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Matt Vander Sluis

How to Improve Bay Area Smart Growth Grants

With the 2017 update to Plan Bay Area well underway, Greenbelt Alliance has developed several recommendations on how to improve one of the most important pieces of that update, the second round of the OneBayArea Grant Program (OBAG).

Established by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) in 2012, the OneBayArea Grant Program provides funding to jurisdictions that are planning for more homes and jobs near transit and that are taking steps to preserve natural and agricultural lands.

During its first five years, OBAG guided hundreds of millions of transportation dollars to support locally-nominated Priority Development Areas and incentivized jurisdictions around the region to update their housing elements. It also launched a first-in-the-nation conservation grant program, investing $10 million of transportation funds to support the region’s Priority Conservation Areas (PCAs).

As with many new undertakings of this scale, there were also missed opportunities in round one. In recognition of the program’s newness and the region’s pressing challenges of housing affordability, traffic, and sprawl, it was widely understood that OBAG would need to be refined in subsequent rounds to make sure the program was best positioned for long-term success.

This time around, we are calling on MTC and ABAG to:

  • Revise the performance-based rules to more strongly reward those jurisdictions doing the most to encourage walkable, transit-oriented development that meet the needs of people across the income spectrum
  • Increase funding for the Priority Conservation Area (PCA) grant program to $20 million
  • Refine the PCA grant program’s rules to ensure that all PCA grants achieve regionally-significant conservation outcomes

On July 8, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission held their first hearing on the second round of the OneBayArea Grant Program. We were excited that much of what we heard reflected our recommendations. Many commissioners asked for stronger accountability measures to reward the cities and towns that are approving new infill homes and several pointed to the need for housing affordability to play a stronger role in the program’s design. The Priority Conservation Area grant program also received a warm reception with MTC staff proposing to increase the program from $10 million to $16 million, a positive step toward our $20 million goal. Urge MTC to increase PCA funding to $20 million below.

Over the coming months, we’ll be working with MTC commissioners, regional agency staff, and other stakeholders to continue shaping the next round of the OBAG program. The rules for round two are expected to be approved this fall, so stay tuned for more.


Photo: Joe Parks via Flickr

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