City and Regional Planning Wins Two APA Awards for Work with Village of San Martin 

SAN LUIS OBISPO — Fifty Cal Poly city and regional planning (CRP) students will be honored for proposals that may ease urban encroachment on farmland around a Santa Clara County community.

Their work in the village of San Martin, a community of about 7,000 residents in the southern end of Santa Clara Valley, about 20 miles south of San Jose, received two awards from American Planning Association California chapters: an Academic Award for Excellence from the Central Coast Section; and an Empowerment Award of Excellence from the Northern Section.

The APA is a national organization, representing 40,000 urban planning professionals in 47 chapters, with 22 divisions that embrace the wide range of land-use planning responsibilities. The student awards for the Northern Section will be presented in November in San Francisco at the annual Northern Division gathering. 

Over the last several decades, farmland in Santa Clara County has been endangered by constant urban encroachment. San Martin, located on Highway 101 between Morgan Hill and Gilroy, is no exception.

In the spring of 2020, two Cal Poly studios — CRP 553 and CRP 341 — were asked to develop “out of the box” concept plans for agricultural and farmland solutions for the unincorporated and predominantly rural residential community. San Martin has several wineries and is a large producer of garlic, table mushrooms and grapes. It is also home to the Wings of History aviation museum, located adjacent to the San Martin Airport, a single-runway general aviation airport covering nearly 180 acres.

The San Martin area is split by Highway 101. The area west of the highway is more intensely developed and supports the existing town commercial and industrial uses. The eastern area — which is the more rural part of the community — is characterized by low to medium density, single family homes and various agricultural land uses.

The 300-acre San Martin community core consists of single-family lots and most of the commercial and industrial uses. It has small lots, a village atmosphere and higher population density than the remainder of San Martin.

Over the last 30 years, Santa Clara County lost more than 21,000 acres of farm and range land to development and over 28,000 acres are at risk of conversion. In 2018, the county implemented the San Martin Agricultural Plan to address community concerns and needs.

Throughout the shortened, virtual 2020 spring quarter, the student groups worked to assess, envision and conceptualize their proposals.

Initially, the teams reviewed planning documents and secondary sources to better understand the San Martin economy and community culture. They later developed concept plans and visualizations before bringing final presentations to the Santa Clara County planning staff.

Made up of a dozen first-year master’s students, the CRP 553 studio’s “strategic development plan” focused on rural culture, agricultural preservation and small-scale agritourism for the town. The students worked in three separate teams to tackle each issue, all of which involved an immense attention to detail.

To promote agrotourism, the students focused on promoting San Martin as a Northern California hub for farm and ranch visitation. The team developed a “Farmer’s Toolkit” with user-friendly instructions, and crafted plans for public spaces within the town’s agricultural sphere.

“We all worked to create something that would help the community strengthen and enhance its rural character and protect the agricultural lands that are being threatened by housing pressures in Santa Clara County,” said Ayla-Louise Mateo, a graduate CRP student from Atascadero, California. “The resulting document also made sure to put the community members first, as equity was a large element of this project due to the large disparities of incomes in the area. We wanted to make sure we created something to protect those low-income residents in the area from large changes, which typically affect home and rental costs.”

The CRP 341 studio was asked to create “urban design visions.” These 38 third-year undergraduates drafted concepts to redevelop San Martin’s core and protect its rural character, provide housing opportunities while better diversifying the local economy.

Their projects were centered around crafting accessible public spaces in lieu of urban encroachment. The student team proposed a new multi-use railway station in response to expanded train services, redesigned streets to promote walking safety and created a much-needed local park, among other concepts that prioritize local culture and the identity of the community, which takes its name from St. Martin of Tours, the patron saint of early pioneer Martin Murphy, who built the first Catholic church in the area.

“I think our project gave the residents a good array of ideas for new redevelopment in the central core,” said Wesley Wong, an undergraduate from San Francisco. “The community seemed generally pleased and enjoyed seeing such a wide variety of new and sometimes creative design ideas for their community.

“A lot of implementation planning would still need to be done, but our work can at least start a lot of good, specific conversations about future urban design in San Martin,” added Wong, who was the 2021 recipient of the APA’s Outstanding Student Award for undergraduates at Cal Poly.

The studios were led by CRP faculty members Vicente del Rio and Hemalata Dandekar, who oversaw the projects.

“Due to the statewide lockdown caused by COVID-19, the students had to unexpectedly work remotely, a difficult task for studios as teamwork is essential,” said Dandekar, who also is a San Luis Obispo planning commissioner. “These awards are therefore especially noteworthy. They recognize that despite the challenges of remote learning, students innovated, took risks and were entrepreneurial in developing creative visions for San Martin.”

The pandemic had other impacts, del Rio said.

“Both projects were shortened by a week to a nine-week work period when the shelter-in-place order required a radical pivot before the start of the quarter to allow faculty time to master new technologies, rethink pedagogy and innovate the design of courses for online delivery,” he said. “This new approach called for resilience and commitment from all parties involved — the Santa Clara planning staff, instructors and students.”

“To adapt and prevail over the constraints of the pandemic required dedication, patience and professionalism, and we greatly relied on the maturity and concentration of our students.”

Each team presented their final plans in virtual public meetings for the San Martin Planning Advisory Committee and the Santa Clara County Planning Commission.

According to the commission, the students’ work will be used in future community decision-making. Land-use and urban design scenarios are at the forefront of these discussions, as the county works to preserve San Martin’s rural character.

About Cal Poly’s City and Regional Planning Department
The City and Regional Planning (CRP) Department prepares students for professional practice as community planners or as consultants in the private sector. Working with communities, graduates engage in professional work through applied learning in studio laboratory environments. Graduates from CRP work in public agencies and private consulting firms, preparing comprehensive plans for projects, neighborhoods, cities and entire regions. They deal with the use of land, housing, transportation, public facilities and open space. In addition, they are responsible for finding the means to make their plans become a reality by budgeting for public projects and programs and by reviewing and regulating private development. Accredited by the Planning Accreditation Board, the department offers two degrees: The Bachelor of Science in City and Regional Planning and the Master of City and Regional Planning. Read more at planning.calpoly.edu.

About the American Planning Association
The APA is an independent, not-for-profit educational organization that provides vital leadership in creating great communities for all. APA and its professional institute, the American Institute of Certified Planners, are dedicated to advancing the profession of planning, offering better choices for where and how people work and live. The more than 40,000 APA members work in concert with community residents, civic leaders and business interests to create communities that enrich people's lives. Through its philanthropic work, APA’s Foundation helps to reduce economic and social barriers to good planning. The APA has offices in Washington, D.C., and Chicago. Learn more at planning.org.

At top, a rendering by Cal Poly students of a concept for San Martin’s main intersection, which includes a proposed roundabout, horse sculpture, train station and a linear park on the right.

Contact: Ray Ladd, special projects
College of Architecture and Environmental Design
805-756-7432; rladd@calpoly.edu

Aug. 30, 2021

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