Plan Bay Area: Etched in Stone But Growing

Suggestions from the Nine-County Coalition:

*  If you are not familiar with Plan Bay Area, read on to get a feel of how the Plan was conceived.

*  If you are already familiar with the Plan, you may skip the article and take a survey on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s new website section called Horizon.  The survey will be available until March 31, 2018.

The birth of Plan Bay Area

Thousands of hours of public meetings marked the gestation of Plan Bay Area.  During such meetings, Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Association of Bay Area Government officials sat patiently with vacant eyes as they listened to hundreds upon hundreds of members of the public express their views on the Plan.  The public persisted in offering views, as the Plan marched on toward completion.  

At 6:30 pm on the evening of July 18, 2013, MTC/ABAG commissioners, along with a room-full of Bay Area residents, sat in the Oakland Marriott Hotel Ballroom, ready for yet another public meeting, more discussion, more public comment, and finally a vote from commissioners on the adoption of the Plan.  And comments abounded.  This is from a news article published on July 19, 2013 by SF Gate,

Critics showed up at Bay Area Plan meetings in increasing numbers as the plan rolled forward, and they dominated the crowd of about 400 at Thursday's meeting at the Oakland Marriott. Groups of opponents from Marin and San Jose chartered buses to the session. Many of them waved signs reading: "No Plan Bay Area," "One size doesn't fit all" and "Marxist Transportation Commission doesn't speak for me."  More than 120 people spoke at the hearing, most of them to blast the plan. Several insulted the commission and board members or pleaded with them to reject the plan, which they called unconstitutional and socialist.

Plan Bay Area adoption

After nearly six hours of discussion and testimony, at 12:15 am on July 19, 2013, commissioners voted and adopted the plan, as expected.  It was obvious then, as obvious now, Plan Bay Area was etched in stone from conception.

Stones don’t grow, but Plan Bay Area does

Plan Bay Area was etched in a special kind of stone called central planning.  This kind of stone remains basically rigid and unchanged, as stones do (unless there is a significant seismic event), but it grows.  Plan Bay Area 2040 is more encompassing than the original PBA 2013.  As we noted in previous articles,

Plan Bay Area 2040 is a mass of details.  Every demographic variable needs to be collected and catalogued.  People need to be identified, enumerated, and placed in their appropriate demographic slot.  Data collection needs to be thorough and frequent to ensure equity, environmental justice, sufficient outreach, minute forecasting into the next 20 years.  Each of these “performance targets” needs to be methodically described, religiously followed, and reworked when not met.  “Performance-based planning is at the core of Plan Bay Area 2040.

Focus on “Equitable Access” to housing is now greater than in 2013.  There is more reliance on policy changes and compulsory legislation, rather than dependence on market incentives.  Emphasis on mapping the Bay Area into “subregions” – “Big 3 Cities,” “Bayside”, and “Inland, coastal and Delta” – is also new.”

Difference Between Growth and Results

We also noted the following on the article quoted above:  “Performance means achieving a stated objective.  Result means solving an obvious problem.”  Has Plan Bay Area delivered results by improving the Bay Area quality of life, reducing traffic congestion, reducing the drumbeat of “housing crisis!,” provided inter-city transportation that enticed commuters?  If the answer is “yes,” wonderful.  If “no,” then it might be time for a seismic change.

Change comes with concerted effort by those who want change.  Remember the hours MTC/ABAG officials sat, glassy eyed, through interminable public meetings all the way up to adoption of Plan Bay Area 2013.  Think of the massive outreach by MTC/ABAG.  Look at the beautiful MTC website.  That’s what it takes.

Those who want results rather than performance are already doing quite a bit – for example, Citizen Marin, Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, Contra Costa County Taxpayers’ Association, San Mateo Residents Speak, Save Marinwood, Solano County Taxpayers’ Association.  Every opportunity to provide alternatives to Plan Bay Area needs to be taken.

The Horizons Survey:  An opportunity to suggest change

MTC recently announced a new planning tool, Horizon.  The current caption on the Horizon website is,

When we plan for the future, what sort of future are we planning for?

Unfortunately, what MTC means is what sort of future within the constraints of Plan Bay Area might expect.  The Horizon site offers the opportunity for residents to take a survey through March 31, 2018.  The survey mostly asks how survey takers visualize jobs, housing, transportation, and the environment in 2050.   We suggest you take the survey, but consider not feeling constrained by Plan Bay Area strategies.

Taking the Horizon survey might be a small effort, but if more and more of us who want results in improving our quality of life in the Bay area persist in small efforts, we might expose the flaws of Plan Bay Area sufficiently to bring about change.