Plan Bay Area takes legal punches from the left and right

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Our May 28 cover story outlined Plan Bay Area's huge impacts to San Francisco.

Plan Bay Area, the regional strategy to funnel future population growth into San Francisco and other big cities in order to combat climate change, is now being slammed with legal challenges from both sides of the ideological spetrum.

Those left-right punches could knock out a plan that critics called a schizophrenic attempt to accomplish competing goals with inadequate resources and resolve. For example, it created incentives to increase housing density along transit lines, but it did little to limit private automobile use, make that housing affordable by people who do use transit, or address the displacement of existing urban populations.

Earthjustice, Communities for a Better Environment, and the Sierra Club today filed a lawsuit in Alameda Couty Superior Court challenging Plan Bay Area’s recent approval by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments.

That lawsuit follows one filed Friday with the same court by the Building Industry Association of the Bay Area. And those two suits follow another one filed Aug. 6 by the conservative Sacramento law firm Pacific Legal Foundation on behalf of a group calling itself Bay Area Citizens.

While that first lawsuit from the Tea Party crowd criticizes the very idea of regional planning and the validity of addressing global warming, these latest two lawsuits basically call out Plan Bay Area and its supporters for not going far enough to address the goals laid out in the plan.

Earthjustice and the community groups it works with criticize Plan Bay Area for disrupting Bay Area communities with an accelerated growth plan that doesn’t address environmental justice issues like those faced by West Oakland residents, whose air quality would be worsened by an influx of automobile traffic.   

 “The people of the Bay Area take pride in living in one of the most diverse, culturally and economically vibrant metropolitan areas in the world. We demand smart planning for growth—the kind that improves our quality of life, makes life easier and less expensive for residents all over the Bay Area, and allows our communities to thrive and grow,” Irene Gutierrez, Earthjustice associate attorney, said in a press release. “This requires responsible planning that reduces climate change pollution, plans for smart public transit growth, avoids toxic zones, and dirty and harmful air quality. Plan Bay Area does not achieve those goals. The people of the Bay Area deserve a much better plan.”

And Bay Area developers are focused on how the plan calls for more transit-oriented development without investing in the public infrastructure needed to serve it, criticizing the state legislation behind Plan Bay Area that relaxes the environmental studies of projects in transportation corridors.

“SB 375 calls on the Bay Area and other regions of California to integrate residential and transportation planning in ways that fully accommodate their housing need and in ways that allow for reduced reliance on and emissions from passenger vehicles,” said Bob Glover, executive officer of BIA | Bay Area. “Plan Bay Area is a cop out.  It neither plans for enough housing nor provides a reasonable path for developing it and therefore looks a lot more like a pulling up of the draw bridge than a sustainable communities strategy."

To learn more about Plan Bay Area, you can read our May cover story, "Planning for Displacement," or the coverage of a public forum that we and other groups sponsorerd.

Comments

not. And while I'm not a big fan of centralized planning, having visited some of the ugly cities of eastern Europe that resulted from such an approach, I don't think we should do nothing.

We are going to have to build those homes and it's better to infill our urban areas than endlessly sprawl our way into the central valley.

The south-east of the city, in particular, can accommodate many new residents thru high-rise towers - the cheapest way to build new homes. And the flatlands of the east bay are well suited to a growth in middle and lower income people.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 19, 2013 @ 3:15 pm

Perhaps, but if San Francisco is really going to accommodate 280,000 more people by 2040, as the plan calls for, that would require a major public investment in expanded transit, the water and sewer systems, and other infrastructure needed to serve that population. If not, then this isn't really "planning" at all.

Posted by steven on Aug. 19, 2013 @ 3:57 pm

means building where there is already infrastructure, and so makes a lot more sense then new sprawl, which requires infrastructure to be built from scratch.

And developers already pay fees to help with the cost, while the extra economic activity associated with these extra workers and consumers will also add significantly to the tax base.

Some cities are centrally planned but others, and arguably the more interesting ones, simply grow organically.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 19, 2013 @ 4:48 pm

Your argument doesn't take into account that this infrastructure is maxed out and can't handle the growth that is being proposed. Ride BART or the N-Judah at 5pm and tell me how this city can handle 280,000 more people. And if BART needs to plan another new tube under the bay, is it really better to have that go to downtown San Francisco or some other less congested urban center? Ask the SFPUC how they plan to deliver water and sewer service to those residents and all you'll get is blank stares. Again, building where there is already infrastructure only makes sense if the investment is there to expand that infrastructure, and Plan Bay Area doesn't do that.

Posted by steven on Aug. 19, 2013 @ 5:15 pm

BART and Muni could run more trains, duh

Posted by Guest on Aug. 19, 2013 @ 6:28 pm

If more people move to transit corridors, that means more people will take Muni, which means Muni will have more money for upgrades.

(Or at least that assumes that Muni is well run and that the city is smart about spending this new money wisely.)

Posted by Guest on Aug. 20, 2013 @ 5:56 am

And we can always build some competition into transit and build up the infrastructure without more taxes or borrowing.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 20, 2013 @ 6:42 am

Fares don't cover the full cost of public transit service, neither here nor in any big city.

Posted by Steven T. Jones on Aug. 20, 2013 @ 7:20 am

London and Paris manage a farebox recovery rate of about 90%.

If we can follow some of their strategies, along with getting serious about cutting Muni's cost base, then that would make Muni a viable competitor to private forms of commuting, which currently it is not for many.

We also need more transit systems focused on the Bay Area, rather than just SF, since so much commuting is in and out of the county.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 20, 2013 @ 7:40 am

No, London and Paris don't have farebox recoveries anywhere close to 90 percent, they are comparable to Muni. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farebox_recovery_ratio

We also live in a country that heavily subsidizes gasoline and car ownership in general, so unless that changes then it doesn't make sense to substantially increase public transit fares if we want to encourage more people to use it for environmental reasons. 

Public transit is a public good and it needs public subsidies. If we can spend billions of dollars to rebuild the Bay Bridge, drill a fourth bore in the Caldecott Tunnel, and countless other projects built solely for automobiles, then we should be able to find more money for a transportation option that helps alleviate global warming instead of making it worse.

Posted by steven on Aug. 20, 2013 @ 2:28 pm

you claim that we need to encourage people to use it with subsidized fares. Well, which is it?

And, since you asked, I think that all these subsidizes should be cut, and not just the ones for transit. and in fact many new freeways, bridges and tunnels are funded by their users through tolls. Why should Muni be any different? The fares are the tolls.

I've definitely seen 90% farebox recovery rates cited for European systems but, then again, you may have a point as their road systems are crap compared with ours.

Posted by anon on Aug. 20, 2013 @ 2:47 pm

they have recovery rates of over 100% i.e. they make a profit.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 20, 2013 @ 2:49 pm

As a sidenote, tolls paid by drivers pay for the Bay Bridge, not the general public. In fact, Bay Bridge tolls have usually generated a surplus, which goes to a variety of other mass transit projects.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 20, 2013 @ 3:06 pm

No, state taxpayers are subsidizing the bridge's now $6.4 billion construction cost, despite the bridge's "seismic retrofit surcharge," which totaled $345 million in 2010-11.

Posted by steven on Aug. 20, 2013 @ 3:44 pm
Posted by Guest on Aug. 20, 2013 @ 4:05 pm

This is a common misunderstanding. Vehicle tolls on the bridge already subsidize mass transit (ferry, bus) to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 20, 2013 @ 4:27 pm

Raise fares until it does.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Aug. 20, 2013 @ 7:46 am

But all those people moving in will generate greater revenue for the city through property taxes, which San Francisco could spend on improving Muni.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 20, 2013 @ 8:14 am

the first place. And not just property tax revenues but sales taxes, payroll taxes, developer fees and the whole trickle-down effect of having more people here spending more money. Same reason we love tourists, investors and so on.

In fact, one can reasonable argue that new development and new immigrants are self-funding. If you want to see the opposite effect, visit Detroit.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 20, 2013 @ 8:35 am

BART and Muni could run more trains, duh

Posted by Guest on Aug. 19, 2013 @ 6:28 pm

effect of transit being over-crowded at peak times, but under capacity the rest of the time.

In fact, people do this anyway. If commuting at 8am becomes too tough, they commute at 7am or 9am instead.

Another idea is to build up private alternates to Muni, and we're already seeing that with the successful private buses put on my Google etc.

Build the homes and they will come. We are a resourceful people.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 20, 2013 @ 6:38 am

There are tweaks that we can make on the margins, but capacity issues on both transit and the roads are real. SF has the second most traffic congestion in the country after Houston, and there's little we can do (that would be politically or environmentally acceptable) to increase our road capacity to handle 280,000 new residents, no matter how many Google buses y'all want to bring in.

Posted by Steven T. Jones on Aug. 20, 2013 @ 7:18 am

The central subway will add a whole new direction and dimension to the streetcar system that has been missing - a north-south axis.

BART is being expanded on several fronts.

HSR will hopefully be done by then, enabling commutes of up to 100 miles to be done in an hour. And at much greater capacity, which is the real point of HSR.

And more people are choosing not to commute by car, which allows for more private buses (and yes, I think private buses are key here).

Finally, working at home is becoming an option for many, along with flex-time and others ways of staggering or reducing the commute.

SF will still be crowded, but then it's crowded now and people still love to move here.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 20, 2013 @ 7:38 am

The high-speed rail system will never be built, and the Central Subway adds very little to Muni's capacity. It's not a transportation system; it's a political deal between Rose Pak and Willie Brown.

Posted by Rob Anderson on Aug. 20, 2013 @ 3:47 pm

underground transit to the north-west of the city. BART would be better but with some will, that could be extended under Van Ness and Geary as well.

HSR will arrive eventually but the NIMBY's are blocking it, as usual.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 20, 2013 @ 4:07 pm

More buses and more trains would do it. BART doesn't run as many cars as the system can handle because they don't have enough. Creating first and third class cars and buses to separate SF's filthiest denizens from working people would lure more people out of cars.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Aug. 20, 2013 @ 7:45 am

to separate the filthiest denizens of this website, like Lucretia Snapples, from thoughtful people.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 20, 2013 @ 9:44 pm

Word. Your comment was thoughtless.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 6:10 am

Mr.Jones has written a valuable article. However, a striking irony in it appears unnoticed. The criticisms of Earthjustice and Sierra Club sound remarkably similar to those of the BIA, the huge homebuilders trade association. That in itself should be a pretty good indicator that Plan Bay Area has landed somewhere in the middle of a politically difficult, hugely complex topic.

The article also did not mention that this PBA is the first document of its kind, trying to systematically tie land use to transportation. Work on the next iteration of the PBA commences in a few months. It will likely be a stronger document. We should also keep in mind that the Tea Party (BAC) would love nothing better than to see the PBA strangled in its cradle. PBA is a landmark first step in addressing our urgent environmental challenges.

One hopes the good does not become the enemy of the perfect.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 19, 2013 @ 4:48 pm

I've never been one of those journalists who believes the truth lies at the mid-point between the main political factions, the premise that underlies most mainstream journalism. Sometimes both sides are wrong, and sometimes both sides are right -- which I believe is closer to the truth in this case -- because there are deep flaws in what's being debated. Plan Bay Area tried to appease both sides while avoiding the tough work of real compromise -- and it tried to do so on the cheap, without paying for its promises -- and I don't believe that all adds up to a good plan.

Posted by steven on Aug. 19, 2013 @ 5:09 pm

I'm not sure that what you're describing is journalism, Steven. Isn't that more in the realm of op-ed? Clearly PBA could be stronger environmentally, but you neglected to discuss how a plan acceptable to Earthjustice, the Sierra Club, or even the BIA could have been approved by the MTC. Do you maintain that's the case? It might've been more illuminating to also examine how all the votes held by the suburban representatives influenced the outcome. But, is tying the PBA up in court for a couple of years a better outcome for the environment? Agreement with that would surely align with the fervent desires of our friends in the Tea Party, no?

Posted by Guest on Aug. 19, 2013 @ 10:26 pm

They hate compromise even though compromise is usually the way to ensure that everyone gets something and nobody gets nothing.

Compromise is the art of politics and yet the SFBG hates it, preferring (but of course never getting) 100% it's own way.

The SF voters are very comfortable with compromise, however, which is why they elect pragmatists like Ed Lee over ideologs like Avalos.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 20, 2013 @ 6:41 am

That'll teach 'em!

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Aug. 19, 2013 @ 9:11 pm

i really doubt that. but time will tell

Posted by Martin on Mar. 07, 2014 @ 5:17 am

The problem with One Bay Area is it doesn't go far enough. The density mandates cities choosing to have PDA (priority development areas) fairly frequent bus service, but doesn't demand lower parking ratios. It does promote mixed-use projects in downtown areas, and cities can decide what sort of projects meet goals in a context-sensitive way.
OBA politely brushes aside the fact that it doesn't contain a way to meet PM (particulate matter) goals, and does little to address truck and freight traffic. The issue is that trucks are the biggest source of PM in the air, which is known to cause respiratory ailments. It doesn't have a plan to increase rail freight to decrease truck traffic. Trucks also cause the most damage to roadways, but don't pay taxes anywhere near the cost of repair.
A OBA crippled by NIMBYs in Marin and property-rights paranoics in Sonoma would be worse than the current OBA, but OBA needs to play hardball to protect the environment if any difference is to be made.

Posted by Keenplanner on Aug. 20, 2013 @ 9:31 am

But then I would worry more if it did. Rather the plan is about compromise and, realistically, we cannot ban cars, trucks and have everyone walk and bike to work. In fact our commute patterns are becoming more diverse, while public transit is based on the old model that funnels people into downtown.

The simplest approach would be to build dense high-rise residential towers as close as possible to business centers, and ensure there are elevated or underground walkways to feed that traffic - Hong Kong is a good example of how to do that.

SF also needs a real subway system. Streetcars are too slow, buses are virtually unusable and BART doesn't have much reach in SF.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 20, 2013 @ 9:46 am

Hong Kong is a bad example to follow, unless you want to see how many people can be squeezed into a phone booth. According to the Wall Street Journal...
“Average home prices in Hong Kong jumped 76% in two and a half years"

The WSJ goes on to report on families living in “sub-divided flats.” These are apartments that have been divided up by their owners into even smaller apartments. And they are, as you might guess, death traps in more ways than one. Paying HK$4,000 per month for 150 square feet isn’t going to do wonders for anyone’s mood. And, “some landlords have turned fire escape routes into parts of their rental space, surveyors say, threatening tenants’ safety. When last month’s fire ripped through the building, some tenants couldn’t find a way out and survivors complained of locked emergency exits.”

Stack 'em and Pack 'em - NO THANKS.

Posted by Richmondman on Aug. 27, 2013 @ 3:30 pm

How terrible. Who would want that?

HK is a good example of how to fit a lot of people into a small land-locked area that is expensive, i.e. exactly SF's situation.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 27, 2013 @ 3:53 pm

19th Ave is already a bottle-neck, yet the developer dictates Parkmerced's destruction with future Tier-5 level routing to daly city bart on ice.

its ridiculous to plan such endeavours without proper routing and grade separation alternatives.

the 19th ave transit study ignores more plausible connectivity of the L-Line up sloat and through stonestown to an elevated route to daly city bart.

instead they want to tunnel like the north-beach central subway........

gonna cost more than you all know....

Posted by goodmaab50 on Aug. 20, 2013 @ 5:24 pm

It's the east of the city where more care and planning might be needed.

There's always a way.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 21, 2013 @ 6:11 am

well, yeah, but they like this zone specifically.

Posted by Martin on Mar. 07, 2014 @ 5:19 am

"New Metropolis" aired on KQED this week. The program depicts the result of the move from suburbs to cities, and asks some important questions. Most relevant is "why is the government approving plans to spend billions of dollars building new infrastructure while ignoring the maintenance needs of existing systems?" At what point will the new structure be maintained and where will the funding come from?

The rules that are set up to ONLY FUND CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS need to change. Given the lack of tax revenues being generated at the local levels, we need to encourage the state and federal funds be allocated to fix infrastructure that is falling apart. The national call should be to FIX IT FIRST.

Link to "New Metropolis" http://www.thenewmetropolis.com/

Posted by Guest on Aug. 26, 2013 @ 12:57 pm

And in fact some cities let some neighborhoods go to the dogs while investing in old neighborhoods.

We need to invest in what is growing and productive. Back winners not losers.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 26, 2013 @ 1:14 pm

What we need to do it find some open space and plan some new kind of cities connected to transit systems close to San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

MUNI doesn't run lines to Silicon Valley. Our freeways system is a joke. We need another bridge with BART. We need to building housing near jobs, stores, schools, hospitals and etc. We need to merge transit agencies.

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