Bay Area Gets Big Boost in Conservation Funding
On November 18, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) took an important step toward creating a more sustainable, equitable region when it approved the framework for the second round of the OneBayArea Grant Program (OBAG).
We’re very excited to report that the MTC commissioners voted to significantly increase their investment in conservation by expanding their first-in-the-nation Priority Conservation Area grant program by over 60%. They also called for much-needed improvements to the smart growth grant program guidelines to strengthen rewards for jurisdictions doing the most to tackle the housing affordability crisis.
Established in 2012, the OBAG program establishes grant funding for jurisdictions that are planning for more homes and jobs near transit and that are taking steps to preserve natural and agricultural lands. It’s a key tool to implement Plan Bay Area, the region’s blueprint for growth. The second round of the program covers investments over five years—from 2017 through 2022.
Big Success for Conservation
Priority Conservation Areas (PCAs) are exactly what they sound like—natural areas, recreation lands, farms, ranches, and urban open spaces that should be protected. MTC’s vote to increase its investment in PCAs is a major validation of the importance of safeguarding these lands from sprawl. This was the only component of the OBAG program to see such a significant increase in funding, from $10 million in round one to $16.4 million in round two.
MTC’s vote to increase its investment in Priority Conservation Areas is a major validation of the importance of safeguarding these lands from sprawl.
MTC also made a minor improvement in the PCA grant program to improve its ease-of-use, reducing the ratio of matching funds required for projects from 3:1 to 2:1, which means more investment opportunities across the Bay Area.
Greenbelt Alliance had been leading the call to increase funding for the conservation grant program. Over the last few months, our supporters sent over 1,600 letters to MTC commissioners urging them to do so. So thank you—MTC heard us loud and clear!
It’s a great moment for the Bay Area’s priority conservation areas. This win comes on the heels of the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) adopting 68 new PCAs, encompassing nearly half a million acres of open space. The new grant funds will help protect and steward these vital greenbelt lands.
What’s Next for Housing
The region’s housing affordability crisis—and the displacement of low-income residents who can no longer afford rapidly rising housing costs—has loomed large over the OBAG discussions. We were glad that many MTC commissioners called for the smart growth grant program to be refined to reward jurisdictions doing the most to create more housing opportunities for residents across the income spectrum within our existing communities.
MTC staff will come back to the commissioners in early February with a proposal to better address these concerns as part of the OBAG program. They’ve also stepped up to explore the creation of a new fund for preserving affordable homes near transit.
Greenbelt Alliance will be deeply engaged in shaping these new policies, so stay tuned for updates in the months ahead.
Photo: Thomas Hawk via Flickr