Joining the flurry of bills addressed by the governor in his last legislative actions on the job, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill on Sunday evening allowing BART to build housing on or near its stations -- a measure that garnered vehement push-back from some Tri-Valley and East Bay leaders.
Assembly Bill 2923 will allow BART to construct and govern housing on its land within half a mile of its stations such as on parking lots at Tri-Valley BART stops, a move that proponents say will create more transit-oriented developments, addressing both the state's housing shortages and increasing traffic congestion.
But opponents, including local leaders State Sen. Steve Glazer (D-Orinda) and Assemblywoman Catharine Baker (R-Dublin), say that local cities should be the ones charged with housing, and that the BART agency isn't equipped for the task.
"We need to build more housing but this new law seriously undermines neighborhood voices and community choices," Glazer said in a statement Monday. "Land-use decisions have always been placed in the hands of local cities, where they have developed the expertise to manage the environmental reviews and complex land-use."
"BART continues to struggle to fulfill its primary mission of transportation, and helping BART do that successfully should be our focus," Baker said in her own statement. "While this bill was well-intentioned, it has very negative consequences for BART’s ability to succeed and for local communities to build housing with the expertise and local perspective that only our local communities have."
After Brown signed the bill Sunday (deadline day for the governor to endorse or veto), BART officials said that by 2040 they hope to have built 20,000 new housing units, at least 35% of them designated as affordable.
The bill, co-authored by Assemblymen David Chiu (D-San Francisco) and Tim Grayson (D-Concord), was supported by business groups, unions and transportation officials, though the nine-member BART Board of Directors officially took a neutral stance on the bill.
"By signing this bill into law, the governor is sending a powerful message to residents throughout the Bay Area that the same old 'Not In My Back Yard' arguments will no longer be able to drown out their voices and calls for more affordable housing," Grayson said Sunday.
"The current regional housing crisis has shone a bright light on the need to accelerate development, especially in places where a transit infrastructure already exists," BART General Manager Grace Crunican said in a statement Sunday night.
Since the measure has passed, the BART board will be required to establish zoning standards by July 1, 2020.
In the bill's text, Chiu argues that BART needs to have some land-use authority in order to develop the most effective transit-oriented housing.
"Transportation services are uniquely tied to land use patterns," he said, adding that since the district is "governed by an elected Board of Directors," Bay Area residents have greater input on their decisions compared to other agencies.
But city leaders opposing the measure say that they are the ones who understand and know their communities, and should be in charge of all planning-related issues and development.
"We know how to build homes here in Dublin," said Dublin Mayor David Haubert at a press conference on Sept. 17 at the Dublin-Pleasanton BART station, in which a host of local leaders gathered to protest AB 2923. "And we've done that. We've done our part, and we don't think that taking away our housing and planning authority and ability is the right thing to do."
Pleasanton Mayor Jerry Thorne agreed, pointing to examples of transit-oriented development that the city of Pleasanton has created.
"It's a problem that does not exist," he said. "And I believe that local people who live here are the ones that should decide what our local community looks like."
Baker, who spearheaded the press conference in conjunction with Glazer, said that the cities least affected by the bill were the ones that were "most behind on housing" -- San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose. "The communities that are most doing their jobs and meeting their housing numbers are in the Tri-Valley and on this background podium behind me," she said.
However, BART's Crunican said that the transit agency wants to continue working collaboratively with cities.
"We have found that working closely with neighborhoods and local elected officials to consider community needs is not only respectful, it's the most efficient way to get the job done," Crunican said in her statement Sunday.