New regional plan, adopted with little public input, pushes massive growth for San Francisco -- with no promise of money for transit or social equity.
It’s hard not to be riveted by the terrifying advance of Donald Trump’s presidency. But it would be a huge mistake to ignore less sensational exercises in autocracy, especially those occurring at home. One such operation, which has gone virtually unnoticed, is the continuing travesty of democratic governance known as Plan Bay Area.
Mandated by SB 375, the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008, Plan Bay Area is our nine-county region’s Sustainable Community Strategy—a so-called blueprint that knits together transportation and land use plans and investments for each region in California so as to accommodate the area’s projected growth of jobs and households and at the same time meet its official greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.
Unelected officials run the show
Plan Bay Area’s autocratic character is rooted in the un-democratic governance of the regional agencies under whose aegis it proceeds, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments. Both entities are putatively overseen by unelected officials—to be precise, elected officials (mayors, city councilmembers, and county supervisors) who were not elected to serve on MTC or the ABAG Executive Board. It follows that when they run for office or re-election, their positions on Plan Bay Area and the regional agencies’ other projects never come up.
Scott Wiener sits on MTC, and Jane Kim is on the ABAG Executive Board, but during their hotly contested campaigns for state senate, nobody asked about MTC’s hostile takeover of ABAG last May (Wiener supported it—vociferously, accusing opponents of “throwing rocks at MTC”; Kim was absent for the Ex. Board’s May 19 vote on the matter) or their positions on Plan Bay Area’s gigantic growth forecasts and allocations for San Francisco and the 11th State Senate District, and its implications for displacement and housing affordability or local control of development.
Augmenting the democratic deficit, both MTC and ABAG are effectively led by staff, not their governing boards, whose members have no staff of their own, and whose obligations to their local jurisdictions in any case preclude their delving into the copious details of regional policy. Since MTC’s coup, ABAG staff report to MTC’s peremptory executive director, Steve Heminger.
After a stormy public planning process, the first edition of Plan Bay Area was approved by MTC and ABAG in July 2013. State law requires each Sustainable Community Strategy to be updated every four years. Plan Bay Area is well into its first quadrennial update. On November 17, following a perfunctory deliberation, MTC and the ABAG Executive Board approved a Final Preferred Scenario and Investment Strategy that will serve as the conceptual template for the update. The fully realized blueprint-cum-Environmental Impact Report is to be finalized next summer or fall.
A farcical public process
Plan Bay Area’s autocratic character is exacerbated by its superficial public planning process. Compared to the public process that culminated in Plan Bay Area 2013, the update proceedings have been uncontentious. That’s because most of the individuals who participated in the first round haven’t shown up for the second one—for a good reason: they’ve realized that the meetings are a time-consuming sham that exist only because SB 375 requires some form of public outreach. No meaningful input could possibly emerge out of the cursory, often infantilizing, staff-dominated activities that the regional agencies peddle online and at their workshops and open houses.
The only members of the public who’ve continued to participate are those who are paid to do so: representatives of the non-profits that weighed in on round one. This motley crew includes equity and housing advocates (Urban Habitat, Working Partnerships USA, Public Advocates, Non-profit Housing Association of Northern California, 6 Wins for Social Equity Network), environmental organizations (Greenbelt Alliance, the Sierra Club), transit promoters (TransForm), and lobbyists for big business and big property capital (SPUR, the Bay Area Council, the Building Industry Association, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group).
Their considerable political differences notwithstanding, these organizations have two things in common: they all accept Plan Bay Area’s growth-to-the-max premise; and, however righteous their missions and valuable their work, they’re all private entities that are ultimately accountable to their donors and their boards of directors, rather than to any public electorate.
The planning process is also rushed. (see Article in the Marin Post HERE )