Plan Bay Area: An Open Season Discussion | Raucous Caucus | Tom Cushing | |

Local Blogs

Raucous Caucus

By Tom Cushing

E-mail Tom Cushing

About this blog: The Raucous Caucus shares the southpaw perspectives of this Boomer on the state of the nation, the world, and, sometimes, other stuff. I enjoy crafting it to keep current, and occasionally to rant on some issue I care about deeply...  (More)

View all posts from Tom Cushing

Plan Bay Area: An Open Season Discussion

Uploaded: Jul 31, 2013
Plan Bay Area (PBA) was approved in July. By its terms, it seeks to coordinate efforts among Bay Area jurisdictions to plan for a year 2040, when an estimated 2 million more souls will be added to the 7 million who currently inhabit these environs. Promulgated over several years in response to CA state law, an organizing goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by designating various transit-friendly Priority Development Zones, and promoting relatively dense growth in those places, including Danville and San Ramon.

I tried to lure out the objections to this document in earlier columns on Sustainability, but got not-one-bite in response. So here's an attempt to take the issues head-on. I've tried to identify various arguments against PBA I've seen expressed hereabouts and elsewhere, given my take on them and I invite your specific responses. Also, please add your own arguments for objections that I've missed.

One request: kindly do not resort to shooting this messenger – we can stipulate that I'm a pinko, libtard, boring, ancient, arrogant, naïve, elitist, radical socialist, and a criminal waste of good carbon, so those kinds of charges won't add anything. I also have it on pretty good authority that they'll be deleted if/as/when they appear – please just focus on content, okay? And actual evidence is much preferred over unsupported conclusions, but that's really two requests, and a lot to expect. So, let's get started.

1 – As Plan Bay Area is aimed at reducing greenhouse gases, it is mis-directed because climate change is: a—not occurring, or b – not human-caused.

Congratulations on this position, which is shared by nearly one-percent of the scientific community, (although it's actually somewhat less, if you factor-out those who are paid by folks who profit from barely-plausible-deniability). There are also a faithful few who believe that if we do nothing, somehow the lord will provide an escape. I'm inclined more toward the 99% consensus on the science, and recall the old story about man drowning in a rising flood, who had refused evacuation by car, boat and helicopter – all the while blaming the deity for not delivering him from his peril. The phrase "The lord helps those who help themselves" was never more applicable.

2 – Plan Bay Area is anti-small-d-democratic, as the product of unelected bureaucrats.

As I understand it, PBA is in response to a state law, duly enacted by our elected officials, with the fingerprints of both political parties on that law: so-called SB 375 (2008). Further, it was commissioned by the Association of Bay Area Governments, an organization of over 100 local governments, with staff. . It is probably true that the ABAG staff wrote most of the words, but that's the case with any government document, and certainly true as regards bills that get voted-on.

Further, the process was remarkably public, with multiple drafts and numerous exhaustive hearings, forums, message boards and other opportunities to be heard on the subject. It was finally voted-on in public, as well, by elected officials. It seems to me that the process was proper; anyone with an interest was apparently able to express opinions.

3 – But it was "rigged."

I don't know what to make of this, except that some folks seem to confuse their precious and oft-exercised right-to-be-heard with an illusory right to be in-charge. Apparently, some changes were made and others were amply presented and found to be unpersuasive. That would seem to me to be in the nature of democracy. And who rigged it? If you believe that there was a dark, behind-the-scenes conspiracy, please present your evidence – otherwise, you just lost – it happens all the time.

4 – PBA is really the demon-spawn of the United Nations' Agenda 21, an attempt to impose an anti-American world governance on this country, and supersede our Constitution and other stuff.

Agenda 21 , is a product of the UN Environment Programme, first drafted in conjunction with the Rio environmental summit in 1992, and later updated several times. It arose out of a recognition that environmental problems do not respect map lines – that air pollution generated in China, for example, even lands as far away as here. It purports to promote sustainable development among its signatory nations by means of directional, non-binding, voluntary actions. It goes to great lengths to indicate that it is advisory and subject to implementation-or-not by each member nation. Nonetheless, it has provoked controversy among those who believe it somehow erodes American national sovereignty.

Agenda 21 has also been characterized as anti-private property, but it's hard to find good evidence for that proposition. That claim seems to derive from a different UN document, written in 1976, for a different reason. Do I doubt that there are philosophies represented in that world body that diverge from America's world view? Not for a minute, but the same could be said for any representative body, and it does not represent the policy of the organization.

It might also be noted that ABAG has been around longer than many of us (1961), and its first long term regional plan dates from that era – several years before there was even an EPA, much less an Agenda 21.

If you fear the effects of Agenda 21, which effects and why?

5 – Nonetheless, ABAG and PBA usurp "local control" over property decisions.

ABAG is, itself, entirely voluntary, and utterly without authority to do anything, anywhere. It is a coordinating mechanism. PBA, its product, is also completely voluntary. In carrots-and-sticks terms, there are no sticks. Danville and San Ramon have their own planning processes, and development plans, which are not required to hew to any content of the PBA.

Now, there ARE carrots in the form of transportation-related grants (OBAGs) available to compliant localities. Of roughly $300 Billion of transportation-related spending, most of it going to maintenance of existing systems (80%), 5%, or $15B, is available for grants to localities that comply with regional housing needs assignments. That's a small fraction, but a large number. Is that the source of concern about jack-booted planning geeks tromping roughshod over local prerogatives? If so, how much does Danville or San Ramon stand to gain or lose, depending on their compliance status?

6 – Specifically, PBA calls for high-density "stack-and-pack" housing near transit options. Property values will be hurt.

I have looked in all the wrong places for information on this issue and its impacts on the Danville and San Ramon Priority Development Areas. Can somebody help us out, here?

7 – PBA, if implemented, will forever change the character of Danville and San Ramon.

I am assuming, because I wasn't there, that local Miwoks were the first to utter the phrase: "there goes the neighborhood." Danville and San Ramon both have detailed General Plans, zoning ordinances and approval processes, vetted by professional staff and commissions appointed by elected officials.

The 2030 Danville General Plan was recently ratified, for example, after extensive citizen input, and it calls for carrying forward "the vision set forth in 1987, as part of Danville's first General Plan, preserving and reinforcing our unique small town character, preserving the history and scenic beauty, and protecting the quality of life for our residents."

It seems to me that any changes encouraged by PBA will be marginal tweaks to ongoing processes. Of course our communities continue to grow and will change, but doesn't that argue for conscious choices made to promote the attractiveness of this vicinity? Who's not in favor of that?

8 – "Collaboration? We don' need no steenkin' collaboration!"

Despite the imaginary lines that delineate our various jurisdictions, we Bay Areans share the same water, breathe the same air and travel on common roads. Like it or not, we're all connected in a web of existence. A crash in the Caldecott snarls traffic for miles, and I recall ash from the Oakland Hills conflagration raining down on a 49ers game across the Bay. I would return to that parable of The Commons, wherein when everyone in a community, who depend on each other to some degree, independently pursue their own individual self-interests, it inevitably leads to community calamity.

Without past collaborations, the freeways, bridges and BART would not exist (okay, maybe BART's not the best example this week). The Market is a good arbitrator of many things, but not of everything. Plans are imperfect by their nature, but they are better than nothing in an interdependent world. In addition, this particular PBA document is not a one-off, cataclysmic event, but a flow from past planning on to the future.

If you don't believe in collaboration, with what would you replace it? If your answer is "nothing," how's life going in your own private biosphere?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by spcwt, a resident of Danville,
on Aug 1, 2013 at 4:53 pm

I support PBA?s efforts to increase housing density near job centers in San Francisco, Oakland and Silicon Valley. I also support PBA?s urban-growth limit, even though this is the primary reason Bay Area housing is expensive.

I am generally against high density housing in Danville, however, as it invites undesirables and is not in keeping with community standards. Danville already has enough high density housing. Too much, in my opinion. I am also against housing subsidies promised by PBA, as this is yet more wealth redistribution.

While I agree with many of PBA?s objectives, I feel the need to clarify some points from Tom?s article.

Tom is wrong that PBA contains carrots only, no sticks. PBA withholds funds from communities that do not adopt PBA goals. That?s a stick. It?s like withholding allowance from a wayward teenager. Same thing.

PBA favors stack and pack over single family homes. Under PBA, the percentage of single family detached homes in the Bay Area will shrink from 56% of homes currently down to 39% by 2040.

PBA favors expensive rail over more cost-efficient buses that run on low-emission natural gas. PBA would dedicate 62% of $180 billion in transportation funds to maintaining public transit and 38% to roads, even though public transit carries only 3.5% of the region?s passenger travel and even though the Bay Area has less than 700 miles of rail lines but more than 20,000 lane miles of roads.

PBA won?t stop climate change. It won?t even make a dent. The entire State of California produces only 2% of world greenhouse gas emissions. California could get rid of all power plants, homes, and vehicles of every kind and it would have a negligible effect on climate change. According to PBA Bay Area GHG emissions will be reduced by less than 1% at best.

PBA sets a target of reducing the share of low-income and middle-income residents household income spent on transportation and housing. But not only does PBA fail in this regard, page 102 of the PBA admits that the share of low and middle income residents spend on transportation and housing will actually increase from 66% currently to 69% in 2040.

 +  Like this comment
Posted by Huh?, a resident of Danville,
on Aug 2, 2013 at 11:15 am

I applaud spcwt's reasoned comments, even though I disagree with many of them. Putting stuff in writing - with details - is a good way to ferret out important points of reasoning.

First - about buses vs. rail. Rail is the most efficient way to move anything. Period. The energy consumed per mile each unit (freight or people) is transported not even close. And energy costs money. The up-front cost is higher, but the payoff down the road in operational savings is large. spcwt's reasoning would have applied equally as well to a vote to not build the Bay Bridge because "high efficiency ferries" were cheaper. But the bridge paid off.

As to "carrots and sticks" is the failure to award additional discretionary funding a carrot or a stick? Interesting question. I'm not sure what the answer to that is, or if there really is one.

As to low density vs. high density housing; it's pretty clear that overall density in the Bay area will (and has to) increase. Partly this is demographics - more young and old adults, (relatively) fewer families with children due to the aging of the Boomers. The 20-somethings and the 70-somethings are both more likely to be drawn to higher density environments, so you have a "pull" for more density, regardless of your planning "push." More sprawl requires more miles of road and rail, so that costs everyone more money; seems like higher average density is a win-win. Further, the amount of land in the Bay Area is geographically limited - we really don't have much choice here. Either we ban new housing or we add housing units by increasing average density. There really isn't a viable "option C." (The Summerhill development on Diablo Rd. is a low density plan - see how much fun getting that kind of infill project built is?)

spcwt's last two arguments are an example of letting perfect be the enemy of good: if the plan doesn't totally solve the problem, it must be worthless. I disagree. Lessening our contribution to greenhouse gas emissions (and we contribute more per capita than anyone else on earth) is a step in the right direction; if we refuse to do anything how can we expect anyone else to? Similarly, investing now in more efficient transportation options will help everyone, but particularly the less wealthy in years to come. Life may not get easier but it won't be as much more expensive as otherwise.

 +  Like this comment
Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Danville,
on Aug 2, 2013 at 4:18 pm

Tom Cushing is a registered user.

Thanks for these thoughtful commentaries -- yous'ns have obviously done some homework And some cogitatin'! BTW, I did not intend that comments be limited to registered users, but perhaps there was an incident on the SRX site -- that's been known to occur there, via a weekly reader and his several imaginary friends.

As to carrots or sticks, it seems to me that the future availability of OBAG grants is indeed a carrot. The difference has to do with whether the right to the grant has vested -- if so, withholding it would be a stick; otherwise the grant is a carrot -- an incentive. Now, I dunno how anyone else manages his/her household, but if a teen gets an allowance merely for drawing breath, withholding it is a penalty. If it comes with conditions like good behavior, then that's a carrot.

Here, I do not believe that those OBAG funds have been spoken-for or assigned to Danville as-of-right, but they might be made available in the future upon "good behavior" regarding housing allocations. That makes 'em a carrot.

To post your comment, please login or register at the top of the page. This topic is only for those who have signed up to participate by providing their email address and establishing a screen name.

First Amendment under attack
By Tim Hunt | 9 comments | 770 views

Who Won the Debate?
By Roz Rogoff | 25 comments | 653 views

Debate: What do you think?
By | 5 comments | 276 views

Props 62 and 66: To Kill or Not to Kill, those are The Questions
By Tom Cushing | 1 comment | 194 views