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Plan Bay Area: An Open Season Discussion

Original post made by Tom Cushing, Danville, on Jul 31, 2013

Plan Bay Area (PBA) was approved in July. By its terms, it seeks to coordinate efforts among Bay Area jurisdictions to plan for a year 2040, when an estimated 2 million more souls will be added to the 7 million who currently inhabit these environs. Promulgated over several years in response to CA state law, an organizing goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by designating various transit-friendly Priority Development Zones, and promoting relatively dense growth in those places, including Danville and San Ramon.

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Comments (3)

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Posted by spcwt
a resident of Danville
on Aug 1, 2013 at 4:53 pm

I support PBA’s efforts to increase housing density near job centers in San Francisco, Oakland and Silicon Valley. I also support PBA’s urban-growth limit, even though this is the primary reason Bay Area housing is expensive.

I am generally against high density housing in Danville, however, as it invites undesirables and is not in keeping with community standards. Danville already has enough high density housing. Too much, in my opinion. I am also against housing subsidies promised by PBA, as this is yet more wealth redistribution.

While I agree with many of PBA’s objectives, I feel the need to clarify some points from Tom’s article.

Tom is wrong that PBA contains carrots only, no sticks. PBA withholds funds from communities that do not adopt PBA goals. That’s a stick. It’s like withholding allowance from a wayward teenager. Same thing.

PBA favors stack and pack over single family homes. Under PBA, the percentage of single family detached homes in the Bay Area will shrink from 56% of homes currently down to 39% by 2040.

PBA favors expensive rail over more cost-efficient buses that run on low-emission natural gas. PBA would dedicate 62% of $180 billion in transportation funds to maintaining public transit and 38% to roads, even though public transit carries only 3.5% of the region’s passenger travel and even though the Bay Area has less than 700 miles of rail lines but more than 20,000 lane miles of roads.

PBA won’t stop climate change. It won’t even make a dent. The entire State of California produces only 2% of world greenhouse gas emissions. California could get rid of all power plants, homes, and vehicles of every kind and it would have a negligible effect on climate change. According to PBA Bay Area GHG emissions will be reduced by less than 1% at best.

PBA sets a target of reducing the share of low-income and middle-income residents household income spent on transportation and housing. But not only does PBA fail in this regard, page 102 of the PBA admits that the share of low and middle income residents spend on transportation and housing will actually increase from 66% currently to 69% in 2040.

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Posted by Huh?
a resident of Danville
on Aug 2, 2013 at 11:15 am

I applaud spcwt's reasoned comments, even though I disagree with many of them. Putting stuff in writing - with details - is a good way to ferret out important points of reasoning.

First - about buses vs. rail. Rail is the most efficient way to move anything. Period. The energy consumed per mile each unit (freight or people) is transported not even close. And energy costs money. The up-front cost is higher, but the payoff down the road in operational savings is large. spcwt's reasoning would have applied equally as well to a vote to not build the Bay Bridge because "high efficiency ferries" were cheaper. But the bridge paid off.

As to "carrots and sticks" is the failure to award additional discretionary funding a carrot or a stick? Interesting question. I'm not sure what the answer to that is, or if there really is one.

As to low density vs. high density housing; it's pretty clear that overall density in the Bay area will (and has to) increase. Partly this is demographics - more young and old adults, (relatively) fewer families with children due to the aging of the Boomers. The 20-somethings and the 70-somethings are both more likely to be drawn to higher density environments, so you have a "pull" for more density, regardless of your planning "push." More sprawl requires more miles of road and rail, so that costs everyone more money; seems like higher average density is a win-win. Further, the amount of land in the Bay Area is geographically limited - we really don't have much choice here. Either we ban new housing or we add housing units by increasing average density. There really isn't a viable "option C." (The Summerhill development on Diablo Rd. is a low density plan - see how much fun getting that kind of infill project built is?)

spcwt's last two arguments are an example of letting perfect be the enemy of good: if the plan doesn't totally solve the problem, it must be worthless. I disagree. Lessening our contribution to greenhouse gas emissions (and we contribute more per capita than anyone else on earth) is a step in the right direction; if we refuse to do anything how can we expect anyone else to? Similarly, investing now in more efficient transportation options will help everyone, but particularly the less wealthy in years to come. Life may not get easier but it won't be as much more expensive as otherwise.

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Posted by Tom Cushing
a resident of Danville
on Aug 2, 2013 at 4:18 pm

Tom Cushing is a registered user.

Thanks for these thoughtful commentaries -- yous'ns have obviously done some homework And some cogitatin'! BTW, I did not intend that comments be limited to registered users, but perhaps there was an incident on the SRX site -- that's been known to occur there, via a weekly reader and his several imaginary friends.

As to carrots or sticks, it seems to me that the future availability of OBAG grants is indeed a carrot. The difference has to do with whether the right to the grant has vested -- if so, withholding it would be a stick; otherwise the grant is a carrot -- an incentive. Now, I dunno how anyone else manages his/her household, but if a teen gets an allowance merely for drawing breath, withholding it is a penalty. If it comes with conditions like good behavior, then that's a carrot.

Here, I do not believe that those OBAG funds have been spoken-for or assigned to Danville as-of-right, but they might be made available in the future upon "good behavior" regarding housing allocations. That makes 'em a carrot.

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