s So Hard to Storm-Proof an Apartment Building

This is a problem. There were 302,000 housing units in New York City’s Sandy surge area, and more than two-thirds of those units were in multifamily buildings. Even in more suburban New Jersey, multifamily buildings constituted a large share of the affected area. In Hudson County (home of Hoboken and Jersey City), nearly a third of the units were in multifamily rental buildings.

Resilient design after Hurricane Sandy

Adding to the retrofit challenge, many of these buildings are occupied by lower-income residents. Our analysis of data from the 2011 New York City Housing and Vacancy Survey shows that in New York City, the median income for households in multifamily rental properties was $36,000 in 2011, compared with $61,200 for all other households. Of the 2,697 multifamily rental buildings in the surge area, 839 buildings contain rent-stabilized units, 402 are New York City Housing Authority public housing buildings, and another 248 are other forms of subsidized, multifamily rental properties.

In total, these affordable, multifamily properties contain over one-third of the housing units in the surge area.

These buildings remain vulnerable to future—and inevitable—storms. That puts their tenants at particular risk. Lower-income households struggle the most to recover and rebuild after being displaced by natural disasters. It’s painfully difficult to find safe and affordable alternative places to live, especially in high-cost cities.

We need to pay special attention to protecting these kinds of homes. One way to do this is to carry out targeted retrofits. Most housing experts recommend moving utility systems off the floor and waterproofing elevators, which would reduce the risk of building damage. But even these relatively simple strategies are costly, and owners may try to pass the costs on to rent-burdened tenants or else cut back on maintenance and improvements. Many of these properties also have aging building systems, which may be difficult or impossible to move. And building codes can constrain an owners’ ability to move utility systems.

Some architects have proposed more significant retrofits, such as moving utility systems to the second floor and compensating for those lost units by adding extra floors to the tops of buildings. Another idea is using on-site landscape designs to keep flood waters at bay. However, many of these creative solutions face regulatory barriers such as height restrictions and building codes. They also come with very high price tags.

The regulations that govern the subsidies these building owners receive, through programs such as the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit or Section 8 may also limit the kinds of retrofits an owner can undertake. If nothing else, the federal programs that subsidize many of these buildings demand an additional layer of approval.

But while retrofitting multifamily buildings is a significant challenge—and urgent priority—it’s an opportunity as well. Because of their scale, multifamily buildings may actually allow for retrofitting solutions unavailable to single-family housing. For example, redundancies in basic building systems are often simply not economical for single-family homeowners, but building-level heat and power generation systems make more sense for larger buildings and can provide an alternate source of electricity if the main grid fails. The greater density of multifamily buildings may also make landscaping solutions and flood barriers more feasible and affordable, because a barrier or a planted area of a given size will protect a far greater number of people.

At a more fundamental level, multifamily buildings represent some of our most energy-efficient residential structures. Studies show that residents of multifamily housing consume far less energy than their counterparts in single-family homes due the smaller size of their units, their shared utility systems and their shared walls. In the longer run, then, investing in making multifamily housing more resilient will also help to reduce collective energy use and thereby potentially reduce associated climate risk as well.

The ongoing efforts to rebuild the areas devastated by Sandy, and efforts to prepare for future climate change related disasters must address the needs of all kinds of housing, especially the multifamily housing in which so many of our most vulnerable households live.

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Upgrades in Progress Throughout City

Ken Striplin

Ken Striplin

I hope this fall season finds you and your family well. It is my pleasure to share with you some of what’s keeping us busy at the City in the final quarter of the year.

A number of construction projects are underway throughout the city right now, and I want to thank you for your patience as we complete each of them.

In Valencia, we are nearing completion of the new Park and Ride facility at the McBean Transfer Station, which will add 270 more parking spaces for commuters. On McBean Parkway, we are widening the bridge by the post office to provide more traffic lanes and a dedicated bike trail. At the Valencia branch library, we are finishing up a new parking lot expansion, landscaping and art addition to ease parking and make this corner more attractive. In Canyon Country, we are working on a beautification project at Sand Canyon and State Route 14 (on and off ramps) that will really spruce up this area of our city.

Also in Canyon Country, we are getting ready to start a project to widen the Golden Valley Road bridge over State Route 14. In Saugus, we are under construction for two new lighted playing fields at Central Park which will open next summer.

The Newhall roundabout is taking shape next to Hart Park. Click to see more.

The Newhall roundabout is taking shape next to Hart Park. Click to see more.

And in Newhall, the new roundabout will be completed early next spring. Complimented by the recently improved Hart Park frontage project, the roundabout will improve traffic flow and serve as a gateway into Old Town Newhall. There are also numerous median landscape projects around town including projects on Soledad Canyon Road, Sierra Highway, Golden Valley Road and in Newhall.

If you would like to hear first-hand what is happening in our city, I invite you to attend our annual State of the City Luncheon on Oct. 16 at 11:30 a.m. at the Hyatt Valencia. Hosted by the Santa Clarita City Council, the luncheon event is open to the public and you can RSVP online at or by calling 661-255-4939. The cost is $40 per person.

Thank you for your interest in Santa Clarita. I appreciate your taking time to learn more about what is happening in our great City. I would also like to encourage you to check our regularly updated city blog at Feel free to email me directly with your comments, suggestions and ideas at:


Ken Striplin is city manager of the city of Santa Clarita.


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Laurel Abbott: Realtors Association Going Green with Landscape Renovation

If you have been by the Santa Barbara Association of Realtors office at 1415 Chapala St. lately, you will be treated to an evolution that matches our ideals in reducing waste, beautifying our environment and creating a sustainable landscape for the future.

As is the case with many commercial buildings in Santa Barbara, the SBAOR building had a grass lawn in front. We have had high water bills, and some unfortunate “drainage” in our basement that needed to be rectified. With these ideas in mind, as well as some guidance from our Board of Directors and resident “green” guy Bob Hart, our association executive, we have recently employed our affiliate Wilson Environmental Contracting to change our landscape.

Daniel Wilson shared his goals for the project:

» Aesthetic enhancement — beautify. Increase color, texture and shapes over the lawn.

» Reduce water consumption, petrochemicals and fuel, and maintenance (estimated to cut water use by 80 percent in this area).

» Significantly and simply reduce flooding under the building by redirecting roof and landscape runoff away from the building toward a suitable area of the landscape where the water can infiltrate and deep irrigate the plants.

» Reduce stormwater runoff from the property to Mission Creek and the nearby ocean by maintaining stormwater onsite.

The work is in progress, but soon will become a demonstration garden for others in the community to see how landscaping can be beautiful and yet use less resources. We will now have a plethora of native, drought-tolerant plants thoughtfully planted for beauty as well as alternating blooming cycles, all of which will significantly cut our water consumption and use of fuel and fertilizer.

Realtors are proud to be setting an example and hope that others will benefit from it.

Laurel Abbott is a real estate agent with Prudential California Realty and president of the Santa Barbara Association of Realtors. Contact her at or 805.879.8050. The opinions expressed are her own.

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Smith: Who knew? Deer detest manly soap

Ryan Couch leapt for a phone upon reading reporter Guy Kovner’s story about voracious deer doing a job on gardens and landscaping this year.

Couch, a Sebastopol-reared landscape designer, shared that a few years back he was told Irish Spring bath soap works wonders at protecting plants from deer.

Sounds crazy, he thought. But nothing else he’d tried as a deer repellant worked, not even cougar urine.

Couch cut up a few bars of Irish Spring — “Manly, yes, but women like it, too” — and drilled holes in the pieces, then strung them from plants favored by deer.

Eureka. He found that the green-and-white soap truly does dissuade deer from eating vegetation.

“So far, it has worked every place that I’ve used it,” he reports.

A Google check reveals quite a few favorable reviews of Irish Spring, some less so. The Humane Society of the U.S. suggests, “Hanging bars of soap on individual trees or shrubs where you want protection sometimes does the trick, particularly brands of soap that are high in tallow fatty acid like Irish Spring.”

And — if raccoons do wash their hands, they might consider your garden soap-on-a-rope a thoughtful touch.

INTO THEIR GOURDS: This Sunday’s Calabash, one of humanity’s most original and delightful benefit events, will be serenaded by musicians who play instruments hand-made from gourds.

Calabash is the festival of gourd-art, food and wine that helps sustain Forestville’s Food for Thought/Sonoma County AIDS Food Bank.

It jazzes Food for Thought that Sunday’s musicians include Stephen Kent, master of the Australian aboriginal instrument the didjeridu and host of KPFA radio’s weekly “Music of the World.”

HARDY VIKING BLOOD has served Hans Skalagard, the renowned maritime artist from Petaluma who first went to sea at 13 and whose brushes with death as a WWII merchant mariner included clinging to a barrel and bobbing for 22 days in the Atlantic.

Hans, a native of the Faroe Islands between Norway and Iceland, and his wife, Mignon, are back home after driving to Thousand Oaks last weekend for a big deal.

The Scandinavian American Cultural Historical Foundation inducted the painter of great sailing ships into California’s Scandinavian-American Hall of Fame.

Hans, who paints nearly daily as he steams toward 90, is in good company.

Fellow inductees include late Norwegian-Americans Sonja Henie, the Olympic skater, and football coach Knute Rockne, and showman Victor Borge, “The Clown Prince of Denmark.”

Chris Smith is at 521-5211 and

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City Hall Runaround Leaves Community Gardens High and Dry

At a small community garden on the corner of Ridgeview Drive and Fairmont Avenue in City Heights, there are a few plots filled with straggling end-of-summer vegetables. There are tomatoes, pole beans and squash, but the lot is noticeably bare. Out of the 19 garden beds, only six have anything growing in them.

That’s because gardeners at the Ridgeview Community Garden don’t have access to water on their land.

Photo by Bianca Bruno

Photo by Bianca Bruno

Gardeners use old laundry detergent bottles to haul water to the garden from their homes.

Instead of using a hose to water their beds, they’ve been hauling water from their homes in gallon jugs and old laundry detergent containers. Garden organizer Jeanette Neeley said it’s a heavy burden — literally — for many of the senior gardeners.

“If you can see some of the beds behind me, those are beds of 60- and 70-year-old people,” Neeley said. “They paid for the beds. They filled them. But without water, they just don’t have the wherewithal to do that amount of heavy lifting.

“It’s a chore anytime you have to carry water. Water is 8 pounds per gallon, if you’ve ever backpacked the Sierras. So I can tell you that it’s a challenge.”

San Diego amended its ordinance on urban agriculture last year, lifting restrictions on backyard bees, chickens and goats. It also made it easier to establish community gardens. At least that was the goal.

Community garden advocates say there are still roadblocks – chief among them is the high cost of water.

The Ridegeview lot once had a water meter hookup that served former residents, but it was cut off and covered up when the home was removed and the lot was made smaller to widen a road.

Neeley said the city quoted the community gardeners $11,000 to re-establish the meter. And it nixed their plan to tap into a meter for nearby city landscaping because there’s no system for billing the residents.

“We keep getting shuffled from department to department,” Neeley said. “No one wants to take ownership and create a process where we’re allowed to give them money. I know it sounds odd. If we could pay the bill, we would be ecstatic. That’s our goal.”

In Madison, Wis., most community gardens get water from hookups to fire hydrants. Baltimore has issued a $120 fee for installing water meters in community gardens. San Francisco has a grant program that cuts the cost for installing meters at community gardens significantly.

San Diego Public Information Officer Kurt Kidman said the city treats community gardens no differently than any other customer. He said as long as community gardens can round up the necessary funds to install a meter, water access should not be an issue.

He confirmed installing a meter can run in the thousands of dollars – a bill most community groups can’t foot.

Speak City HeightsJudy Jacoby is director and CEO of the San Diego Community Garden Network. She said in comparison to other cities, San Diego still has a lot of work to do to support community gardens.

Jacoby said a first step would be putting a single city department in charge of all community garden queries.

“There is no one, actually, who feels it’s their job to help people out,” Jacoby said. “There is no liaison for community gardens. You can go to your council member and ask for help. They can be helpful, but it’s a matter of whether they choose to or not.”

Jacoby points out that in Seattle, community gardens are overseen by a staff of six in the city’s Department of Neighborhoods. Many other cities manage community gardens through their park and recreation departments.

Jacoby said the process in San Diego is so complicated that even she doesn’t understand all the nuances of establishing gardens on city-owned land. Kidman said there is no one in San Diego city government who is qualified to talk to the press about gardens.

“Knowing what department to go to and who to talk to with your list of questions really would make it a lot easier,” Jacoby said. “The code in and of itself is not everything.”

Jacoby said her organization has been working with multiple groups that want to start gardens in their communities. For some, several years have passed without any real headway.

“It all comes back to the question: If the city of San Diego values community gardens and thinks that urban agriculture has a place in the city and that people who live in apartments should have a place where they can grow food, then it’s up to them to find a way to support it,” Jacoby said.

After working with representatives from multiple city departments over the past two years, the Ridgeview gardeners think they may have caught a break.

They’ve been meeting with public utilities customer advocate David Akin, who suggests a possible solution to the high cost to access water: securing certain fee waivers for the group.

While the gardeners say they want the city to make it more affordable for gardens to pay for water, Neeley said they don’t want a handout.

“The next step to me would be to streamline the process in just getting access to landscape water,” Neeley said. “Help us to help ourselves, not give us anything free. Allow us to get access to water, grow our own vegetables share with our neighbors.”

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Gardening courseoffering lots of tips

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    Fall Gardening: 5 Tips From Good Earth Garden Center

    Our friends at the Good Earth Garden Center at 15601 Cantrell Road in Little Rock have some advice to get your garden started and how to transition seamlessly.

    From Good Earth horticulturist Jennifer Gibson:

    1. Having healthy soil is the foundation for any garden. Good soil is the foundation for all plantings, including vegetable and herb gardens.  Many Arkansans struggle with heavy clay soils or the other extreme, sandy soils.  Neither one is optimal and both will benefit from adding several different kinds of compost — earthworm castings, peat moss, organic compost, vermiculite — as well as quality potting soil. In clay soils, also add some garden sand.  This will increase air circulation and water drainage of the soil.  
    2. Keep garden elevated. It can be easier and more convenient to manage when the garden is up higher, so consider adding a raised garden or planting in containers. A container needs to be insulated from the cold weather so thin-walled plastic pots, concrete, heavy glazed pottery or whiskey barrels won’t work. Also, make sure the container has good drainage. Add several inches of drainage rock, then some weed fabric, which will keep the soil from washing down into the rock, and add quality potting soil, earthworm castings and some compost.  
    3. There are plenty of herbs and veggies ideal for fall growing. Rosemary is a great option because it is evergreen and looks wonderful with pansies or violas planted around it.  Add in some ornamental or edible cool-season greens like cabbage, lettuce or kale and you will have a beautiful and tasty planter to harvest from. The pansy blooms are even edible and are a beautiful addition to salads. There is still time to start a garden by seed too. One good tip is to soak the seeds in water for 24 hours before planting. This will greatly reduce the germination time — the time it takes for the seed to sprout.  Radishes, broccoli, spinach and all sorts of veggies are available by seed.  Cilantro and parsley prefer cooler temperatures, so now is a great time to plant them either as transplants or by seed.
    4. Trimming is just the trick. Summer can be hard on herbs, but often times if the herbs get a good trim, they will sprout out with new growth and give you another season. Mint is a great late-season reviver and can be perennial, too, depending on the weather. Don’t stop watering just because the nights are a little cooler; daytime temperatures are still high and small seedlings dry out fast. Plants do not like to freeze dry, so water well before severely cold weather unless there has been rain.
    5. Fertilizer is the key to a healthy garden. When planting small seedlings, use a good starter fertilizer, such as Bio-Tone Starter Plus, which contains beneficial bacteria, humates and mycorrhizae for fast root establishment. Feed regularly with an organic fertilizer, such as Espoma Garden-Tone, and bi-weekly with a liquid fertilizer like LadyBug Natural Products John’s Recipe.  All of these are natural and formulated for optimum utilization by the plant.  

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