Since late April, we have been communicating with folks
mostly by email, phone, and meetings, and want to give you an update here on
developments with Bay Area Citizens since then, especially as it relates to
Plan Bay Area.
Plan adoption, July 19, 2013
Just after midnight, Friday, July 19, 2013, ABAG and MTC
voted to certify Plan Bay Area’s final Environmental Impact Review (EIR), and
voted to adopt the Plan itself.
Remarkably, given the apparent lack of any real deliberation during the
entire process by which this Plan has been promulgated, the votes by ABAG’s
Executive Committee and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission were not
unanimous. Five unnamed ABAG
Executive Committee members voted “no” on the Plan’s adoption, and one MTC Commissioner
voted “no” as well.
During the comment period of the draft Plan and on the
Plan’s draft EIR, ABAG and MTC received hundreds of comment letters from
individuals, organizations, cities, and other governmental agencies. Bay Area Citizens has read many of
these, including most of the more substantive ones. Many of the comment letters were carefully documented and
well reasoned, including those submitted by individual citizens. The vast majority of the comment
letters submitted by individual citizens and by far the majority of comment
letters submitted overall raised grave concerns over the substance of the Plan
and the deficiencies of the Plan’s process.
The majority of the cities’ comment letters raised concerns
about the Plan as well. The only
group of letters that expressed any significant measure of support for the
goals and policies of the Plan were those submitted by “stakeholder”
organizations that have been funded and staffed to advocate for policies like
those in Plan Bay Area.
Bay Area Citizens role
Bay Area Citizens members submitted a number of substantive comment
letters, and we collaborated and communicated with dozens of other citizens who
also submitted substantive and material comment letters on the Plan.
We also raised funds to commission comment letters from a
number of nationally-respected experts in land use and transportation
planning. Our experts also collaborated
with other nationally-respected experts who filed comment letters on their own
behalf or for other organizations.
Our experts worked tirelessly and long—in some cases for little or no
compensation—in order to submit analytically-sound and empirically-based
assessments of the Plan and its analysis.
Citizens and cities provided the objective analysis that ABAG and MTC
were required to provide to the public, but did not.
We received contributions from many people from throughout
the Bay Area for this important effort to support informed decision making on
the part of the public, and our largest donation was less than 7% of the total
we raised for this effort. But
notwithstanding the great efforts on the part of citizens from around the Bay
Area to fund and support our expert reports, and the great work of our experts
themselves, the bulk of the comments submitted on the Plan and its EIR were
from citizens and experts doing so on their own time and at their own expense.
What the comments establish
The overriding message of the comment letters was (1) the
Plan’s high density housing mandates and additional mass transit subsidies
won’t work, even to accomplish the Plan’s own stated objectives—while they are
detrimental to the citizens, cities, and the Bay Area as a whole, and (2) the
Plan’s analysis was irreparably flawed.
The Plan’s high density housing mandates and mass
The Plan mandates that 80% of all new housing units be built
in multistory, multifamily projects in crowded city centers near mass transit,
and that 66% of all new jobs be located in these areas as well. It also dramatically under funds roads
and bridges in order to increase mass transit subsidies, particularly for rail
systems—and proposes numerous new policy initiatives to make driving more
expensive and inconvenient for Bay Area residents. Together these represent significant and unnecessary restrictions
on and how and where Bay Area residents can live and travel, and where they can
work and locate their businesses.
These policy elements also won’t work. The Plan’s own analysis shows that the
mandate that 80% of all new housing units must be built in multistory,
multifamily projects in crowded city centers is not even remotely plausible,
despite the massive new public subsidies that the Plan itself posits are
necessary for these to be built.
ABAG and MTC also assert the Plan requires new regional redevelopment
agencies with eminent domain powers that will be necessary to force existing
residents and small businesses off of their existing locations in order to
assemble the large parcels necessary to accomplish the planners’ plans.
The Plan’s analysis admits that forcing all these new
residents to live in high density housing in crowded city centers near transit
will have significant and irremediable health impacts. Rather than to change the Plan and not
force all these new residents to live this way, the Plan insists that these new
housing units have air filtration, with no ground floor housing, and that
housing units be placed as far away from transit as possible!
The Plan and its analysis also offer no credible data to
support their assumptions that locating housing next to jobs next to transit
will lead to people giving up their cars and working at the jobs next to the
housing units. In fact, what data
there is regarding policies like these shows that these outcomes won’t
The Plan also assumes that per capita transit ridership will
skyrocket more than 90% over the next 30 years, notwithstanding that its mass
transit policies simply continue the same types of initiatives that have been
tried in the Bay Area for the last 30 years—initiatives that have led to a 10%
decline in total transit ridership and a more than 30% decline in transit
ridership in per capita terms.
Evidence was also offered in the comment letters showing
that high density housing doesn’t decrease greenhouse gas emissions, nor does
mass transit. In fact, the comment
letters showed that current generation automobiles and light trucks have a 20%
advantage, on average, in energy consumption over mass transit. Since the fuel efficiency of the passenger
vehicle fleet will increase from 20 miles per gallon (MPG) in 2010 to 50 MPG in
2040 due to already on the books state and federal regulations, the energy
efficiency gap between passenger vehicles and mass transit will widen
substantially in the coming years.
The energy efficiency gap directly translates into a similar greenhouse
gas emission advantage of current and future generations of passenger vehicles
over mass transit. Though
some buses in large cities run full and hence are both energy and greenhouse
gas efficient on a per passenger mile basis, this doesn’t mean that mass
transit, on average, is similarly efficient—and it is not. The Plan also does nothing to address
the mobility needs of lower income Bay Area residents who are reliant on a
well-functioning bus system to get to work, school, and other places.
Even if the Plan’s high density housing and mass transit
subsidies work as ABAG and MTC claim they will, those draconian policy
initiatives will only lead to a 1.2% difference in greenhouse gas emissions in
2040 over doing nothing at all.
Draft EIR Table 3.1-28, p. 3.1-59.
The Plan’s analysis was irreparably flawed.
The number of facially wrong assumptions and models employed
by ABAG and MTC to justify and analyze their Plan is breathtaking and deeply
disturbing. Just a few examples—of
too many to mention—should suffice to illustrate just how improper ABAG and
MTC’s analysis was.
The draft EIR at p. 2.5-24 claims that it will take “a 25 to
35 percent reduction from current emission levels” to reach the statutorily
required 1990 levels for greenhouse gas emissions. ABAG and MTC are fully aware, and have been aware all along
during their analysis, that this assumption is completely and totally inaccurate. In fact, ABAG and MTC know that current
models for greenhouse gas emissions for both California and the US show that we
are at or about 1990 levels now, and on a continuing path downward. These are declines that cannot be
attributed to slow economic growth alone, and do not take into account the vast
reductions that will occur in coming years due to new state and federal MPG
ABAG and MTC also completely ignored the impact of
California MPG regulations on greenhouse gas emissions when they purportedly
decided between their selected alternatives. However, they know the impact of those MPG regulations will
dwarf by orders of magnitude (14-20 times or more) the paltry differences that
ABAG and MTC claim will result from their draconian policy initiatives versus
not doing those policy initiatives at all. ABAG and MTC argue that the governing statute requires them
to ignore those MPG regulations, despite the plain text of the statute
requiring them to do otherwise.
And, when it is convenient for them do so, as when considering the
adverse health effects of the Plan’s high density housing mandates, ABAG and
MTC cheerfully claim credit for the pollutant reductions due to those same MPG
regulations that they ignore when they are selecting their high density housing
mass transit heavy Plan.
Shockingly, ABAG and MTC ignore most of the impacts of those
California MPG regulations on the Plan’s budget as well. The most important part of the budget
is the funds that come from gas tax revenues, as those are the funds that MTC
has the most discretionary control over.
Gas tax revenues are a function of the amount of gallons of gasoline
used, as well as the retail price of gas (assuming gas tax rates are kept constant).
ABAG and MTC’s own internal models require the conclusion
that by 2035 that 32% fewer gallons of gasoline will used by passenger vehicles
in the Bay Area than were used in 2010, even after adjusting for additional
miles driven by new residents—just from the impact of the first set of California
MPG regulations. And, simple,
undisputable calculations based on the second set of California MPG
regulations, also on the books and final during the analysis of the Plan,
indicates that gallons of gasoline used by passenger vehicles will be approximately
50% less in 2035 or 2040 over what they were in 2010.
So, do ABAG and MTC report a 50% decline in gas tax revenues
in their budget for 2035 or 2040?
Of course not. They
“mitigate” these inevitable declines by ignoring most of the declines, then assuming
that the retail price of gas will increase over the next 30 years by vastly
higher rates than the Plan’s assumed rate of inflation. As a result, the problem of 50% fewer
gallons of gas used by passenger vehicles in the later years of the Plan is “solved,”
and the Plan reports continuing increases in gas tax revenues, in defiance of
reality, and in utter disregard for proper budgeting and forecasting
MTC and ABAG’s lack of response
Needless to say, none of what the comments establish above was
addressed or considered by ABAG and MTC.
No changes in the analysis were offered, and no modifications to the
Plan were considered.
ABAG and MTC staff, for their part, simply ignored the
comments that questioned the Plan in their reports to the public and to the
ABAG Executive Board and the MTC commissioners. Their “Summary of Public Comments” submitted orally and in
writing on June 14, 2013, spent much of its time discussing a public opinion
survey where the agencies asked residents whether they would be in favor of a
Plan that helped the economy and the environment, and made housing more
affordable, then spent most of the rest of the time discussing comments
submitted by other government agencies.
Their “Summary of Public Comments” only touched briefly on the substantive
concerns raised in the overwhelming majority of the comment letters by
discussing what they characterized as “information or statements” made by the
public about the Plan that required “correction” or “clarification.”
ABAG and MTC’s responses to comments in the Final EIR were
similarly deficient. They lost
fifteen letters entirely, and it wasn’t until Bay Area Citizens repeatedly
urged the agencies to look through their records to find missing comment
letters that they found those missing letters. The responses to the issues raised in individual comment
letters provided by ABAG and MTC were astonishingly dismissive in many
cases. This lack of responsiveness
by the agencies was a fitting, though sad, end to a several year process where
citizen concerns, citizen input, and the substantive issues citizens raised,
were completely ignored.
What’s next for Bay Area Citizens
Given the importance of the substantive issues raised by
citizens about this Plan which were completely ignored, and the grave and
irreversible impact of the Plan’s policies on all Bay Area residents, Bay Area
Citizens is carefully evaluating what we can and should do going forward,
including the possibility of filing suit against ABAG and MTC on behalf of our members
and in the public interest.