Berkeley Neighborhoods Council

 

Dedicated to improving the quality of life for all
by creating a unified neighborhood voice
for promoting livability and resolving problems

 

Outside Agencies Affect Berkeley, Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG):  Plan Bay Area

A Little Background and a Lot of Initials

On July 18, 2013, at a 6:30 pm meeting held at the Marriott on Broadway in Oakland, MTC and ABAG jointly approved both the final Plan Bay Area (which includes the region's Sustainable Communities Strategy and the 2040 Regional Transportation Plan) and the associated Environmental Impact Report (EIR).

The ABAG Executive Board separately approved a state-mandated Regional Housing Needs Allocation for 2014.  MTC separately approved the 2013 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) which updates the list of Bay Area projects that receive federal funds, are subject to federal action or are considered regionally significant, as well as a final Air Quality Conformity Analysis that establishes the TIP and Plan Bay Area compliance with federal air pollution standards.  These are all items that will affect the City of Berkeley one way or the other.  To date, BNC has been unable to determine the names of the members in attendance or how they voted.  Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates sits on the MTC Board as a voting member representing all the cities in Alameda County.  Berkeley's representative on ABAG is Council Member Susan Wengraf.

The preparation of Plan Bay Area (PBA) was mandated by Senate Bill 375 in 2008.  PBA projects population growth in the Bay Area region from 7 million to 9 million by 2040.  The PBA is supposed to provide a strategy for meeting 80% of the area's future housing needs in what is called Priority Development Areas (PDAs).  PDAs are defined as neighborhoods within walking distance of frequent transit service, offering a wide variety of housing options and featuring amenities such as grocery stores, community centers and restaurants.  PDAs are to be identified by the cities they are in and the Plan will fund mixed-income housing production.  The incentive for cities to comply with the Plan is that funding will go to identified PDAs.  BNC is uncertain of the source and amounts of these funds.

It is our understanding that in addition to the PDA-related funds, the ABAG transportation element “anticipates” spending some $292 billion in federal, state and local funds through 2040.  87% ($253 billion) is to go to the existing transportation network.  There is a $3.1 billion reserve from anticipated future funding through the California Air Resource Board's Cap and Trade program for greenhouse gas emissions accounts.

Of the 9 counties covered in the PBA, Alameda County is to provide around 23% of the total regional household growth, around 154,000 additional units, and 21% of the total regional job growth, around 253,000 jobs.

It's difficult to tell exactly what all of this means for Berkeley.  A May 2013 report lists PDAs in:  Emeryville especially around the Amtrak Station; Albany at San Pablo and Solano; and in Berkeley on Adeline, South Shattuck, San Pablo, University and Telegraph Avenues.  It is interesting to note that the reports states that Telegraph Avenue will be served by Bus Rapid Transit - a project rejected by our City Council many months ago!

FLASH:  The San Francisco Chronicle reports on August 7, that a lawsuit has been filed against the Plan by a group called Bay Area Citizens.  Pacific Legal Foundation is representing the group in court.  Per the Chronicle the lawsuit alleges that the Plan violates the California Environmental Quality Act by omitting alternatives to the Plan to steer future growth near PDAs.

Please find below an article submitted to BNC by Steve Martinot (Live Oak Codornices Neighborhood Association) who attended the July 18, 2013 MTC/ABAG meeting.  He says:

The central strategy for the accomplishment of the PBA is to reduce motor traffic on the freeways by building high-rise apartments and condo units in certain designated areas, called PDAs, into which those now living in the suburbs and commuting by car would then relocate.  The PDAs are centered mostly on the bay side of San Francisco, down the peninsula along the route 101 corridor, in central San Jose along route 101 and I-880, in Oakland (mostly in West Oakland and deep East Oakland), Alameda, Emeryville, and Point Richmond (in other words, along present major transit corridors - “to use existing transportation infrastructure in a more efficient manner” (EIR, p. 128)).  This will “reduce development pressure in rural areas,” (p. 134) and “move jobs and households closer to each other and to transit options” (p. 135).
The plan has been on the table for ABAG for about five years.  ABAG calls it Smart Growth.  The EIR was produced two years ago.  There have been three public comment sessions, asking for input from the public.  The final meeting to discuss the EIR occurred July 18, 2013, and the EIR was passed with four amendments.  The most significant of these amendments was the stipulation that a certain percentage of public transportation development was to be funded by moneys acquired through carbon emission Cap and Trade.
A number of alternative plans have been proposed, all of which oppose the evident urban “densification” project at the center of the PBA, and all of which were rejected by the PBA commission (composed of personnel from ABAG and MTC).  One was that nothing be done, and that developments in the Bay Area should follow their natural course.  This was a “free market”proposal, spanking of the Tea Party and the Republican Party, which considered the Plan an imposition by a bureaucratic apparatus that was not representative of the people.  Another was the Equity, Environment, and Jobs (EEJ) alternative proposed by a coalition of neighborhood groups (such as ACCE), social service non-profits (such as Urban Habitat), and public transit advocates, brought together under the auspices of Public Advocates, a public interest law firm.  Its plan was for greater local control over development projects, increased public transit to service more dispersed development (lowering building height by spreading the construction wider in the region).  A third was a transit priority proposal that would focus on enhancing road communications, raising fees on bridges, and investing in BART and bus systems.  The last was a proposal to guarantee housing only for people already employed, with none for in-commuting from other outlying areas - that is, maintaining the present dispersion of housing rather than pulling the suburban population toward the center.  All plans claimed to foster increases in affordable housing, but without specifics.
At this final meeting at which the EIR was accepted by the commission, two groups of people were there in force, those who supported the No Plan alternative, and those from the EEJ plan.  The first group was mainly polemical, and the second saw its proposal as a real alternative to the PBA, though how it was wasn't clear.
ABAG exists as a structure of governance that lies between the state and Bay Area entities - cities and counties.  Rather than be a body representing the people of the Bay Area as a whole, it functions to represent the state and business interests to the cities and counties of the region.  Its central mission is to promote Sustainable Community Strategies, which are plans for growth that it imposes on cities and counties.  It has an assembly containing a single delegate from each city and county, but that assembly's job is to figure out how to implement ABAG strategies and plans.  It tacitly admits it is not representative by asserting that certain elements of its proposals will be left to cities and counties to develop, though without the option not to do so.
Essentially, the plan is to bring those executives and technocrats working in Bay Area finance and computer industries, who had fled to the suburbs or located there originally, back into the city center, for two reasons.  First, it would enable them to think tank and administer more efficiently, since they would not have to spend many hours a day on the highways commuting.  And second, this would (and could be touted as) diminishing carbon emissions, since it would decrease motor traffic on the freeways.  The EIR admits this in one place in responding to one of the alternate plans; “the changing needs of businesses suggest a transition toward a more focused employment growth pattern . [on] knowledge-sector jobs.” (p. 131)
The fact that these are its target populations is indicated by how it deals with displacement of low-income residents.  One of its stated targets is non-displacement of low-income residents.  (p. 117) But non-displacement of low-income residents can't be a target, if the target is the end to be achieved.  Non-displacement would have to be a facet of the means of development.  It would have to be a guarantee given to those living in the development areas beforehand.  But given the locations of the PDAs, low-income people will primarily be the ones displaced.  Furthermore, the funds for dealing with displacement are dependent on Cap and Trade moneys (p.20), which will be subsequent to implementation of the plan, and not prior to its onset or during its progress.
The central assumption around which all of ABAG's public thinking revolves is its projection of 2.1 million person growth over the next 25 years.  This assumption is valid only if there is a projection of a comparable increase in jobs.  There is not.  Manufacturing is generally done offshore, and would be automated.  Finance industries will grow in value, but again, the employment is more and more specialized (investment strategies, money market, brokerage, arbitrage, currency exchange, derivative, stock and bond speculation).  And technocratic knowledge will be required only for coordinating the port, and the relations between SF as a financial center and the Pacific Rim economy, for which SF will be one of the financial capitols.  Hence, growth of population in the center of this area will revolve around employment already in existence, and hence housing development will be primarily for those already employed, but living in outlying areas.
Without that assumption of population growth, and without speaking about employment growth, the PBA has no rational foundation.  To the extent this is the case, the reasons given for the PBA are neither authentic nor forthright.  On that basis, the No Plan claque is closer to the reality of the program, though their analysis is ideological and far off the mark politically.  The EEJ plan is closer to real people's needs, but it too misses the point of the plan it is attempting to compete with, and thus is complicit with the vaguely stated real goals of ABAG.
ABAG has a certain amount of financial power, which it obtains not by being a bureaucratic dictatorship, as the No Plan people charge, but by functioning as an advisory body to state budgeting, meaning they have the ability to advise cutting funds to cities and counties for those that do not accede to ABAG's allocations to those entities in terms of development.  They advert to this power throughout their web pages in the form of veiled threats attending non-fulfillment of the plan's allotment to cities or counties.