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News + Politics The attack on local zoning control

The attack on local zoning control

A sweeping regional-government plan promotes growth at all costs, and seeks to cut community input out of the picture

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48hillsroadmapcover

DECEMBER 8, 2015 — My last story about the continuing power struggle between the Association of Bay Area Governments and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission ended with a question: do the executive directors of these two agencies endorse the recommendations to expand regional planning authority at the expense of local control that are put forth in the Bay Area Council Economic Institute’s recently published Roadmap for Economic Resilience: The Bay Area Regional Economic Strategy?

The story was posted around 2 p.m. on Thursday, November 12.

Twenty-four hours later, the answer was clear, at least with respect to ABAG Executive Director Ezra Rapport. Speaking in Oakland at the annual conference of the Bay Area Planning Directors Association, Rapport said that “in my opinion” the Roadmap was one of three documents that would be “foundational” in the forthcoming discussions about merging ABAG and MTC—the other two are the HUD-funded, SPUR-directed Economic Prosperity Strategy and the ABAG staff report, People, Places, and Prosperity.

If Rapport’s opinion presages reality, it’s not just local control of land use and transportation planning that’s going to take a big hit. The BACEI white paper targets publicly accountable governance and government at large. It denounces impact development fees, asserting that “[e]xisting landowners are not paying their fair share to solve the regional housing problem.” It praises Lfyt, Uber and Sidecar for “not…accommodat[ing] the strictures of decades-old government planning,” that is, for ignoring existing laws. It calls the California Environmental Quality Act “a threat to the
environment.”

These extreme positions should not be a surprise. They simply flesh out the market-guided, supply-side, privatizing, growth-to-the-max priorities that the BACEI and the Bay Area Council, the lobby for the region’s biggest businesses, have always embraced.

What’s a surprise—indeed, a shock—is that these priorities have been endorsed by the executive director of the Association of Bay Area Governments, an organization that was founded to protect municipal authority.

True, Rapport preceded his espousal of the “Roadmap” with a hymn to the power of the region’s city councils, calling them “the kernel of all regional planning.”

But it’s impossible to reconcile that tribute with the Roadmap’s list of penalties for cities that “[fail] to permit the required number of new housing units” specified by the Regional Housing Allocation [RHNA] Process:

loss of local approval authority, state-mandated “by right” approvals of housing projects (which removes some discretionary approvals from project review processes), the creation of more “by right” zoning districts, or the creation of a regional hearing body to approve housing developments.

For the record: state law does not require cities to permit a certain number of housing units. It requires the Housing Element in each city’s General Plan to zone for a certain number of units at a range of income levels in accordance with projected household growth. The RHNA numbers are determined by the California Department of Housing and Community Development.

 

The recommendation to put “real teeth” in the RHNA process is not the Roadmap’s only assault on the local control of planning and on democratic government at large.

I’ve noted the swipe at development impact fees. Calling for “both existing and new residents” to share “the costs of promoting livable communities and affordable housing, the Roadmap opines that “[o]nly cities that agree to [a region-wide] fee cap, should be eligible for MTC discretionary funding.” The BACEI also wants to “creat[e] consistent business permitting guidelines across jurisdictions and [to] aggregat[e] zoning, tax incentive, and local developments.” It plugs Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts, whose financing plans can be adopted “by the act of a county or city legislative body, instead of requiring a vote by two-thirds of the electorate.” It contends that the way to lower housing prices is to eliminate or possibly to just disregard “local, regional, and state regulations”—call it the “no stinking badges” approach to development:

Build—not plan, or zone, or even permit—but build sufficient housing stock to meet the demands of a growing regional population and to fill historic deficits.

The Roadmap craves an “Economic Development Corporation” that would “provide a more flexible government model” than the federally Economic Development Districts (EDDs), “as [EDCs] are generally housed apart from their regional government partners.” Specifically, the Roadmap recommends the creation of a public-private entity to be known as the Bay Area Regional Economic Development Partnership, “dedicated to advancing the Bay Area’s national and global economic competitiveness” by marketing the region, “creating a platform for the ongoing engagement between business and government on regional economic priorities, and enabling the strategic development of public land.” The Roadmap is particularly interested in the potential of former military bases.

Governed by a 17-member commission, with each of nine members appointed by a different county Board of Supervisors and the other eight chosen by the Bay Area Business Coalition (comprising the BAC, Bay Planning Coalition, Building Industry Association, East Bay Economic Development Alliance, East Bay Leadership Council, Joint Venture Silicon Valley, North Bay Leadership Council, San Mateo Economic Development Association, and Solano Economic Development Corporation), the BAREDP would “collaborate directly with MTC, ABAG, BAC and the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development.”

Possible funding sources include “awards created by the state [of California],” an MTC-implemented gasoline tax, “ongoing revenues” received by MTC and ABAG from “federal, state, and local government,” “contributions from local governments, “vehicle registration fees, business licensing fees, bridge toll increases, or even a region-wide sales tax.”

In keeping with its aversion to public accountability—but not to public funding—the BACEI white paper states:

New taxes to find economic development are complicated by the need for voter approval and restrictions on allowed uses. However, a regional pool of money could be applied outside of state authority and would not be subject to state budget and appropriation cycles.

Predictably, the Roadmap disparages that longtime bane of the real estate industry, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). “CEQA litigation,” it huffs,

has become a significant barrier to infill development. A CEQA exemption for new home construction meeting transit-oriented development goals should be created to limit costly lawsuits.

In fact, recently passed California laws such as AB 744 and SB 743 exempt certain infill projects from the CEQA requirement of an Environmental Impact Report. The Roadmap wants more:

State law should be changed to create a new categorical CEQA exemption for new home construction that meets PDA [Priority Development Area—places in the Bay Area that are targeted for high-density, infill] requirements (or their equivalent in other SCS [Sustainable Community Strategy, a.k.a. Plan Bay Area] areas).

The implementation of this proposal would exempt virtually all new housing construction in San Francisco from CEQA, given that PDAs and Transit Priority Areas cover every residential neighborhood in the city:

48hillspdas

 

Sf Transit Priority Areas
Sf Transit Priority Areas

The Roadmap also wants to lighten CEQA’s impact on infrastructure:

MTC should be empowered to produce regional transportation planning documents…which can expedite the environmental review process.

To justify these new rollbacks of CEQA, the BACEI white paper cites claims made in a 2012 study published by Holland & Knight: “36% of all CEQA-related litigation involved public works projects,” and “the clear majority of cases (62%) litigated under CEQA involved urban infill development.”

Because Holland & Knight’s attacks on the California Environmental Quality Act are  frequently cited by CEQA opponents, it’s worth noting that the firm’s latest report, issued in August 2015, has provoked a serious rebuttal. This September, in an article headlined “Anti-CEQA Lobbyists Turn to Empirical Analysis, But Are Their Conclusions Sound?” Sean Hecht, the executive director of the UCLA Environmental Law Center at UCLA School of Law, wrote that the Holland & Knight assertion that

“CEQA litigation overwhelmingly targets ‘infill’ development that accommodates population and economic growth that would otherwise spill into undeveloped exurban areas”….is the product of an absurdly overinclusive definition of “infill”—to wit, “private and public sector projects located entirely within one of California’s 428 cities, or located immediately adjacent to existing developed areas in an unincorporated county.”

He commented:

Yes, you read that correctly: this report considers any project, of any type, located within the boundaries of any California city, or next to development outside a city, to be an “infill project.” Under this definition, it is unsurprising that most CEQA cases would involve “infill.” In fact, it would be surprising if any significant number did not. [emphasis in original]

Hecht concluded: “The report’s analysis of CEQA’s impact on infill development is thus so flawed as to be useless.”

Though Hecht didn’t address the report’s claims about public works projects in general, he did dispute its assertions that “[t]he most commonly targeted type of public infrastructure project was transit systems,” and that “[t]ransit projects attracted the highest number of CEQA lawsuits during the study period”  (2010-2012). Noting that the report cites challenges to “just twelve transit project approvals,” he wrote:

Legal challenges to three or four transit projects per year in a state the size of California does [sic] not constitute a crisis in litigation.

 

It’s instructive to compare the Roadmap with another of the three documents that Rapport thinks should be “foundational” in the coming discussions about merging MTC and ABAG: the HUD-funded Economic Prosperity Strategy, published in October 2014.

 First glances at these two documents may be misleading. It might appear, for example, that the Roadmap casts the wider net. The BACEI white paper equates its umbrella goal of “resilience” with “sustaining economic growth, weathering business cycles, and supporting shared prosperity across the region.” By contrast, the Economic Prosperity Strategy wants to “improv[e] economic opportunity for the BA’s low-and moderate-wage workers….by creating middle-income jobs and developing and preserving affordable housing in transit-served communities.”

But in seeking greater equity, the EPS addresses many of the same factors as the Roadmap: transportation, “middle-wage” work, workforce development, housing costs, regulation, local control vs. regional governance, and infrastructure.

The BACEI document may also seem to be the lightweight of the two. The Roadmap is replete with buzzwords: sustainable growth, innovation, best-in-class, early adopters, sharing platforms, collaborative (as a noun), feedback loops, artisanal makers, volatility, early warning signs, resilience, and of course disruption. While it calls for “[d]ecisions based on reliable evidence and metrics for tracking progress,” the Roadmap scants on such evidence.

The Economic Prosperity Strategy uses some of the same buzzwords as the Roadmap. But it’s packed with data, charts, and specific examples of all sorts.

This difference turns out to be somewhat illusory. The Roadmap builds on research contained in the 2012 BACEI publication The Bay Area: A Regional Economic Assessment, which is filled with data, charts and maps. Of course, the presence of such materials is one thing, and their quality and utilization is quite another. As we shall see, when it comes to facing the facts, especially facts that contravene its assumptions, EPS does a better, albeit still inadequate, job.

That explains the most important difference between the two papers: The Roadmap advances a coherent regional economic strategy, and the Economic Prosperity Strategy, with its greater respect for data, doesn’t. In this case, the EPS’s incoherence turns to be a virtue, insofar as it exposes the blinkering effects of the autocratic, market-oriented ideology that informs the Roadmap and deflects the EPS’s genuinely progressive impulses.

 

Consider, for example, how each report handles the related issues of economic polarization and the provision of middle-wage jobs. The Roadmap observes that in the Bay Area, as in the nation, “[o]ver the last 15 years, GDP growth has not translated into growth in middle incomes,” that is, incomes of $35,000 to $99,000 a year. The BACEI attributes the “widening income gap” to “the lack of skills in the workforce necessary for successful employment in the 21st century economy.” Accordingly, one of its major recommendations is to “[c]reate an adaptive regional system for workforce development” that “produc[es] world-class skills and expand[s] opportunity.”

The Roadmap’s supporting document, The Bay Area: A Regional Economic Assessment, accompanies a call to “increase education and workforce training” with a charge to expand the whole economy:

Policies aimed at improving opportunities for workers in LMI [low-to-moderate income] communities should optimally focus on the demand for their services and the skills they bring to the job. Increasing the demand for their services can best be accomplished by facilitating the growth of the broader economy rather than by narrowly encouraging the growth of sectors that need their services.

The Assessment identifies four such sectors: retail trade, health care and social assistance, accommodation and food services, and manufacturing. “Those sectors,” it says, ‘will grow in response to a higher level of overall economic activity in the region.”

Economic expansion aside, the Assessment also says that with

significant retirements coming and job replacement opportunities likely to become abundant, one effective strategy may be to prepare workers from LMI communities for the jobs that will become available due to retirements, rather than attempting to create more jobs in the categories in which they already find employment.

All will be well, if only the larger economy keeps expanding.

Not so, says the Economic Prosperity Strategy. The EPS takes a much closer look at income disparity, as you’d expect, given that its primary goal is to suggest policies that will enable lower-wage workers to move into “middle-wage” work. Its definition of such work—employment yielding at least $18 to $30 an hour or $36,000 to $60,000 a year—is more modest than the Roadmap’s range of $35,000 to $90,000. Nevertheless, even with that lower bar, the EPS thinks that despite the coming boomer retirement wave, the prospects of substantially increasing middle-wage employment in the region are poor.

Here are the numbers:

  • 36% or 1,126,6080 of the Bay Area’s 3.2 million total jobs pay less than $18 an hour
  • Between 2010 and 2020 only 310,000 middle-wage job openings—positions paying $18-$30 an hour—will occur

In other words, about two-thirds of the existing 1,126,680 low-wage workers are going to be stuck in jobs that pay less than $36,000 a year.

Now for the incoherence. Start with the designation of $36,000 a year as a middle-wage job. The EPS itself notes that

a household with two adults and two children in Alameda County would need to earn over $65,000 per year (or more than $30 per hour) just to meet the bare minimum required to cover basic expenses. Using this same self-sufficiency standard, a four-person household would have to earn close to $60,000 per year in Solano County and over $75,000 per year in San Francisco. a household with two adults and two children in Alameda County would need to earn over $65,000 per year (or more than $30 per hour) just to meet the bare minimum required to cover basic expenses. Using this same self-sufficiency standard, a four-person household would have to earn close to $60,000 per year in Solano County and over $75,000 per year in San Francisco.

 

As I wrote in April,

The authors’ rationale for designating $18 an hour as “the bottom end of the range of middle-wage jobs” is based on the fact that $18 an hour is equivalent to 80% of the median wage for the East Bay and approximately 80% of the median wage for the entire Bay Area.

That formalistic designation “ignores the reality of housing costs, palliates the dire state of the region’s poor, and exposes the report’s conservatism.”

Then there are the EPS’s recommendations. In light of the report’s findings, a program that was serious about economic equity would seek the fundamental changes in the region’s economy that would lead to a downward redistribution of wealth. The EPS pursues no such end. Instead, it reiterates its two original goals.

First: “Strengthen career pathways to middle-wage jobs”—the same advice dispensed by the Roadmap, and one that is at best innocuous and at worst misleading, given that the career pathways open to most low- and moderate-income workers are going to be dead-ends.

Second: “Grow the economy with a focus on middle-wage work,” a target whose severe limitations are revealed by the EPS’s own research.

The EPS doesn’t entirely disregard those limitations. Nodding at their data, its authors added a new goal: “Economic security: Improve conditions for workers in lower-wage jobs.” To achieve that goal, they put forth a long list of progressive measures, including minimum and living wage ordinances, lowered barriers to unionization and project labor and community benefit agreements.

Two cheers for this agenda. Why only two? Because it’s offered within a policy context that accepts the immiserating character of the Bay Area economy.

That said, unlike the Roadmap, the equivocal EPS invites a critical perspective on that economy. It also invites a critical perspective on the Roadmap’s approach to prosperity. In fact, the EPS—specifically, the addition of  “Goal C: Economic security”—provoked an outcry from the Bay Area Business Coalition.

In October 2014 the BABC sent a letter to the group that funded the EPS, the Regional Prosperity Plan steering committee, asserting that Goal C, though “admirable,” was not “within the original scope of work” designated by the HUD grant.

The BABC’s deeper complaint involved the Goal C’s pro-regulatory position:

We feel strongly that the Bay Area is already the most heavily regulated place in the country, and it is not a coincidence that we are also home to the nation’s fastest growing levels of income disparity.

“[R]egulations and mandates imposed by the government” are driving “middle income jobs in the manufacturing and construction sectors” out of the Bay Area and California,” the BABC asserted.

If our goal is to encourage middle income job growth, the very last thing we need right now is [to] introduce whole new rafts [sic] of new expensive mandates and burdens on employers as they struggle with ever rising costs.

The letter concluded:

We cannot…support the report as drafted and are opposed in principal [sic] to the inclusion of “Goal C” and the recommendations therein and feel they will hinder not help raise more people into the middle class in the Bay Area.

It would be a mistake to infer from the above statements that the members of the BABC are opposed to regulation per se. As the Roadmap demonstrates, the region’s big businesses are fine with, not to say enthusiastic about, regulation, as long as the rules aggrandize their prerogatives and profits.

From the other side, the BABC’s diatribe against providing economic security for workers in low-wage jobs illuminates the fatuousness of the Roadmap’s paean to

an inclusive and protean view of place, community, and the economy: “Change is constant, and we’re all in it together.” [emphasis in original]

The Roadmap approvingly quotes Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s vaguely social Darwinistic formulation:

“Some things benefit from shocks. They thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk and uncertainty.”

The BACEI report allows that “in an increasingly volatile environment, vulnerable populations (children, poor, elderly, mentally ill, and otherwise disabled) must be protected.” Apparently protection for anyone else would amount to coddling. In the BACEI’s view, if you’re not “disabled,” you need to roll with punches, or in the Roadmap’s corporatespeak, “take on a sustained adaptive approach to supporting the region’s economic success.”

It follows that the 754,876 workers in the region who, the EPS reports, will be stuck in low-wage jobs for their entire careers cannot be seen from the route traced by the Roadmap. Their invisibility is notable, given that the researcher who provided the EPS’s data on job creation, demographer Steve Levy, is a BACEI board member who participated in one of the “strategic engagement meetings” that informed the white paper’s content.

 

Turn from the Roadmap’s moralizing drivel to the white paper’s actual program, and it becomes obvious that the Bay Area’s big businesses aren’t looking to experience volatility, randomness, disorder, stressors, adventure, risk, or uncertainty. Insecurity is for other people. What the BACEI coterie wants is protection for themselves and their investments. To get it, they’re pursuing a regional economic order over which they can extend their already considerable sway.

The only kind of change the Roadmap seeks is more of what we have now—a lot more. Plan Bay Area 2013 forecast a whopping 33% growth in jobs and 24% increase in housing units between 2010 and 2040. For the BACEI crowd, that’s not enough. The Roadmap flaunts a “high-growth scenario” driven by a hypothetical 45% increase in jobs that in turn jacks up the percentage change in estimated new housing units to 34%. The white paper says that “to accommodate strong regional economic growth,” the region needs 972,500 more units by 2040.

Plan Bay Area Projections

 

Category 2010 2040 Growth

2010-2040

Percent Change

2010-2040

Jobs 3,385,300 4,405,220 1,119,920 +33%
Housing Units 2,786,950 2,956,000    660,000 +24%

 

 

BACEI Roadmap’s High Growth Scenario Estimates

 

Category 2010 2040 Growth

2010-2040

Percent Change

2010-2040

Jobs 3,385,300 4,913,882 1,528,582 +45%
Housing Units 2,786,000 3,104,518    972,574 +34%

 

The fantasied—and fantastical—scale of growth is staggering, but for the BACEI, it’s still not enough. Citing the “historic regional housing deficit” postulated by the Legislative Analyst’s Office in its March 2015 report on “California’s High Housing Costs,” the Roadmap says that the LAO estimated that to satisfy total demand for housing in the state between 1980 and 2010, “51,550 additional units of housing were needed each year…in over five of the Bay Area’s nine counties.”

These figures do not appear in the LAO report, which only indicates the estimated shortfalls in a bar chart (Figure 8). Brian Uhler, Senior Fiscal and Policy Analyst with the LAO, told me that his office “has provided specific estimates upon request to various groups,” including the Bay Area Council. The five counties referenced above are Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo, San Francisco, and Santa Clara. Uhler said that he and his colleagues only looked at counties in metro areas of 850,000 or more.

Affecting moderation, The Roadmap surmises that “addressing just 20% of this historic under building, or 390,3000 units, would help to alleviate upward pressure on housing prices.” The upshot: “[i]n total the region should have a goal to build 1,281,800 units by 2040”—a 46% increase over the 2010 base figure.

 

This audacious scheme rests on a dubious assumption: the traditional supply-and-demand model applies to the current Bay Area housing market. In the words of the BACEI’s Regional Economic Assessment: “It is the ongoing failure to construct new housing in line with demand that is primarily responsible for extraordinarily high housing prices.” No, it’s not.

What’s making home prices soar in our region is the simultaneous incursion of hundreds of thousands of highly-paid tech workers and a flood of foreign investment. In June the Contra Costa Times reported that “[h]igh-tech employees make a yearly average of $124,000 in Santa Clara County, $107,000 in the San Francisco-San Mateo area, and $101,000 in the East Bay.” By contrast, wrote George Avalos, tech workers nationwide average about $84,000 a year. “’This is a very, very hot area to live and work,” Steve Levy told Avalos, “’and the wage growth is pushing up housing prices.’”

In other words, the BACEI assertion that “the higher cost of housing…necessitates higher wages” gets things backwards.

As for foreign investment: on November 29, the New York Times ran a long article about the inflation of U.S. real estate values by Chinese cash. The hard copy version stated that “in Silicon Valley, a market awash in millionaires, Chinese buyers—if they pay cash—can edge out tech entrepreneurs whose wealth is tied up in stock options.”

To the BACEI, the prodigious growth of the tech industry and the flood of foreign capital and talent are unqualified boons. The Roadmap proper begins by saluting the Bay Area as

a global economic powerhouse….[,] the model high-tech innovation hub, spawning generations of the world’s most iconic brands—companies like Intel, Apple, Tesla and Google—and innovative products and technologies….Many of the region’s employers are deeply integrated into the global economy, giving them valuable insight into the quick pace of change taking place in global markets.

The white paper goes on to quote UC Berkeley professor Laura Tyson, who chaired the U.S President’s Council of Economic Advisers during the Clinton administration, now chairs the BACEI board and sat with Rapport and others on the Roadmap Project Steering Committee:

The Bay Area’s economic strength lies in the diversity of its innovative companies and its ability to attract the brightest from around the world.

 

Indeed, the proposed regional economic development corporation would

focus on how to build and sustain the Bay Area’s global economic competitiveness, with a focus on facilitating strategic business growth and job creation….[G]lobal and national economic competition is increasing between major economic regions. In this environment, a city-by-city approach is no longer adequate to ensure that the region’s assets are effectively presented to potential external partners and…deployed to ensure the Bay Area’s competitive advantage.

 

In fact, the Roadmap’s perspective isn’t regional at all; it’s global, which goes a long way toward explaining its contempt for local control.

 

It follows that for the BACEI, the major threat to the Bay Area’s super-high-growth scenario comes from within the region in the form of a “reactive” attitude that won’t accept “that change is normal” and thus can’t “recognize the new opportunities that are emerging” or “adapt to a new context.”

Manifest in local opposition to new development, either project-by-project or through restrictive zoning and inordinate impact fees, this recalcitrance is rooted in “parochial” attachments to specific locales.

The Bay Area is both blessed and burdened by the diversity of its distinctive towns, neighborhoods and wider geographical areas. Its urban centers, wine country, and suburban areas offer different lifestyles and reflect a variety of economic circumstances.

This appealing diversity is a burden, because it fosters an insular mindset.

The regional character of the BA economy is sometimes lost on its residents. In a region made up of nine counties and 101 cities, perspectives are sometimes narrow, and political and institutional balkanization is evident in what is otherwise a highly interdependent regional economy.

 

To the BACEI, the region’s “high level of interdependency” is embodied in the trans-county commuter.

[N]early half of Bay Area workers cross at least one county line when going to and from work. As job tenure continues to decline, commutes shift around the region at a faster rate than people change homes. In many cases, wealthy suburbs are largely reliant on the high wages earned in the urban cores. Many suburban-based companies depend on young talent living in vibrant urban centers.

Expediting these commutes is one of the Roadmap’s top priorities. Bay Area roads are clogged, with “[v]ehicles in key highway corridors leading to job centers in San Francisco and Silicon Valley…at a near standstill during rush hour,” while “the region’s two major commuter railways—BART and Caltrain—are carrying ‘crush loads’ and confronting maintenance issues at a growing rate.” (Apparently the workforce that the BACEI has in mind doesn’t take the bus.)

It’s obvious that one source of the clogged roads and crush loads is overcrowding. But to the growth-obsessed BACEI, the challenge is to “increase access to jobs within a 45-minute commute.” The Roadmap lays out a host of recommendations, most of which involve auto-based travel. They include:

 

  • Unite the region’s 26 separate transit agencies
  • Invest in the most productive routes
  • Use regional funds for adaptive ramp metering and advanced arterial signalization
  • Expand Park and Ride
  • Increase carpool lane enforcement and revoke permission for hybrids to use congested carpool lanes
  • Increase occupancy requirement and transition to express lanes
  • Embrace opportunities for the region’s pubic transit systems to collaborate with private “mobility services” such as Lyft, Uber, and Sidecar

 

Enjoining us to “[m]ove more people on highways,” the Roadmap merely glances at transit-oriented development, a staple of Plan Bay Area; the Economic Prosperity Strategy; and the agenda of the Greenbelt Alliance, whose executive director, Jeremy Madsen, sits on the BACEI Board and participated in the same strategic engagement meeting as Levy. The white paper does commend the BART Warm Springs extension and that boondoggle, Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART). To pay for “key transportation projects …such as the extension of BART to San Jose, Caltrain Corridor improvements, and a new transbay BART tube,” it calls for a regional gas tax and a road usage charge.

Mass transit also makes a cameo appearance on the Roadmap’s cover, where a map of the region is juxtaposed with a fragmentary blueprint and shadowy photos of a speeding train car and pedestrians dressed for success in an unidentifiable venue.

Its disconnect from the Roadmap’s autocentric initiatives notwithstanding, this imagery aptly represents the Bay Area of the BACEI’s dreams. Those troublesome sources of parochialism, the diverse “towns, neighborhoods, and wider geographical areas,” are nowhere to be seen. Except for the map, the scene could be set anywhere. The map has been stripped of place names, displaying only the county boundaries. If not for those lines, it could be virgin land, ripe for exploitation.

In like manner, the human figures are indistinct and faceless. Most of them are walking away from us, their backs turned to our gaze. They appear as mobile drones. The blueprint lies beneath their feet: the paths they take are delineated by the real estate industry. Their vulnerability vis-à-vis that industry is inherent in their detachment from a specific community and from each other. Perhaps two of the ten individuals are together; the rest are solitary. This is an atomized populace, incapable of concerted action and, above all, of effective opposition to development.

 

Indeed, the BACEI has little use for the public at large, as illustrated by its inventory of “Stakeholder Groups”:

 

Business

Public Sector

K-12 Education

Higher Education

Occupational/Vocation Training

Environmental Management

Non-profit Sector

Research Centers/Labs

Labor Organizations

Others

 

The list brings to mind those problems in a verbal aptitude test that ask, which word doesn’t fit? Here the answer is obvious: it’s the one at the bottom.

Who are the “Others”? Presumably they are those who would bear the costs—financial, social, economic, political—of the BACEI’s high-growth scenario. They include:

The 750,000 low-income workers in the region who will never find work paying at least $36,000 a year

Bay Area residents who’ve been forced out of their homes if not out of the region by high rents and evictions

The UC Berkeley Urban Displacement Project has found that more than half of the low-income households throughout the nine-county region “live in neighborhoods at risk of or already experiencing displacement and gentrification pressures.”

Eschewing the term displacement and drawing on the locally irrelevant supply-side model, the Roadmap says only that “[h]ousing supply constraints and the high prices they cause have…forced many Bay Area residents to look for housing outside of high-demand areas…”

The BACEI’s treatment of affordable housing is similarly oblique. The charge to “build sufficient housing stock to meet the demands of a growing regional population and to fill historic deficits” dodges the equity question.

Again, a comparison with the Economic Prosperity Strategy is instructive. To be sure, the EPS also invokes the supply-side faith, declaring that “the overall lack of housing production is one of the main drivers behind the region’s high housing costs.” But the EPS also recommends measures to protect tenants and to build housing that’s affordable to people who can’t get into the market:

  • “Advocate…local policies that lead to the production of permanently affordable housing (such as inclusionary zoning policies and impact fees”
  • “Reinvest in public housing stock”
  • “Expand tenant protections to more communities in the region”—for example, relocation payments for no-fault evictions, tighter requirements prove cause in just-cause evictions, and more comprehensive rent stabilization ordinances

 

Needless to say, no such recommendations appear in the Roadmap.

Those who would pay the many exactions the BACEI would like to impose on the public, such as

  • road usage charges and regional gas tax for infrastructure improvements
  • an MTC-implemented gas tax, higher bridge tolls, vehicle registration and business licensing fees, and region-wide sales tax to support a regional economic development corporation
  • the costs that would otherwise be covered by development impact fees

In the BACEI’s view, the public has a duty to subsidize the profits of the Bay Area’s big businesses, tacitly equated with “the good of the region.” The Roadmap sees the “impact fees, community benefits agreement payments, and other exactions” that cities are assessing on new housing construction as concessions to selfish taxpayers.

Existing landowners are not paying their fair share to solve the regional housing problem, and they are benefitting from scarcity through the skyrocketing values of their homes and land. Community benefits should be paid for by the entire community, not just by new development and particularly not by badly needed workforce housing.

The reference to “badly needed workforce housing” is a rhetorical feint. Which workforce are we talking about—techies pulling six-figure salaries or struggling freelancers, who, the BACEI thinks, should be classified as independent contractors, not employees? The Roadmap never says.

Nor, when it avows that “planning must take into account market-based housing demands and the economic considerations of developers,” does the white paper mention the inordinate 20-plus percent profits that developers consider their due. Apparently the BACEI believes taxpayers have a duty to guarantee such profits.

Here’s an alternative formulation: as Tim Redmond recently put it, “[g]rowth should pay for growth.”

You want to put up a new office tower or condo complex in San Francisco? That’s going to mean the city needs to buy more Muni buses and hire more drivers to move your new workers or residents around, and more firefighters and cops to protect your property, and more public works people to maintain the roads that suddenly have more cars on them, and more water and sewer infrastructure to handle what you take in and put out…and the list goes on.

Since developers in this city typically make gobs of money for themselves and their investors, it makes sense that they should pay for the costs of serving their projects. Otherwise, the rest of us have to pay—and that’s clearly unfair.

 

It’s not clear to the biggest businesses in the region, because they conflate “the community” with themselves. Now that’s parochial thinking.

Everyone who has a personal attachment to a specific place in the Bay Area, be it work or home, and who acts to defend that place from overdevelopment

These are the people whom the BACEI considers its real antagonists, the ones who reliably mount “legacy barriers to regional resilience.” That view is accurate. The most strenuous opposition to the plans of grasping corporate interests always comes from those whose communities and livelihoods will be degraded if not destroyed by those plans.

Seeking to discredit these opponents, the Roadmap resorts to the customary slur: it accuses them of elitism. One “means of preventing city bodies with approval authority from denying needed housing projects,” it advises, is to place “[s]pecial focus…on PDAs, where dense, affordable housing proposals often face significant opposition from within the community.”

This is a core issue that’s far more complicated than the Roadmap indicates.

The simple part: Every community needs to provide more affordable housing, especially to families. Period.

The complexity: when developers say they’re providing affordable housing, the crucial questions are always how much, and affordable to whom? The Roadmap doesn’t ask, much less answer, these questions. It goes on about building housing to meet—indeed to greatly surpass—the state-mandated Regional Housing Needs Allocations but never indicates that the RHNA numbers are divvied up among affordability levels that correspond to the growing workforce in each city: low income, moderate income and above moderate, i.e. market-rate. Nor would you guess from the Roadmap that the low and moderate income housing must be “deed-restricted affordable”—permanently affordable to their occupants through time. Leaving aside the overall growth issue, the trouble is that most of the new housing that’s getting built is market-rate. That’s apparently fine, in the BACEI’s view, rendering moot the Roadmap’s call for affordability.

More complexity: how much parking is a project going to provide? The Roadmap wants to eliminate minimum parking requirements as a away of reducing new home construction. Yes, parking spaces are very expensive, and people should be encouraged—and actually enabled—to get on transit, bikes, and their own two feet.

But not everyone is going to take public transit to and from work, and commuting is only one of many sorts of trips that people need to take. Even people living in transit-oriented developments are going to own cars. If they can’t park them on the property where they live, they’re going to park them on the street. Why should neighborhoods, many of which are already parked to capacity, be further encumbered?

Which leads to another question: how well does a project respect the character of a neighborhood? Yes, this question can serve as a cover for elitist and racist motives. When it does, it needs to be dismissed out of hand. But whether it does can only be determined in the instance.

In principle, neighborhood character is a valid concern that could be partly addressed by expanding the stock of in-law or secondary units, officially known as Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)—one of the few well-advised recommendations in the Roadmap. Of course, allowing more ADUs begs the issue of how high-density development affects the familiar look and feel of a cherished place. From the BACEI’s global perspective, such effects are imperceptible.

 

In any case, the Roadmap holds no brief for social equity or political democracy. It’s a mandate for oligarchical rule, an exemplar of what Wendell Berry calls “sentimental capitalism.” Berry explicates that pregnant term in his essay “The Idea of a Local Economy.”

Sentimental capitalism holds in effect that everything small, local, private, personal, natural, good, and beautiful must be sacrificed in the interest of the “free market” and the great corporations, which will bring unprecedented security [think “resilience à la the Roadmap] and happiness to “the many” [read: the region]—in, of course, the future.

The future orientation is critical, both to sentimental capitalism and its opposite number, sentimental communism, which, Berry notes, is less opposite than we’ve been led to think.

The fraudulence of these oligarchic forms of economy is in their principle of displacing whatever good they recognize (as well as their debts) from the present to the future. Their success depends upon persuading people, first that whatever they have now is no good, and second, that the promised good is certain to be achieved in the future.

Just so, the BACEI presents itself as hard-headed and realistic but never shows us how the distinctive places in the region will look after they’ve been built up to accommodate what the Roadmap calls “normal growth,” i.e., housing everyone who wants to live here, and who wanted to live here between 1980 and 2010. Like “change,” “normal” is an empty signifier, devoid of any intrinsic meaning. To accept the BACEI’s usage of these terms is to fall victim to sentimental capitalism’s futuristic hoax.

And what about the ecological costs of the massive increase in population, housing, and jobs that the BACEI craves? The Roadmap’s list of “[s]tresses” to the economy includes “[c]limate change resulting in rising sea levels, more frequent droughts, and disruption of agriculture.” It even concedes that “natural resources” are “limited,” adding that “some are renewable.”

But its proposed actions ignore the coming inundation of the region’s coastlines. They also proceed as if “recycling and desalination” can meet the “large-scale challenges” to the water supply “such as climate change and population growth”—in other words, as if, proper management can ensure an infinitely growing population an infinite supply of water. Worse yet, the Roadmap recommends the creation of another publicly unaccountable entity, a Joint Powers Authority formed by the Bay Area’s local water agencies and funded by “private financing or an Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District to leverage existing revenue streams…to design, finance, and build new capital-intensive regional water assets.”

Downplaying the Roadmap’s aggressiveness, Bay Area Council CEO Jim Wunderman assured San Francisco Chronicle reporter David Baker:

“The mission of the report isn’t to say, ‘It must be done this way’…It’s to start a region-wide conversation….We don’t, in any way, want to put local governments out of the business of deciding what goes in their neighborhoods.”

Likewise, Wunderman maintained that “the high-growth scenario is not meant to replace the projections made in Plan Bay Area, but it can inform the dialogue around future regional housing supply.” (This statement, which appeared in the hard copy version of Baker’s story, was cut when the Chronicle posted the article online.)

Oh, c’mon. We all know that how a conversation begins has a great deal to do with how it ends. When Wunderman says his outfit only wants to “inform the dialogue,” he means that they want to legitimate objectives that are outside the pale: a 46% increase in housing units and a 45% jump in jobs, transferring municipal control of development to an unelected regional body, eradicating local character.

 

Here’s the really bad news: the Roadmap has in effect been endorsed by the elected body that ostensibly governs the Association of Bay Area Governments. On September 17, three weeks before the document was published, the ABAG Executive Board unanimously approved the use of the Roadmap to “inform the next iterations of Plan Bay Area.”

I say “in effect,” because it’s a safe bet that the officials casting those votes had no idea they were endorsing the BACEI white paper. The vote proper was to approve the ABAG staff report “People, Places, and Prosperity,” the third document that Rapport designated as “foundational” to the dialogue around the merger of ABAG and MTC. The PPP’s reference to the white paper and its guidance for future editions of Plan Bay Area is buried in a sidebar that helpfully includes a link to the Roadmap website.

The Roadmap was published three weeks later, which means ABAG staff were in cahoots with BACEI way beforehand. As I reported on November 12, Rapport sat on the Roadmap’s nine-person Project Steering Committee. (So did MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger; MTC funded the BACEI project to the tune of $275,000.)

Like the ABAG Administrative Committee’s fateful endorsement of modified MTC Resolution 4210 on October 28, the Executive Board’s adoption of PPP was taken without a vetting of the document at hand. The staffer presenting the report said it was “fresh off the press.” It seemed as if board members only received hard copies at the meeting. ABAG staff said nothing about the Roadmap’s inclusion in the ABAG document. The entire consideration of the PPP took five minutes and included no substantive discussion.

To be sure, on September 17, the ABAG Executive Board was understandably distracted: on that day their proceedings were dominated by a discussion of their agency’s power struggle with MTC.

That’s no excuse. To repeat what I wrote about the Administrative Committee’s know-nothing action of October 28, it’s an axiom of legislative practice not to act on what you haven’t read. The board should have thanked staff for the “People, Places, and Prosperity” report and voted to act on it at a future meeting. Instead, ABAG is now officially committed to a major policy paper calling for the drastic shrinkage of local control of zoning, the erasure of the Bay Area’s special places, the evisceration of the California Environmental Quality Act, and a vision of ruinous growth.

At the December 2 meeting of the ABAG Regional Planning Committee, ABAG Planning Director Miriam Chion repeatedly stated that the Roadmap “is an independent document” that expresses the voice of the business community, not ABAG. It’s a strange kind of independence. “As a tangible economic policy platform,” burbles the ABAG staff report, “the Roadmap will guide the next iterations of Plan Bay Area.” Not might, may, could, or can guide those iterations, but will. And then: “For more information visit: www.bayareaeconomy.org.” Parroting the BACEI white paper’s prescriptions to centralize land use authority in the region, “People, Places, and Prosperity” contends that “[b]enefits [to “business retention and expansion”] are magnified when local tax policy, fees, permitting processes, and other regulations are aligned among neighboring jurisdictions.”

If the Executive Board wants to be taken seriously by the cities and towns whose interests it purports to represent, it needs to start asserting its legal authority over the agency’s staff. The board should formally dissociate itself from the Roadmap. It should hold a public dialogue with ABAG Executive Director Ezra Rapport, asking him how he could have gone along with the BACEI’s program; why he and his colleagues failed to note the Roadmap’s inclusion in their own report; why he’s saying that program should help guide the ABAG-MTC merger discussions; and why, given the BACEI’s open hostility to what it calls the region’s “city-centric regime,” ABAG should continue collaborating with and funding the Bay Area Council Economic Institute.

If the ABAG Executive Board does not take these steps, the cities and towns of the region should ask themselves why they should continue collaborating with and funding the Association of Bay Area Governments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  40. Wow, the anti-CEQA stance is dangerous. If the literally tens of thousands of Uber and Lyft cars operating sans any regulation fell under a CEQA purview, they’d never get the green light (in addition to Postmates, Task Rabbit, Amazon Prime, Munchery and the myriad other additional vehicles grinding our highways and byways to a complete standstill). Ever more growth? What folly, what dystopia.

  41. A document, and not by just MTC. Thats fine if it stops there, with incentives to follow document. Penalties are not mandated. And MTC trying to swallow up ABAG, the last vestige of local control, isn’t in the mandate. Nor is the attempted power-grab outlined by BAC. MTC’s Steve Heminger has a grandiose idea of his role in life, and any semblance of democracy is lost as long as he pulls the strings, the staff parrots his desires, and the ‘appointed’ city/county members have no choice to direct the path. Existing PBA is still under legal challenge, and if they try to take things further, a legal standoff is certain.

  42. The whole premise that SB375, in order to address air quality, has trickled down into micro-management of controlling where & how people can live in the future is quite the stretch. Sacramento uses the premise as carte-blanche to regulate issues far beyond the original intent. As some level, every aspect of human existence impacts air quality, where does it end? And strong regional government in LA Basin?? That is ridiculous, as is your horse-trip connection to county boundaries… Have you ever been to Kern County? Your comment of “chopping it up into lots of senseless little pieces” also adds to the categorical rejection. The Bay Area cites and counties have historically existed, no one s chopping up the Bay Area, quite the opposite. What they are trying to do is assimilate the Bay Area, and leapfrog over existing legal framework.

  43. and by the by, we have a state law called SB 375, that mandates that MTC combine housing and transportation planning into one document. Double dare that all you want.

  44. I categorically disagree with all your stipulations. Your opinion, nothing more. Leave regional agencies to play with Express lanes and such, but keep them far away from housing, land use, local planning and tax issues.

  45. Aptos isn’t covered by Plan Bay Area…just saying.
    The whole GODDAMN purpose of Plan Bay Area is to address climate change and I find it EFFING HILARIOUS that all the smug Bay Area progressives…looking at you in particular Marin County…who love to scoff at middle America climate deniers, are so opposed to it. They are more guilty than the Trumps of the world and their ignorant white trash knuckle dragging followers; they know climate change is real, they know traffic and sprawl is a big contributor, yet they won’t sacrifice just a little local control, or support a little density and height in their happy fifedom to house the people who make their lattes and bag their groceries at Whole Foods. Instead they’d rather the help live in Fairfield or Patterson and dive to work.

  46. They have strong regional government in the Seattle metro area, the LA basin, Chicago, New York. Are they all socialists? Government is government, its footprint doesn’t dictate its orientation or philosophy.

    regional government makes much better sense for this region where most people commute across several county lines to get to work. We have 9 counties, 101 cities, dozens of special districts all in one

    metro region. Of course it makes better sense to chop it up into lots of little senseless pieces and manage it on a micro level not according to the actual needs of the people who live here. Our transportation network is funded largely by self help counties. When you drive from Contra Costa County, to Santa Clara County for example, as thousands do ever day, the freeway layout changes at every county line according to the local priority…sometimes you have a diamond lane, sometimes you have a HOT lane, sometimes is 3 for diamond, sometimes its two, sometimes there are no carpool lanes at all. What sort of way is that to govern a region??? In metro LA and San Diego they manage commutes according to corridors and where people actually travel to and from, here me manage transportation on an intersection basis and nobody cares what happens beyond their county line.
    Do you know why are County seats are located where they are? and why are county lines are where they are? they are where they are because they are a day’s horse ride apart…..what sort of way is that to manage the affairs of the most innovative economy on the planet? The Bay Area has succeeded despite its system of governance not because of it.

  47. All your observations just point to the fact the the Bay Area, and the existing way we do things, has proven popular and successful. Regional government is two steps towards socialism.

  48. Yeah, better that the NIMBYs run things. How has that been working out so far? ….worst traffic in the nation…longest commutes in the nation….highest costs in the nation…worst income inequality in the nation. But hey, we have a lot of open space and nice low density suburbs and pretty views.

  49. Make no mistake, letting business interests take the lead in setting the planning and growth goals for anything, much less the entire, unique Bay Area, is the beginning of the end. Plan Bay Area was widely rejected by those who live here, and attempts to go further down that road should result in a collision with reality, and the voters. This is all predicated on the assumed need that everybody wants/needs MTC transportation funds, and will bend to their vision. Those funds are now proving too costly. I say we do without, and let the intelligent minds in our various cities & counties decide their own path. The proposed BAC approach almost begets revolution. Bay Area Council deserves zero respect or credibility.

  50. “hey folks, we selected your properties to purposely devalue. Cool?”

    Already done – if you rent out. Chill.

  51. “One approach would be to ghetto-ize vast swarths – to allow for Lux, mid-income and poor areas. (see the current Tenderloin – though that model just pushes its undesirable problems to other areas and declares Victory). At lease price appreciation could be contained (by crime, if not by fiat)…”

    I’m sure property owners in those “vast swarths” would be thrilled. I can hear the conversation now – “hey folks, we selected your properties to purposely devalue. Cool?”

    It’s a really stupid idea, dude.

  52. The majority of SF nimbys are old white people. They do things like get together in each other’s million dollar homes and sing old black spirituals and pretend that fighting to keep their views is the same thing as marching on Selma.

  53. We can grow the population by increased density and focusing up mini-transit villages and maintain, enhance or create neighborhood distinction. By keeping/creating neighborhood character, we make the neighborhood a good places to live + destinations for those who do not live in the neighborhood, which helps local businesses and reinforces neighborhood identity.

    This can be done in a good urban plan. Each neighborhood can have local arts/cultural investment that keeps/enhances neighborhood character. And within each neighborhood there can be micro neighborhoods as well. For example, Broadway in North Beach would make a good jazz district. It is ideal for nightlife and by including various types of jazz, including something that non jazz fans like such as Dixieland which appeals to tourists, it certainly would thrive and probably lower the cost of police activity for the strip-club crowd we see now. And a jazz district dovetails nicely with the proposed poets plaza, which may or may not succeed.

    Here’s a so-so example of what was done in Pachuca Mexico, but it conveys the concept of what I am discussing. Investment the arts resulted in painting this neighborhood this way. And now this neighborhood is a ‘destination’ neighborhood. Imagine if they do something like this every 2-3 years and have decent social media promotion and an umbrella organization the unifies businesses in a way that people want to go there and spend time and money. It is a win-win.

    http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/germen-crew-palmitas-mural

  54. You’ve expressed interest in expanding housing (*and inferstructure). I’m not a fan of mass-mall-ification either; I think Clayton and Clayton St have their own unique charms and should remain.

    But if PBA isn’t the way, then what is? And how do we grow to include those who will move here?

    One approach would be to ghetto-ize vast swarths – to allow for Lux, mid-income and poor areas. (see the current Tenderloin – though that model just pushes its undesirable problems to other areas and declares Victory). At lease price appreciation could be contained (by crime, if not by fiat) and
    displacement held to factors other than simply economic.

  55. Things I learn from 48 Hills:

    1) Other cities aren’t building enough housing for South Bay tech workers and it’s ruining SF.
    2) But efforts to unify housing policy across the region are bad.
    3) Public transit is good.
    4) But efforts to unify regional public transit are bad.
    5) Also, there’s real a danger of the Bay Area not providing enough space for automobiles, and we must protect our sacred free parking.

    This is progressive? The mind boggles.

  56. This is what neoliberal corruption looks like.

    And Zelda, kindly avail yourself of the magic of hypertext links that allow you to incorporate by reference valuable primary sources.

    That way, the nuts and bolts won’t distract from the case you’re trying to make.

  57. have you seen a planning commission hearing? Do you know the usual suspects that obstruct the creation of housing in SF?
    Sue Hestor, Calvin Welch, Tim Redmond, Jon Gollinger, Aaron Peskin.
    All white baby boomers. 8 out of ten of every person that testifies at the planning commission against a project are aging white baby boomers. Read up on the phenomenon of exclusionary zoning.

  58. This in-depth reading and sources are very informative, but I’m afraid that Zelda’s overwhelming cynicism detracts greatly from her points.

    Only the most cynical would read in the report that we should protect vulnerable populations while investing in education and transportation, and interpret that as forcing low-wage households to “roll with the punches.”

    As for the call to actually build enough housing as household growth, how is putting “real teeth” in RHNA an “assault on … democratic government at large”? The ABAG and MTC are chaired by elected councilmembers (such as Sup. Campos from San Francisco). Of course the RHNA does put requirements on “local control of planning,” but that’s the point. Any NIMBY will tell you that housing the growing population is a regional problem; it’s not their local responsibility. The RHNA process is simply the feedback mechanism within our State that translates our regional housing responsibility into local responsibilities.

    The report argues that we need to build as many housing units as the number of households that are forming in and moving to the Bay Area. How is calling it “supply-side” make this any less true? How is this a “fantastical scale of growth”? Zelda points out that other factors impact the market price such as high salaries and foreign investment. But does she actually dispute that we need to build as many housing units as population growth, or else somebody is going to be displaced? Or does she have some other solution in mind, like banning tech employees from migrating to the Bay Area?

    And what the report says about impact fees adding to the cost of construction is true. Moreover, in a built city such as San Francisco, the construction of new multi-unit housing does not increase pressure on affordable housing, and the nexus analysis is junk science. Now, we should make the rich pay for subsidized housing, but we should do it in an honest way, with a progressive tax, not with a regressive “fee” that penalizes modest housing and luxury housing equally.

    In the transportation section, she misquoted action 2.1. It’s “Invest in the most productive transit routes,” not just “Invest in the most productive routes.” When you glance at the subsection headers, you see that none of them propose to increase road infrastructure (although the text mentions “Strategic investments in highway capacity” in passing). To the contrary; they mostly involve limiting the number of automobiles on roads. This is the opposite of “autocentric initiatives.”

    Zelda’s point that the report excludes any mention of protection from displacement still stands. But in my opinion, protection from displacement and providing alternatives to displacement (by building sufficient housing) should be two pillars of a joint cause, not two opposing factions.

  59. Does Zelda get paid by the word? Jayzus!
    The reality is that the “democratic” exclusionary zoning process that SF has enjoyed for the last four decades or so is on its way out.
    We know the old white people dont like new buildings or new residents, but they shortly won’t be the decision makers anymore.
    There is growing consensus that we can’t continue to not build our way out of this crisis. There is also growing understanding that the neighborhood is never going to want new housing
    More buIldings are coming, and there’s nothing you can do about it

  60. “In principle, neighborhood character is a valid concern . . .”

    At last, a solid plan for the shopping mallification of the Bay Area. Let’s put a Burger King on every corner. I have so envied those who live in Clayton. Now, we can have our own Clayton in San Francisco!

    Can we please import some real urban planners? Maybe we need some special visas for them.

  61. Putting it another way, if the dozens of self-important Bay Area fiefdoms actually had to swallow their preciousness and instead actually get on with their neighbors, would that really be the end of the world?

    I cannot think of any other major US urban area that is de-constructed into nine counties and dozens of minor cites, all fawningly wallowing in their own special aura. Is it really so much to ask that an urban area behaves like it is one unit rather than dozens of self-absorbed tribes warring with each other/

  62. Well that is articulate and so hats off, but what’s missing is the realpolitik that would spew like a ruptured Soviet nuke plant from “de-Balkanizing” our magnificent micro-climate of Bay Area cultures into one giant development. Because that’s what they want and that’s what it would be. No more Aptos is so unique versus Antioch versus Redwood City etc. It’s the planning equivalent of chain-store-overing everything that is our golden goose, so that some retarded big game goose-hunter can make a few more bucks.

  63. Another TD;DR article from the ever excessive Zelda.

    The reality is that it is ridiculous for the dozens of fiefdoms that comprise the Bay Area to independently plan. The jurisdictional nature of the Bay Area guarantees beggar-thy-neighbor tactics like the Twitter threat to move a few miles south to save on tax. Or the endless bitching about – gasp – tech workers taking a bus to the south bay.

    What we desperately need is to lose the precious Balkanization of what is one Bay Area and do some planning across the entire Bay Area, rather than pretending that any one city or county is somehow special.

    The delusion of exceptionalizm is a major culprit here

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