Bay Area 2050 Plan: Analysis of a large regional plan that covers the next 30 years

To look for. Bay Area planners have a new “North Star.”

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) on Thursday approved the Bay Area 2050 Plan, a broad vision guiding the region’s growth and development over the next three decades. . The document takes a broader view than previous regional plans, endorsing progressive policy priorities like a universal basic income and a region-wide rent cap, as well as massive new spending on affordable housing and infrastructure. transport.

“We now have a plan of what it would take to resolve a set of intersecting crises facing the region – housing, social equity issues, transportation – that goes beyond what we have explored in the past.” says Dave Vautin, a planner at MTC. who has worked on Plan Bay Area 2050 since 2018.

Regional housing and transportation plans are mandated by a 2008 state law requiring cities to reduce car travel and greenhouse gas emissions. The specific strategies proposed in the plan would achieve this goal, cutting transportation emissions by almost half by 2035, compared to 2005 levels. But unlike its predecessors, Plan Bay Area 2050 also seeks to improve. racial and economic inequalities and proactively adapt to the impacts of climate change such as sea level rise.

Planners accounted for about $ 600 billion of the $ 1.4 trillion the region will need to spend over the next 30 years to carry out the plan. Some of the more ambitious things, like the rent cap, universal basic income, and highway tolls, will require enabling state legislation. But just having a plan to point to is an important first step towards achieving those goals, according to planners. “It really helps me advocate for Sacramento and Washington. … ”Said MTC legislative director Rebecca Long. “It’s just a really powerful base for moving forward on so many seemingly insurmountable challenges.”

So what does the plan include? We break down some of the most important and daring strategies below.

Lodging

The plan calls for the construction of nearly 400,000 new permanently affordable homes in the Bay Area by 2050. Another half a million homes currently affordable, whether by deed restriction or because the owner of the private market charges a low rent, would be bought by governments. or non-profit in order to remain affordable in perpetuity. These two strategies alone would cost more than $ 400 billion to implement.

Protecting tenants is another important aspect of the plan. “The strategy envisions a set of protections and policies similar to what we see in the city and county of San Francisco, across the region,” Vautin said. This includes the right to a lawyer for tenants threatened with eviction and regional rent control that would limit price increases at the cost of inflation, while exempting apartments built in the previous 10 years. Inclusion zoning, another policy currently in effect in San Francisco, would become a regional phenomenon, requiring large developments in the Bay Area to offer between 10 and 20 percent of their units at below-market rates.

While Plan Bay Area lacks the bite to ensure cities adopt these policies, another related planning process will help make this document more than just a collection of pretty maps. The priority development areas identified in the Bay Area 2050 Plan will help cities prepare to accommodate their respective shares of the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA), a state-mandated process that pushes cities to build enough. of housing to keep up with population growth. . Due to new laws led by State Senator Scott Wiener, the Bay Area housing allowance for 2023-2031 has more than doubled from the previous RHNA cycle. Cities that do not make a good faith effort to authorize new housing will now face consequences.

The location of priority development areas – usually close to public transport, employment centers and good schools – has not been without controversy. Fernando Martí, co-executive director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations in San Francisco, calls these geographies a “blunt tool” that “does not take into account existing communities”. If cities follow Plan Bay Area’s lead, working-class neighborhoods in the Interior Bay Area could experience massive development, Marti says, which could be detrimental to those communities.

Still other strategies of the plan are controversial for various reasons. Matt Regan, vice president of public policy at the Bay Area Council, doesn’t think rent controls and inclusive zoning provisions will help improve the housing shortage in the area. “The data is pretty clear that these two policies will have a negative impact on overall housing production.” Martí and Regan both praised the outline of the plan.

Transport

The vast majority of transportation spending under the plan would go to operating and improving the Bay Area’s existing transit system. This includes rehabilitating subways, increasing the frequency of public transportation, and reversing service outages in the era of the pandemic. Although it stops before calling a single, unified transportation agency for the Bay Area, the plan has built-in fares and trip planning, as well as scheduled transfers between systems.

The plan also contemplates building a familiar list of expensive infrastructure projects, including extending Caltrain lanes to downtown Salesforce Transit Center, completing a BART extension in San Jose, and l completion of the California high-speed rail system. Among the more conceptual projects highlighted in the plan is Link 21, a proposal to build a second rail tunnel between Oakland and San Francisco.

More modest infrastructure upgrades are also planned, including new dedicated transit lanes in the area and a 16,000 mile “complete streets” network safe for walking and cycling. With the goal of eliminating all fatal traffic accidents by 2030, the plan quietly calls for reducing speed limits on major arteries to 35 miles per hour and speed limits on highways to 55 miles. on time.

In addition to massive investments in public transport, the plan envisages the widening of a few highways and interchanges. The document goes on to acknowledge that these projects “are likely to increase vehicle miles traveled in the long term, with any congestion reduction benefits waning by 2050.” According to the plan, the real solution to congestion is road pricing. By 2050, most of the Bay Area’s freeways, as well as downtown San Francisco, will require a toll for drivers, with discounts for low-income people and carpoolers.

“Without pricing, we cannot meet these climate targets, we would have been below the target set by the state,” said Vautin. “And we are able to do it without causing negative impacts on equity. “

Economy and environment

Perhaps the most surprising strategy in the Plan Bay area is a universal basic income of $ 500 per month for every Californian, with the benefits for the wealthy being offset by higher taxes. This $ 200 billion item “actually tangibly narrowed the gap between rich and poor in the final plan,” Vautin said.

Other economic strategies include universal high-speed Internet, as well as incentives for major employers to move closer to public transit.

On the environmental front, the plan comes at a price to protect riparian communities from sea level rise to $ 19 billion. Low-lying infrastructure and neighborhoods, such as Highway 37 and the Embarcadero, may require different forms of protection, including dikes, natural marshes, or horizontal dikes. Zoe Siegel, director of climate resilience at the Greenbelt Alliance, pointed out that this strategy was the most exciting of the plan. “The whole region is threatened with rising sea levels, and that really puts forward a vision of how to address it. “

Yet supporters of different stripes remain concerned that there are currently no mechanisms in place to make the plan a reality. “The ambitious goals set out in Plan Bay Area will not be achievable without rethinking regional institutions,” said Ian Griffiths, executive director of transit organization Seamless Bay Area which advocates for a unified transportation system for the region. “Creating a clear regional authority for transport is a necessary step. “

Martí and Regan also stressed the need for a more powerful regional government to implement the housing aspects of the plan. “What ABAG and MTC need to do in the future is celebrate the bold and ambitious goals that are in this document,” says Regan, “And then start holding the cities and counties within ABAG- TCM, start keeping your feet on the fire. “

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