San Francisco Council of ULI Loses Leader

By Sharon Simonson

Kate White, a seminal figure in the development of the San Francisco District Council of the Urban Land Institute, has left her longtime employer to join the Great Communities Collaborative at The San Francisco Foundation.

The leap opens up leadership change for one of the best-known professional real estate organizations in the Bay Area and places White at the center of a region-wide effort affecting literally dozens of potential development sites near public transit stations, including ferry stops and bus rapid transit stops as well as Caltrain, BART and Altamont Commuter Express stations.

White was ULI’s first San Francisco executive director and full-time paid staff person and was hired and mentored by industry leaders such as Douglas Abbey, a co-founder of AMB Property Corp., a predecessor to San Francisco-based Prologis Inc., and Rick Dishnica of The Dishnica Co. LLC in Point Richmond.

White’s new formal title is “initiative officer.” Her responsibilities include fundraising for the collaborative, setting goals and tracking achievements as well as coordinating communication among the various community nonprofit organizations seeking to influence planning and development at stations and those that are funding the Great Communities’ efforts, said Francesca Vietor, a program officer for the San Francisco Foundation and White’s boss. “Her other big job is to make sure these transit-oriented sites get built,” Vietor said.

White’s background with the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition and City CarShare was critical, Vietor said. White helped to found the housing coalition and was part of City CarShare in its early days. “It was the perfect blend of housing advocacy work and transportation,” Vietor said.

The organization estimates there are 300 existing rapid transit stations in the region now and says another 100 are planned, according to data on its Web site. Of the $16 billion that Bay Area voters have approved for transportation infrastructure in the last 12 years, $12 billion has been earmarked for public-transit improvements and expansions. Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission since 2006 has funded grants to support land planning for 30 transit-oriented developments around existing and proposed transit stations; seven of those plans are now complete.

The Great Communities Collaborative was founded in 2006 by Greenbelt Alliance, Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California, TransForm, UrbanHabitat, Reconnecting America, The San Francisco Foundation and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

“I was looking to get back into land-use policy advocacy, and this project is perfect for me,” White said. “My hope is to make the Great Communities Collaborative more effective. With the upturn in the economy and increasing interest in transit-oriented development as a product type, it is very ripe for seeing some real projects moving.”

She will continue her membership in the Urban Land Institute, she said. Her last day at ULI San Francisco was March 2.

The nine-county Bay Area has seven million residents today and is expected to add another two million people in the next 25 years, according to the Association of Bay Area Governments. The additional growth is equivalent to approximately five times the current population of the city of Oakland. That kind of population growth makes planning critical, including plans for high-density affordable housing and community services near transit, Vietor said.

The Great Communities Collaborative has the support of some of the country’s most influential and wealthiest foundations. The Ford Foundation, the nation’s second largest with $10.3 billion in assets at the end of 2011’s third quarter, gave the San Francisco Foundation and the collaborative a $1.1 million grant for the current year. That followed a $1 million Ford grant in 2010. Late last year, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation awarded a three-year, $400,000 grant.

ULI San Francisco is the second-largest district council in the country with approximately 1,850 members in the Bay Area including the South Bay and the East Bay, said Dana Van Galder, a manager at ULI San Francisco. The largest ULI council is New York City with more than 2,000 members, she said. The next largest behind San Francisco is the Washington, D.C. council. Aside from five full- and part-time staff people, ULI San Francisco is run entirely by volunteers.

Mike Jameson, chairman of the San Francisco District Council, said the organization hoped to have someone onboard by the end of this month. “Kate did a wonderful job. She is a tremendous leader, manager and strategic thinker,” he said. Success for the organization means continuing to expand in the South Bay, more outreach to high school and college students and “the practical work to educate on all sorts of land-use, land-planning and real estate issues across the board,” he said.

Rich Dishnica, who served as chairman of the district council board for three years ending in mid-2011 and who has been a member of ULI since 1991, said White will be tough to replace: “She had a tremendous desire to build things,” he said. “I hope the future sees us continue to grow in terms of quality and quantity and that her successor is able to take us to the next level.”

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