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Stephanie Reyes

Getting the details right on OneBayArea grants

Back in July, Greenbelt Alliance celebrated the proposal by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) for a new grant program to reward sustainable growth. We were glad to see MTC supporting cities that are doing the most to plan for sustainable and equitable development near transit and helping rural areas to protect natural resource areas and working farms. But we’re watching to make sure MTC does the right thing.

Opposition from all sides

Since then, MTC has gotten quite an earful. Several county Congestion Management Agencies suggested that half of the block grant – the Local Streets and Roads rehabilitation portion – should be spent without regard to a city’s commitment to sustainable, equitable development. Some agencies in the northern counties disagreed with the land conservation grant pilot program too: they wanted to spend the grant money on local road maintenance instead.

Opposition vanquished! (We think…)

Fortunately, MTC saw through these outrageous proposals and – at least for the moment – is holding true to the intention of the grant programs. MTC is holding the line on using the $5 million land conservation pilot for true conservation projects and is keeping the OneBayArea grant program consistent by treating all portions of the block grant – including the Local Streets and Roads rehabilitation funds – with the same strategic focus and performance-based accountability.

Next steps to get it right

Now we need to get the details right – specifically, making sure the program rewards development of homes for low-income families, and that the numbers work out so the places taking on the lion’s share of the growth in the right way get the lion’s share of dollars. Some clever ideas to achieve these goals are in the mix, but their fate is still uncertain.

In the current proposal, funding is distributed to counties based partly on how much total housing all the cities in the county have built. It’s great that MTC is rewarding those places that actually do their part to build new homes. But there are several problems with the details of this approach:

  • Problem #1: the formula doesn’t take into account the production of affordable homes, even though that’s where we see the greatest need. Solution: the distribution formula should include a component rewarding cities that build affordable homes.
  • Problem #2: counting the total number of homes built anywhere in the county runs the risk of rewarding places that sprawl. Solution: count only homes built near transit (specifically, in Priority Development Areas).
  • Problem #3: distributing funding to counties and letting them decide where to spend it means there’s no guarantee that the places that have done the best job of sustainable, equitable development in the past – or in the future – will get the funds they need. Solution: Include safeguards to make sure those places (specifically, those Priority Development Areas) that are doing the most get the most money.

When it comes to the land conservation program, the most important thing MTC can do is establish a clear conservation goal and put in place a competitive grant process where applicants must show how their project supports that goal.

MTC staff is revising the OneBayArea grant proposal now and will have a next draft by the end of December for discussion at an MTC Committee meeting in early January. Stay tuned to hear which of our recommendations get into version two!

Read Greenbelt Alliance’s comment letter on the OneBayArea grants (PDF)

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