Sunday, January 25, 2015

Tyranny Bay Area

Randal O'Toole, author, environmentalist, smart growth critic spoke at "Great Debate" in 2013.

Plan Bay Area, a regional plan written for nine counties that surround San Francisco Bay was voted on in Summer 2013. This plan is so poorly written that it makes me proud to be an antiplanner; if I were a real planner, I’d be ashamed to be associated with a profession that could produce such a shoddy plan.

The main problem with the plan is that its main prescriptions were set in advance of any analysis of whether they would be effective. In fact, planners never did analyze whether those or any alternative policies would cost-effectively meet the plan’s goals.

Under California law, the plan must meet two goals: reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make housing more affordable. The heart of the plan calls for densification of dozens of neighborhoods in the region and expansion of rail transit service by more than 35 percent. The plan also calls for tightening existing urban-growth boundaries, so to achieve planned densification and accommodate an anticipated 30 percent population growth, the plan requires the destruction of more than 169,000 single-family homes.

Planners didn’t do any analysis to show that densification and rail transit will reduce greenhouse gases or make housing more affordable. Of the five alternatives considered in the plan, all but the “do-nothing” alternative target neighborhoods for densification and increase rail transit by more than 35 percent. While do nothing does not target specific neighborhoods for densification, it still densifies, and it also increases rail transit by 25 percent. So it is clear that planners really didn’t consider any alternatives other than densification and more trains.

A careful analysis of data in the environmental impact report reveals that densification and transit improvements together are projected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by less than 1 percent. All the other emission reductions that the plan takes credit for come from other programs, mostly programs done by other agencies. While the plan does not have any cost data, it is likely that those other programs cost far less than densification and rail improvements.

Even the less-than-1 percent reduction in emissions depends on planners’ optimistic projections that more rail transit will boost per capita transit ridership by 40 to 60 percent; in fact, despite all the rail transit built in the region in the last 30 years, per capita transit ridership has declined by 35 percent and per capita transit passenger miles has declined by 5 percent since 1982.

On top of that, far from improving housing affordability, the plan admits that densification will actually make housing less affordable. The plan calls for mitigating this by subsidizing housing for a relative handful of low-income people, but those subsidies will probably just make housing even less affordable for everyone else.

California law requires that per capita greenhouse gas emissions from autos be reduced by 15 percent by 2040. As it happens, another California law, known as the Pavley law, requires that future cars be more fuel efficient. By 2040, that law will reduce per capita emissions from cars by at least 27 percent.

So how can the plan justify using subsidies to densify scores of neighborhoods and expanding rail transit when those policies will do almost nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? Simple. Planners simply ignored the Pavley standards when calculating whether an alternative complied with the per capita emissions standard. Although they also calculated emissions with the Pavley standards, they nevertheless concluded that (without the Pavley standards) the only way to meet the 15-percent-reduction requirement was to densify and increase rail service.

In short, Plan Bay Area planners not only failed to plan properly, they were dishonest with their results. Next time someone asks me why I’m an antiplanner, all I’ll have to do is point to Plan Bay Area.

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