Plan Bay Area 2040: Regionalism Marches On

On April 3, 2017, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments released Plan Bay Area 2040.  This is an update of the regional plan implemented by MTC and ABAG in 2013.

The objectives are as they were in the original plan – a transportation and land use roadmap for the Bay Area’s future growth that implements the two mandates of 2008 Senate Bill 375.  The mandates are: 1) Climate protection by requiring the Bay Area to reduce CO2 emissions, and 2) Adequate housing by requiring the region to house 100 percent of its projected population growth by income level.

The methodology also remains basically the same as in 2013:  1) Most population and job growth concentrated in Priority Development Areas, and 2) Little or no growth outside PDAs or in Priority Conservation Areas.  Language continues to refer to the plan as “voluntary guidelines.”  As in PBA 2013, the 2040 plan makes no explicit mention of the increased outmigration of Bay Area residents, and how that will affect plan projections. 

What has changed from 2013 is emphasis on the different plan components, prompted by results of the plan’s Target Assessment.  Of its 13 targets, Plan Bay Area is moving towards meeting or exceeding five, is making progress toward achieving four, and is moving in the wrong direction in four.  Some of the misses are significant. Decrease in the share of lower-income residents’ income spent on transportation and housing is targeted at 10%, but is expected to increase by 13 percentage points.  Share of low- and moderate-income renter households at risk for displacement it targeted not to increase, but is expected to increase by 5 percentage points.  A Plan Performance chart in the Strategies and Performance section of Plan Bay Area 2040 is very helpful in summarizing plan successes and failures.

As expected from Plan Bay Area, its action plan to address the missed targets doubles down on the methodology used to try to reach those targets.  Also as expected, “voluntary guidelines” always have a way of nudging compulsory mandates.  A note of drastic urgency also helps hopes of targeted results:

“…there is no more time to wait. Failure to establish regional consensus and take concerted action will put the region’s historic economic, environmental and transportation accomplishments at risk. Unlike many other policy areas, housing policy is something local governments have significant control over.
The Bay Area must therefore pursue a multi-pronged strategy that emphasizes the construction of new homes for residents of all incomes, the protection of the region’s most vulnerable households, and the need to advocate for more financial resources to pursue local and regional solutions.”

“Given existing real estate market conditions, land use controls, and infrastructure needs, many PDAs may not be able to accommodate forecasted growth and may require additional policy interventions to increase their development potential.”

Besides the general calls to action, PBA 2040 also outlines specific proposals: 

Plan Bay Area subregions

* Mapping of the Bay Area cities into three “subregions,” 1) “Big 3 Cities” (San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland); 2) “Bayside” (cities directly adjacent to the San Francisco Bay, including Hayward, San Mateo, San Rafael and Richmond), 3) “Inland, Coastal and Delta” (cities just outside of Bayside, such as Walnut Creek, Dublin, Santa Rosa, Antioch, Brentwood and Fairfield).

* Concentration of household and employment growth in the Big 3 Cities and Bayside, projected to contain 72% of the Bay Area’s total household and 77% of total jobs.

* Increased “local” funding of projects, such as a multi-county fee or bond measure, as well as dedicated sales taxes, fares and tolls.

* Establishment of a regional Economic Development District to make the Bay Area more competitive for federal economic and work-force development funding under the U.S. Economic Development Administration programs.

* State legislation to incentivize housing production and increased housing policy capacities.

* Bringing together diverse interests to develop strategies for housing production and preservation; and recommendation of legislative, regulatory, financial and market-related measures needed to provide regional housing at all income levels.

By its own admission, Plan Bay Area is on its way to significantly miss four of its 13 targets and barely reach another four.  The plan fails to deeply assess the increase in outmigration of Bay Area residents, simply ascribing the trend to high housing costs.  Although the plan gives ample lip service to its pronouncements being only “voluntary guidelines,” it ably prods compulsory legislation.  Although the plan loudly assets its recommendations do not diminish “local control,” it forcefully promotes regional solutions to challenges, as if all Bay Area counties experienced the same preferences. 

Plan Bay Area has made noteworthy achievements in the two mandates of SB 375 – reducing per capital CO2 emissions from cars and light trucks by 15%, and housing 100% of the Bay Area region’s projected growth by income level. One could consider the mission accomplished.  However, obviously the peripheral goals of PBA are nowhere near achievement: so-called “equitable access” to housing, efficient cost-effective transportation systems, and traffic-jam free city streets.  No wonder.  Can anyone seriously assert that concentrating population in dense transit-rich corridors is not a prescription for excessive housing cost, questionable quality of life, and certain outmigration?  Can anyone seriously believe that taxpayers can spend their way out of plan-created unaffordable housing without unacceptable draconian mandates?  Perhaps further efforts in such a large-scale integrated strategy will only result in diminishing returns, as well as mountains of restrictive legislation. 

Maybe it is time to refocus, and re-direct taxpayer funding into development of first-rate transit and roadway systems that serve counties that want them and are willing to contribute funding.  Such systems would take folks where they want to go -- not where a plan dictates they need to go, maintain clean air, reduce traffic jams, and distribute population more evenly.