June 13, 2011 - From the July, 2010-May, 2011 issue

Bay Area Moves Forward on SB 375 Implementation

i>The following excerpts are from the Initial Vision Scenario recently released by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (the region's official Metropolitan Planning Organization) and the Association of Bay Area Governments. Given the diverse geography, population, and local jurisdictions of the Bay Area, this initial pass at presenting a cohesive and comprehensive plan for SB 376 implementation should present a helpful model for Southern California planners dealing with similar considerations of size and scope. The Initial Vision Scenario sets the stage for the forthcoming Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS)-branded with the moniker ‘One Bay Area'-which should be ready in two years.

In 2008, Senate Bill 375 (Steinberg) was enacted. The state law requires that our Regional Transportation Plan contain a Sustainable Communities Strategy that integrates land-use planning and transportation planning. For the 25-year period covered by the Regional Transportation Plan, the Sustainable Communities Strategy must identify areas within the nine-county Bay Area sufficient to house all of the region's population, including all economic segments of the population. It must also attempt to coordinate the resulting land-use pattern with the transportation network so as to reduce per capita greenhouse-gas emissions from personal-use vehicles (automobiles and light trucks).

The Initial Vision Scenario for Plan Bay Area is a first-cut proposal that identifies the areas where the growth in the region's population might be housed. This proposal builds upon a rich legacy of integrative planning in the Bay Area. For over a decade, the region and its local governments have been working together to locate new housing in compact forms near jobs, close to services and amenities, and adjacent to transit so that the need to travel long distances by personal vehicle is reduced. Compact development within the existing urban footprint also takes development pressure off the region's open space and agricultural lands. We have referred to this type of efficient development as "focused growth," and the regional program that supports it is called FOCUS.

Planning for New Housing and Supporting Infrastructure

The Initial Vision Scenario is constructed by looking first at the Bay Area's regional housing needs over the next 25 years. This analysis was performed using demographic projections of household growth. It is not a forecast of the region, and does not take into account many factors that constrain the region's supply of new housing units, such as limitations in supporting infrastructure, affordable housing subsidies, and market factors. The principal purpose of the

Initial Vision Scenario is to articulate how the region could potentially grow over time in a sustainable manner, and to orient policy and program development to achieve the first phases of implementation. Under the assumptions of the Initial Vision Scenario, the Bay Area is anticipated to grow by over 2 million people, from about 7,350,000 today to about 9,430,000 by the year 2035. This population growth would require around 902,000 new housing units. The Initial Vision Scenario proposes where these new units might be accommodated.

In a departure from previous regional growth scenarios, this Initial Vision Scenario is designed around places for growth identified by local jurisdictions. These places are defined by their character, scale, density, and the expected housing units to be built over the long term. Using "place types," areas with similar characteristics and physical and social qualities, ABAG asked local governments to identify general development aspirations for areas within their jurisdictions.

These places were mostly the Priority Development Areas (PDAs) already identified through the Initial Vision Scenario FOCUS program. They also included additional Growth Opportunity Areas, some similar to PDAs and others with different sustainability criteria.

Based on local visions, plans and growth estimates, regional agencies distributed housing growth across the region, focusing on PDAs and Growth Opportunity Areas. ABAG in some cases supplemented the local forecast with additional units based on the typical characteristics of the relevant locally-selected place type. ABAG also distributed additional units to take advantage of significant existing and planned transit investment, and it assigned some units to locally identified areas that present regionally significant development opportunities for greater density.


The Initial Vision Scenario accommodates 97 percent of new households within the existing urban footprint. Only 3 percent of the forecasted new homes require "greenfield development" (building on previously undeveloped lands). Priority Development Areas and Growth Opportunity Areas contain about 70 percent of the total growth (743,000 households).

Among counties, three take the lion's share of growth: Santa Clara, Alameda and Contra Costa absorb a little over two-thirds of the total. These same counties also are anticipated to take the majority of the region's job growth (64 percent). The region's three major cities do a lot of the heavy lifting. Thirty-two percent of the forecast and proposed housing growth occurs in San José, San Francisco and Oakland. Seventeen percent goes to medium-sized cities like Fremont, Santa Rosa, Berkeley, Hayward, Concord, and Santa Clara.

The analysis embodied in the Initial Vision Scenario is founded on the location of housing. Employment forecasting and distribution in this Scenario is not directly related to land use policy. Employment location can have a powerful influence on travel demand, vehicle miles traveled, and vehicle greenhouse-gas emissions. In light of these factors and considering economic competitiveness, transit sustainability, and a balanced relationship between employment and housing, regional agencies will be embarking, with local partners, on further analysis regarding appropriate employment locations in relation to future housing growth and the transportation network. This will inform the development of the Detailed Scenarios.

The Initial Vision Scenario reflects the transportation investments from MTC's current Regional Transportation Plan (known as the Transportation 2035 Plan) with an Express Lane backbone system. It also includes some proposed improvements to the region's transit network. These include increased frequencies on over 70 local bus and several express bus routes, improved rail headways on BART, eBART, Caltrain, Muni Metro, VTA light-rail, and Altamont Commuter Express, and more dedicated bus lanes in San Francisco and Santa Clara counties, all resulting in overall growth in transit capacity. However, the Bay Area's transit system is financially unsustainable with operators unable to afford to run the current service levels into the future, much less expanded headways contemplated under the Initial Vision Scenario. MTC's Transit Sustainability Project will propose a more sustainable transit system for inclusion in the Detailed Scenarios to be tested.

Measuring Performance Against Targets

The Initial Vision Scenario results in a 12 percent per capita greenhouse gas emissions reduction from personal-use vehicles in 2035, compared to a 2005 base year. This reduction falls short of Initial Vision Scenario the region's state-mandated 15 percent per capita greenhouse gas emissions reduction target. It's clear that additional strategies will need to be employed if we want to attain the greenhouse gas targets, and other targets previously adopted by ABAG and MTC.

MTC and ABAG have adopted a set of Plan Bay Area performance targets to describe in specific, measurable terms the region's commitment and progress toward to the "three E" principles of sustainability (Economy, Environment, and Equity). The Initial Vision Scenario meets several regional targets, including accommodating all the projected housing need by income level (in other words, no more in-commuting by workers who live in other regions); reducing the financial burden of housing and transportation on low-income households by providing more affordable housing; and housing the majority of new development within the existing urban core. Also, more residents are projected to ride transit, walk and bike more than existing residents because much of the new housing is located close to services, amenities and jobs, and adjacent to transit in complete communities.


The Initial Vision Scenario brings more residents into the region, thus increasing the total amount of travel. Some residents will still drive for some trips. Even though vehicle miles traveled per capita in the Bay Area are projected to be lower in the Initial Vision Scenario than it is today, total miles driven within the region is projected to increase. With more Bay Area

Residents and more miles driven within the region, we can also expect an increase in the total number of injuries and fatalities. Health impacts from exposure to particulate emissions from automobiles and trucks are likewise projected to worsen with more driving; however, state and federal efforts to clean up heavy duty truck engines will more than off-set the increases from automobiles, resulting in overall reductions sooty particulate pollution.

Finally, it must be said that while bringing more people into the Bay Area will increase the amount of driving and collisions within the region, it is still a net win in the larger sense. The amount of overall driving and greenhouse gas emissions statewide is certainly less than if the new residents were commuting to Bay Area jobs from communities in neighboring regions that do not offer such amenities.

Next Steps

The Initial Vision Scenario is offered as basis for discussion with local governments, stakeholders, and the general public about how the Bay Area can accommodate all its population growth over the next quarter century. It is by no means a fait accompli. Over the next several months we will seek input through elected official briefings, local government staff discussions, and public workshops. The comments received will assist ABAG and MTC in developing a range of Detailed Scenarios and testing feasible land-use/transportation alternatives that achieve the greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.

The purpose of the SCS is to forge consensus in the Bay Area on a preferred long-term regionwide growth pattern. Under SB 375, local governments are explicitly not required to update their general plans in accordance with the SCS. The SCS does not carry the same authority as Regional Housing Needs Allocation but it will inform the distribution of housing at the local level. The adopted SCS land development pattern will help guide regional policies and investments that are made pursuant to the Regional Transportation Plan. These regional policies and investments are intended to create financial and other incentives to implement the adopted land pattern in the SCS. ABAG is currently working with its Housing Methodology Committee to develop a methodology for distributing regional eight-year housing targets to Bay Area local jurisdictions; the methodology will be adopted by ABAG later this year.

The Initial Vision Scenario kicks off a two-year conversation among local jurisdictions and regional agencies on what ultimately will become the forecasted Sustainable Communities Strategy, as a part of Plan Bay Area. During that time, the regional agencies will engage local agencies and the public to help identify and assess several detailed Sustainable Communities Strategy scenarios that demonstrate ways that land-use strategies, transportation investments, pricing and other strategies could achieve our adopted goals and targets. The scenarios also will need to address how the Bay Area's land use plans can assist adaptation to climate change. The Sustainable Communities Strategy will need to coordinate regional agencies' initiatives and requirements related to sea-level rise, air quality, and other climate change related issues.


These Detailed Scenarios will lead to selection of a preferred scenario early next year that would include an integrated transportation investment and land-use plan; this plan would also undergo a detailed environmental impact review that local agencies could use to streamline environmental assessments of their own local development projects as provided for in SB 375. Finally, the ABAG and MTC boards would be asked to adopt the complete Plan Bay Area, including a Sustainable Communities Strategy, by April 2013...


© 2014 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.