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By Tom Cushing

Plan Bay Area: An Open Season Discussion

Uploaded: 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.

I tried to lure out the objections to this document in earlier columns on Sustainability, but got not-one-bite in response. So here's an attempt to take the issues head-on. I've tried to identify various arguments against PBA I've seen expressed hereabouts and elsewhere, given my take on them and I invite your specific responses. Also, please add your own arguments for objections that I've missed.

One request: kindly do not resort to shooting this messenger – we can stipulate that I'm a pinko, libtard, boring, ancient, arrogant, naïve, elitist, radical socialist, and a criminal waste of good carbon, so those kinds of charges won't add anything. I also have it on pretty good authority that they'll be deleted if/as/when they appear – please just focus on content, okay? And actual evidence is much preferred over unsupported conclusions, but that's really two requests, and a lot to expect. So, let's get started.

1 – As Plan Bay Area is aimed at reducing greenhouse gases, it is mis-directed because climate change is: a—not occurring, or b – not human-caused.

Congratulations on this position, which is shared by nearly one-percent of the scientific community, (although it's actually somewhat less, if you factor-out those who are paid by folks who profit from barely-plausible-deniability). There are also a faithful few who believe that if we do nothing, somehow the lord will provide an escape. I'm inclined more toward the 99% consensus on the science, and recall the old story about man drowning in a rising flood, who had refused evacuation by car, boat and helicopter – all the while blaming the deity for not delivering him from his peril. The phrase "The lord helps those who help themselves" was never more applicable.

2 – Plan Bay Area is anti-small-d-democratic, as the product of unelected bureaucrats.

As I understand it, PBA is in response to a state law, duly enacted by our elected officials, with the fingerprints of both political parties on that law: so-called SB 375 (2008). Further, it was commissioned by the Association of Bay Area Governments, an organization of over 100 local governments, with staff. . It is probably true that the ABAG staff wrote most of the words, but that's the case with any government document, and certainly true as regards bills that get voted-on.

Further, the process was remarkably public, with multiple drafts and numerous exhaustive hearings, forums, message boards and other opportunities to be heard on the subject. It was finally voted-on in public, as well, by elected officials. It seems to me that the process was proper; anyone with an interest was apparently able to express opinions.

3 – But it was "rigged."

I don't know what to make of this, except that some folks seem to confuse their precious and oft-exercised right-to-be-heard with an illusory right to be in-charge. Apparently, some changes were made and others were amply presented and found to be unpersuasive. That would seem to me to be in the nature of democracy. And who rigged it? If you believe that there was a dark, behind-the-scenes conspiracy, please present your evidence – otherwise, you just lost – it happens all the time.

4 – PBA is really the demon-spawn of the United Nations' Agenda 21, an attempt to impose an anti-American world governance on this country, and supersede our Constitution and other stuff.

Agenda 21 , is a product of the UN Environment Programme, first drafted in conjunction with the Rio environmental summit in 1992, and later updated several times. It arose out of a recognition that environmental problems do not respect map lines – that air pollution generated in China, for example, even lands as far away as here. It purports to promote sustainable development among its signatory nations by means of directional, non-binding, voluntary actions. It goes to great lengths to indicate that it is advisory and subject to implementation-or-not by each member nation. Nonetheless, it has provoked controversy among those who believe it somehow erodes American national sovereignty.

Agenda 21 has also been characterized as anti-private property, but it's hard to find good evidence for that proposition. That claim seems to derive from a different UN document, written in 1976, for a different reason. Do I doubt that there are philosophies represented in that world body that diverge from America's world view? Not for a minute, but the same could be said for any representative body, and it does not represent the policy of the organization.

It might also be noted that ABAG has been around longer than many of us (1961), and its first long term regional plan dates from that era – several years before there was even an EPA, much less an Agenda 21.

If you fear the effects of Agenda 21, which effects and why?

5 – Nonetheless, ABAG and PBA usurp "local control" over property decisions.

ABAG is, itself, entirely voluntary, and utterly without authority to do anything, anywhere. It is a coordinating mechanism. PBA, its product, is also completely voluntary. In carrots-and-sticks terms, there are no sticks. Danville and San Ramon have their own planning processes, and development plans, which are not required to hew to any content of the PBA.

Now, there ARE carrots in the form of transportation-related grants (OBAGs) available to compliant localities. Of roughly $300 Billion of transportation-related spending, most of it going to maintenance of existing systems (80%), 5%, or $15B, is available for grants to localities that comply with regional housing needs assignments. That's a small fraction, but a large number. Is that the source of concern about jack-booted planning geeks tromping roughshod over local prerogatives? If so, how much does Danville or San Ramon stand to gain or lose, depending on their compliance status?

6 – Specifically, PBA calls for high-density "stack-and-pack" housing near transit options. Property values will be hurt.

I have looked in all the wrong places for information on this issue and its impacts on the Danville and San Ramon Priority Development Areas. Can somebody help us out, here?

7 – PBA, if implemented, will forever change the character of Danville and San Ramon.

I am assuming, because I wasn't there, that local Miwoks were the first to utter the phrase: "there goes the neighborhood." Danville and San Ramon both have detailed General Plans, zoning ordinances and approval processes, vetted by professional staff and commissions appointed by elected officials.

The 2030 Danville General Plan was recently ratified, for example, after extensive citizen input, and it calls for carrying forward "the vision set forth in 1987, as part of Danville's first General Plan, preserving and reinforcing our unique small town character, preserving the history and scenic beauty, and protecting the quality of life for our residents."

It seems to me that any changes encouraged by PBA will be marginal tweaks to ongoing processes. Of course our communities continue to grow and will change, but doesn't that argue for conscious choices made to promote the attractiveness of this vicinity? Who's not in favor of that?

8 – "Collaboration? We don' need no steenkin' collaboration!"

Despite the imaginary lines that delineate our various jurisdictions, we Bay Areans share the same water, breathe the same air and travel on common roads. Like it or not, we're all connected in a web of existence. A crash in the Caldecott snarls traffic for miles, and I recall ash from the Oakland Hills conflagration raining down on a 49ers game across the Bay. I would return to that parable of The Commons, wherein when everyone in a community, who depend on each other to some degree, independently pursue their own individual self-interests, it inevitably leads to community calamity.

Without past collaborations, the freeways, bridges and BART would not exist (okay, maybe BART's not the best example this week). The Market is a good arbitrator of many things, but not of everything. Plans are imperfect by their nature, but they are better than nothing in an interdependent world. In addition, this particular PBA document is not a one-off, cataclysmic event, but a flow from past planning on to the future.

If you don't believe in collaboration, with what would you replace it? If your answer is "nothing," how's life going in your own private biosphere?