Meet Your New Landlord: Bay Area Rapid Transit

TOD Fruitvale2.jpg

Bart is Going Into the Housing Business

Are you wondering about the disappearing parking spaces at BART stations?  Or how come all those look-alike “villages” are springing up along BART lines?  The answer is BART has been developing a housing plan since the late 1990’s, which has now come into full swing.  Why, you might ask would a transit system want to go into the housing business:  hope of steady revenue streams. 

BART owns roughly 250 acres within one-half mile of its existing and under-construction stations, most of which are in surface parking lots. In 2016, the BART Board adopted a new Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) policy establishing goals of supporting the implementation of Plan Bay Area and infill development near stations in partnership with cities, in order to increase ridership where the system has capacity to grow, reduce auto dependence, and lower regional greenhouse gas emissions.

To implement this policy, and to achieve the 2025 and 2040 TOD performance targets also adopted by the BART Board in December 2016, BART will be accelerating the pace at which TOD projects on BART property occur, and will be working with cities to expand tools and resources for TOD within the one-half mile station area. The Board aims to have a total of 7,000 housing units built on BART property by 2025.

TOD Basics

*  In addition to increased ridership, BART is also counting on revenue streams derived from lease agreements with developers, as well as from value capture-covenants.  Property closer to transit carries a higher value, so developers are willing to pay value fees to BART for the privilege of building on BART-owned land.

*  However, TOD projects are not intended to be self-supporting.  BART’s plan includes public financing and governance mechanisms, including joint powers authorities, assessment districts, improvement districts, and lease credits – all designed to capture a variety of taxpayer funds.
*  Current TOD projects include executed agreements at Fruitvale, MacArthur, Millbrae, Pleasant Hill, Richmond, San Leandro, South Hayward, Walnut Creek, and West Dublin/Pleasanton stations.  Future projects are envisioned at West Oakland, Balboa Park, El Cerrito Plaza, and Lake Merritt stations.

*  The District’s Affordable Housing Policy, adopted January 2016, calls for a minimum 20% developer-subsidized units, and aims for a District-wide target of 30 percent of all units to be affordable, with a priority to very low (<50% AMI), low (51-80% AMI) and/or transit-dependent populations.

The disease worsens with treatment

A rallying cry of the 1960’s was “Question Authority!” which remains an excellent suggestion.  We at the Nine-County Coalition would like to add another suggestion, question treatments designed to cure ills of the market:

Is the primary purpose of BART TODs to help lower regional greenhouse gas emissions, or to continue looking under the sofa cushions for money, rather than improve efficiency and cut costs?  Observation:  “Labor costs, including both wages and benefits, are the primary driver for BART’s operating uses, comprising about 72% of BART’s operating expense.”

Density near transit lines is mandated by Plan Bay Area.  Property near transportation commands higher prices.  As higher-priced development continues, and urban sprawl is discouraged, housing costs continue to rise. This merry-go-round is beneficial to established property owners who see their property values rise; but hardly facilitates local economic growth, when renters and new buyers need to spend a large chunk of their earnings on housing, leaving little to spend on local goods and service.

Luckily, the BART Board of Directors is elected by the votes of District residents. They can be disregarded on Election Day if investment in TODs do nothing but obliterate our parking spaces and provide overpriced housing; if it does not prevent BART from needing to raise fares significantly or come to voters hat in hand at every election; or if revenues go toward even higher labor costs and benefits.