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Hewson Shepherd

San Francisco Bay Area greenbelt development debated

Broderick Perkins

The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) wants to limit greenbelt development to only 900 acres per year for the San Francisco Bay Area — barely enough for a single subdivision.

Conservationists, on the other hand, say the amount of acreage — about the size of Golden Gate Park — is high. They say there’s no reason to disturb the greenbelt with more development, because there are ample infill locations better suited for the area’s growth needs.

ABAG’s biennial “Projections and Priorities 2009,” for the first time, sets forth a land use performance target to restrict green field development to 900 acres for the entire nine-county Bay Area — among other targets. The report also includes targets for reduced driving times, traffic congestion, the share of income spent on housing and transportation, and others.

ABAG is an association of elected officials from member cities and counties who examine regional issues like housing, transportation, economic development, education, and environment. The association describes itself as “the official comprehensive planning agency” of the Bay Area region.

Every other year since 1970, the association’s biennial Projections series has provided long-term forecasts and projections of population growth, transit trends and housing and job needs.

“Model results are relied on by transportation and air quality agencies, local government, and private industry,” according to ABAG’s documents.
However, the 2009 greenbelt land use target likely won’t find its way into policy any time soon.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) does incorporate ABAG’s data in its planning, but “Transportation 2035 Change In Motion” was published before ABAG’s 2009 report. The report incorporated ABAG’s older 2007 land use projections.

The MTC, the transportation planning, coordinating and financing agency for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area, says its next plan is four years away.

Local jurisdictions also say ABAG’s projections and new targes aren’t carved in stone.

Santa Clara County, for example, has pretty much closed the door on greenbelt building. An official there says while ABAG data is examined by planning officials it doesn’t result in land use, zoning and general plan issues in Santa Clara County.

Home builders haven’t specifically challenged the greenbelt target, but if the target became policy it would severely restrict development, housing or otherwise.

San Jose’s Silver Creek Valley Country Club, for example, sits on about 1,500 acres and has 1,538 homes, a golf course, country club facilities and other open space.

ABAG says from 2000 to 2010, much more greenbelt, an average 4,000 acres, is developed every year.

ABAG itself says its targets are not binding, however, rather than just projections ABAG decided to include the greenbelt land use target, and others because times are changing.

Rapid population growth in general and among the aging population, higher energy costs, and climate change dictate the need for regional performing targets — numerical outcomes — to show how policy choices impact the quality of life.

ABAG plugs the target numbers into models to get a better grasp on not just general assumptions or projection estimates, but something closer to reality — specific goals.

“The results suggest that accomplishing the targeted outcomes and ensuring a better, or at least the same, quality of life into the future will require a significant departure from previous planning strategies and policies,” the report says.

But for each target the report also includes a more likely projection. While the greenbelt target is at 900 acres, the ABAG forecast is for 1,950 acres to be developed year, still below the annual greenbelt development in the past decade.

The Greenbelt Alliance thinks 900 acres is 900 acres too much.

According to the alliance’s “Grow Smart Bay Area Infill Research” some 25,000 sites are available throughout the Bay Area for infill development that would eliminate the need for any green belt development.

Comprised of some 17,000 acres, these properties can provide the region with an additional 304,000 homes and 637,000 jobs, according to the alliance’s study.



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