I’ve been a SysAdmin for … since the last millennium. Long enough to see certain fads come and go and come again. There was a time when folks got keen on the advantages of chroot jails, but that time faded, then resurged in the form of containers! All the rage!
My own bias is that bare metal systems and VMs are what I am used to: a Unix SysAdmin knows how to manage systems! The advantages and desire for more contained environments seems to better suit certain types of programmers, and I suspect that the desire for chroot-jail-virtualenv-containers may be a reflection of programming trends.
On the one hand, you’ve got say C and Java … write, compile, deploy. You can statically link C code and put your Java all in a big jar, and then to run it on a server you’ll need say a particular kernel version, or a particular version of Java, and some light scaffolding to configure, start/stop and log. You can just write up a little README and hand that stuff off to the Ops team and they’ll figure out the mysterious stuff like chmod and the production database password. (And the load balancer config..eek!)
On the other hand, if you’re hacking away in an interpreted language: say Python or R, you’ve got a growing wad of dependencies, and eventually you’ll get to a point where you need the older version of one dependency and a bleeding-edge version of another and keeping track of those dependencies and convincing the OS to furnish them all for you … what comes in handy is if you can just wad up a giant tarball of all your stuff and run it in a little “isolated” environment. You don’t really want to get Ops involved because they may laugh at you or run in terror … instead you can just shove the whole thing in a container, run that thing in the cloud, and now without even ever having to understand esoteric stuff like chmod you are now DevOps!
(Woah: Job Security!!)
From my perspective, containers start as a way to deploy software. Nowadays there’s a bunch of scaffolding for containers to be a way to deploy and manage a service stack. I haven’t dealt with either case, and my incumbent philosophy tends to be “well, we already have these other tools” …
Container Architecture is basically just Legos mixed with Minecraft (CC: Wikipedia)
Anyway, as a Service Provider (… I know “DevOps” is meant to get away from that ugly idea that Ops is a service provider …) I figure if containers help us ship the code, we’ll get us some containers, and if we want orchestration capabilities … well, we have what we have now and we can look at bringing up other new stuff if it will serve us better.
ASIDE: One thing that has put me off containers thus far is not so much that they’re reinventing the wheel, so much that I went to a DevOps conference a few years back and it seemed every single talk was about how we have been delivered from the evil sinful ways of physical computers and VMs and the tyranny of package managers and chmod and load balancers and we have found the Good News that we can build this stuff all over in a new image and it will be called Docker or Mesos or Kubernetes but careful the API changed in the last version but have you heard we have a thing called etcd which is a special thing to manage your config files because nobody has ever figured out an effective way to … honestly I don’t know for etcd one way or another: it was just the glazed, fervent stare in the eyes of the guy who was explaining to me the virtues of etcd …
It turns out it is not just me who is a curmudgeonly contrarian: a lot of people are freaked out by the True Believers. But that needn’t keep us from deploying useful tools, and my colleague reports that Kubernetes for containers seems awfully similar to the Ganeti we are already running for VMs, so let us bootstrap some infrastructure and provide some potentially useful services to the development team, shall we?
Upon my return to work this week, one question was on the tongues of polite colleagues: “how was Alaska?” I start to explain that I didn’t experience much of Alaska because I spent the week on a cruise ship, which involved a fair bit of eating, drinking, reading, taking pictures, and trying to keep Tommy amused. I don’t trouble these nice people with too much detail. After all, there is now a blog post for those who care to know too much. Welcome to the verbose answer.
Part I: Cruise Ship Life
This is what Alaska looks like from a cruise ship.
Last week the family went on a cruise aboard Holland America’s MS Westerdam. The ship went from Seattle up the coast of Alaska and back. From that vantage, Alaska is days and days of unpopulated, beautiful vistas, floating by as you dine on an endless buffet, and catch up on reading as friendly Indonesians bring reasonably-priced drinks. The ship has something like twenty bars, a casino, a jewelry store, an “art gallery” and a modest library with absolutely no books about modern cruise ships, but various board games with missing pieces. This idyll is punctuated every day or two by our collective descent, like a plague of locusts, onto remote little towns who have decided to augment their fishing and lumber industries with tourist entrapment. “Diamonds Cheaper than on the Ship” touted several stores adjacent to the port in Juneau.
“I don’t know why Juneau has so many diamond shops,” said our driver. “Diamond isn’t even our state gem stone. You know what that is? Jade! Now if you look out to our right as we go over this bridge, you’ll see a bald eagle …” We were riding a bus out to a shore excursion where we got to ride a wheeled cart pulled by sled dogs. This was fun: you get about six tourists on a cart and a dozen or more eager dogs pull us around some roads on a loop in the woods for not more than a mile. Our musher was a guy from Michigan who explained that the hardest part of the year is driving his dogs up from Michigan, but now that tourists would pay to ride the cart the mushers could just stay up North for the Summer. His concern is that the dogs do best around -20F, so when they pull tourists around on wheeled sleds at 50F he wants to make sure they don’t work too hard and keep hydrated.
I spent a lot of my time keeping Tommy entertained. As a lady explained to the grownups about sled dogs and the annual races we got to pet a friendly dog and wander over by the musher’s camp. When the lecture was done the puppies were brought out and fondled. After the hot chocolate we got on the bus back to port. “If you look out on our left you’ll see that same eagle in the same spot.” It turns out that bald eagles spend a lot of time sitting up high enjoying the scenery and contemplating their next meal. As a cruise ship passenger, I felt I could relate.
Homo sapiens caring for its young on a cruise ship off the coast of Alaska.
Part II: Glacier Bay
The high point of the cruise, in my opinion, is when the ship sails up glacier Bay and spends an hour or so floating in front of a giant glacier:
The passengers took turns meandering on to the front deck to take pictures. Even Tommy wanted a cut of the action.
Tommy takes a picture of the glacier. Camera and wardrobe supplied by Mom.
As we floated away from the glacier I caught some of a talk from a Park Ranger about how 300 years ago Glacier Bay was more of a Glacier Valley populated by Tlingit people. But then the Little Ice Age caused havoc world wide, and the Tlingit recorded that the glacier came down through the valley at the speed of a running dog. The people ran to their canoes and evacuated. Eventually, the glacier reached the ocean. Upon contact with salt water the glacier then dried back up the valley, scraping away the ground and all evidence of Tlingit habitation, leaving what we now call Glacier Bay.
Enter John Muir. You have probably heard of him. His interest in Yosemite led him to Glacier Bay, on the idea that Yosemite may have been carved by glaciers, so he should go and study them. It was some rough adventure, and the Park Ranger digressed into a tale of how one day John went out to check out the glaciers, alone, except for one weird little dog who insisted on following him. The day consisted of a lot of jumping across crevasses and the dog kept up, until on the way home, as it was getting dark and cold, there was a crevasse that was too wide for either to jump, but there was a narrow ice bridge about ten feet down. John pulled out his axes and made it down one side, scooted across the ice bridge, and pulled himself up the far side, and looked back at the dog.
The dog looked at John, looked at the crevasse, and then began wailing. John persuaded the dog to calm down, then patiently explained that he had to try the crossing, as the only way to make it across was to try, and that if he failed to make it across that at least his bones would have a nice resting place. The dog thought it over, managed to climb down and across the ice bridge and back up to John, and they were then such BFFs that John published a book.
“Hush your fears, my boy, we will get across safe, though it is not going to be easy. No right way is easy in this rough world. We must risk our lives to save them. At the worst we can only slip, and then how grand a grave we will have, and by and by our nice bones will do good in the terminal moraine.”
–John Muir to Stickeen
It came to pass that Glacier Bay came under the protection of the federal government, which was well and good until the Tlingit came to note that it was an ancestral homeland, and the administrators of the time didn’t know what to make of that. So, after the Park Ranger spoke, a Tlingit woman came on stage to tell her own story.
The story began with an introduction to Tlingit culture. They identify by moiety, clan, and tribe. The moiety is interesting because you are either Raven or Eagle, you inherit your moiety from your mother, and you are required to marry a person of the opposite moiety. I haven’t done the logic here but it is understood to function as a system to limit in-breeding, which is a valid concern for a tribal people living at the edge of the Earth.
Anyway, her real story was of the time of forced assimilation. Her Grandmother died young, so on the pretext that a father can not raise his own children, at the age of six she and her siblings were relocated and scattered to live with families across the continental United States and thereby leave their barbarian ways behind them and become modern civilized folk. At the age of eighteen the lady’s mother returned to Alaska, where she knew nobody. She found a job and in time a nice fellow courted her, but she did not wish to marry because she did not know where she came from, or what her clan was. They conferred with elders who viewed the union as acceptable and they adopted her into a clan. In time, she learned of her birth clan, and that is how the woman speaking to us explained that due to her mother’s story, she identified with two clans.
The story gets happier with time. The woman married a Czech and has a multilingual daughter. The daughter lives in Washington but is learning Tlingit now from the University of Alaska … via Skype! And now the government has seen to the erection of a Tlingit Tribal House, which actually just opened on Thursday, August 25, 2016.
Part III: Sitka
Sitka is an island with no road connection. You arrive and depart by water or by air. Our modern cruise ship pulled up to a wooden dock on a gravel lot with piles of shipping containers. We walked on up to a little gift shop from which a fleet of buses ferried us into the city center. Our bus driver was apologetic that he didn’t know much to say about Sitka as he had been flown in from Juneau just the night before, owing to a local shortage of bus drivers, but he shared a factoid or two he had had a chance to pick up from Wikipedia. Once we got to town we had 45 minutes until another bus would whisk us on a tour to see raptors, salmon, and bears. (Oh my…) Adjacent to the bus terminal was the public library where Tommy made friends in the children’s area while his parents availed themselves of free wifi.
Oh, you were wondering: the ship has some slow, expensive wifi which we did not use except to look at the New York Times which sponsors the ship library and is therefor the only “free” site on the ship’s wifi. I don’t know if this is by design or by an oversight of the firewall configuration, but there’s no “ten article per month” limit. This is more Internet then you really need for a week at sea. More Internet that you really need on land, in all honesty. The ship is also equipped with a mobile device tower, but as with every town we stopped at in Alaska, there was no free roaming for T-Mobile.
I had to carry Tommy out of the auditorium because he was getting excited and we had been cautioned not to freak out this magnificent bald eagle, which Mommy photographed.
The Raptor Center is for rehabilitation of injured raptors, particularly bald eagles. Behind the raptor center was a nice trail with bear poop on it. It led to a stream where we figured out that dark spot in the water was a huge mass of salmon. It was all very pleasant but our time was up and we walked back up the trail, one eye out for bears, then we were off to …
… the Fortress of the Bear! Which is a refuge for orphaned bears, situated in what look to me like retired water clarifiers. Groovy stuff.
Finally, to the Sitka Science Center, where they study the life cycle of salmon and run a small hatchery operation. Since messing up the ecosystem mid-way through the last century, the state has since developed a system of hatcheries which annually release something like a billion fry a year, so there will always be plenty of tasty fish to eat. Adjacent to the center was a stream fairly choked with salmon who were returning to spawn. Someone asked if they were good eating, and the kid giving the tour explained that no, the flesh of the fish swimming upstream was already decomposing as at this point all metabolic energy they have is dedicated to the mission of spawning. The fish could still be used for animal feed and the like but no, you wouldn’t want to eat them.
Part IV: Ketchikan
A view from our cruise ship of three more cruise ships and the ever-present tourist trap fixture: a diamond store.
Daddy managed to send some postcards.
Tommy acquired a bag of blue kettle corn.
Mommy acquired some souvenirs and saw some salmon.
After the rigors of Ketchikan, Tommy is spent.
Part V: Cruise Ship Operations
I signed up for a tour of ship operations. Thanks in part to the fiber content of swiss-style muesli and a devotion to coffee, I had to excuse myself mid-way through the early-morning bridge tour, but the “hotel operations” portion of the tour was sufficiently fascinating. I was able to fill in the gap from my “bridge tour” by attending a separate talk from the Captain. If you really want to see the bridge and engines, this guy has you covered.
The ship is basically a collection of massive diesel generators. They burn a cleaner gas near shore and cheaper bunker oil at sea. The generators supply electricity to the guest facilities, the galley, and finally, to the ship’s engines, which consist of a pair of azipods mounted on both sides of the bottom rear of the ship. The azipods can rotate 160 degrees each, which combined with a set of bow thrusters, give the captain plenty of ability to park a ginormous cruise ship at little Alaskan ports. The captain noted that at 11pm when the galley shuts down, the power available for the engines goes up, and the speed ticks up a notch.
The ship cruises at up to 22 knots, which is 25 MPH relative to the current. Wikipedia, of course, has information.
We started at the galley, which is massive. There are a handful of restaurants on the ship, and the food is all prepared in the galley, which is strategically located for quick service. If you’ve seen an industrial-sized kitchen before, then you know what’s up.
The galley. Huge. Stainless. Spotless.
Next, the bakery, which is compact, maybe the size of a two-car garage, yet still supplies the entire ship with fresh pastries throughout the week. We saw the alcohol storage room, and so of course mimosas were served.
Drinking alcohol is a favorite activity on board cruise ships.
We saw dry stores–they pointed out “the most important fuel on the ship”–a pallet of rice.
The Indonesian and Philippine crew collectively consume 500 lbs a day of rice. Any less would assure mutiny.
There is a small refrigerated room labeled “Coffin Store” which it turns out normally stores flowers–the ship has two florists–but should any of the thousands of people on board the ship expire prematurely, flowers are removed from the Coffin Store until there is enough room for the newly deceased. If the dead are capable of appreciating anything, I like to think they share my admiration and respect for the elegant efficiency of keeping the Coffin Store pre-loaded with flowers.
B Deck is under water, so you’ll see waterproof doors, and you can tell you are on a ship. You see nothing like this in guest areas.
After stores, we saw the waste management section. The ship generates an amount of waste comparable to a small city, with less room to store it. Everything that can be recycled is separated, shredded, compacted, sealed, stowed, and then sold at port when possible. Retired linens are converted into rags for cleaning the engines, and the oily rags from cleaning the engines are sealed into casks which I assume are disposed of properly. Organic (food) waste, at a rate of 3 cubic meters per day, is released into the ocean at night while the ship is chugging along. The organic waste is released in 1cm cubes so as not to attract seagulls into forming an entourage behind the aft staterooms.
During the Bridge Tour the Captain noted that waste water from the toilets is used for ballast. This makes the “wet sewage wastes” cask all the more mysterious.
There’s a mess for ship’s crew and another, larger, more aesthetically appealing mess for the Indonesian and Philippine crew, where the bulk of the ship’s rice is consumed. We had to wait until Friday prayers were completed before we could see the latter mess area, which makes an attempt to remind folks who are at sea serving well-off Americans of the life and vibrant color of their home land. Whether the canteen decor does anything for morale I do not know, but I reckon the ritual use of a clean laundry bin filled with prayer rugs helps more than a few lonely souls keep their spirits up.
The mess hall decor tries to remind the staff of home.
Later in the tour we breached American etiquette to learn a bit about the salary on board ship. One assumes the money is good enough to convince folks to leave home, typically for ten months at a time. We were informed that stateroom attendants, after tips, can take home $1,500-$1,800/mo. It was noted that stateroom attendants make considerably better money than other staff, especially compared to, say, a porter, whose job is mainly to carry stuff around.
Checking up on the Internet, the average salary in Indonesia is about $1,200, and the median is about $750. Kitchen Staff average $90/mo, and a Waiter $300/mo. A Call Center job around $700/mo. The World Bank ranks Indonesia as “lower middle income” … I’m not sure I will ever have gotten my head and my heart around the disparities of our world. I reckon it is better that I never do.
We visited the ship tailors, whose main occupation is in keeping the staff properly attired. The hotel laundry has a lot of busy men and machines: washers, dryers, hospital-grade sanitizers, automated presses for pants and for suits. The dry cleaning is … look, in all honestly the wonders of the laundry were pretty much lost on me, save for the existence of a $400,000 machine about the size of our living room that folds sheets. There is a separate laundromat on the ship for the staff to do their own laundry at no charge.
Part VI: Victoria
The night before our return to Seattle was a stop in Victoria, Canada. Before our arrival the captain made a ship-wide, long-winded announcement in his thick Dutch accent, explaining that overnight, they had a problem with one of the azipods, so they had to stop it, turn the ship around, turn the azipod back on, then resume course. But they hadn’t been able to make up the time so we would arrive in Victoria about 45 minutes late, and this is why he was deeply apologetic to those whose shore excursions would consequently be rescheduled or canceled outright.
Nobody cared to see our passports. I grabbed some Canadian cash and we rode a double-decker bus into town, which resembled France. As it was around his bed time, Tommy fell asleep on my shoulder and I got to carry him around town. We bought some chocolates and I took a seat near one of the buskers down at the waterfront while Mommy took some pictures. We later strolled around the kiosks at the waterfront and Tommy managed to awake in time to catch site of a food truck containing an industrial robot serving ice cream. If there is one thing every parent knows about Canada it is that children are entitled to any robot-dispensed soft-serve ice cream that they can spot.
At one point the robot encountered some imperceptible difficulty, and three humans instantly appeared to render technical support. Among other things someone had to fiddle with the robot’s computer, which is a Japanese version of Windows XP.
We took a taxi back to the ship. Nobody cared to see our passports.
A rant posted on a colleague’s Facebook wall in reaction to the New York Times:
I read The New Yorker too much when I had free time and the gist of it was: Earth’s climate is usually pretty erratic, but after the last ice age, about 10,000 years ago, the climate entered an unusually stable phase. At that point, our species, after 200,000 years, for some reason, mastered agriculture and civilization, and that civilization has disrupted this stable phase and we are moving back into unstable climate patterns. Whether the world civilization can continue without the original agricultural lynch pin of a stable climate is a question which will be answered within our lifetimes.
Earth’s Average temperature. Our species emerged around the 200 mark, agriculture and civilization start at around 11 where you see that flat red line, which ends .. now.
CC: Glen Fergus
I had mixed feeling watching the Democratic National Convention because on the one hand they acknowledge that Climate Change is a Real Thing and we Ought to Do Something but then they kept reassuring us that it was just one of those kind of good things to do for future generations and not actually some kind of imminent shitfest that is going to be a bigger and bigger problem every year for the forseeable future, not to mention that we’ve already pretty much screwed the pooch anyway by ignoring the issue so we get to deal with it anyway but will still need to address climate emissions to keep it from going from pretty awful to worst case scenario.
Flash Flood in Australia
CC: Nick Carson
It starts with floods and droughts, then crop failures, famine, mass migration, political turmoil, fascism … talking about sea level is burying the lead.
And like what that means is maybe or maybe not the Democrats have their hearts in the right place but the messaging is just as focus-grouped and they’re nearly as averse to disturbing the status quo. “Okay, so, your likely voters believe climate change is a big deal, but most of them would be reluctant to do anything about it, so you’ve got to acknowledge the problem without making anyone feel threatened.” And over on the right its like “Well, Climate Denial excites the base of excitable racist lunatics AND it pretty much guarantees PAC money from the oil companies so any time they ask you say that yeah, there is a climate change but that is in Jesus’ hands.”
See Also: http://xkcd.com/1732/ — a cartoon illustrating human history versus the temperature record depicted in the final panel.
In the sky, we could sea the Earth. Where were we? Someone explained that this was a rare astronomical phenomenon where the moon reflected the Earth’s image back onto itself. We stood, looking up in awe. I snapped a picture on my smart phone. The apparition slid across the sky toward the horizon. We were on a cruise ship, approaching a large orb, a micro-planet of waves crashing upon each other. A label hovered just in front of the microplanet: bold block small-caps serif letters in white read:
I was overcome with religious ecstasy. I fell to my knees and bowed my head and allowed the emotion to sweep over me. Then I took a peek around and noticed everyone else was nonchalant.
I woke up an had to pee.
This year there will be an election for four of the seven seats on the Sunnyvale City Council.
Mapping Out the Council
I found a nice web site that summarizes campaign contributions for the different candidates. As I have only recently taken an interest in the City Council, it helps me paint a crude picture of the council as it exists today. There seems to be a core majority and an independent minority.
Caveat: it has been pointed out to me that my data source is not entirely accurate. Raw data can be obtained directly from the city. Unfortunately, that data is provided in PDF format. If I find a convenient way to parse the data out of those PDF files, I’ll take a crack a re-doing the Financial Backings visualization, below.
Heading up the “Core” are Mayor Glenn Hendricks and Vice Mayor Gustav Larsson, who have each received overwhelmingly large sums from the National Association of Realtors Fund.
Jim Griffith is an Software Engineer who has mainly bankrolled his own campaigns. He is the only second-term member of the council, thus his cumulative financial backing is larger than most members of the council, with the exception of Mayor Hendricks and Vice Mayor Larsson. Jim maintains a blog about city council activities at dweeb.org.
Next are what I would label the “Friends” which includes Larry Klein and Tara Martin-Milius. Klein very recently won a special election held in August after the resignation of Dave Whittum. Neither of these candidates have the volume of donations as Hendricks, Larsson or Griffith, but the Inner Core have made friendly contributions to the Friends. Martin-Milius has received contributions from Hendricks, Larsson, and Griffith while Klein has received contributions from Hendricks and Griffith.
The Inner Core and Friends make up a five-member majority. Council motions are often made and carried with minimal dissent.
Beyond the Core are the two “Independents.” Jim Davis‘ campaign contributions are mainly from non-resident individuals, none from the Core members. He generally votes along with the Core, though he did vote against the Maude Ave bike lane, an issue which I took a special interest in. Pat Meyering‘s campaign is completely self-funded. He often clashes with Mayor Hendricks and other members of the council.
Mapping Out the Election
The Deep Pockets (Hendricks, Larsson, Griffith) are not up for election this year, but everyone else is.
Seat 4: Recently won by Larry Klein, is challenged by John Cordes and Mike McCarthy. Klein, who recently served on the Planning Commission, is backed by a few Business and Real Estate PACS, and several residents, including the Core council members, and Stephen Williams, who ran against him in the special election. John Cordes, who also ran against Klein in the special election, is an environmentalist who serves on the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission. He is mainly self-funded, with an even split between resident and non-resident contributions, and a single PAC donation from the California League of Conservation Voters. Mike McCarthy is entirely self-funded.
Seat 5: Incumbent Pat Meyering is solely self-funded, and I could not find a campaign web site. He is challenged by Russell Melton, who has served several terms on the Planning Commission, and has the support of several developers, the Core council members, and numerous individuals. Melton also managed Mayor Hendricks’ successful 2013 City Council campaign.
Seat 6: Incumbent Jim Davis is a former Public Safety Officer who has served many government and community organizations. He is funded mainly by non-resident individuals. Challenger Nancy Smith has chaired the Santa Clara County Water District Environmental and Water Resources Committee, and is funded by several residents and non-residents.
Seat 7: Incumbent Tara Martin-Milius is funded in the main by several individuals, including Core council members, along with business and real estate contributions. She is challenged by unfunded Ron Banks and self-funded Michael Goldman.
Visualizing the Council and the Election
In an attempt at objectivity, I have compiled the following table to provide a quick reference to in understanding the Council and the election. I welcome feedback, especially factual corrections.
|| ███ ███ ████ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ ████████ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ ████ ████ █████ █ ███████
||Engineer at Ciena
|| █ ███ ███ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ █████████ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ ██ ████ █████████ █████ ████ ██████████ ████
||Manager at PayPal
|| ██ ██████ ███████ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ ████████ ██████ ██████████ ██ █████ █ ██████████ ██████
||Software Engineer at Apple
Numerous Government Activities
|| █ ████████ ███ ███████ ██
||Staff Engineer at Qnovo
|| ██████████ █ ██ █
Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission
||CEO at Green Galaxy Homes
Plaza Del Rey Residents Association
|| ██ █ ██████████ ██████████ ██████████ █████ ███ ██ █████████ █
|| █ ███ █ ████████
||Sunnyvale Public Safety Officer
Numerous Government Activities
|| █ ██████ ██████████ █████ ██████████
||Program Manager at NVIDIA
Santa Clara County Water District Environmental and Water Resources Committee
|| ██ ████████ █████ █ ██████████ ████ ██████████ ██████
||Teacher, UCSC Extension in Silicon Valley
San Miguel Neighbors Association
Financial Backing Key
██████████ represents $10,000
█ represents $1,000
█ Business PAC
█ Real Estate PAC
█ Elected Official PAC
█ Political Party
█ Political Committee
█ Environmental PAC
█ Social Issues PAC
█ Union PAC
Source: http://www.specialinterestwatch.org/, cumulative contributions through June 30, 2016
On October 10, 2016, file 16-0548 was heard by the Sunnyvale Planning Commission. The item was to down-zone a condominium development per the General Plan, and to up-zone a one third acre parcel from Residential Low Density to Residential Low-Medium Density. By up-zoning the site at 838 Azure St, the property owner would be able to build four homes on the property instead of a maximum of two.
The Planning Commission passed the down-zoning proposal but denied the up-zoning at 838 Azure St. I do not believe the decision with regard to 838 Azure was consistent with the public interest of Sunnyvale residents. At a time of housing crisis, we should err on the side of providing more affordable homes for more families, and the location at 838 Azure is well suited to providing housing with minimal impact on congestion.
Current Status and Options
The property presently hosts two dilapidated structures which had recently housed squatters. There are dying trees and contaminated soil from Sunnyvale’s orchard days.
Proposed zoning for 838 Azure St
Present zoning is R0: 7 homes per acre, or 2 per 1/3 acre
Two lots of 7,200 square feet, homes up to 3,240 square feet
Requested zoning is R2: 12 homes per acre, or 4 per 1/3 acre
Four lots of 3,600 square feet, homes up to 1,620 square feet
||3200 sq ft / 5 bed / 3.5 bath
||1600 sq ft / 3 bed / 2.5 bath
The lot in question is about 14,400 square feet, and present zoning allows for up to two houses. At 45% FAR one can build two homes of 3,200 square feet. Comparable homes in the area are typically 5 bedroom, 3.5 baths at $2,400,000. With a 20% down payment of $480,000, a 30 year fixed mortgage at 3.875% with taxes and insurance runs nearly $12,000/mo.
On the other hand, a 1,600 square foot townhouse or condo in this area is typically 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath at $1,000,000. With a 20% down payment, a 30 year fixed mortgage, taxes, insurance runs nearly $5,000/mo.
If we assume that housing is “affordable” at 33% of Gross Income, then the big houses are affordable to a family with $436,000 annual income, and the smaller homes are affordable at $182,000.
See Also: Redfin
See Also: Residential Zoning Standards – City of Sunnyvale
Location: Pedestrian and Transit Quality vs Congestion
Much of Sunnyvale is poorly suited to walking or public transportation. Housing in such areas encourages automobile trips and results in congestion. If you want to increase housing while avoiding congestion, you want to place the housing in areas where walking and public transit are viable options: when people have the option not to drive they are less likely to add congestion.
The average Walk Score in Sunnyvale is 55. For 838 Azure the walk score is 78. The site is well within Sunnyvale’s walkable downtown core, a very close walk to multiple groceries, restaurants, and Murphy St. This pedestrian accessibility does not encourage automobile trips, thus it mitigates congestion.
To avoid congestion, put housing in Sunnyvale’s walkable core: 838 Azure is at the Y of Mathilda and Sunnyvale in the lower right. Source: Sunnyvale Walk Score
The site is very near VTA’s premier bus route: the 22/522 El Camino Real, as well as the 55 and 54 routes for North-South mobility. Within an hour, public transit can get residents across Sunnyvale, including the offices on the North Side, as well as much of Cupertino and Santa Clara. The downtown areas of San Jose, Mountain View, and Palo Alto are accessible. At just over a mile to Sunnyvale Station, the site is not a convenient walk to Caltrain: residents may prefer to bicycle.
Public Comment and Planning Board
Two neighbors spoke against the zoning change. A neighbor who lived in an adjacent townhouse was concerned that the development of townhouses on the neighboring property would not meet his aesthetic standards. A neighbor to the south was concerned that his dogs might get out if the property was developed, and that if the driveway were moved from Sunnyvale-Saratoga to Azure then there would be less street parking available on Azure.
Per the minutes:
Commissioner Melton noted that the benefits of the GPA and Rezone of the Azure site are the PD designation and an increase in housing density, and that the negatives include parking, neighborhood incompatibility and inappropriate density.
Commissioner Simons said he does not like the potential spot zoning of 838 Azure.
MOTION: Commissioner Melton moved and Commissioner Simons seconded the motion to recommend that City Council deny the General Plan Amendment and Rezone for 838 Azure Street.
Vice Chair Rheaume said he is not supporting this motion and supports increasing the density of this lot.
The motion carried by the following vote:
Yes: 4 – Commissioner Melton
No: 1 – Vice Chair Rheaume
Absent: 1 – Chair Harrison
This item should come before the City Council on November 1. Anyone who might wish to speak up on behalf of the virtue of increased housing in Sunnyvale can contact the City Council or make a public comment of up to three minutes at the upcoming council meeting. I am hoping to attend and speak November 1. If you think you might also be interested, or would like to be notified of any updates, please drop me a line: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This item was considered by the Sunnyvale City Council on November 1, 2016. City Council heard testimony from City Staff and the Property Owner. City Council candidate John Cordes and I made public comments in favor of the change. A few neighbors made public comments against the change.
The City Council enacted an ordinance to change the zoning at 838 Azure from R0 to R2-PD. The vote was 6-1, with Council Member Pat Meyering in dissent. Council made it clear that they were only approving the zoning change, in order to provide more housing in an area well-suited to pedestrian, bicycle and public transit. Council was generally most concerned with how the development would transition from the adjacent R2 zones to the rest of the neighborhood, which is among the several considerations which will be addressed subsequently in the planning process.
The Property Owner is now at liberty to submit plans for development, which will be subject to review by the Zoning Administrator, with community feedback, and potentially by the Planning Commission and the City Council.
Earlier this month I attended a meeting at Bishop School in which Rob Smiley, COO of Sunnyvale School District, brought us up to speed on the current construction plans. I took noted and shared on Nextdoor.com, and I’m sharing them here for better community access.
Maps viewable in school office, and online at: http://www.sesd.org/Page/3722
… re-bidding is not yet complete …
Renderings of new campus and a site plan.
October — Temp Classrooms to be installed on blacktop (note: these were installed last week)
December — Fencing / Construction begins (North Side)
August 2017 — move into new rooms
August 2018 — project complete
North Side construction thru Aug 2017
South Side construction thru Aug 2018
– Reduced on-street parking (25 parking spaces removed)
– Increased traffic
– Reduced play area
– “Hard Hat Cafe” (during kitchen construction, from June 2017)
– Noise (no loud construction during testing)
– Demolition (.. asbestos .. “abatement” ..)
Q: When does Maude Ave bike lane (remove parking) happen?
A: Do not know
A few rules of thumb I use in evaluating California ballot propositions:
1) Is it a REVENUE BOND? — Likely YES
2) Is it a CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT? — Default NO
3) Endorsed by Jerry Brown? — Likely YES
4) Argument in favor/opposition use LOTS OF CAPITALIZED WORDS AND PHRASES — Those arguments are nutters
5) Wait, why shouldn’t the legislature, &c. be figuring this out?! — Likely NO
This time around I figure condoms, ammunition, and plastic bags are issues Cal/OSHA and the legislature need to figure out.
I am proud to have grown up in Chicago. It is a great city. But us Chicago fans have to admit to its numerous mistakes and sins. One of those sins was repeated over and over again in the mid-twentieth century, when neighborhood after neighborhood was torn apart to make way for highways. Working class neighborhoods, homes to people of color and immigrants … the fabric of community life was torn away. Neighborhoods were divided and conquered and made into ghettos.
One would hope for Silicon Valley in the twenty-first century not to repeat the mistakes of twentieth-century Chicago.
On Wednesday, the Santa Clara Planning Commission will review the Environmental Impact Report for the Lawrence Station Area Plan. The Lawrence Station Area Plan is an ambitious project to redevelop a low-rise industrial area into a modern urban neighborhood, providing 3,500 housing units, office space, and parks, directly adjacent to commuter rail services.
The Lawrence Station Area as it exists today: mainly low-rise industrial.
Plans for 3,500 residential units, 104,000 square feet of office, and six acres of parks.
Among the current recommendations is to cut off the Northwest block of housing from the rest of the neighborhood because it serves as a connector ramp between Lawrence and Central Expressways. Instead of crosswalks for people to walk across their community, pedestrians will need to walk up and over a ramp so as not to slow down the cars … on a two-lane road.
It is hard to find pictures of pedestrian bridges spanning two-lane roads. Picture something like this, with elevators on each side.
This is another case where we err on the side of inconveniencing people and dividing neighborhoods for the sake of keeping cars moving along as fast as possible. A crosswalk would allow people to cross the street in their new neighborhood and be better connected to their neighbors, at the cost of possibly adding an occasional minute or two to someone’s commute. Does that sound so unreasonable?
Perhaps instead of right-left-right through a neighborhood, we could drive a gentle arc around the neighborhood. The path is still there.
We might explore some alternatives. One thing I notice is that the right-of-way still exists to restore the old on-ramp from Lawrence Northbound to Central Eastbound. Instead of making a right-left-right through a residential neighborhood, drivers just coast on up a gentle right-hand curve and merge on to Central. From there, the existing two-way on-ramp might be adapted to a two-lane one-way street. The two-lane street allows more cars to queue at a crosswalk while pedestrians cross, reducing potential congestion.
Alternatively, traffic off of Central Eastbound could simply take alternate routes from Oakmead/Corwin.
The Santa Clara Planning Commission is in a place to recommend smarter planning that better addresses the concerns of pedestrians, neighborhood vitality, and motorists. The Commission will review the Specific Plan this Wednesday at 7:00pm. I hope to drop by and share my concerns. You should show up too, if you are interested. You can also write a letter to the Planning Commission: PlanningCommission@santaclaraca.gov and CC planner John Davidson: JDavidson@santaclaraca.gov.
Many thanks to Green Caltrain for the tip.
There’s a darkness upon me that’s flooded in light
In the fine print they tell me what’s wrong and what’s right
And it comes in black and it comes in white
And I’m frightened by those that don’t see it
When nothing is owed or deserved or expected
And your life doesn’t change by the man that’s elected
If you’re loved by someone, you’re never rejected
Decide what to be and go be it
I was in Chicago this week. There was a death in the family, so it was good to be among my kinfolk with our adorable, loving child.
Chicago is famously corrupt and moribund and the State of Illinois is mired in perpetual scandal. It is a magnet for immigrants but it is also a city from which many of us Californians are originally from. I’ve gotten used to the California way and I generally prefer it but what I noticed this week in Chicago was all the construction.
For a city that is corrupt and moribund, there was an awful lot of demolition and rebuilding going on. On the way to the L in the evening we stopped and stared over a fence as a variety of heavy machines worked under brilliant stadium lights. The star of the show was a yellow machine with a huge claw on the end of a boom arm reaching several stories up, to the top of a building, it was tearing down from the top, girder by girder, as another machine sprayed down the dust with a water hose. The claw was at the very end of its reach, it felt the machine was on tippy toes, as it tugged away, girder after girder, waiting for torrents of debris to fall, pulling the pieces out and dropping them into piles to be dragged into more discrete piles by lesser enormous machines. It was like watching dinosaurs go about their business. Father, Son, and Grandmother: none of us could take our eyes off the marvel. “They should sell beer and peanuts,” said I.
The neighbors of this derelict house in Sunnyvale are terrified at the prospect of it being replaced with housing for families.
We don’t get this in Suburban California. What little “history” we have is viciously guarded and any attempt to replace the old with newer and better is often met with resistance and exaggerated speculation as to the intentions and end results of new development. You don’t see that so much in the old country–In Chicago, and in any place with some history under its belt, everyone knows that they are surrounded by at least a century of continuity–Everyone is merely links in a great chain. The city is inherited and bequeathed and the hope is to leave it in a little better shape: Urbs in Horto.
In Dublin, I saw them building a light rail line, right down an ancient street. It made the Northern Californian in me jealous.
They say that University Politics is the most vicious because the stakes are so low. I get a sense of that observing some of the political rhetoric in Sunnyvale. Out here the city is so new and raw that the idea of changing it implies that those who built the city and have lived in it until now are being completely rejected by the hordes of newcomers flooding the city from the Midwest and the Far East. But in the ancient lands where the immigrants come from, there is no such sentiment: the cities are naturally timeworn, and the idea of redevelopment is an intuitive component of the cycle of death and rebirth.
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle
The land in which I live would be enriched if it embraced a bit of the poetry of the land in which I was born.
Via Steve Vance, Mapzen has a new tool, Mobility Explorer, which can generate isochrones for walking, biking, driving, and transit. I have previously used tools provided by Walk Score, but Mapzen seems more accurate, and the transit shed can be calculated based on a time-of-day.
Here is how far you can get on public transit from Sunnyvale at noon on a Wednesday in 15, 30, 45 and 60 minutes.
The colors on the web site color scheme are not that great. On Steve’s blog you can see he’s generated his own map via an API call.
Good news via Streetsblog: the United States FRA are nearly done revising safety regulations which would allow for operation of high-speed trains in the United States!
A fleet of TGV waiting to serve passengers in Marseilles, France in 2002. These trains have a top speed of 200 MPH. Proposed US safety rules would permit lighter, faster trains that meet European safety standards to run at speeds of up to 220 MPH.
Current US regulations, from the 1800s and the 1930s, mandate heavier trains to survive crashes. Unfortunately, heavy trains cost more to build, operate, and maintain. Heavier trains are also harder to stop in an emergency.
European train safety regulations are comparable to modern cars: lighter trains are cheaper to build and operate, and they stop faster. They feature “crumple zones” to absorb damage in an accident.
Since the United States is a small market for passenger trains, divergent safety standards make it even more expensive to buy trains. Instead of purchasing inexpensive, reliable, “off-the-shelf” European-designed train sets, vendors need to make alternate, heavier, slower, more expensive designs for American railroads. The adoption of European safety standards will make it cheaper and easier for American railroads to provide modern, comfortable, faster passenger service.
In anticipation of these new rules, Amtrak in September announced the purchase of 28 Avelia Liberty trains from the French company Alstom. The trains will be manufactured in upstate New York and will be used for Acela service starting is 2021. These trains can be upgraded to run at 220 MPH, but this will only be allowed after right-of-way upgrades on the Northeast Corridor.
These rules coming at the end of the Obama administration, with promises of infrastructure spending under the Trump administration, could help American rail transport see more rapid improvements in short order.
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