At their joint meeting of July 26, 2017, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments approved the final Plan Bay Area 2040 and the associated final Environmental Impact Report. The Plan and approved revisions are posted on the Plan Bay Area website. A summary of the Plan from the point of view of the Nine-County Coalition is on Plan Bay Area 2040: Regionalism Marches On.
Approval of this update to Plan Bay Area 2013 by the MTC/ABAG Boards comes after much publicity and “public participation.” Comments submitted from a variety of sources, a Power-Point summary of public input, FAQs, and other information can be found in the Plan Bay Area website in the Get Involved section. We thought we would summarize the public input in order to illustrate the fact that once a “Plan” is implemented, it is set in stone, regardless of whether it works or not.
What They Heard
“What We Heard” highlights four questions -- improving the “housing crisis,” improving economic development, promoting “resiliency,” and “we need a transportation system that…” Public preference is summarized as: transit-oriented development near job centers, higher wages and more middle-class jobs, bold action to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets, transportation funding tied to housing construction, and raising gas taxes to motivate transit use.
The questions presuppose the wisdom of the Plan and strategies therein. Therefore, responses merely offer light embellishments but leave the Plan basically untouched.
Acknowledgement of “Other Perspectives”
Most comments were in line of, the Focus Group exhibited “near unanimous support for developing a regional plan.” However, acknowledgement of opposing opinions is made in passing: “a small number of participants” expressed “other perspectives.” These other perspectives are not embellishments, but challenge some fundamental premises of Plan Bay Area 2040.
•Question the plan’s assumptions and goals
•Oppose infill development
•Prefer a hands-off approach to housing and the economy
•Prefer more emphasis on the needs of drivers
Fundamental Premises Questioned
* Job growth predictions that ignore innovation and automation transforming the workplace, consumer preferences, and transportation alternatives.
* Population growth predictions that ignore significant out migration from the Bay Area of residents looking for more affordable living.
* Plans for massive funding of subsidized housing that ignore the already high California tax rates and the out migration of residents and companies leaving California in search of lower taxes.
* Plans for infill development that ignore the possibility that prospective buyers might wake up to the fact their homes would be sitting on garbage, toxic waste, shifting sand, and other undesirable foundations.
* City of Brisbane: “The City of Brisbane is extremely troubled by the draft household projections, which can only be achieved if the Brisbane Baylands project as proposed by the developer is approved…Given that the City is actively engaged in the review and decision-making process for the Baylands, it is objectionable for Plan Bay Area to utilize household projections which are inconsistent with the City’s General Plan…”
* City of Livermore: “Livermore is concerned that the strong emphasis on housing production within the Bay Area and “fixit first” strategies downplay the role of interregional dynamics and transit expansions…The Plan also falls short on the performance target with respect to increasing access to jobs, which is also related to the minimal attention towards transit expansions.”
* City of San Rafael: “…OBAG [One Bay Area Grant Program] funding over the next four years will be allocated to cities that approve and build housing per the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) process. This is concerning as the City of San Rafael does not build housing and cannot control whether a private property owner or developer will construct a project that has received all planning entitlements.”
Plan Bay Area 2040 continues its claim that the Plan is offered as guidance, not imposed as mandatory. Yet, it is fully supported by state mandates, which can easily override local plans such as those for Brisbane Baylands.
The Plan’s vision concentrates growth of housing and jobs within the Bay Area’s transit corridors, as if everyone could be glued in place. Livermore’s comment suggest that expanded transit radius and modes, and the resulting efficient mobility of workers, are necessary because realities do not support the glued-in-place model.
Cities and Counties that choose not to get involved in the micromanagement of housing lose state and possibly federal infrastructure funding. Therefore, a city like San Rafael needs to control what private property owners and developers do if it wants its residents to continue benefiting from portion of state and federal taxes they pay for infrastructure funding.
Process not Results
“Performance-based planning is at the core of Plan Bay Area 2040, incorporating performance targets,
project-level evaluation, and scenario assessment to better inform policy decisions and the public at
large.” Executive Summary, Performance and Assessment Report.
Plan Bay Area 2040 is a mass of details. Every demographic variable needs to be collected and catalogued. People need to be identified, enumerated, and placed in their appropriate demographic slot. Data collection needs to be thorough and frequent to ensure equity, environmental justice, sufficient outreach, minute forecasting into the next 20 years. Each of these “performance targets” needs to be methodically described, religiously followed, and reworked when not met. “Performance-based planning is at the core of Plan Bay Area 2040.” Performance means achieving a stated objective. Result means solving an obvious problem.
Process not results is today’s central planning credo. Plan Bay Area was implemented in 2013. Except for overall improvement in air quality, the Plan’s other performance targets have been way less than stellar. If emphasis were placed on results, by this time one would start hearing serious calls for the Plan’s demise.