Written by Alec MacDonald Thursday, 31 May 2012 18:03
The clock is ticking. A state mandate looms. Can the Bay Area come together to craft a sustainable vision for its future?
Stakeholders across the region expect to find out by April of next year, when the momentous Plan Bay Area is scheduled for final adoption. By then, they should know the plan’s finer details for accomplishing two intertwining goals. The first goal: slash 7 percent of per-capita greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks by 2020, and then cut an additional 8 percent by 2035. And the second: map out housing, jobs, and transportation to most efficiently accommodate a population swell of more than 2 million new residents by 2040. Both goals revolve around minimizing the miles that vehicles will travel in the Bay Area of tomorrow.
At a joint meeting on May 17, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments took an important step toward adoption of Plan Bay Area by approving a key component, the Preferred Land Use and Transportation Investment Strategy. This mouthful actually represents a combination of two policies, one to manage development patterns and the other to guide transportation spending.
In terms of development patterns, the preferred strategy calls for 80 percent of new housing and 66 percent of new jobs to be concentrated within designated locations that collectively account for just five percent of the region’s land. Nominated by local jurisdictions, these Priority Development Areas will receive funding and resources to support anticipated growth.
With respect to transportation spending, the preferred strategy will allocate money for climate initiatives, existing infrastructure, the needs of established transit operators, and proposed transit projects with special value.
As with many of the steps in the Plan Bay Area process thus far, this recent move drew great interest and considerable scrutiny. A capacity crowd turned out to observe the May 17 meeting, with audience members submitting 79 requests to speak before regional leaders voted to approve the preferred strategy.
Air District on Board
MTC and ABAG have received the most attention for their roles in advancing Plan Bay Area, but they aren’t the only regional agencies to have a hand in this effort or a stake in its success. Given that the plan confronts greenhouse gas emissions, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District would like to see it successfully implemented as well.
At the agency’s May 2 board meeting, directors received a debriefing on the plan’s formulation from MTC and ABAG staff, followed by remarks from their own deputy air pollution control officer, Jean Roggenkamp. She underscored the extra benefit of curbing greenhouse gases by limiting vehicle miles traveled, noting, “When you do that, you also reduce the other pollutants that we care about a lot, such as particulate matter.”
Roggenkamp listed the ways in which the Air District has been shaping Plan Bay Area, including participating in coalition working groups, contributing technical expertise through risk analysis, helping to set air quality performance targets, and assisting on completion of an environmental impact report. She also mentioned that the agency has been exploring opportunities to back the plan through grant incentives, electric vehicle programming, and legislation.
As it engages in these various collaborative activities, the Air District will look to incorporate protections of public health, in accordance with its fundamental mission. Plan Bay Area’s emphasis on concentrated development should result in less total emissions throughout the region as a whole, but this approach also has the potential to place more people in closer proximity to sources of air pollution. In order to safeguard residents from this threat, Roggenkamp asked her directors to consider “what can we as regional agencies do to provide funding and guidance and tools to help cities grapple with the very strong need to have infill, to have additional housing, to have affordable housing, but make sure we don’t put people in harm’s way?”
BCDC Shores up Support
Harm doesn’t just lurk in the air, either; it also laps at the Bay’s shoreline. Sea level rise presents another risk to residents due to the global warming effect of greenhouse gases, as analysts forecast that more than 280 square miles around the rim of the Bay will be vulnerable to flooding by the year 2050.
Plan Bay Area may address this dilemma, too, given the involvement of the fourth regional agency partner, the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission. Charged with protecting and enhancing its namesake, BCDC regulates new development along the waterfront. Having successfully passed broad climate change policy with the amendment of its Bay Plan last October, the agency hopes to integrate similar provisions into Plan Bay Area, according to its former executive director, Will Travis.
At a May 5 gathering of the League of Women Voters of the Bay Area, Travis endorsed the plan as an apt method for facing up to the prospect of higher temperatures, storm surges, and ever-encroaching tides. “The best way to reduce our collective regional carbon footprint is to focus on where and how our region is growing,” he declared.
In his new role as senior advisor to the Joint Policy Committee, he has been helping the four regional agencies align their individual objectives within Plan Bay Area. While not the primary venue for molding the plan, the JPC offers decision makers from each agency a chance to literally come to the table and share their perspectives. As Travis pointed out, an undertaking of this magnitude requires intense cooperation — and he thinks the Bay Area is up to the task.
“Our region is famous for building coalitions between diverse interests, embracing innovation, and looking at challenges as opportunities,” he said. “If we succeed, an integrative regional climate strategy will not become an impossible dream. It will be a difficult but ultimately achievable goal.”