Berkeley Neighborhoods Council

 

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Outside Agencies Affect Berkeley Neighborhoods

PLAN BAY AREA, brought to you by The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG)

In our August eNEWS we gave you some background.  In this issue, we have some updates:

FIRST:  Three lawsuits have been filed challenging the Plan and the adequacy of the Plan's Environmental Impact Report (EIR):
Lawsuit No. One: Filed 8/6/2013 by Bay Area Citizens, represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation.  This lawsuit states that the Plan seeks to place 78% of new housing and 62% of new jobs into 5% of the region's surface area, over the next 20 years with this new development to occur in 'transit-oriented' areas, which some more aptly label 'stack and pack' buildings.  The lawsuit disputes that the Plan is mandated by SB375, the state law that sets regional targets for Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions.  The suit claims that if implemented, the Plan will result in a reduction of 7% GHG emissions by 2020 and 13% by 2035 and that based on projected improvements in vehicle and fuel efficiencies, the Bay Area will exceed those numbers without reliance on the Plan's high density land use vision, and that the important information that the Bay Area is already on course to reach the goals in SB375 was never disclosed.  Their attorney, Jonathan Wood, put it this way, “Instead of laying out all the facts, ABAG and MTC rely, literally on fiction.”
Lawsuit No. Two:  Filed 8/13/2013 by the Building Industry Association, Bay Area.  This lawsuit acknowledges that SB375 requires the adoption of a sustainable communities strategy by planning for hew housing needs within the region, but that MTC and ABAG abandoned their duties and adopted a plan that “perpetuates the Bay Area's role as an exporter of housing and an importer of workers.”  It claims the Plan turns a blind eye to the adverse environmental impacts of condemning more than 100,000 workers to commute to Bay Area job centers from outside the region (more than 4 million additional inter-regional vehicle trips a year).  They further claim that the Plan was adopted in May 2012 before conducting any environmental impact analysis and that only after deciding on the project did they adopt their environmental review which amounts to a post hoc rationalization of the decision that had made in advance and did not adequately take into account public comments.  As examples of this, they state that the cities of Burlingame, Lafayette, Larkspur, Oakland, Orinda, Santa Clara and Windsor, and groups such as California Affordable Housing Law Project, California Rural Legal Assistance, Earthjustice, Marin Audubon Society, the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California, Public Advocates, Sierra Club and Urban Habitat, and agencies including Alameda County Community Development Agency, Caltrans, East Bay Regional Park District and Los Altos Community Development Department have all attacked the Plan.  They also claim that despite their acknowledgement that SB 375 compliance demanded 770,000 units, that the conclusion from their expert consultant that 80% of new housing in PDAs was unrealistic, and their own modeling software, UrbanSim, showed the scheme to be infeasible, they went ahead and adopted the Plan.
Lawsuit No. Three:  Filed 8/19/2013 by Communities for a Better Environment and the Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice.  This lawsuit raises the issues of 1) health impacts resulting from vehicle emissions on those who live closest to transportation hubs and corridors, the majority of whom are low-income and people of color, 2) that regional growth has the potential to change the character of historic ethnic neighborhoods such as West Oakland, Chinatown in San Francisco and Oakland, and San Francisco's Mission District, displacing low- income and minority residents as an influx of white collar workers drive up prices in housing markets, and 3) that the Bay Area is vulnerable to the accelerating pace of climate change as many of its cities and transit routes are located in coastal areas that will be affected by sea level rises.  It states that “failure to plan responsibly for the future has the potential to cause serious, irreparable harm.”  They claim that the Plan does not do enough to reduce reliance on cars and trucks, but instead expands highways and doesn't ensure sufficient transportation reform and fails to meet key GHG goals, fails to protect the health of vulnerable communities located near transportation corridors which will see an increase in the volume of goods movement, and does not ensure that low income residents will not be displaced to areas with poor access to public transit.
SECOND:  What the Berkeley Neighborhoods Council has done:
BNC is deeply concerned on two levels:  First, that residents have not been informed about what is arguably the most important planning document that will affect the future of our City and secondly, we want to begin a process when neighborhoods speak out for the level of development and density they want to see in Berkeley's future.  (See the front page of our website - more about that later.)
We are determined to correct this lack of information not only about this Plan but to see to it that it doesn't happen again.  We have, therefore, filed a formal complaint for violation of the City's Open Government Ordinance, Section 2.06.090: Reports Regarding Regional Bodies.
Council Members who represent the City on regional bodies and commissions shall promptly after attending meetings of those bodies provide to the City Council and the public a report that briefly summarizes the discussion and any action on any item that affects the City of Berkeley. Such reports shall state where additional information about the issue may be obtained. (Ord. 7166-N §1(part), 2011)
Under the Plan, 80% of the future housing growth is to be in areas designated as Priority Development Areas (PDAs).  Berkeley identified six PDAs (Telegraph Ave., University Ave, San Pablo Ave., Adeline Street, South Shattuck Avenue and the Downtown) on June 19, 2007 in order to get in line for a variety of funding opportunities, and at the same time, reaffirmed that the Council was “not committed to requesting funding or approving any project.” ABAG and MTC continued to discuss the Plan over the following years.  We found that on June 28, 2011, then City Manager Phil Kamlarz sent a letter to ABAG and MTC stating that At the time the PDAs were identified, it was our expectation that the key reason for identifying PDAs was to focus regional investment in those areas to encourage appropriate growth.  Kamlarz then goes on to state that the “unconstrained” Initial Vision Scenario of the Plan assigns 629 units per year to the City of Berkeley over 25 years and that With the exception of Downtown, the City has done little or no analysis of holding-capacity for our PDAs and cannot affirm or deny whether they can feasibly contain the increased numbers suggested for them over the 25-year time frame.  This letter raises many concerns but whether the 629 units per year remains in the Plan or not.  While we don't know the answer to that question, it can't be denied that this number, whatever it is, is of great importance to Berkeley residents and they should be informed about it and have the opportunity to discuss it with their elected representatives.
By 2013 a Draft Environmental Impact Report regarding the Plan was completed and several public meetings were scheduled for the purpose of taking public comment.  Only recently alerted to the approval of the Plan and its EIR, BNC reviewed all Council agendas listed on the City of Berkeley's website for meetings held from 9/18/2012 through 9/17/2013 and found NO reports as required under the Open Government Ordinance Section 2.06.090 that might have informed Berkeley residents about the issues or provided for them an opportunity to participate in the planning process.
Council Member Susan Wengraf, District 6, has been appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the City Council as Berkeley's representative to ABAG.  She must, therefore, make such reports as required by Section 2.06.090.  Mayor Tom Bates has been appointed to MTC by the Alameda Conference of Mayor's to represent all the cities of Alameda County.  While not directly representing the City of Berkeley, it cannot be denied that Berkeley is a City that he represents on MTC, and that the provisions of Berkeley's Open Government Ordinance would, therefore, require him to adhere to Section 2.06.090 as well.
Neither Council Member Wengraf nor Mayor Bates filed any reports summarizing the discussion and action by either ABAG or MTC that affects the City of Berkeley, regarding the Plan and its impacts but particularly in the matter of how much density is envisioned for Berkeley and in the notice of meetings that were being held specifically to obtain comments from the public on the Plan and its EIR.  Since such reports were not placed on the Council agenda where they would be subject not only to Council discussion and public comment and where they would have provided notice to residents who might have wanted to obtain more information, and/or attend those meetings and make written or oral comment, Berkeley residents were denied the opportunity to participate in one of the most important land use and transportation planning processes that affects the future of this community.
It is well-documented that historically, Berkeley residents in every part of Berkeley have shown a deep and abiding interest in land use and transportation issues.  Not only is the Plan Bay Area a very important document that all Berkeley residents should have been told about and given a chance to comment on, the Plan has turned out to be very controversial as indicated by the three lawsuits described above.  The wide range of interests traditionally expressed by these groups, and the range of issues they have raised in their lawsuits is beyond doubt indicative of the controversial nature and importance of the Plan to Berkeley's future.

BNC encourages your comments and will keep you informed.