MTC adopts framework for first-of-its-kind grant program

Since the beginning of the Plan Bay Area process, Greenbelt Alliance has been working to make sure the plan—our region’s sustainable communities strategy—includes a robust land conservation component for protecting the natural and agricultural lands that make the Bay Area such a great place to live.

One key piece we have pushed the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) for is the creation of the first-ever grant program for land conservation funded through a regional transportation plan. It’s been a long process—starting with the initial proposal, making progress and suffering setbacks along the way, and, last May, committing $10 million to the program.

Yesterday, the MTC took the final step in making the land conservation grant program a reality by adopting the guidelines and framework. Here’s what we like about it:

  • It has a clearly stated program goal: “to support Plan Bay Area by preserving and enhancing the natural, economic and social value of rural lands in the Bay Area, for residents and businesses”.
  • The California State Coastal Conservancy was selected to administer the half of grant funds dedicated to Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, San Mateo, and San Francisco Counties. The Coastal Conservancy will ensure that the highest quality conservation projects are chosen for funding and increase the likelihood of projects receiving additional funds.
  • It requires policy protections, such as urban growth boundaries, to be in place before projects can be funded (with the exceptions of land acquisitions or easements).

We do have concerns about the grant funds dedicated to Solano, Napa, Sonoma, and Marin Counties. These funds will be administered by the congestion management agencies in each of those counties who, by their own admission, do not have expertise in land conservation. Agencies have stated their intention to spend grant money on road maintenance and improvement projects by claiming that such projects are vital for getting agricultural goods from farm to market. In some cases, this may be appropriate, but we’re worried about projects straying too far from the original intent of the program.

Greenbelt Alliance looks forward to seeing what projects will be submitted through this program and hopes our Bay Area counties can learn from each other as the program moves forward to protect our region’s beautiful, and vital, natural landscapes.

 

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