Storm clouds are forming in the aftermath of the recent approval given by the Executive Boards of the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) of the One Bay Area Plan which sets forth urban planning goals for the region during the next quarter century.
Those opposing this major change on emphasis on the construction of high-density stack and pack housing around expanded mass transit facilities are making their displeasure known. Last week. simultaneously, while Orinda Watch presented its alternative proposal to their City Council, a group of over 300 concerned citizens gathered at the Lafayette Veterans Hall for a Town Hall Meeting.
This event sponsored by a new organization called Lafayette First, featured presentations by urban planning export Randal O’Toole from the Cato Institute and noted One Bay Area Plan critic Peter Singleton founder of the Bay Area Citizens Group who are preparing a lawsuit against ABAG and the MTC.
At the Lafayette meeting was a cross-section of residents from the area. These individuals did not appear to be weirdos, kooks, or those who might be affiliated with any fringe political organizations. As a whole they seemed to resemble concerned citizens who are worried about the future of their communities and what effect the One Plan Bay Area might have on them in years to come.
The word Democrat or Republican was not a topic of discussion for this grass-roots assembly. These are people who like the rural lifestyle they enjoy and want to keep it that way without the urban blight that has infected much of the Bay Area. The notion of family outweighed the call of outsiders for diversity by bringing low-income residents with subsidized housing and government services into their communities.
According to recent projections from ABAG, the MTC, the Lamorinda region is expected to absorb 1480 new multi-family units minimum per decade. This comes to 454 for Lafayette, 263 for Moraga, and 267 for Orinda. With much of this affordable housing to be of the subsidized variety, life as it has been known will be much different for these locales in 2040.
With these changes to be mandated by SB-375 (Sustainable Communities Strategy), AB-32 Global Warming Act, and possibly SB-1(pending legislation co-sponsored by Mark DeSaulnier D-Concord) would take away virtually all decision marking powers from local governments and place them in the hands of the State.
In addition, these measures backed by the power of ABAG and the MTC would allow for Sustainable Communities Investment Development Areas (SCIDA’s) that would have the power to tax, issue bonds, and declare single family homes as blight (for purposes of seizure) without a direct vote of the people.
Enter into the fray Randal O’Toole of the Cato Institute think tank who addressed the Town Hall Meeting. This gentleman, who has an extensive background with environmental issues, was heavily involved with stopping unsound logging operations during the 1980′s in Oregon. A renounced author, whose book Reforming the Forrest Service in 1988 did exactly that as O’Toole’s recommendations were followed to preserve timber resources.
In 2013 instead of being recognized as an ecological pioneer, he is viewed by the left as counter-revolutionary traitor as O’Toole has been an outspoken critic of New Urbanist Design and certain Smart Growth Strategies. which are the foundation of the One Bay Area Plan. It is this unique background that has brought the diminutive O’Toole into becoming an important voice against the ABAG/MTC agenda.
Among the aspects of the One Bay Area Plan he challenges are:
1. The need to go beyond what is already being done to reduce green house gases by lowering automobile emissions and other environmental initiatives that have been taken to conform with the edicts of SB-375, In addition, other technological improvements can be expected in the 20 years to help even more.
2. Creation of high density affordable house in Project Development Areas (PDA’s) adjacent to expanded mass transit hubs will not significantly reduce Global Warming. When considering the costs involved, these types of developments are a poor investment considering the limited return on capital spent.
3. So called affordable infill, “stack and pack” housing will actually result in raising residential prices outside the PDA’s because by reducing inventory by tearing down an estimated 169,000 single family homes as blight will increase the demand for these desirable dwellings.
4. The premise that future generations would prefer to live in crowded PDA’s rather than single family homes is a complete myth without any data supporting it.
5. There are no reputable studies indicating that construction of costly mass transit at the expense of road maintenance and buses will result in job creation or economic prosperity.
Providing a more local perspective to the gathering in Lafayette, Peter Singleton argued that state housing mandates “threaten our ability to make decisions for our community, as a community.” At the heart of the matter he was concerned with “threatening the loss of what makes Lamorinda unique which is the semi-rural character and the high quality of life shared by all residents.”
As a secondary consideration, Singleton is worried that the One Bay Area Plan, “will over time, impose significant unfunded liabilities that may adversely affect our city services and schools.” He also debunked the notions that:
We will get sued if we don’t do this. We have to go along to get our transportation dollars from the State.Even if these projects are built, they won’t affect our city one bit. None of these will be built. There’s nothing we can do about this anyway…
The concerned citizens who filled the Lafayette Veterans Hall and the Orinda City Council chambers on the evening of September 17th were not alone. Other communities in the region have been expressing similar sentiments in opposition to the One Bay Area Plan
In Marin County, the City of Corte Madera has withdrawn from ABAG. Due to protests, The San Rafael City Council rescinded their plans to concentrate future high density housing developments around their historic Frank Lloyd Wright designed civic center.
Closer to home in Danville opposition is growing not to change the rural nature of the community by having to build low-income housing to meet state mandates. It is being questioned why should they have to construct apartment complexes and infill when Danville is not close to any mass transit hubs?
As time passes and individual communities assess the impact of the One Bay Area Plan on their cities, is opposition continue to grow against it? Will people as Peter Singleton asserted “Continue to be hypnotized soothing platitudes of Smart growth, affordable housing, walkable sustainable neighborhoods, high opportunity communities and paying your fair share” which characterizes the rhetoric of the ABAG/MTC crowd?
Only time will tell. The battle is just beginning.