Protesters disrupt meeting to Plan Bay Area
Elected officials keep their cool as gathering heats up
Getting input on how best to plan transportation and housing in the Bay Area for the next 25 years proved difficult last week as about 20 vocal protesters shouted out slogans and objections to the process even before it began, shortly after 6 p.m.
"We don't believe this can be done in a vacuum," Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty said to the standing room only crowd in the Dublin City Council Chamber on Wednesday evening. He explained that the three stations at the workshop, including one to receive public comments, were designed to disseminate information and get feedback from those in attendance.
"What is social justice?" called out Heather Gass, an Alamo resident who is a tea party leader. She held a sign reading, "Equal justice -- not social justice -- one Bay Area."
State Senate Bill 375 was signed into law in 2008, requiring the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) to develop a 25-year plan for transportation and housing to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles. This meeting was one of the nine being held in each of the Bay Area counties to solicit input from residents about Plan Bay Area, an effort being led by MTC and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) to make long-range plans as the region is projected to grow by 2 million people over the next 25 years.
"We're trying to get both our transportation and housing plans merged for the first time and at some point decisions will have to be made," Union City Mayor Mark Green said. "A lot will be based on input, not the quantity but the quality input we get. We want to emphasis the word 'quality.'"
"This is a rigged meeting," shouted a protester.
"It's not about usurping individual rights or the rights of cities or counties," Green continued, noting that all of the communities in the Bay Area are linked. "Our problems aren't neatly confined."
After a brief video played disrupted by more shouts, Haggerty told the protesters that he and Green would stay to listen to their concerns after the meeting, gather answers and post them on the website. This brought a volley of objections.
Instead the protesters lined up at the public comment station, accompanied by colleagues carrying signs, to make the point that any land use plan would mean unwanted government restrictions on their choice of housing and transportation. Several said they'd already been to two of the meetings held in other counties.
"I have read the plan and there is no growth in roads, it's all in public transportation," said one protester. "They're saying they will put housing in all of our neighborhoods. They're forcing communities in the Bay Area to urbanize themselves."
As they criticized the plan, Haggerty, Green and MTC and ABAG officials explained that there is no plan yet; the meetings are being held as part of the process to formulate the plan.
"What we're trying to do is understand the concerns of the people," Haggerty said.
"Decisions have all been made by developers and high density advocates," said another protester. "We're being asked for our opinions on things that don't matter."
"This all started with the United Nations that said the American way of life is a threat to the whole world," said another. "They want to level us."
People besides the protesters also made comments, such as a teacher from Oakland who said she was attending with several high school students.
"It's been very educational," she said with a laugh, adding seriously, "My concern is that we build livable communities."
Others talked about wanting to live near public transportation, their jobs and amenities.
Mayor Green also mentioned the importance of BART going to San Jose and deep into Santa Clara County as well as to Livermore, saying the original BART planning was a mistake that needs to be corrected.
The other two stations at the meeting, besides the public comments section, had presentations on transportation trade-offs and land use issues.
Attendees were also asked to fill out comment booklets asking their opinions on transportation investment priorities and about jobs and housing blends, policies regarding transportation, and how the region can accommodate projected growth. It also asked whether they in general support establishing this type of a regional plan.
The public comment period lasted until 9 p.m., an hour later than planned.
"What I heard most tonight was frustration," Haggerty told the crowd at the end, saying he understood they were "taxed enough already," but advising they should contact officials and their representatives rather than shout over people at public meetings.
To learn more about Plan Bay Area, visit wwww.OneBayArea.org.