Chris Pareja and opponents of Plan Bay Area at a rally in Oakland before
Friday’s MTC/ABAG hearing on Plan Bay Area. PHOTO/Steven Tavares

PLAN BAY AREA | After three years and exactly 249 public meetings, a mash-up of regional  commission’s may approve “Plan Bay Area” next month, one of the most long-ranging local planning strategies in generations. Except, outside of a small group of hardy conservative activists, along with a smidgen of opponents across the political spectrum, the transportation, land-use and housing proposal is virtually unknown to the general public.

The plan, mandated by the state following the passage of SB 375, legislation requiring the state’s metro regions to produce a regional transportation strategy, also aims to reduce greenhouse emissions related to transportation by encouraging transit-oriented communities. Plan Bay Area hopes to achieve greater density while being more environmentally-friendly by 2040 when estimates forecast the region’s population will balloon by more than 2 million.

Plan Bay Area critic Friday at a MTC/ABAG
meeting in Oakland. PHOTO/Steven Tavares

However, conservatives, many hailing from the northern and eastern expanses of the Bay Area and far less urban than its inner areas, decry the likely presence of affordable housing and so-called “stack and pack” high-density housing. In addition, over the past few years, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) have conducted hundreds of public meetings on the issue often featuring vociferous opposition from constituents. Plan Bay Area could be approved by the two bodies, compromised of locally-elected public officials, by July 16.

Aside from ideological disagreements, many of those objecting to Plan Bay Area have repeatedly charged MTC/ABAG with a lack of transparency, stacking the deck with proponents (or, as one critic derisively calls them, “paid actors”) and creating facts in order to fit their stated goals. In addition, some have also contested MTC/ABAG’s growth forecasts over the next 30 years. At a hearing Friday morning, staff for MTC admitted nearly all of the public speakers have voiced disagreement with the plan.

Chris Pareja, a former congressional candidate in the 15th District, says the plan’s intention to lower greenhouse emissions by creating high-density housing in urban centers will actually price out lower income residents from purchasing single-family dwellings. He also objected with its assertion Latinos and Asians historically choose to live in high-density apartments and typically do not possess cars.

“I don’t know when it became politically-correct to call us colored people again, or to decide it is in our best interests and equity to be moved into high-density homes and neighborhoods near tracks and bus lines? I thought we were passed that?” said Pareja. Later, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, a member of MTC, stood by the report’s findings saying Asian immigrants new to this country often do not have the means to purchase a home or automobile. Opponents also had disparaging words for the findings of a new telephone survey discussed Friday.

The polling of over 2,500 residents conducted by MTC/ABAG, showed consistently strong support for a brief description of Plan Bay Area in all nine participating counties. However, it also raised the question of local versus regional control which split nearly every community straight down the middle, regardless of its general political bent. One speaker posited any pollster can craft questions to suit their own purposes, while another claimed no more than 1-2 percent of residents know anything at all about Plan Bay Area. “This is living in what I call the empire of lies,” he told the commission. During these times, when legislators in Sacramento routinely raided local coffers to balance the state’s budget, the sentiment is unsurprising.

Before Friday’s hearing, opponents of Plan Bay Area held a rally in front of the MTC/ABAG building in Oakland. Rosa Koire, the executive director for The Post Sustainability Institute, told the small gathering waving anti-Plan Bay Area signs, the only way to stop the plan from being implemented is through legal action. Although MTC/ABAG could approve the plan at the July 16 meeting, tenor of board discussion’s Friday suggest big issues still remain unresolved.

Steve Heminger, the executive director of MTC, was harangued by Alameda County’s irascible Supervisor Scott Haggerty over the last-minute inclusion of over $3 billion in funding for the plan derived from a yet-to-be approved legislative allocation of cap-and-trade revenues. After a brief and somewhat hostile give-and-take, Heminger said the addition “could have been done differently.” Some commissioners, including Haggerty, called for further discussion on the issue. Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said exactly how cap-and-trade revenues will be spent is undecided in the Legislature. Last Monday, the Legislature approved a budget allowing the state to borrow $500 million in cap-and-trade proceeds for the general fund.

For a plan seemingly close to approval, there are indications some commissioners are far from merely tweaking the plan before next month. Novato Mayor Pat Eklund, a member of ABAG, went as far as to suggest on two occasions changing the plan’s name from something less definitive of a unified region. Citing polling in support of Plan Bay Area at 80 percent, Haggerty posed the question: “Why don’t we send it to the voters?” Although there is not hard rule against extending the discussion past July, Heminger said additional months worth of uncertainty could affect other transportation projects. While Bates added, any vote of the people could not occur until next year, at the earliest.