Berkeley Neighborhoods Council
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Outside Agencies That affect Berkeley Neighborhoods
A Continuing Report on Plan Bay Area, which was brought to you by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG)
A lot more initials and food for though…
The saga of Plan Bay Area (The Plan) continues with the filing on October 15, 2013 of a fourth in a series of lawsuits seeking to halt its implementation. This new complaint was filed by Rosa Koire, a resident of Santa Rosa in Sonoma County, and Michael Shaw, the owner of Lockaway Storage, a business in Alameda County on behalf of The Post Sustainability Institute (PSI). The basis of the lawsuit is that the Plan is harmful to residents and businesses, infeasible to implement, and violates both Federal and State Constitutions and laws. Their lawsuit states that PSI is a non-profit California corporation headquartered in Sonoma County that is organized to support and protect the interests of residents in matters that include land use regulations, property rights, local community control and the environment. They claim that they commented during all stages of the development of the Plan and that they have an interest in ensuring that public funds are not wasted on plans that are in violation of rights held under the United States and California Constitutions and on behalf of the public interest in general.
The lawsuit states that MTC implemented a program, titled One Bay Area Grant Program (OBAG - not to be confused with ABAG), by which federal transportation funds are allocated to local governments. The amount in the OBAG program is estimated to be $14.6 billion over the life of the Plan. OBAG is set up to reward jurisdictions that focus on housing growth in Priority Development Areas (PDAs) through planning and zoning policies, actual production of housing units, and acceptance of housing allocations through the Regional Housing Need Allocation (RHNA) process. There are also funds available for jurisdictions for Priority Conservation Areas (PCAs), which the Plan says number “about 100 regionally significant areas which face nearer-term development pressures.” The lawsuit claims these are only vaguely identified in the Plan by dots on a map, without definitions of actual boundaries, or explanations as to what the development pressures are.
The suit points out that existing Government Codes already require jurisdictions to support zoning policies that are adequate to provide housing at various income levels. However, to be eligible for OBAG funds, the Plan requires that jurisdictions have to update general plan language that is in compliance with the California Complete Streets Act of 2008, and approve planning policies and zoning that is consistent with recommendations in the Plan — requirements that many jurisdictions in the Bay Area have not met and which will require much cost and effort by those jurisdictions.
Further, it is claimed that while the Plan states that it doesn't want to set up “obstacles” to a local jurisdiction's development decisions in non-PDAs, it discriminates against residents, businesses, property owners, and the environment in non-PDAs by retaining environmental restrictions like doing environmental impact reports in these areas, but reducing that requirement for favored developers in PDAs. The Plan estimates that 2/3s of all regional growth by 2040 will occur in PDAs, but the Plan doesn't demonstrate that there is sufficient vacant land within PDAs to accommodate the projected population increase and provides no way to fund the associated increased infrastructure costs to accommodate those increases. The Plan proposes new bond measures and “adjustments to commercial and residential tax rates to balance the financial incentives for new development.” They argue that new development in PDAs will increase the demand for housing in these areas and that this demand will outstrip the supply of units and drive up housing costs. Further, this will drive down property values in non-PDAs, which in turn will decrease tax revenues from these areas, and provide fewer dollars for essential services such as roads, public safety and schools, and result in more pressure to increase taxation.
They explain that charter cities (BNC notes that Berkeley is a charter city) will be forced to comply just like general law cities because if they fail to adopt land use and zoning consistent with Plan recommendations, they will lose funding eligibility under OBAG as well as eligibility for CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) streamlining.
They further caution that the Plan fails to address how fully developed PDAs will house 80% of future residential and 66% of future commercial development without using eminent domain to combine existing small parcels so that large multi-unit buildings can be constructed.
Well, between all four lawsuits there's certainly much food for thought. BNC is working on bringing information to you on the location of all of Berkeley's PDAs in our next issue so that we can begin to understand the specific impacts on our community.
To date, the Open Government Commission has not scheduled its next meeting to discuss how to strengthen the requirement for our elected officials to inform residents about the actions of regional agencies that will affect Berkeley. At the very least, we need to prevent what occurred when Berkeley residents did not receive timely information about Plan Bay Area which would have provided us with the opportunity to voice our concerns not only to MTC and ABAG but also to our own City Council.
Keep tuned in for the latest development on this important issue for our future!