The Truth About Plan Bay Area
Plan Bay Area is the Bay Area's first Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS) mandated by Senate Bill 375 and is in the process of being finalized. This state required Bay Area regional plan - plans for transportation, housing and land use over the next 25 years. It concentrates high-density, mixed-use commercial and affordable housing near transit hubs.
Each jurisdiction in the Bay Area, including each Marin County jurisdiction, is mandated (with incentives and penalties) to follow Plan Bay Area. According to the plan, between now and 2040, Marin County is supposed to accommodate an unrealistic amount of growth, as shown below in terms of people, households and jobs.
Two Main Goals of Plan Bay Area
Two main goals that Plan Bay Area is supposed to achieve, as required by Senate Bill 375, are:
- To lower per capita auto and light truck Green House Gases by 15 percent
- To provide affordable housing for everyone in the region.
Yet, Plan Bay Area’s land use and transportation programs don’t achieve either of these goals.
GOAL #1 - Lowering Per-Capita Auto & Light Truck Green House Gas Emissions
According to SB 375, Plan Bay Area is supposed to lower per capita auto and light truck Green House Gas emissions by 15 percent and bring the Bay Area back to 1990 levels by the year 2020. Plan Bay Area claims that to return to 1990 levels requires a 25 to 35% reduction from current levels. However, this is actually an error. This level has already almost been achieved through efficiencies in car and light truck emissions.
Moreover, land use and transit programs proposed by Plan Bay Area (with great fiscal and environmental cost) would account for less than 1 percent reduction in per capita green house gases. The plan depends on the rest of the reduction to be accomplished through auto and light truck emission initiatives and climate initiatives.
Plan Bay Area’s Misguided Emphasis on Transit
Plan Bay Area concentrates most of its transportation programs and funding on expensive fixed guideway transit projects. The assumptions behind this are that spending more money on transit will get people to take transit instead of driving and that transit emits significantly less greenhouse gases than cars. Neither assumption is true.
Despite billions of dollars spent on transit over the past several decades, per capita transit ridership has declined by 36 percent since 1982.
Even if Plan Bay Area could increase per capita transit ridership, doing so is not likely to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While transit emits slightly less greenhouse gases than driving today, under the Pavley standards, cars and light trucks will soon be greener than transit. Indeed, cars and light trucks are rapidly becoming greener, while transit is improving slowly, if at all. Average auto fuel economy has improved by 40 percent in the last 40 years, while transit’s fuel economy has actually gotten worse.
Rapidly Evolving Efficiencies in Car and Light Truck Emissions Are The Most Effective Way To Reduce Green House Gases
In 2010, residents of the Bay Area produced 48.8 trillion tons of carbon-dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gases. The California Air Resources Board greenhouse gas plan, mainly because of the Pavley standards, would reduce this by 11 percent to 43.4 trillion tons by 2040. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s climate initiatives, which would promote electric cars, carpooling, and similar programs, would reduce emissions another 3 percent to 41.8 trillion tons. All of the other land-use and transportation programs, including transit initiatives, in Plan Bay Area (with great fiscal and environmental cost) would reduce emissions by less than 1 percent, to 41.3 trillion tons.
GOAL #2 - Providing Affordable Housing For Everyone In The Bay Area Region
Bay Area housing is very unaffordable today. Combined housing and transport costs consume two-thirds of the income of low- and lower-middle income households. Plan Bay Area set a target of reducing these combined costs to 56 percent, which is the national average. How close did it come to meeting this goal? Not only does it not meet the goal, it makes it worse, increasing costs to 69 percent of incomes.
Costs of Plan Bay Area
Not only are the fiscal costs of implementing Plan Bay Area astronomical, reaching into the 100s of billions of dollars, but the environmental costs (in terms of both physical devastation and monetary expense of mitigations) are enormous too. Moreover, the costs of dealing with the environmental impacts are unknown and unfunded.
Plan Bay Area’s DEIR
The Draft Plan Bay Area’s Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) demonstrates that implementation of Plan Bay Area would cause 39 significant unavoidable adverse environmental impacts, resulting in severe environmental harm and serious illness, injury, and loss of life. The severity, magnitude and number of these impacts are astonishing.
- Insufficient water supply
- Inundation from sea level rise
- Exposure to hazardous materials
- Inadequate waste-water treatment capacity
- A net increase in Sensitive Receptors located in Transit Priority Project corridors where there are high concentrations of cancer causing Toxic Air Contaminants and fine particulate matter emissions
- Direct removal, filling or hydrological interruption of habitat; and
- Interference with the movement of native resident or migratory fish or wildlife species.
These impacts were found to be unavoidable either because mitigations will not reduce the impacts to less-than-significant or else because the regional agencies cannot require local jurisdictions to impose the mitigation measures. Moreover, the mitigations are unfunded.
The Marin Countywide Plan’s EIR Corroborates Plan Bay Area’s DEIR Findings
In Unincorporated Marin, Plan Bay Area targets development where the Marin Countywide Plan (CWP) targets development. The CWP's Environmental Impact Report (EIR) found that implementation of the CWP would result in 42 Significant Unavoidable Adverse Environmental Impacts. Moreover, if you compare Plan Bay Area’s Priority Development Areas with Marin’s Hazard Maps, you will see that Plan Bay Area targets development in some of our most hazardous areas. These findings confirm that implementation of Plan Bay Area in Marin County would result in severe environmental harm and serious jeopardy of public health and safety.
Plan Bay Area isn’t needed to meet SB 375’s greenhouse gas reduction requirement. Plan Bay Area makes housing less affordable than ever. Moreover, the cost effectiveness of the plan is abysmal, with costs of implementing Plan Bay Area far surpassing any benefits achieved.
The only reasonable action to take at this point is to start over and devolve planning decisions to as local a level as possible.