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Two regional agencies battling over the future of Bay Area planning — with social justice in the balance.
At a time when California state officials are steadily expanding the authority of regional governance, a nasty rift between the powerful Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments has burst into public view.
Like the smoke and lava belched by a volcano that’s about to blow its top, portents of the rupture have surfaced at recent meetings.
At its June 24 session, MTC, the moneybags of the duo, voted to fund ABAG’s planning and research staff for only the next six months instead of the customary full year.
At the July 10 joint meeting of the MTC Planning Committee and the ABAG Administrative Committee, MTC staff recommended that key anti-displacement language that appears in Plan Bay Area 2013 be stricken from the plan’s 2017 update; the ABAG staff report vehemently objected to the deletion.
The July 16 agenda of ABAG Executive Board included a staff report on MTC’s alleged proposal to move ABAG’s Planning and Research Department to MTC. That’s the institutional equivalent of a heart transplant.
In short, this is no bureaucratic squabble but rather a major power struggle. The antagonists are two public agencies whose decisions about housing, land use, and transportation are profoundly reshaping the life of the region (think Plan Bay Area, for starters).
As the dispute over anti-displacement suggests, should MTC prevail, social justice in the Bay Area is going to suffer.
I wrote the foregoing sentence with hesitation. I’ve observed both MTC and ABAG for many years; up to now, they’ve seemed equally high-handed and opaque.
The events of the past few weeks have altered my perception. Above all, the clash over anti-displacement policy revealed MTC’s allegiance to the greedy real estate industry and ABAG’s willingness to oppose that industry in behalf of the region’s most vulnerable residents—and common sense.
The clash occurred in the course of a discussion about the goals of Plan Bay Area 2040, the region’s state-mandated Sustainable Communities Strategy, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by integrating land use and transportation planning. PBA’s first, controversial iteration, officially knowns as Plan Bay Area 2040, was approved in July 2013. California law requires that each SCS be updated every four years. We are now in the early stages of the tortuous update process.
On July 10 the MTC Planning Committee and the ABAG Administrative Committee deliberated whether and how the goals and targets in the adopted Plan Bay Area should be revised.
Scanning the chart of recommended changes (see attached document), I was surprised to see that under the goal of “Adequate Housing,” ABAG and MTC staffers had submitted conflicting recommendations.
The phrase “without displacing current low-income residents” was inserted into Plan Bay Area in 2013 thanks to the vigorous public campaign undertaken by the Six Wins for Social Equity Network.
ABAG staff wants to keep the anti-displacement language in the updated Plan Bay Area as the performance target under Goal #2.
MTC staff wants to replace that language with “no increase in in-commuters” (people who live outside the region driving in for work). They think displacement can be addressed under a new “performance target” for Goal #6, “Equitable Access”: “increase the share of affordable housing in PDAs” [Priority Development Areas—places that local jurisdictions have nominated for high-density construction].
In a memo to the joint committees, ABAG Executive Director Ezra Rapport contended that MTC’s proposed “performance target” of no increase in in-commuters was “unrealistic.” In contrast to the other “performance measures in the Plan,” Rapport wrote, “….there is no known policy that holds the in-commute of residents from neighboring counties to the Plan baseline year.”
Moreover, given the growing employment in the region, “particularly in the Tri Valley and Silicon Valley, the historical trend shows that there will be an actual increase of in-commuters over the baseline year.”
So to adopt a zero increase in the commute policy “will be misleading,” not only “to the public and other stakeholders who are concerned with the impact of the forecasted increase in in-commuting particularly in the 580 corridor,” but also “to other agencies that rely on ABAG’s forecast for infrastructure planning.”
In the regional division of planning duties, ABAG has responsibility for land use and housing, MTC for transportation.
MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger issued his own memo describing “MTC staff’s rationale” for removing the phrase “without displacing current low-income residents.”
Heminger began with the “statutory” factor:
We have customarily referred to the first two performance targets (the other relates to greenhouse gas reductions) as the “statutory” or “required” targets because they are contained in – or derive from – Senate Bill 375. As currently stated [“without displacing current low-income residents”] however, performance target #2 does not quite measure up to that mark in two respects.
It falls short, he averred, because SB 375 says nothing about displacement.
Then there’s the enforceability problem. “Obviously,” Heminger wrote,
….there are no policies that can guarantee the in-commute result. Neither agency can force prospective homeowners to live in the Bay Area instead of the Central Valley. But neither can we force the region’s residents to ride in the bicycle lanes we will construct in an attempt to meet performance target #8 [“Transportation System Effectiveness”]. Nor can we require commuters to patronize the new rail lines and bus service we will provide in an attempt to meet performance targets #7 [“Economic Vitality”] & 10 [“Transportation System Effectiveness.”].
Heminger also ridiculed Rapport’s contention that other infrastructure planning agencies would be misled by the MTC proposal:
Well, the most notable such infrastructure agency is MTC itself—and we don’t feel at all misled. To the contrary, we believe it would be deeply misleading to adopt a performance target that ignores a legally-enforceable settlement agreement on the very same subject.
Now, it’s true that you can’t force people to stop driving into the region to work, any more than you can force them to live in the Bay Area or to get on bicycles or BART or buses.
And Rapport set himself up for Heminger’s gibe about MTC misleading other agencies in the region that do infrastructure planning.
But the argument that the “statutory” rubric forecloses the inclusion of anti-displacement is lame. If that’s a problem, change the rubric.
Heminger’s reference to “a legally-enforceable settlement” is a different story—one that illustrates MTC’s affinity with the agents of property capital.
After Plan Bay Area was approved in 2013, MTC and ABAG were sued by the Building Industry Association of the Bay Area.
BIA is one of the most pernicious forces in California public life.
In 2010, for example, the California BIA sued San Jose over the city’s inclusionary housing ordinance. The law required developers of projects larger than 20 units to set aside 15 percent of those units as affordable. For five years, affordable housing advocates held their breath, as the case wended its way through the courts. In June they could finally exhale—and cheer: the California Supreme Court upheld the law.
Last week, the California BIA helped to stall SB 465, a bill intended to help prevent disasters like the recent lethal balcony collapse in Berkeley. Sponsored by Democratic Senators Jerry Hill of San Mateo and Loni Hancock of Berkeley, SB 465 required licensed contractors to voluntarily report to Contractors State License Board any criminal convictions or large settlements against them resulting from defective construction. “Opponents,” reported The Sacramento Bee,
including the California Building Industry Association, countered that settlements are often a means of avoiding even costlier litigation and provide no information on the merit of the claims. They argued that the bill could open them up to more frivolous lawsuits.
In August 2013 the Building Industry Association of the Bay Area sued MTC and ABAG for not having counted in-commuters—people who drive into the region to work—as part of the region’s population in Plan Bay Area. BIA argued that the agencies had thereby violated SB 375. The organization also claimed that the state law requires each Sustainable Communities Strategy to
identify areas within the region sufficient to house “all” of the region’s population, including all economic groups, taking into account net migration into the region, population growth, household information, and employment growth.
The suit was settled out of court. Here’s a key passage in the settlement agreement:
6a. Regional Housing Control Total and Forecasted Development Pattern. The SCS shall set forth a forecasted development pattern for the region that includes the Regional Housing Control Total [the estimated total number of units needed to accommodate all of the families in the region plus the number of housing units that correspond to the in-commute increase], which shall have no increase in in-commuters over the baseline year for the SCS, and shall not be based on historical housing production.
Citing the settlement agreement, Heminger’s memo asserted:
[I]t would appear that ABAG staff’s real objection is to the way state law is phrased and the manner in which the BIA Bay Area’s settlement agreement requires us to interpret that law. But the law says what it says, and the settlement agreement was freely entered into by both MTC and ABAG and is binding on both parties for Plan Bay Area 2040 and all subsequent updates.
To back up his claims, Heminger attached to his memo a four-page opinion from MTC’s outside counsel, the Thomas Law Group.
Strikingly, neither Rapport nor Heminger addressed the causal relationship between growing displacement and increased in-commuting—the fact that the region’s most vulnerable residents are being pushed out of their homes by the gentrifying effects of new housing in our region.
BIA’s attempt to invalidate inclusionary housing in California highlights what has long been clear: despite its homage to SB 375, the real estate industry could care less about “accommodating all of the families in the region.” What it wants is the right to build as much as it can, at will, and the group supports legal mechanisms that favor that right. Requiring Plan Bay Area to count in-commuters as part of the region’s population is one such mechanism. No matter that extortionate housing prices are forcing many Bay Area workers to move out of the region and drive back in to their jobs. Indeed, policies and laws that protect poor residents from displacement only interfere with the real estate industry’s prerogatives.
At the joint commitees’ July 10 meeting, the connection between unaffordable housing, in-commuting, and displacement would take center stage.
The public disagreement between the staffs of ABAG and MTC was unusual and momentous. At every level of government, elected officials depend on staff for analysis of complex issues that they don’t have the time or the expertise to parse on their own. The broader the jurisdiction, the greater the complexity and the dependence.
The elected officials who occupy most of the seats at MTC and ABAG must rule on land use, housing, and transportation policy and funding for the whole Bay Area, which officially encompasses 101 cities and nine counties. ABAG and MTC voting members operate as regional officials without personal aides, the likes of which serve them in their municipal and county capacities. It follows that they depend heavily on the recommendations of MTC and ABAG staff.
As a rule, the staffs of the two agencies present a united front, which prompts the typically concordant (I’d say, too-concordant) discussion at the MetroCenter.
When the staffs put forth dueling recommendations about Plan Bay Area’s displacement and affordable housing policies, they set the stage for a contentious—and illuminating—exchange.
ABAG Planning Director Miriam Chion tried to avert friction by disclosing that ABAG and MTC planning staffers were still “working on the language” for Goal/Target #2. She said she was “optimistic” that they would “meet the expectations of ABAG, MTC and BIA.”
But consensus was not in the cards.
MTC Commissioner and Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty said he wasn’t sure he shared Chion’s optimism about reaching a resolution agreeable to all three parties.
For one thing, he’d heard “some objections from ABAG staff during discussion of how to settle with BIA.”
For another, the settlement language notwithstanding, “the agencies lack the legal authority to prohibit in-commutes.”
Finally, Haggerty asked the agencies to “realistically address the impacts of inter-regional travel.” On Friday morning he’d sent a letter to the two committees asking that before adopting a target of “no-increase in in-commuters over the Plan baseline year,” MTC staff “fully disclose the implications of this policy on infrastructure policy for the Tri-Valley”—i.e., his district—“where a substantial in-commute increase is projected beyond the baseline.” He cited a passage in the settlement agreement that “make[s ]allowance for [MTC’s] full discretion and authority over transportation funding decisions” and “allows for the inclusion of specific metrics and inputs.”
On July 16, I emailed Haggerty aide Marianne Payne with the question: Is the supervisor concerned that a no in-commuting increase policy might foreclose funding that addresses the real-life growth that’s projected for the Tri-Valley?
Payne emailed back:
Yes, he would like decision-makers to be fully informed when making funding decisions for transportation infrastructure.
The bigger issue to consider is the lack of inter-regional planning that is occurring and that is an area he would like to see addressed going forward.
We seem to have outgrown the borders of the Nine-county planning area and the I-580 corridor is suffering from the fallout of this. It’s the workhorse of the region – a significant regional and interregional commuter route and also a major gateway for goods movement to and from the Bay Area’s seaports. It is one of the most heavily congested highway routes in the Bay Area – with the second highest volume of truck traffic.
He is concerned about congestion and the impact it has on air quality, quality of life and the economy.
Responding to Haggerty, Heminger ignored the contradiction between MTC’s proposed policy and projected reality. He said that ABAG Chief Economist Cynthia Kroll is still developing the commuter numbers that will appear in the PBA update. And he put out a few statistics (the technocrat’s WD-40): today about 100,000 people are driving into the Bay Area to work; they account for about 3% of travel in the region; MTC expects to see 40,000 more in-commuters over the next thirty years.
Heminger also gave Haggerty a little tweak: “We showed you the same numbers at the time of the settlement agreement,” (so why are you bringing this up now?), adding that “[t]he agreement requires us to carry out this process.”
ABAG Chair and Clayton Councilmember Julie Pierce echoed Heminger’s view of the agreement’s implications for Plan Bay Area and offered MTC executive director a kudo: “Steve, I appreciate your mentioning the moving of the displacement issue into Target 6. I think that keeps this much much cleaner.”
In fact, MTC wants to cut, not move, the language about displacement.
Then things got really heated.
MTC Commissioner and San Francisco Supervisor David Campos delivered a fiery denunciation of MTC’s proposals, which he called “unfortunate and disgraceful.” If we’re going to move forward with this, I think we need to have a closed session.
Campos said he “didn’t understand the settlement agreement…to preclude the language that ABAG has proposed. If that’s the case, then I think we need to have a closed session.”
Indeed, he continued,
“I can’t believe that [eliminating that language] is even a consideration….How can you talk about adequate housing when you’re not actually saying that you’re not going to displace poor people?…If we move forward with this, which I think is a real mistake, I hope that there is a lawsuit…[brought by] the entities out there that are concerned about low-income people.”
Campos was followed by ABAG Administrative Committee member and Napa County Supervisor Mark Luce, who announced, “I’m almost going to repeat what David just said.”
“I was part of the negotiations with BIA. I understood BIA’s interest in adding numbers to what would otherwise be calculated as the RHNA [Regional Housing Need Allocations]…. In order to cut off our legal costs, we agreed to add numbers based on the calculation of what that in-commute would be. But at no time did we ever agree that we would have the goal of no in-commute…”
Moreover, Luce averred, the in-commute goal is “constitutionally inappropriate and wrong. We have no right to restrict travel.”
Luce also rapped MTC’s notion that displacement of poor Bay Area residents could be addressed by more affordable housing in Priority Development Areas. “[T]he issue of displacement came up,” he recalled,
“when we talked about investing in low-income housing in these PDAs—getting to the notion that the people who lived there would not be the beneficiaries of that investment, and that there would be displacement by the fact that we were creating more affordable housing in those areas.”
Luce was referring to a little-understood and even less-addressed but critical disconnect between housing policy and the local economy: what’s officially affordable (based on HUD standards) in the Bay Area is often too expensive for people who can’t get into our region’s insane housing market, where prices are currently set by tech-worker incomes and international capital.
It seemed to me that Luce had misread the settlement agreement: he contended that the regional agencies had never agreed to “the goal of no in-commute”; but the settlement agreement stipulated that Plan Bay Area had to accommodate the region’s entire population and entail “no increase in in-commuters over the baseline year for the SCS.” Isn’t there a contradiction here?
I put that question to Luce on July 14.
In an emailed reply, the Napa County supervisor wrote:
[O]ur efforts should be to interpret the BIA agreement in context. ABAG insisted wording be added to the agreement that increased the housing allocation, per the desire of BIA, while not making wild policy promises that could not be accomplished.
Luce thinks one such “wild policy promise” is no increase in commuting from outside the region, because it doesn’t take into account commutes between counties, including short commutes between counties that border two regions.
If we really want a “no in-commute” policy, then it should be applied to each county, not just at a regional level. Why should we resist commuters from Lake County into Napa County while saying nothing about commuters from Sonoma County into Napa County?….Implementing a no in-commute goal at our regional boundary serves no real value, interferes with the relationships with our border counties, and may actually make the commutes within the region worse. In short, if we are going to restrict in-commutes, it should be applied to each county….
However, as powerful as a county by county no in-commute goal would be, I believe the best way to address the goal of shorter commutes is to have the goal of shorter commutes regardless of which county or region the commute originates.
Makes sense to me.
What makes even more sense is Luce’s further argument that the commute problem reflects the lopsided jobs-housing mismatch in the Bay Area:
[W]hy continue policies that create a group of bedroom counties and a group of job counties within our region, with long commutes between them, while only concerning ourselves with the short commutes between our border counties?
Over the phone, Luce told me: “The building industry is not trying to address” the imbalance between jobs and housing. “What [BIA] wanted was that housing.”
I note here, as I didn’t in my conversation with Luce, that Plan Bay Area worsens the jobs-housing imbalance by stuffing ever-more jobs into three “job centers”—Oakland, San Francisco, and San Jose—and by assuming that growth per se is an absolute good.
Back at the July 10 meeting, Novato Mayor Pro Tem and ABAG Executive Board member Pat Eklund joined the fray. After explicitly allying herself with Campos and Luce, Eklund objected to MTC’s versions of performance targets #2 and 6. Furthermore, she said she saw “no explanation in the staff report of how a no in-commute increase is going to be determined.”
Then San Francisco Supervisor and MTC Commissioner Scott Wiener spoke. He began by urging that the MTC proposal be amended to include the displacement language. The two components, he said, “don’t seem mutually exclusive.”
Wiener went on to defend the no in-commute increase policy:
“I don’t read this at all as saying we’re somehow—it’s pretty clear…what the language in the settlement is—trying to bar people from commuting….[C]onstitutionally, of course, we can’t do that, nor should we do that. People can live and work where they want to live and work, and that’s their choice, and their choice only.”
Nevertheless, “trying to reduce the in-commute” is “a laudable and important goal….There might be [an increase], and if there is, that’s life.”
Wiener then tied in-commuting to the displacement of poor Bay Area residents from their homes:
“But I don’t think that because we can’t somehow enforce [the no in-commute increase policy] or because it might not happen, that we shouldn’t try, [or] that it shouldn’t be one of our target goals, because we know that when you have continual growth of the in-commute, that the environment is going to disproportionately impact low-income people and in fact, [with] increases in the in-commute, low-income people are being pushed out and are forced to in-commute—they don’t have any choice in the matter—because they can no longer afford to live where they work….It ties directly to a lack of affordable housing….In fact, the lack of displacement language, and the desire not to increase the in-commute—to me, are really linked one to the other.”
The San Francisco supervisor seemed to be saying that people driving into the Bay Area to work are displacing the region’s poor residents.
In truth, it’s the other way around: it’s displacement of the region’s poor residents that’s forcing people live outside the Bay Area and to drive back in to work.
Does Wiener really think that in-commuting is causing displacement? I sent that question, sans “really,” along with my transcript of his remarks, to his office. Wiener aide Jeff Cretan consulted his boss and got back to me with a one-word reply: No.
Wiener also questioned the affordability of officially affordable housing. “Commissioner Luce,” he said, “you raise a good point: when you build affordable housing, who is it for?” Are you “prioritizing existing residents?….In San Francisco we intend to provide a geographic preference for a portion of affordable housing that’s built.” Wiener was referring to legislation that he’s co-sponsoring at the Board of Supervisors.
In the face of the concerted opposition, Heminger backtracked. He allowed that he’d “confused matters….The two changes [replace displacement language with no in-commute increase, and address displacement by building more affordable housing in PDAs] we’re recommending are not related to each other. There’s nothing in the BIA settlement
“that constrains how we deal with displacement. The only reason we were recommending…moving the [displacement] language is that we have used the words “required” or “statutory” in describing the first two measures [in the adopted, first edition of PBA]. So if the Board…would like to maintain that displacement language, I suggest that we not mischaracterize them and call them ‘required’ or ‘statutory.’”
Heminger then repeated that the two changes “are not related” and added: “We just happen to have them both before you, because they relate to the same metric.” Huh?
Nobody followed up on that confusing assertion.
Instead, Solano County Supervisor and MTC Commissioner Jim Spering, who chairs the MTC Planning Committee, asked, “What is the definition of displacement?”
Turns out that the regional agencies don’t have definition. Heminger suggested that formulating one is going to be “difficult.”
“What [displacement] means locally,” observed the MTC executive director, “may be different from what it means regionally. Frankly, we do not have a good working definition of what displacement means for a Sustainable Communities Strategy.”
To which the chair of the MTC Planning Committee, Solano County Supervisor Jim Spering declared, “We’re doing this completely ass-backwards.”
Another complication was suggested by Marin County Supervisor and MTC Planning Committee member Steve Kinsey: If people are forced out of their current housing but stay in the region, that’s “not considered displacement.” Should it be?
Tom Azumbrado, the HUD rep who sits on the MTC Planning Committee, brought up the example of “voluntary migration or voluntary relocation, which is allowed and is being used a lot, especially with housing choice vouchers.”
Right off, I’d say that wasn’t displacement, which I associate with forced mobility.
But what if you’re using a housing choice voucher because you were forced out of your rental?
Before deciding how to proceed, the joint committees invited public comment. In fact, they’d already received at least three letters commenting on the disagreement between MTC and ABAG staffs over the updated Performance Targets.
Two of those letters expressed support for MTC’s position. One, dated July 7, was the Bay Planning Coalition missive that noted above.
On its website, the BPC says it’s “the sole organization focused specifically on the economic interests and vitality of the Bay”:
a non-profit, membership-based organization representing public and private entities in the maritime industry and related shoreline businesses, ports and local governments, landowners, recreational users, labor unions, residential and commercial builders, environmental and business organizations, and professional service firms in engineering, construction, law, planning, and environmental sciences.
The BPC’s 33-member board includes BIA executive Paul Campos. (Campos sits on ABAG’s Regional Planning Committee as one of the two representatives of “Housing.” The other rep is Michael Lane from BIA’s sometime ally, the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California.)
In its letter, the Bay Planning Association registered
its support in the strongest possible way for the MTC staff’s proposed language for the Adequate Housing Performance Target for Plan Bay Area 2.0. Stated plainly, MTC’s proposal represents good-faith impementation of SB 375’s requirement (recognized by both MTC and ABAG in the BIA Plan Bay Area Settlement Agreement) for our region’s Sustainable Communities Strategy to plan for adequate housing within the region (emphasis in original).
The BPA also assailed ABAG staff, asserting that their
proposal simply represents “business-as-usual” and a clear retreat from the cooperation and consensus represented in the Settlement Agreement’s approach to proper implementation of SB 375’s fundamental housing requirement. Even more troubling, the ABAG staff report embraces a defeatist attitude toward our region’s ability to provide adequate housing for people of all income levels, and puts forth the remarkable ‘justification’ that nothing in Plan Bay Area can improve our region’s chronic under-supply of new housing. Needless to say, we reject such pessimism.
The BPA email had many attachments, including two July 7 emails from Campos.
Paul Campos’ emails were both addressed to members of the Bay Area Business Coalition, an entity comprising the Bay Area Council, the Bay Planning Coalition, BIA Bay Area, the Contra Costa Council, the East Bay Economic Development Association, the Oakland- based Jobs and Housing Coalition, the North Bay Leadership Council, the San Mateo County Economic Development Association, and the Solano Economic Development Corporation.
In a message sent at 11:05 am, the BIA’s Campos wrote:
You will recall that the business community viewed the final Plan Bay Area that was adopted by MTC and ABAG as not planning for adequate housing within the region, with the foreseeable result (confirmed by the Plan Bay Area EIR) being a continuing increase in the number of people with jobs in the region but unable to afford housing and being forced to in commute from areas such as the Central Valley. BIA Bay Area filed a lawsuit on this issue, arguing that Plan Bay Area violated SB 375 by continuing “business as usual” for the region in terms of continuing the historical practice of planning insufficient housing within the region so that the number of in commuters will continue to increase each year. BIA and the regional agencies settled the lawsuit with the Settlement Agreement among other things requiring the agencies to calculate the region’s overall housing need in such as way that there would be adequate housing planned within the region so that there would be no overall increase in incommuting over a baseline year. MTC and ABAG will be considering the overall Housing Performance Target at a joint meeting of MTC’s Planning Committee and ABAG’s Administrative Committee on Friday, July 10.
The two agencies are in conflict over how to approach the Housing Performance Target, with MTC proposing to adhere in good faith to SB 375’s and the Settlement Agreement’s requirement to plan for adequate housing within the region while ABAG is proposing to retain the same flawed language from Plan Bay Area 1.0. While this is very disappointing from ABAG, it is not altogether unexpected as ABAG staff fought the Settlement Agreement tooth and nail, and played on some local governments’ hostility to increasing the region’s housing supply.
Paul Campos’ second email, sent at 1:54 pm, read as follows:
I’ve attached the letter that BIA sent today to the MTC Planning Committee and ABAG Administrative Committee members supporting MTC staff’s proposal regarding the Plan Bay Area 2.0 Adequate Housing Target. I’ve also attached a spread sheet with Committee member email contact information. This item (Agenda Item 6) will be discussed at the joint meeting this Friday, July 10.
Again, if your organization could submit a similar letter before Friday’s joint meeting that would be extremely helpful. And if you are able to send a representative to testify at the hearing, that would be great.
On July 8 one of the recipients’ of those emails, Jim Wunderman, President and CEO of the Bay Area Council, answered the call to action by sending the joint committees an email supporting MTC.
On its website, the Bay Area Council calls itself “The Voice of Bay Area Business.” Make that big business.
Wunderman presented BAC as a champion of affordability and the environment:
According to ABAG’s computation of data on commute flows shown on page 77 of its State of the Region 2015 report, even five years ago more than 162,000 people commuted to jobs in the Bay Area from outside it on a daily basis. This number has likely increased substantially as home prices have gone up and construction of new housing units close to job centers has not kept pace with regional job growth.
….As we work on this new iteration of Plan Bay Area, there are efforts in Sacramento to require additional major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions targets.
As a result, it is imperative that we make the best possible effort to increase housing growth within our region, with its cooler temperatures, and near to regional job centers in particular. If we do not, our only option will be to spend millions to build the mass transportation systems necessary to accommodate commuters from outside the region. We will also be forced to answer to the future generations who will be unable to live here.
A third letter, emailed on the morning of July 10 by Peter Cohen and Fernando Martí, the co-directors of the San Francisco Council of Community Housing Organizations, protested MTC’s proposed removal of anti-displacement language in the Adequate Housing Performance Target for Plan Bay Area 2.0.
Speaking for 23 community-based housing developers, service providers, and tenant advocates, Cohen and Martí charged that
stripping out the existing language….would be a complete reversal of the MTC Commission’s and ABAG Board’s commitment to a “sustainable communities strategy” for the Bay Area future that ensures every effort to protect residents from being displaced from their existing homes. To call this a “modest change” (MTC staff report, pg 2) is a dramatic understatement and quite disingenuous.
The CCHO co-directors reminded the joint committees that the
words — “without displacing current low-income residents” – were added to the Adequate Housing performance target in the adoption process for Plan Bay Area 1.0 after persistent and thoughtful advocacy by a very wide range of community stakeholders from environmental, housing, labor and social equity perspectives.
The reason MTC proposed to wipe out “with a stroke of the pen” the agencies’ commitment to the region’s poor residents was “to apparently mollify the Building Industry Association and the Bay Area Council.”
While the BIA may consider controlling in-commuting to be the main challenge in ensuring a successful Bay Area growth vision, a much broader set of stakeholders consider controlling displacement (whether to outside the region or within the region) to be the challenge in ensuring a successful, and equitable, Bay Area growth vision.
That is why the MTC Commission and ABAG Board adopted that language in Plan Bay Area in the first place, as an acknowledgment that while development is promoted in the plan, the MTC and ABAG do not blithely accept displacing residents from their existing homes as collateral damage from infill growth in our communities.
Declaring themselves “perplexed as to why MTC and ABAG staff have set up this issue for your committee as a ‘choice’ between two policy goals,” Cohen and Martí offered an “additive” option:
House 100% of the region’s projected growth by income level (very-low, low, moderate, above-moderate) without displacing current low-income residents and with no increase in in-commuters over the Plan baseline year.
During live public comment, MTC’s proposed changes came in from additional criticism from members of the Six Wins for Social Equity Network.
Bob Allen, Director of Policy and Advocacy Campaigns at Urban Habitat, urged the agencies to include language about displacement in target #2, and to specify the housing in #6 as “affordable to and occupied by low–income households.”
David Zisser, staff attorney with Public Advocates Inc., observed that “PDAs are not the only places where transit investments are made” and pointed out that the Six Wins’ “Environment, Equity and Jobs” alternative to the official draft Plan Bay Area had identified “other transit-rich and high-opportunity areas.”
The joint committee also heard from supporters of MTC’s recommendations, including Randy Kinman, who sits on MTC’s Policy Advisory Council as the representative of the low-income community of Santa Clara County. Kinman also chairs the council. She reported that on the previous Wednesday afternoon she and her colleagues had voted 11-3-3 to approve the transportation agency’s recommendations. Like Zisser, she recommended that #6 be amended to include “high-opportunity and transit-priority areas” in order “to take pressure off the PDAs.” Kinman also noted, in a regretful tone, that she and her fellow council members hadn’t realized that MTC and ABAG were still discussing new language.
Another member of MTC’s Policy Advisory Council also spoke at public comment: BIA Bay Area Executive Officer Glover. (Glover sits on the Policy Advisory Council as one of the two “Economy” representatives. The other is Jerry Levine, a former San Francisco Planning Commissioner who worked for many years for the City and County of San Francisco.)
Glover was brief and restrained:
“I think the dialogue here today has been extremely beneficial. I’m glad that the two items are being separated—that’s an important point. You have a letter from our organization detailing our concerns and our support with #2—the MTC proposal. I think Mr. Heminger has accurately conveyed the meaning of the lawsuit….At the end of the day, BIA, ABAG and MTC all entered into that settlement agreement. We look forward to continuing in good faith as we move forward in this process.”
He and his confederates at MTC had lost this round, but Glover knew that the fight wasn’t over.
At the end of public comment, Spering declared, “Let’s bring it back to the committee.” Instead, seeking to “wrap up” the discussion, Spering turned to staff: “Okay, Steve and Ezra: what kind of direction are you looking forward from us here today?” Marking the diversity of opinion, and recalling David Campos’ call for a closed session, Spering also asked MTC General Counsel Adrienne Weil to research the legal parameters of such a meeting. Weil said she’d review the committees’ discretion under the Brown Act.
Rapport was notably reticent, stating only that he thought “the two performance measures of displacement and in-commute [were] very important, that we need to understand the factors that drive those issues,” and that he “[didn’t] feel the conversation has matured enough for us to make a recommendation.”
Heminger, noting that they’d been given “a lot of work,” commented on the incongruity of assigning the displacement issue to his agency.
“We’re used to dealing with parked cars and pavement,…and at some point I do think we’re running the risk of stretching the limits of our capabilities here, in terms of what we can model, what we can measure, and what we can report back to you in confidence.”
Undaunted, Spering asked Heminger to report samples of where displacement is happening, why, and “what we can do to discourage it.”
The executive directors are supposed to report their findings in September.
Addressing Campos, Spering quipped: “David, you need to be patient as MTC transitions from a transportation agency to a housing authority.” Everyone laughed.
But the looming prospect of just such a transition is no laughing matter.