Sunday, May 11, 2014

Why Plan Bay Area Failed

Why Plan Bay Area Failed

Why Plan Bay Area Failed
An article “The Actions of Discontent – Tea Party and Property Rights Activists Pushing Back Against Regional Planning” by Karen Trapenberg Frick was recently brought to my attention. The author, an assistant adjunct professor at UC Berkeley, purported to address the underlying reasons for opposition to two regional planning initiatives including Plan Bay Area and a similar exercise in Atlanta. An otherwise well written piece, it seemed to fall short of understanding the true reasons for opposition.
It seemed appropriate to get to the bottom of why so many opposed Plan Bay Area, and while enacted to understand why the plan failed in so many different ways – most of all for its’ largest stakeholders – Bay Area residents. But ultimately by putting plan proponents ABAG and MTC into an impossible situation as they progress new regional planning efforts.

Focusing on the Wrong Places: The Tea Party and Property Rights Groups

The piece focused on two groups that are away from the mainstream that allegedly led  opposition to Plan Bay Area. A tactic historically used by many regionalization proponents as an ad-hominem attack – seeking to give a stigma to those who might otherwise oppose. These groups did come across as vocal and well represented in their opposition, they tend to polarize conversations –  but in reality they were the tip of the iceberg. By comparison other grassroots and local groups did not make themselves so easily identifiable. So it was an easy mistake to make.
The real foundational reasons for opposition to Plan Bay Area were at the grass roots level.

What Really Happened #1: Planning Without the Key Stakeholder

At the regional level social equity groups, transit advocates and sustainability groups worked together with ABAG and MTC to progress a plan that would seek to solve a range of issues:
- reduce emissions
- address income disparities and social equity issues
- improve transportation
However, this was conceived in a vacuum, without appropriate involvement of residents who did not happen to hold passionate views on planning, social equity or transportation. Most did not appreciate the impact on their daily lives as it had never been effectively communicated. Only once this input by these groups had been garnered was the conceived draft plan then shared with residents. This then broke the golden rule – never surprise people (and if you do, then you’d better have a water-tight explanation).
The problem is this is that the plan was conceived without one of the most significantly impacted stakeholders at the table – Bay Area residents. Once included, seemingly late in the process after conception, the natural impression given was that the outreach exercise was no more than an exercise to obtain approval. It was not genuine outreach to capture input that would form the plan.

What Really Happened #2: PDAs Instituted Without Buy In

The experience that I and many others had in Marin was one of shock at a planning process that failed to obtain buy-in. In Strawberry, Marinwood and Civic Center in San Rafael many awoke one day to discover that their neighborhoods had been volunteered by county supervisors or city councilors to 
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