The nine-county Bay Area will add about 2 million more residents by 2040 and a regional effort is underway to accommodate all the growth — with a goal to build lots of housing along rail corridors and transit centers so less cars will clog area roads.
For the first time ever, however, legislation calls for major metropolitan areas in the state to adopt a Sustainable Communities Plan that the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Association of Bay Area Governments is responsible for crafting. ABAG puts together housing and demographic forecasts and the MTC handles the transportation component of a 166-page document called Plan Bay Area.
Monday night, a public hearing was held in Foster City so the public can comment on the draft plan as it is set to be adopted this summer. About 200 people attended the hearing including Foster City Councilman Art Kiesel.
Kiesel is well aware of the region’s housing needs as he has represented the city on the ABAG board for years, although, Mayor Pam Frisella currently represents the city.
He attended the public hearing at Crowne Plaza Monday night where some residents were critical of the plan, saying it will take away a community’s “local control.”
Kiesel, too, thinks the plan is over ambitious and wonders how the MTC can really link residents in the far reaches of Solano County with jobs in Silicon Valley.
Here on the Peninsula, he is also concerned that the cities that do not fall on the Caltrain corridor, such as Pacifica, Half Moon Bay and Foster City, will be overlooked for future development or transportation funding and projects.
“They are pushing mixed-use developments at public transit centers. That’s OK. But it is nothing new. It’s New York City revisited,” Kiesel said. “They are trying to push a global plan but then say ‘it’s up to you locals.’ What if I don’t want this?”
In San Mateo, however, the city has embraced ABAG forecasts and has put a plan together to build thousands of new housing units along the Caltrain corridor.
“The city has been building around ABAG projections for years with infill development,” Deputy Mayor Robert Ross said.
“The people here before me looked at the plan and accepted the plan,” he said about former city officials.
Plan Bay Area is nothing new, he said, it is just evolving. Ross also notes that cities have to be ready for increased traffic with infill development because not everyone is going to take the train.
“There has to be some more thought put into traffic mitigation,” he said.
San Mateo will add an estimated 10,160 housing units by 2040, ranked 12th out of 101 cities in the Bay Area. Most new housing units will be built in San Jose with 129,170 more while San Francisco is expected to add about 92,000 new households by 2040. Oakland is third at 51,490 new households.
Although, it may not be a new plan, people still don’t know what it is, Kiesel said.
“My take is they need more outreach. People don’t know who is behind it or what it is or what it means. I’m not sure I know what it means,” Kiesel said.
Plan Bay Area includes the area’s Regional Transportation Plan, which the MTC updates every four years and ABAG’s demographic and economic forecast, which is updated every two years.
Plan Bay Area grew out of The California Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008, Senate Bill 375. Signed by former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the law requires that the Sustainable Communities Strategy promote compact, mixed-use commercial and residential development. To meet the goals of SB 375, more of the future development is planned to be walkable and bikeable and close to public transit, jobs, schools, shopping, parks, recreation and other amenities, according to an analysis of the plan by Egon Terplan and Ethan Lavine of SPUR, a local nonprofit agency that addresses urban planning in the Bay Area.
“The plan will help us organize how we grow and to not be harmful to the environment,” Terplan told the Daily Journal. “We live in an expensive region and haven’t produced enough housing to meet the demand nor have we provided transit that gets people to where they need to go.”
Too many communities make housing or development decisions without considering their neighbors or region, Terplan said.
Those who oppose the plan do so because of a “fundamental misunderstanding,” he said.
“Land use lies with local governments. The plan gives no power to enforce where housing is built,” Terplan said.
The plan does nothing to change local land use decisions or powers. ABAG and MTC have no direct power to decide where future development will actually occur or what natural lands will be preserved, according to the SPUR analysis.
“Plan Bay Area is perhaps misnamed since it is not a ‘plan’ in the traditional sense of describing specific zoning changes at a neighborhood scale. Instead, the plan is more of a statement about growth that local governments can look to when making land use and development decisions. The plan has slightly more direct power to affect travel patterns because it prioritizes transportation investments such as transit projects and policy suggestions, including increased bridge tolls and a potential driving fee based on miles traveled,” according to the SPUR analysis.
The vehicle miles traveled fee might seem controversial now but may make sense down the road since gas taxes do not support transportation needs as they once did, Terplan said.
With more efficient cars on the roads, gas tax revenue has been reduced, he said.
The MTC indicates up to $289 billion will be spent on maintaining the region’s transportation systems by 2040. The largest transportation investments in the region over that span will be the Bay Area Rapid Transit extension to San Jose at $8.3 billion. Adding more carpool lanes in the whole Bay Area will cost about $6.7 billion while the Transbay Transit Center/Caltrain downtown extension will cost about $4.1 billion.
Terplan said some of the important details in the plan include that land use projections shows virtually no new sprawl; that transportation spending is directed at maintaining and not expanding any systems; and that policy changes will be a tool for shaping regional growth including whether to charge higher fees for bridge crossings during peak hours or to eliminate highway lane expansions, even carpool lanes.
Plan Bay Area is important, according to SPUR, because it seeks to describe a future Bay Area where the average person produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions from driving and where the area plans for enough housing for the region’s expected growth — it must accomplish the goals in a way that reduces per capita emissions.
The public can comment on the plan up until May 16 before it gets adopted later this year.
To learn more about Plan Bay Area go to www.abag.ca.gov.
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