Picture of Stephanie Reyes

Stephanie Reyes

MTC considers new grant program to reward sustainable growth

Grants would help cities making the right choices

At Greenbelt Alliance, we spend so much time advocating for cities to plan for more livable communities, that we sometimes overlook the amazing plans some cities have crafted.

Downtown Santa RosaSan Jose, for instance, is planning for sustainable neighborhoods, connected by new bike lanes and walking paths to give residents more options for how to get around. Santa Rosa has an ambitious plan for growth downtown, near the future SMART train station (planned area pictured here).

Rural counties like Sonoma and Napa have taken steps to to ensure that undeveloped green spaces stay that way, by adopting policies to help farmers and create open space reserves.

But like so many excellent plans that have come before, these great examples of smart land-use could fade into memory without the money to enact these visions. Luckily the Metropolitan Transportation Commission is currently considering a proposal (PDF) to create grant programs for sustainable growth.  This is a key step forward, and we like a lot of what we see. Specifically:

  • The creation of a OneBayArea grant program to support those cities that are doing the most to plan for sustainable and equitable development near transit.
  • A new land conservation grant program to allow rural areas to develop and implement strategies to protect natural resource areas and working farms.
  • A performance-based approach to the allocation of block grant funding, so cities that have a strong track record of sustainable and equitable development policies – and actually getting things built – will be tops on the list to get funding.
  • The requirement that funds be used for projects that make cities more livable – things like maintaining local streets, adding bike lanes and walking paths, and providing infrastructure and amenities for new neighborhoods.

As the program moves forward, it will be important that we get all the details right – for example, making sure the program rewards development of homes for low-income families that San Jose has planned for, or Santa Rosa gets funds to build the larger water pipes it needs to support new homes and businesses downtown — and that the numbers work out so the cities taking on the lion’s share of the growth in the right way get the lion’s share of dollars.

Each of the Bay Area’s nine counties has a role to play in contributing to the long-term sustainability of our region through focused growth. Some counties have cities with areas that are appropriate for accommodating new growth, while others have more natural resources to conserve, to ensure the preservation of their critical benefits for Bay Area residents. These potential OneBayArea grant and land conservation grant programs can make the difference for our cities striving to build livable communities.

Of course, there’s always a catch.

The biggest problem right now with the grant programs is simply that there’s not enough of the good stuff.  Commission staff is proposing to allocate only $214 million to these programs over a three-year period – out of about $7.5 billion in total discretionary funding over that same time period.  With 101 cities and nine counties in the region, that’s not nearly enough to reward those places that are creating the sustainable communities we all want to see.

Please TAKE ACTION!  Tell your Commissioner that you support the OneBayArea grant and land conservation grant programs for sustainable growth, and you want to see more dollars flowing to cities and counties who are planning for long-term sustainability.

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