Staff responds to Plan Bay Area comments | June 21, 2013 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

News - June 21, 2013

Staff responds to Plan Bay Area comments

Reports gauge resident support for regional plan

by Jessica Lipsky

Planners from the Metropolitan Transportation Committee (MTC) and Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) reviewed and discussed public comments on Plan Bay Area at a four-hour meeting last Friday.

"There is a lot of interest to see how the plan can support some of local efforts," reported ABAG Planning Director Miriam Chion. "We need to integrate other regional agencies into the next cycle to tackle issues of air quality and sea level rise."

The long-range transportation and land-use plan aims to comprehensively provide more housing and transit choices in all nine Bay Area counties in a way that reduces pollution. The effort grew out of the Senate Bill 375, which requires each of the state's 18 metropolitan areas to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from cars and light trucks.

Local activists have been vocal in their opposition to the plan, which calls for more clustered development near transportation centers to decrease the environmental impact.

At last Friday's meeting, MTC and ABAG staff heard the results of a telephone poll and summaries of public hearings held throughout the region on the draft plan. Approximately 1,250 residents attended the public hearings and 385 spoke, John Canapary of Corey, Canapary & Galanis Research said. More than 508 letters or emails commented on the draft plan and environmental report. Twelve focus groups also drew 181 participants.

Canapary told the joint staff that many residents raised questions about implementation of the plan's goals while others had concerns about the methodology for forecasting GHG reductions. Some smaller cities are concerned about the perceived weakening of local land use authority, he added.

His research office also conducted a telephone survey, questioning 2,516 residents throughout the Bay Area in March and April of this year. It polled residents on areas of concern and measured their thoughts on the importance of Plan Bay Area as a whole.

"A very high share of residents felt this type of plan was important, at 84%. Ten percent were neutral or didn't know, and 1% felt it wasn't important," Canabary said.

"We also looked at data regionally to see how it broke out by county. ... San Francisco had a 89% high importance rating, and Napa (County) at the bottom with 77% importance."

The top reasons residents gave for the importance of Plan Bay Area were the need for better transit and less car-based travel; the need for a regional plan to have accountability and avoid inefficiency; and because people cannot afford to live near work or school. Opponents to the plan said they were against "big government" or didn't trust the government, didn't want their taxes raised or found the plan unnecessary.

Forty percent of residents said improving the local economy was the most important component of Plan Bay Area, and 40 percent said providing access to affordable housing and transportation was a top factor. Eighteen percent identified reducing driving and GHG emissions as the most important goal.

The most divisive issue during polling was the issue of regional and local control in planning, Canabary said. Forty-four percent of respondents said regional planning should guide housing and community development while 53 percent believe in more local control. The issue of planning control was split among urban and suburban populations, the latter of whom generally preferred local control.

"Key reasons for regional opposition included that local government knows needs of citizens better; it's unrealistic to get counties to agree; and local agencies and decision makers should be able to work together regionally," Canabary said. "'People are saying, 'I'm not against regional planning, but give me a choice of the two,' and they want to make sure locals are involved."

Sixty-one percent of survey respondents supported building a high speed rail to Los Angeles, and 40% said they would take public transit more often if gas prices reach $5 a gallon. Fifty-five percent supported adding express lanes to local freeways and "a relatively high share" believed creating high density housing near transportation can destroy the character of nearby towns.

During a presentation on preliminary recommendations, MTC Planning Director Ken Kirkey said Plan Bay Area does not regulate local land use authority or prevent local officials from approving growth at a different level. He also dismissed allegations that the draft plan puts 95% of housing growth into 15 cities with priority development areas (PDAs); the plan actually directs 63% of growth into the region's 15 largest cities.

Although the plan assumes funds from 2015 through 2020, Kirkey recommended adding $3.1 billion in cap and trade funds to the plan through 2040. A substantial portion of those funds should go toward supporting transportation investments and affordable housing in transit-oriented locations; the area is experiencing a regional $17 billion transit capital shortfall and a $20 billion shortfall for roadway maintenance, ABAG Planning Director Chion said.

Chion also responded to criticism that the plan either under-estimates or over-estimates population housing needs and recommended that the joint administrators maintain regional growth levels presented in the draft.

"The issue is whether some of the jurisdictions in some of suburban areas with transit and high levels of employment might not have received appropriate level of growth or housing responsibilities," she said. "There's not enough low and moderate income housing in communities with high quality amenities and job access. More housing needs to be distributed outside of core urban areas and PDAs to ensure a large, diverse supply."

Chion cautioned that if planners don't rethink the approach to housing, extensive engagement across municipalities would be required "to make sure we don't dismantle a collaborative approach." To that end, Chion said affordable housing was the one area where planners heard a lot of consensus among residents.

"We live in a region that enjoys a certain level of economic wealth, a certain level of quality of life and that makes the production of our affordable housing quite challenging," she said. "This is compounded by loss of redevelopment resources and loss of state and federal funding, creating a major gap (of at least 10-20%). We need additional funding and recommend that $600 million of cap and trade revenues go toward the regional housing fund."

Chion added that regional agencies can support local jurisdictions in aligning such policies. Displacement of residents within existing communities can also be addressed by preserving and creating affordable housing, she said.

To combat the 30,000 households that are at risk for displacement, Chion suggested that planners identify a portion of transit oriented affordable housing funds that could be appropriated, develop policies for future ABAG funding, and consider policies developed through the HUD regional prosperity grant.

"The issue of displacement hit really close to home lately," said Sam Tepperman, a senior staff attorney with Public Advocates whose mother was recently evicted. "This is happening not just in San Francisco but in every county around the Bay. This is a serious regional problem that the plan needs to address."

Steve Wu, who spoke on behalf of Chinatown Community Development Center, expressed concerns about displacement in his community.

"We would like to see state level reform. We're finding that local jurisdictions are unable to enact stronger tenant protections because of state level laws," he said.

Chion identified additional priorities for Plan Bay Area implementation, including analysis of the region's goods movement and industrial lands as well as inter-regional coordination "to understand how our region relates to neighboring counties in terms of housing and jobs."

The creation of a state of the region report, focusing on economic health, housing and production, is under way and should be available in two years. Chion added that the plan should develop a more robust priority conservation area program, study expansion and refinement, and integrate economic development into regional planning.

"We've primarily done this at a macro level. We need to go into finer level of detail in terms of relationship to labor, to education and relationship qualities each place offers," Chion said.

ABAG and the MTC will hold a series of public meetings during the summer related to final adoption of Plan Bay Area, including one June 20. The MTC Planning Committee and ABAG Administrative Committee will meet again on July 12 to present the final plan and EIR. Officials are tentatively scheduled to approve the plan July 18.


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