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Sunday's CCAPA Notebook: Remembering Warren Jones of Solano Press

Sep 30, 2007

Fittingly enough, the memorial service for Warren Jones the founder of Solano Press Books, who died back in May took place yesterday, on the eve of the annual conference of the California Chapter, American Planning Association, in San Jose. Like most conferences, CCAPA is all about exchanging information practice tips, job leads, business cards. And Warren devoted most of his career to making sure that planners in California had access to the information they needed.

Warren's memorial service wasn't conducted here in San Jose, where the CCAPA conference is being held. Rather, the memorial service took place four hours to the north in the tiny Mendocino County town of Point Arena, where for the past 19 years Warren had lived his life, served his community, and improbably enough operated one of the most important institutions in California planning. The memorial service was held at the Point Arena Community Library, which, as anybody who knew Warren could readily guess, would not have existed without his organizational know-how and financial support.

Most of the attendees and speakers were Point Arena locals, who clearly loved the fact that this kindly curmudgeon had made the city his home for so long. Among other things, they wouldn't have had a general plan of any substance if he hadn't volunteered his time to write one almost as soon as he move there from Berkeley. But for those of us in the planning profession, Warren Jones's legacy is much broader.

Warren founded Solano Press in 1985, and since then the company has published more than two dozen books almost all of them geared to assist the planning practitioner in California. These books include Guide to California Planning, written by Paul Shigley and me, as well as such classics as Curtin's California Land Use and Planning Law, by Dan Curtin, and a series of NEPA and CEQA books written by the likes of Ron Bass, Al Herson, and Ken Bogden.

When you asked Warren how he had come to found Solano Press, he would claim that it was kind of a fluke. The truth was, it was the culmination of his life's work.

Born in 1929, Warren came of age in an era when information was plentiful but difficult and expensive to obtain. The knowledge planners needed was available not online but in print on planning department bookshelves, in libraries, and, most importantly, inside the heads of the state's leading land-use lawyers and planning practitioners. Warren spent the majority of his working life making sure that useful, easy-to-use practice information was available to practitioners at a low cost.

In 1972, as an adjunct professor at the Department of City & Regional Planning at UC Berkeley, he was appointed to run the planning school's continuing education programs. In that capacity, he essentially invented the now-familiar UC Extension land use course the pithy and informative half-day or full-day class. And it wasn't long before the impresario found his first star Dan Curtin, then the city attorney of Walnut Creek, whose basic land-use law seminar quickly became the staple of the UC Extension circuit.

The thick binder from Curtin's class soon became one of the most sought-after commodities in the world of California planning, and after a few years Jones and Curtin realized that it had market value. So Warren started Solano Press Books for the express purpose of publishing Curtin's California Land Use and Planning Law, which is still a best-seller after 27 years. Over the years, Warren found many other authors and nurtured many other excellent practice books. In 1987, Warren traveled to Ventura expressly to ask me to write Guide to California Planning a book he had always wanted to write himself but, as he aged, realized that he never would. Always quick to seize a market opportunity, I turned him down and then, two years later, begged him to let me write it.

The recent passing of both Warren and Dan Curtin there were four years difference in age between them and they died five months apart is a sober reminder that a seminal generation of California planners is moving on. These are the unsung heroes from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, who brought planning from the dark ages into the modern world of the seven-element General Plan and CEQA.

But it's also a reminder of how different the world of information is today. For those of us who deal in that business today, the problem is not that information is inaccessible or expensive, as it was in Warren's day. Rather, the problem is the opposite it's ubiquitous and free. So the key is no longer delivering pithy information; it's sifting through all the chaff out there on the internet to find what's golden. It's a challenge that Warren Jones himself would have loved to tackle.

-- Bill Fulton