Plan Bay Area backstory 2
by Bob Silvestri
Follow the Money
In 2002 ABAG’s[Association of Bay Area Governments] total operating budget was $11,688,923, up $1,740,644 from the previous year (a 17.5 percent increase), but that was nothing compared to their 2004 budget of $17,677,000 (a whopping 51 percent increase in revenues and expenses!).
By 2012 ABAG’s operations had grown to $30,351,356. In a period of 8 years, during which time California fell deep into debt, the world economy collapsed, the Bay Area had negative job growth, and we began to see the first significant net migration out of California in decades, ABAG had grown more than 70 percent. From 2002 they have grown almost 300 percent in revenues.
ABAG purports to represent its members yet less than 6 percent of their entire operating budget comes from member dues (the 101 Bay Area cities and counties). The rest comes from federal agencies (55 percent), state agencies (16 percent), so-called “Contracts” revenues (6.5 percent) from local government agencies (MTC, BAAMQ and East Bay MUD), and special interest groups like PG&E, the Hewlett Foundation, San Francisco Foundation, and the Silicon Valley Foundation (all of whom fund Smart Growth and urbanization advocacy groups). The rest comes from “Service Programs” (about 10 percent), most of which are from fees it collects for its programs (training, publications, financial services, etc.).
So ask yourself this. How likely are they to bite the hand that feeds them? Is it any wonder then that Plan Bay Area fails so miserably to adequately address the needs of Marin communities?
Plan Bay Area offers:
· No funding or programs to prevent displacement of the poorest families in our county when high density, mixed use, “affordable” TOD is built.
· No funding or programs for the preservation and renovation of existing affordable housing (they still don’t count towards our RHNA quota requirements).
· No incentives or policies to promote green building (there are no standards).
· No solutions for the dangers of building in flood plains or along shorelines.
· No funding or programs to help small suburban and semi-rural cities promote the kinds of affordable housing they actually need.
· No funding or incentives for small-scaled transportation solutions like electric shuttles or shared-use vehicles for city and county workers.
· No proven strategy to mitigate the real environmental impacts of increased development or really reduce greenhouse gases emissions and slow climate change...
An Example: San Francisco
A recent conversation with a former Deputy Director of Housing in San Francisco confirmed that less than 5 percent of existing residents ever return after an area that has been redeveloped into new high density, mixed use, “affordable” housing. He confided, “No one ever comes back. It’s a big problem that no one talks about.”
Part of the reason is that the new rents are always higher than before (except for the 10 percent of “in lieu” low income units), too high for the majority of former residents who were lower income. But it’s not just about income. The redeveloped area is also likely to be “gentrified” as the result of the public investment and ends up catering to high paid young professionals, not very low income Section 8 tenants who don’t shop at Whole Foods.
But more importantly, most former neighborhood residents have simply moved on and started a new life somewhere else. Why? Because they have no choice. They need a place to live and much of their employment is either temporary or low paying service work, so they need to find another job quickly. After all, they can’t just go live in their Lake Tahoe condo for two years while they wait.
Perhaps the six figure salaries and generous pension benefits for ABAG and MTC executives, many of whom enjoy that kind of lifestyle, has clouded their understanding of all this.
Unintended Consequences of Smart Growth and TOD[Transit-Oriented Development]
Like an old time, snake oil elixir, Smart Growth (TOD) has been promoted as the tonic for everything that ails us. Proponents claim it will result in less pollution, walkable communities, and construction of affordable housing. But Smart Growth has never lived up to those claims.
A field report entitled Transit-Oriented Development and Communities of Color, (2011) by Gen Fujioka of the Planners Network, a progressive planning organization, shows that case study after case study reveals a very different picture.
Although Smart Growth advocacy has certainly produced some shiny new market rate developments in urban and ex-urban areas around the country, aside from adding more shopping and dining choices, none of the lofty social equity goals have resulted.
In every instance he studied Fujioka found that Smart Growth resulted in the wholesale displacement of low income residents (predominantly people of color) and an increase in overall housing costs for everyone. The new high density housing mostly serves middle class and upper middle class tenants. And even those units that are truly affordable number only a small fraction of what was there before.
Some of Fujioka’s findings are as follows...
2. San Francisco, Mission District
As the Mission District became a target for urban redevelopment, the real estate market predictably responded. UC Berkeley’s Center on Community Innovation’s study found that evictions reached record levels. In particular, “Neighborhoods within a half-mile of major transit were particularly at risk of gentrification and displacement, suffering marked declines in the number of households of color”...
...The Perfect Storm
The confluence of forces created by SB375, Plan Bay Area, and ABAG’s growing financial strength has transformed ABAG into a JPA[Joint Powers Authority] on steroids. And ABAG’s decision-sharing arrangement with MTC, BAAMQ and BCDC makes it a particularly unwieldy beast (please note: these agencies are all also members of a larger, “Mega” JPA called the Joint Policy Committee).
ABAG ostensibly represents 101 Bay Area cities and counties while also collaborating with these other agencies. In that role ABAG serves many masters but none of them very well. The result seems to be a defensive indifference or inability to be responsive to the needs of any of its members except its largest: San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose...
Suburbia under Attack
These proposals are part of an attack on suburban living. This is not by chance. It’s grounded in HUD, ABAG and MTC’s shared belief that the only development worth doing is high density, transit oriented development. They see it as society’s only future option. And they assume that single family home owners have a moral responsibility to pay for it, whether they can afford it or not.
However, this is not a new phenomenon. It’s been going on for decades. For a concise expose, read “The Childless City”[Since the WSJ has a paywall, a link to the same article in City Journal is provided] (Wall Street Journal, August 6, 2013) by Joel Kotkin and Ali Modarres.
Planners have been in love with urbanism for a hundred years. In the 1920’s famous commentators like Lewis Mumford scathingly called the suburbs “dissolute landscapes.” And starting in the 1960’s they went into overdrive. Self-proclaimed experts like pundit Jane Jacobs fashionably despised the suburbs as a follower of the “women’s lib” movement, and led the cause for urban living. Even today it’s the mantra that every planning and architecture student has drummed into their heads.
The only problem is, despite endless expert opinions and high handed studies, 85 percent of all families with children don’t want to live there.
The unintended consequence of this planning myopia is that schemes like Plan Bay Area are treading every closer to killing the goose that laid the golden egg: the American dream of home ownership. Home ownership and the taxes it pays, and moreover the community stability it brings, are the backbone of our economy.
The unabashed attack on suburban living may be every planner’s social engineering wet dream but it is economic engineering at its worst...