Turning Away Jobs in the Bay Area

Regional planners estimate that inadequate housing production will cost Bay Area 280,000 jobs in next 30 years.

Berkeley The Registry real estate


By Rebecca Rosen Lum

[dropcap]P[/dropcap]lan Bay Area, a land-use blueprint for accommodating 2 million new residents and more than a million new jobs by 2040, promises to drastically reduce the greenhouse gases spewed into the air by placing mixed-use, high-density housing and jobs close to public transit.

The plan is the Bay Area’s response to the California Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008, which requires its 18 metro areas to cut greenhouse-gas emissions from cars and light trucks by 15 percent over the next 20 years.

[quote]“This plan is business as usual for the Bay Area. We import workers and export housing.” Paul Campos, vice president of government affairs, Building Industry Association of the Bay Area.[/quote]

Leading the project are the governing boards of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the regional transportation planning agency; and the Association of Bay Area Governments, the regional land-planner.

The financial and economic consequences are high. The plan’s population and job projections become a basis for such outcomes as the distribution of billions of dollars in federal transportation grants. Stephen Levy of Palo Alto’s Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy says unlike other areas of the country and world that must take economic conditions much as they come, “We have our destiny largely in our hands.”

Critics complain the plan is “gravely flawed.” The plan itself acknowledges that the region could generate more jobs if cities and counties allowed development of more homes. Home developers say it is out of touch with consumer preferences for detached single-family housing.

In a letter to chairs of the MTC and ABAG, Bay Area Council President Jim Wunderman and a broad coalition of business groups called the final plan “an excellent work product.” But they noted with dismay that while the initial planning scenarios called for 902,000 new housing units and more than 1.4 million new jobs, the final plan seeks only 660,000 homes, and job creation drops to a corresponding 1.12 million. New housing estimates were lowered twice.

Johnny Jaramillo, a regional planner at ABAG, said the lowered numbers acknowledge “the high vacancy rate due to the recent recession,” and the ability of the existing housing stock to absorb early demand.

A scrappy, contentious, three-year tug-of-war between the major players culminated in the scrappy, contentious, seven-hour meeting of the two agencies on July 19. Plan Bay Area won the blessing of both the MTC and ABAG boards—but not before speakers invoked the names of Karl Marx, the John Birch Society, and the United Nations.

Already, the Pacific Legal Foundation has sued. To achieve the targeted reduction in greenhouse gases, the plan “propose[s] a draconian, high-density land-use regime that will require nearly 80 percent of new housing and over 60 percent of new jobs in the Bay Area to be located within just 5 percent of the region’s surface area,” says the complaint, filed in Alameda County on behalf Bay Area Citizens, a nonprofit.

The housing projections “are based on a time when we were in the middle of a financial crisis,” said Paul Nieto, a senior vice president with a specialty in infill development for Oakland homebuilder Signature Development Group.

“This plan is business as usual for the Bay Area. We import workers and export housing,” said Paul Campos, vice president of government affairs for the Building Industry Association of the Bay Area. “Development will go to the Central Valley and chew up prime agricultural land.”

The plan is supposed to signal a sharp turn from that destiny of sprawling suburbs and ever-widening highways. Eighty percent of new housing and 66 percent of jobs will be directed to 191 “priority development areas” along transit networks and traffic corridors selected by local jurisdictions as “walkable” environments. Generous transportation grants will go to the cities and counties that identify PDAs and cooperate in the scheme.

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Photography by Laura Kudritzki

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