An Immigrant Gateway in San Rafael At Risk

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An Immigrant Gateway
in San Rafael At Risk
Mitchell Crispell
Partner Organization:
Marin Grassroots
Project Manager:
Miriam Zuk
Project Advisor:
Karen Chapple
Interview and data support was provided by Jenn Liu and Beki McElvain. Additional advisory support
was provided by Carlos Romero. This case study was funded in part by the Regional Prosperity Plan1
of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission as part of the “Regional Early Warning System for
Displacement” project and from the California Air Resources Board2 as part of the project “Developing
a New Methodology for Analyzing Potential Displacement.”
The Center for Community Innovation (CCI) at UC-Berkeley nurtures effective solutions that expand
economic opportunity, diversify housing options, and strengthen connection to place. The Center
builds the capacity of nonprofits and government by convening practitioner leaders, providing technical assistance and student interns, interpreting academic research, and developing new research out
of practitioner needs.
June 2015
Cover Photograph Source: Robert Campbell, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Digital Visual Library
The work that provided the basis for this publication was supported by funding under an award with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The substance and findings of the work are dedicated to the public. The author and publisher are solely
responsible for the accuracy of the statements and interpretations contained in this publication. Such interpretations do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government.
The statements and conclusions in this report are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the California Air Resources
Board. The mention of commercial products, their source, or their use in connection with material reported herein is not to be construed as actual or implied endorsement of such products.
An Immigrant Gateway in San Rafael at Risk
Case Study on Gentrification and Displacement Pressures in
The Canal Neighborhood of San Rafael, CA
The Canal neighborhood is a dense, Latin American
ethnic enclave in San Rafael, CA where most households are low-income (a quarter of families fall below
the poverty level) and 71% of residents have only a
high school degree or less. The area has grown over
the last 20 years, largely due to immigration: Hispanics
have increased from 47% of the population in 1990
to 80% in 2013. But housing stock has not grown as
quickly, owing to how built out the neighborhood is
already. This, along with high rents, has resulted in
significant overcrowding in this majority-renter community, where most renter households pay more than
a third of their income on rent. On top of all this, it is
located in the highly affluent Marin County and is in
a desirable water-front location. Taken together, these
aspects of the neighborhood put it at a high risk for
displacement should gentrification reach into the area
in future years. Gentrification may well occur here, given its close proximity to the planned site of the downtown San Rafael station for the forthcoming SMART
train, which will connect Marin and Sonoma counties.
However, community stakeholders interviewed did not
anticipate such gentrification reaching Canal for some
In this neighborhood profile, we outline demographic,
housing, and other data on the Canal neighborhood
to show its vulnerability to future gentrification and
displacement. The case study area (the census tracts
1122.01 and 1122.02) are outlined in dark blue, with
an area map for perspective.
The case study relies on mixed methods to study
changes in Canal since 1990. We partnered with
Marin Grassroots, a community-based organization
(CBO) that has worked in the neighborhood for over
20 years, facilitating the development of grassroots
leadership in the low income communities of Marin
County. The demographic and housing indicators presented are those associated with processes of resi-
Tract 1122.01
Tract 1122.02
Figure 1: Canal Area of San Rafael
dential displacement, and/or thought to influence susceptibility to such processes (Chapple 2009). Data on
these indicators are from the decennial Census for the
years 1990 and 2000, and from the American Community Survey (ACS) for the period 2009-2013. Census
data from 1990 and 2000 is from the Brown University
Longitudinal Tract Data Base (Logan, Xu, and Stults
2012), and is normalized to the 2010 Census tract
boundaries. With guidance from our partners, we identified two census tracts that best delineate the Canal
neighborhood: 1122.01, 1122.02. Data on residential
sales and housing permits was taken from the county
assessors’ office, through DataQuick. The study also
uses records from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and media reports.
To verify and extend the data found in these secondary data sets, we conducted a “ground-truthing” exercise where, for a sample block in the case study area,
we conducted a visual survey of conditions on the
ground to ascertain levels of investment and change;
this analysis is found in an appendix. The data gathered through ground-truthing was subsequently compared to Census figures and sales data from the Marin
County Assessor’s Office, which was obtained through
Dataquick, Inc. Of the sample blocks’ 16 parcels observed on the block, 12 were recorded in the assessor dataset. Of the matched parcels, 91% had similar
land uses on the ground when compared to the as-
Center for Community Innovation, University of California, Berkeley
Canal Neighborhood Case Study
sessor data. The Census contained 27% more units
than were observed on the ground (which was also
lower than the Assessor unit numbers as well). These
results suggest that some error may exist in either the
Census or Assessor’s reported count of housing units
and unit type.
In order to account for possible errors, we cross-referenced the data with qualitative field observations,
archival research, and interviews with key informants.
Interviews with local stakeholders provided differing
and valuable perspectives that informed our understanding about the current political and social climate
within the community and in the city as a whole. Archival research provided context about key historical
events that shaped the city’s evolution. Finally, draft
reports were reviewed by Marin Grassroots to guarantee accuracy.
Historical Context and
Current Resident Concerns
Originally developed in the 1950s, Canal’s growth
has been defined by immigration, first from Vietnam
and later from Latin American countries including El
Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico (Marin Grassroots
2014). It was one of the first communities in Marin that
was receptive to African-American renters in the late
1970s, primarily due to growth in the Section 8 voucher program. Today, the area stands out in white, affluent Marin County as a pocket of low-income people of
color. The Canal is a place where low-income workers can afford to live close to their jobs; 51% of Canal
residents work within 10 miles of their home (Marin
Grassroots 2014; U.S. Census Bureau LEHD Origin-Destination Employment Statistics). Recently, new
development has included the Al Boro Community
Center and an expansion of Pickleweed Park. Another
major development was the opening of a full-service
grocery store, Mi Pueblo, a major addition to a neighborhood that previously lacked such a store. A new
County Health & Wellness Campus has also opened
(Marin Grassroots 2014).
The Canal area is unique in Marin County. Besides its
racial and socioeconomic characteristics being quite
different from the county overall, it is also unusual in
maintaining a stock of market-rate affordable housing;
there are many multi-family rental buildings clustered
together in the neighborhood. Responding to what
one stakeholder called a “terrible slumlord situation” in
Canal, the City, starting in 1998, stepped up its code
enforcement and encouraged the sale of many buildings to non-profit developers. This has brought some
stability to the neighborhood. While one interviewee
believes private developers are “more responsible”
than before, perhaps inspired by non-profit developers’
good management practices, others disagree.
A recent community-directed report, “Building Safe
Communities through Strong Partnerships in the Canal” asserts that public safety is the chief challenge
in the neighborhood, with “one out of five residents
surveyed [saying] they were a direct victim of crime
including gang violence, armed assault, theft, and domestic violence” (Voces Del Canal et al. 2014). Compounding this perception are other factors, such as the
mistrust of the police, poor neighborhood conditions,
and violence. Police are physically present in the community but, according to the report, not focused on
residents’ most concerning issues. Poor neighborhood
conditions include “inadequate street lighting,” “lack of
signage and safe pedestrian walkways,” and lack of
“neighborhood cleanliness.” Other concerns included
poor educational resources and highly limited “family
economic mobility” (Voces Del Canal et al. 2014).
Overcrowding: A Major
Concern in Canal
The population in Canal increased by 50% between
1990 and 2013 (Table 1). This growth was accompanied by a less dramatic increase in the number of
households, meaning the average household size increased. The proportion of households that are families, and that are families with children, has also increased since 1990.
This population increase has not been accompanied
by a commensurate increase in the stock of housing.
In fact, there appears to have been very little development of new units in the past 10 years, according
to Census data (which shows an increase in only 90
units between 2000 and 2013) and stakeholders (Table 2). Vacancies are minimal.
Center for Community Innovation, University of California, Berkeley
Canal Neighborhood Case Study
Table 1: Change in Population and
Households in Canal
Percent Percent of
Source: US Census, 1990, 2000; American Community Survey
Table 2: Housing Supply and Vacancies
in Canal, 1990-2013
Housing Units
% Change
% Change
Source: US Census 1990, 2000; American Community Survey
Table 3: Overcrowding in Canal, 1990-2013
Rented Units
OwnerOccupied Units
62 %
Source: US Census 1990, 2000; American Community Survey
New immigrants, who may lack social capital and
sufficient income to live elsewhere, turn to this enclave, where they may find friends or relatives from
their home countries, according to one stakeholder.
Presumably, landlords are aware of the highly limited
housing stock and the limited resources of residents,
and so charge rent accordingly; to afford these rents,
many residents pack into units, resulting in significant
An overcrowded unit is defined as one with more than
1 person per room (which includes bedrooms and living rooms, but not kitchens or bathrooms). Overcrowding is a significant issue for the Canal Area, particularly in rental units, with 51% of rented units and 14%
of owner-occupied units experiencing overcrowding
(Table 3).
Based on interviews with local stakeholders, overcrowding in this area exacerbates several other community and quality of life issues. It is not uncommon
for three or four families to live in one unit, each family
living in one bedroom, with as many as “eight or more
persons” in a two-bedroom apartment (Marin Grassroots 2014). In addition to health risks, this introduces
a safety risk for children as there may be unfamiliar
people invited into their home. In addition, students in
overcrowded homes have little space to do homework.
Overcrowding also leads to a parking capacity problem, since many residents need a car to get to work
(as detailed below). It has also led to community conflicts between Canal residents and nearby higher-income residents who complain when Canal residents
park on their streets, according to a stakeholder. Indeed, in the morning, there is major traffic getting out
of the neighborhood, which is partially related to limited street access.
Finally, “many of these apartments have environmental
health issues but, because of many barriers, tenants
often don’t report these problems” (Marin Grassroots
2014). In the earlier-discussed community-directed
report, residents recommended “safer and adequate
housing, via better code enforcement and public housing services,” indicating poorly-maintained housing as
an ongoing concern (Voces Del Canal et al. 2014).
Resident Profile
Over the last 20 years, Canal’s Hispanic population
has grown dramatically, from nearly 3,800 people
in 1990 to about 9,400 in 2013; meanwhile, whites,
blacks, and Asians have decreased their proportion
(Figure 2).
Figure 2: Population in Canal by Race/Ethnicity
Source: US Census 1990, 2000; American Community Survey
Center for Community Innovation, University of California, Berkeley
Canal Neighborhood Case Study
Of the Hispanic residents, most are Guatemalan, Mexican, and, to a smaller extent, Salvadoran (Table 4).
The Canal Area has consistently been an immigrant-receiving neighborhood, largely due to economic or civil
strife in their home countries, according to one stakeholder. The proportions of foreign-born residents and
residents who speak a language other than English at
home have increased between 1990 and 2013 (Table
5). The number of recent immigrants remain high indicating that the neighborhood is still functioning as a
According to stakeholder interviews, the Asian and
Pacific Islander population in the 1980s was largely made up of Vietnamese immigrants with refugee
status after the Vietnam War. Over time however, the
grown children from these families have largely moved
away from the area. The current Vietnamese population is small and tends to be elderly.
Consistent with this influx of immigration, over the
past three decades the area has experienced a general downward trend in the educational attainment of
its residents (Figure 3). According to the 2009-2013
American Community Survey, 64% of US-born residents age 25 and older had only a high school degree
or less, compared with 78% of foreign-born; therefore,
the immigration patterns may be at least partially responsible for this downward trend in educational attainment.
With lowering educational attainment has come a decrease in median household income, which dropped
sharply in 2009-2013 (Table 6).
The distribution of family income in Canal does not
seem to follow any pattern, as seen in Figure 4. Over
half of families earn less than $35,000, reinforcing
the fact that the neighborhood is a low-income one.
However, 17% of families earn more than $75,000,
indicating a contingent of wealthier households, too.
These households appear to be clustered in a large
single-family development on the far west side of the
area, which contains mostly single-family homes right
along the canal.
Figure 3: Educational Attainment of Population over 25,
Canal, 1990-2013
Source: US Census 1990, 2000; American Community
Survey 2013
Table 4: Hispanic: Countries of Origin in
Canal, 2013
Country of Origin
Number of
Table 6: Median Household Income, Canal,
1990-2012, 2013 (2013 constant $)
Percent of
All Other Hispanic
Median Household Income
$ 57,469.08
$ 54,924.75
$ 43,448.50
Source: US Census 1990, 2000; American Community Survey
Source: American Community Survey 2009-2013.
Table 5: Canal Hosts a Large Immigrant Presence
Foriegn Born
Foreign Born
Immigrated in
last 10 years
Immigrated in
last 10 years
Language other
than English
spoken at home
Source: US Census 1990, 2000; American Community Survey 2009-2013
Center for Community Innovation, University of California, Berkeley
Canal Neighborhood Case Study
Figure 4: Income Distribution of Families, Canal, 2013, in 2013 $
Source: 2009-2013 American Community Survey
Figure 5: Number of Families in Poverty, 1990-2013
Source: US Census 1990, 2000; American Community Survey
With such low and declining incomes, it is no surprise
that many families live in poverty. The percentage of
families below the poverty level grew: from 20% in
1990 to 25% in 2013. Figure 5 shows the number of
families in poverty over the same time frame.
Finally, unemployment has increased in Canal and, as
of 2009-2013, was 12.2%--much higher than in Marin
County overall (Figure 6). According to a stakeholder, because many of the residents in the Canal Area
are undocumented immigrants, economic mobility has
been a challenge as they try to “stay under the radar.”
Community members believe that the major driver of
any change in the local economy or the local housing
market will be immigration reform.
Housing Patterns
The housing stock in the Canal is in “bad shape” and
owned by “a lot of landlords who are not that scrupulous…part of the reason why it’s affordable is that it’s
really awful housing stock,” according to a stakeholder
we interviewed. The area is essentially built out and
is one of the most densely developed areas in Marin
County. This makes building more affordable housing
Figure 6: Unemployment, Canal vs. Marin County,
Source: US Census 1990, 2000; American Community Survey
a challenge. Additionally, another stakeholder commented that the area has been down-zoned: developers would not be able to build at the same density as
existing buildings, which limits the appeal of the neighborhood to developers seeking profit. Plus, within San
Rafael, there are always concerns about traffic impact.
Together, these features limit developers’ ability to tear
down buildings and build more densely, making it far
easier to renovate existing structures.
Marin County is notorious for having exclusionary policies and practices, including “strict zoning ordinances; restrictions on high-density, multi-family housing;
insufficient outreach to non-English speakers; predatory lending practices; and negative stereotypes about
low-income residents with Section 8 vouchers” (Green
n.d.). In 2011, these came to a head when the county
entered into a Voluntary Compliance Agreement with
the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) after it became clear the county was not
in accordance with fair housing laws, civil rights laws,
and had not updated its main fair housing document in
seven years, two more than is allowed (Rachel Dornhelm 2011). The county’s people of color are largely
concentrated in the Canal area and Marin City, which
was also cited in the HUD agreement.
Center for Community Innovation, University of California, Berkeley
Canal Neighborhood Case Study
Table 7: Tenure in Canal, 1990-2013
Total Occupied Units
Rented Units
Owner-Occupied Units
Source: US Census 1990, 2000; American Community Survey 2009-2013.
Table 8: Median Rent, Canal, 1990-2013, in 2013 $
Median Rent
Source: US Census 1990, 2000; American Community Survey
Table 9: Percent of Renters that are Housing
Cost Burdened, Canal
% Cost Burdened
% Cost Burdened
Cost Burdened defined as paying more than 30% of income on
housing costs. Source: US Census 1990, 2000; American
Community Survey 2009-2013
Most housing units in Canal are rented—over 75%—
meaning residents would be particularly vulnerable to
displacement if market pressures begin to mount (Table 7).
Median rent has increased slightly over the past 20
years, from about $1,200 to nearly $1,350 (Table 8).
However, over this same period, the proportion of renters who are cost-burdened has risen, reaching 71% in
2009-2013 (Table 9). Residents are considered rent
or mortgage burdened if their monthly housing costs
exceed 30% of their gross monthly income. One stakeholder believes that an influx of residents to Marin
County paired with a stagnant housing stock is driving
up rent; since incomes have actually decreased, residents’ housing cost burdens have increased.
Canal experiences higher turnover than the county
overall, though turnover has decreased over time: In
2013, 22% of Canal residents had moved in within the
last three years. In 1990, 79% of Canal residents had
moved within the last five years, compared with 52%
in Marin County.
Public and Affordable
The Canal neighborhood does not have any public
housing, but it is host to two senior projects (combined
35 units) and four additional affordable buildings with
116 units total, plus 200 housing choice voucher holders who live in the area (California Housing Partnership Corporation 2015; BRIDGE Housing, n.d.; Department of Housing and Urban Development 2014).
Several homeless shelters are located in the Canal
area that serve people from all over the county, according to a stakeholder.
In the early 2000s, responding to the problems with
rental housing stock in Canal, the city initiated a redevelopment process that, for one developer, resulted in two rehabilitations, for a total of 66 units. The
apartments feature wall-to-wall carpeting at both, gas
stoves in one building, decks or patios on some units,
and a swimming pool, courtyard, and community room
at one site (BRIDGE Housing, n.d.; BRIDGE Housing,
n.d.). There were only enough funds available at the
time to renovate these two sites.
Another stakeholder believes that the lack of affordable housing units is the biggest issue facing Marin
County today. However, there is much opposition to
affordable housing in the county from both the political right and left; many people believe that the presence of low-income residents will drive down their own
property values.
Center for Community Innovation, University of California, Berkeley
Canal Neighborhood Case Study
Home Ownership
Canal has seen more variability in the number of property sales each year than Marin County as a whole,
with spikes in 2004 and 2009 (Figure 7). Overall,
though, very few homes are sold each year in Canal.
Home sale price-per-square-foot in Canal followed the
trends of the Marin County and the whole Bay Area
and was lower than both, showing once again its status as a relatively affordable neighborhood in Marin
County (Figure 8 and Figure 9).
Condo Conversions
In the 1990s, there were a small number of changes
from rental units to condominiums along the water in
the Canal Area. A stakeholder made clear that these
were not condominium conversions; instead, the buildings, when developed in the 1970s, had been built as
condominiums, but were difficult to sell, so they were
rented until the 1990s when they began selling them
as condominiums. Another stakeholder believed the
buildings that experienced this trend were primarily 1-2 story walk-up buildings, as opposed to larger
apartment buildings. This was small in scale, and one
stakeholder believes it did not result in much displacement. A representative of the city believed that no true
condominium conversion had occurred in San Rafael
in the last 20 years.
Local stakeholders do not envision displacement due
to condo conversions to be a significant issue any time
in the near future. This is in part because of the city’s
strict condominium regulations—conversions are not
allowed unless the citywide vacancy rate is higher than
5%, and even then, the city “doesn’t make it easy” to
convert, according to a stakeholder. A second reason
this stakeholder does not believe condominium conversions, or gentrification more generally, will come
to Canal anytime soon is the strong reputation of the
area as overcrowded, for immigrants, and “a place to
start, but not a place to aspire to.”
Figure 7: Number of Homes Sold: Canal
Source: Dataquick (2014)
Center for Community Innovation, University of California, Berkeley
Canal Neighborhood Case Study
Figure 8 Median Sales Price (per square foot) for Multi-Family Residential Properties
Source: Dataquick (2014)
Figure 9 Median Sales Price (per square foot) for Single-Family Residential Properties
Source: Dataquick (2014)
Center for Community Innovation, University of California, Berkeley
Canal Neighborhood Case Study
Employment and
Transportation Patterns
Most employed residents of the Canal neighborhood
work in Marin County, with nearly 24% working in San
Rafael (Table 10). A majority of residents work within
10 miles of their home (Table 11). Together, these data
indicate that residents are unlikely to benefit much
from the SMART train, since it would be unlikely to
service their place of employment. Additionally, residents may still need to take buses or go for a long walk
to get to the train station.
A higher portion of Canal residents take transportation, bike, or walk to work compared to in San Rafael
and Marin County (Table 12). However, while transit
within the area—for example, to downtown San Rafael—may be adequate, 76% of residents work outside
of San Rafael, which requires either multiple bus rides
or a car.
Table 10: Places of Employment for Workers
Who Live in Canal, 2011
Place of Employment
Percent of Workers
San Rafael
Elsewhere in Marin County
San Francisco
Alameda County
Contra Costa County
San Mateo County
Sonoma County
Santa Clara County
Napa County
Solano County
All Other Locations
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, OnTheMap Application and LEHD
Origin-Destination Employment Statistics (Beginning of Quarter
Employment, 2nd Quarter of 2011).
Table 11: Distance to Place of Employment for
Workers Who Live in Canal, 2011
Distance from Home Block to
Work Block
Percent of Workers
Less than 10 miles
10 to 24 miles
25 to 50 miles
Greater than 50 miles
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, OnTheMap Application and LEHD
Origin-Destination Employment Statistics (Beginning of Quarter
Employment, 2nd Quarter of 2011).
Table 12: Mode of Commute to Work, 1990-2013
Area: Year
Bike or
Canal: 1990
Canal: 2000
Canal: 2013
San Rafael: 2013
Marin County: 2013
Source: US Census 1990, 2000; American Community Survey
2009-2013. Percent are of workers 16 and older who do not work
at home; some respondents chose other options, so the figures
will not add to 100%.
In terms of getting around more generally, it is hard to
get around on foot in the Canal neighborhood, given
its position with water on one side and a highway on
the other. However, many residents still choose to walk
instead of taking the bus, given its price of $2.25. The
city has tried to widen sidewalks and build a bridge
over the canal in a strategic location to better accommodate these walkers, but funding has been difficult
to secure.
When the SMART train station opens in San Rafael,
the Canal area will be at risk of gentrification. One
stakeholder believed that the area could become a
preferred housing location for employees of Silicon
Valley, resulting in gentrification and displacement.
Several others, however, thought change would be
slow to come to Canal. Even so, Canal’s limited area
to develop new housing, high renter rate, high levels of
poverty, low incomes, and lack of affordable housing
put it potentially at risk for displacement.
The high density of Latino residents is a potential
strength of the community; organizing is easier than
in other areas where members of these communities
are farther spread out, such as Novato. Plus, many are
from the same countries—and often towns in those
countries. A report on the Canal that involved community members, “surfaced untapped agency and expertise among hundreds of Canal residents who have
vocalized their desire to be genuinely and actively engaged in changing the conditions of their community”
(Voces Del Canal et al. 2014). This expertise could be
leveraged, in partnership with local agencies as the report suggests, to respond to displacement pressures
in the future.
Center for Community Innovation, University of California, Berkeley
Canal Neighborhood Case Study
Works Cited
BRIDGE Housing. n.d. “Casa Vista.”;
——— n.d. “Belvedere Place.”
California Housing Partnership Corporation. 2015. “CHPC Mapping Tool.” Accessed February 26. http://www.
Chapple, Karen. 2009. Mapping Susceptibility to Gentrification: The Early Warning Toolkit. Berkeley, CA: Center
for Community Innovation.
City of San Rafael. n.d. San Rafael, CA Municipal Code. Conversion of Residential Rental Units to Condomini
ums. Vol. 15.12.080.
Department of Housing and Urban Development. 2014. “Picture of Subsidized Units.” Accessed November 15.
Green, Matthew. n.d. “A Primer on Fair and Affordable Housing - Equal Opportunity: Housing in Marin | KQED.”
KQED Public Media.
Hwang, Jackelyn, and Robert J. Sampson. 2014. “Divergent Pathways of Gentrification Racial Inequal
lity and theSocial Order of Renewal in Chicago Neighborhoods.” American Sociological Review, June, 0003122414535774.doi:10.1177/0003122414535774.
Logan, John R., Zengwang Xu, and Brian Stults. 2012. “Interpolating US Decennial Census Tract Data from as
Early as 1970 to 2010: A Longitudinal Tract Database.” Professional Geographer forthcoming.
Marin Grassroots. 2014. Canal Neighborhood Narrative.
Rachel Dornhelm. 2011. “Marin Struggles to Meet Fair Housing Laws | KQED.” KQED Public Media. November
Voces Del Canal, Julia Van Der Ryn, Jennifer Lucko, Tom Wilson, Omar Carrera, Miho Kim, Reem Assil, et al.
2014. “Voces Del Canal: Building Safe Communities Through Strong Partnerships in the Canal.” Collect
ed Faculty Scholarship, January.
Center for Community Innovation, University of California, Berkeley
Canal Neighborhood Case Study
Appendix A:
Ground-Truthing Analysis
To tell the story of gentrification and displacement in
Canal, we relied on data from the assessor’s office,
Census data on demographic and other change, other secondary data sources, and qualitative policy reviews and interviews with key stakeholders. However, secondary data sources are incomplete, at best,
and outright wrong, at worst. Therefore, we employ
a “ground-truthing” methodology to verify the validity
of these datasets. The ground-truthing, which is described in more detail below, essentially consists of
walking from structure to structure on sample blocks
and taking detailed notes on several variables, like
number of units, state of maintenance, and more. With
this data in hand, we can compare the story of gentrification the secondary data sources are telling with
data obtained “on the ground,” while also increasing
the richness of our narrative overall from the visual observations we make on the blocks.
In this section, we discuss one sample block in the
case study area. We first present the secondary data
sources—assessor and Census. We analyze this data
to ascertain the nature and extent of recent neighborhood change on those blocks. Next, we describe
the ground-truthing data and offer a similar analysis
in terms of neighborhood change, but this time based
solely on the ground-truthing. Finally, we reconcile the
two data-sets: are they telling the same story? Where
are the discrepancies? What do those discrepancies
US Census Bureau: We also consulted block-level
decennial Census data from 2000 and 2010.
Ground-truthing data: This information comes from
a visual observation of each structure on the block
by walking around and noting the building’s type
(multi-family, single-family, business, etc), the number
of units it appears to hold, and a long list of signs of
recent investment, like permanent blinds and updated
paint, as well as signs of perceptions of safety, like security cameras. The parcel numbers used to organize
this data come from the Boundary Solutions data set,
which is current as of May 1, 2013.
The ground-truthing methodology is based on one
used by Hwang and Sampson (Hwang and Sampson
2014), who used Google Street View images to analyze neighborhood change in Chicago. We created
an observation tool based on their work and, with that
in hand, conducted a pilot ground-truthing of several
blocks in one of the case study areas (the Macarthur
BART station area of Oakland, California). The research team revised the methodology based on this
pilot; the final observation tool appears in the appendix.
On November 11, 2014, a researcher with the Center
of Community Innovation performed the ground-truthing in Canal. The researcher walked the block there
with a representative from a local community organization with knowledge of the area.
For this analysis, we selected a block from the case
study area that seemed to have experienced recent
change, based on secondary data (Figure A1). We
consulted with a community-based organization familiar with the area to choose a block.
To prepare this section, we consulted the following
data sources:
Assessor Data: Using a dataset purchased from Dataquick, Inc., we accessed assessor and sales data
from the County of Marin, which is current as of August 7, 2013.
Figure A1: Map of Canal with Ground-truthed Block
1001 (Census Tract 1122.01) in green
Center for Community Innovation, University of California, Berkeley
Canal Neighborhood Case Study
Unmatched Parcels
Comparative Analysis
The ground-truthing exercise is meant to provide an
additional set of data to verify conclusions reached
through analyzing assessor and Census data. Complicating this effort is that the data sets do not have the
same set of parcels. All data reported from the assessor data (Dataquick) includes all parcels in that set;
likewise, all data reported from the ground-truthing
data collection includes all parcels in that set (which
is based on parcels from Boundary Solutions). Of 16
parcels ground-truthed, 12 had matches in the assessor data.
For two variables—land use and number of units—
comparisons are made on a parcel-by-parcel basis;
only parcels that appear in both data sets are used for
this comparison (Table A2). Census data is not provided on a parcel level, and so includes all households
surveyed by the Census. The data sets align well in
terms of total number of units (except for the high Census figure) and land uses, but not for the number of
units listed for each parcel.
Table A1: Sales History and Assessed Value of Residential Parcels
Median Year of
Median Year of
Last Sale
Percent Sold
Median Sale
Median Sale
Price Per
Square Foot
Assessed Value
Per Square
Foot (2013)
Block 1001
Marin County
Source: Dataquick, 2014
Table A2: Summary of Parcel Matches and Primary Land Use
Block 1001
Primary Land
Use, based on
Mixed multi-family and
Percent Land
Use Matched
Total Number of Units on Block
Assessor Data
– Dataquick
on Groundtruthing
Census Data:
Total Housing
Units – 2010
Percent of
Parcels whose
Number of
Units match between Assessor
Data and Visual
Note: Percent Land Use Matched and Percent Units Matched take as their denominator only those parcels for which a land use or number of units was indicated by both assessor data and ground-truth data.
Secondary Data
This block is slightly older than the rest of Canal and
Marin County, with a median year of construction 10
years earlier than those areas. It also has a higher median sale price much higher than Canal or Marin County, but that figure is in part misleading because several multi-family buildings and expensive single-family
homes are pulling up the median. Otherwise, the block
is just about on par with the rest of Canal and Marin
County; it appears stable and regular.
The structures on this block have a range of levels of
maintenance, with 14% new, 29% above average, 43%
average, and 14% below average. Signs of investment
include: 43% of parcels have new or maintained paint.
Signs of disinvestment include: 43% of parcels have
litter or debris, and 29% have peeling or fading paint.
Signs of perceptions of safety include: 36% of parcels
have a metal security doors and 43% have security
alarm signage. There seem to be many families on the
block, with 43% of parcels having children or toys visible.
The data-sets align for this block. Both paint a picture
of a block that is neither experiencing rapid change
nor experiencing disinvestment. It is mixed in terms of
levels of investment and appears stable.
Center for Community Innovation, University of California, Berkeley
Canal Neighborhood Case Study
Figure A2: Ground-truthing data collection worksheet
Center for Community Innovation, University of California, Berkeley
Canal Neighborhood Case Study

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