Plan Bay Area: What’s good, what’s bad, what’s next
Finally, the moment we’ve all been waiting for has arrived: The draft of Plan Bay Area, our region’s comprehensive land-use and transportation plan for the coming generation, has been released. From now through May 16, residents can provide feedback on the plan. Keep reading for Greenbelt Alliance’s take on the plan. (Also, see what our friends at TransForm had to say about it.)
Our favorite elements of the draft plan
- No sprawl for 30 years. The Bay Area’s amazing open spaces, farms, and ranches will remain undeveloped—future growth will occur entirely within our existing urban footprint and urban growth boundaries (UGBs), and cities with UGBs will keep them in place. It’s hard to overstate how much of a win this is. If the plan were not in place, only half of new homes and jobs would be within existing cities and towns; the other half would lead to paving over agricultural and natural lands.This is great news for people like Marla Fields of Marin County. “I love going for family bike rides, hiking Mount Burdell, and walking the trails with my dog,” says Marla. “Enjoying open space provides a nice balance to the fast pace of our lives.”
More choices of types of neighborhoods to live in and how to get around. In 2010, only 26% of households had access to frequent transit. With Plan Bay Area, nearly 80% of new homes, and over 60% of new jobs, will be in areas near transit.
Polly Amrein of Oakland says: “Living near transit is important for me because I’m now 85 and I want to still be in the world—to go to dinner with my friends in the Berkeley hills like I did last night or go to a meeting in Sunnyvale as I did a couple of weeks ago. I don’t drive and can’t walk everywhere, so that’s why I need accessible public transportation.”
Where the draft misses the mark
- Low-income communities are at risk. Households that are already struggling to pay their rent or mortgage may no longer be able to afford to stay in the communities they call home. While the combined cost of housing and transportation for low-income households decreases slightly under Plan Bay Area, those costs will still account for an astounding 74% of household expenses.Pamela Tapia of Oakland describes her experience with these challenges: “A few months ago, my family lost our West Oakland apartment. We had to look for a new place to live, but a reasonably affordable apartment was hard to find. My mother and sister moved to Stockton and I faced a dilemma: continue college but become homeless or move to another city and drop out.” Read the rest of Pamela’s story on the Public Advocates blog.Fortunately, an alternative version of the plan from earlier in the process—the Equity, Environment and Jobs Scenario—would ease the financial pressure on low-income families and lead to the best environmental outcomes. The final Plan Bay Area should include the best pieces from this scenario, including making sure every community with access to lots of jobs, public transit, and good schools builds homes we can all afford and rewarding cities that prevent displacement of low-income families with a greater share of transportation funding.
- The draft Plan Bay Area achieves its goal of only growing inside our existing urban footprint and UGBs. This is a critical first step; however, open space and agricultural lands need our investment to remain viable and productive. We’d like to see specific policy recommendations incorporated into Plan Bay Area such as developing a regional agricultural and farmland protection plan and ensuring that all Bay Area residents can access regional parks and trails via public transit within half an hour. Read more thoughts on this from The Nature Conservancy, Bay Area Open Space Council, and American Farmland Trust (PDF).
Where we go from here
- Since land-use decisions are made at the local level, local governments must ensure that our natural lands, farms, and ranches remain vital resources for food, recreation, and environmental health. Plan Bay Area’s greenprint can provide decision-makers with the science-based information they need to wisely steward our precious lands.
- Similarly, Cities must do their part to plan for, and approve, new homes we can all afford. Cities also need to adopt policies that prevent unwanted displacement of low-income residents as communities redevelop. Building enough affordable homes in the right places is essential not only for people and the environment, but also to maintain the Bay Area’s economy.Melissa Zucker, Vice President of Human Resources at Solaria, says: “Recruiting and retaining talented workers is the most important challenge all Bay Area businesses face. It’s my job to meet that challenge. However, the high cost of housing in our area continues to be a stumbling block. There is a critical need for homes that accommodate various income levels, close to city centers and near public transit.”
After the public comment period ends on May 16, the agencies will release the final Plan Bay Area for adoption on June 20. The upcoming Plan Bay Area public meetings are your last chances to provide feedback on the draft plan, so sign up attend the local meeting in your county today!