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Bay Area's long-term plans draw criticism

As the San Francisco Bay Area has grown through the years, state and local governments -- and residents -- have continually stressed that a cohesive blueprint for planned growth in the nine-county region is necessary.

Under development right now is Plan Bay Area, Bay Area's long-range plan for sustainable land use, transportation and housing and how it envisions the region to be in 2040 with a beginning target date of 2015. The plan is a coordinated effort between the Association of Bay Area Governments, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the Bay Conservation and Development Commission and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

The plan is also a first, in that it is the Bay Area's first such plan to incorporate a sustainable communities strategy. Locally, in the Tri-Valley and San Ramon Valley areas, the so-called "New Farm" development proposed for the Tassajara Valley east of Danville would fall under this type of strategy.

In recent weeks, the MTC has been presenting regional workshops throughout the nine counties to gain feedback from residents and businesses about the growth blueprint during the next three decades. One of those regional workshops was held for Contra Costa County on Jan. 23 at Richmond's Civic Auditorium.

More than 400 people attended the Monday night conference. There were three workshops, and for those attending each of the sessions, a thumbnail consensus reveals that most Contra Costa County residents are unhappy with what they are learning of the plan thus far.

"I'm not too keen about having a local agency like the MTC tell us what to do in our neighborhoods, or dictating to us how our neighborhoods should be shaped over the next 25 to 30 years," says Al Demetrios, a longtime Concord resident. "From what I've seen of the plan tonight, it seems very ill-conceived. I get it that it takes public meetings like these to get feedback from residents, but one look at what they showed us here and nothing makes sense."

The MTC is the transportation planning, financing and coordinating agency for the nine-county Bay Area. It is one of the purposes of the commission to ensure that regional transportation functions smoothly and efficiently, and to coordinate a growth plan that meets the future mobility needs of the Bay Area's growing population. State and federal laws require the MTC to develop a 25-year plan to guide "transportation investment" in the Bay Area.

Planning agencies, like the MTC and ABAG, forecast an increase of 2 million residents in the Bay Area by 2040. As a result, one of the key goals of the 25-year-plan is to identify methods that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent by 2040 throughout the region. Officials say this can be achieved by working with local governments to plan for more residents to live closer to their jobs and other essential services, in tandem with better access to mass transit and other modes of transportation – in other words, getting people out of their cars so they do not need to drive as much.

Even though the Plan Bay Area workshops – nine of them to be held throughout the Bay Area before the end of this month – are considered public meetings, reserving an opportunity to attend a workshop was suggested.

Numerous activists and protesters from Tea Party and environmental groups have been signing up for many of the meetings and recently disrupted the Alameda County session . At Monday's meetings in Richmond, more than a dozen activists protesting the plan voiced their concerns about it, also holding up signs, some stating that the plan is "rigged."

"It's big brother telling us what to do," said Anne Marlowe-Kent, of El Cerrito. The 72-year-old retired grandmother was not an activist or protester, but wanted to attend the meetings to learn more about what is planned for her community and how it could benefit future generations.

"I don't think these government agencies have any idea what they're talking about," Marlowe-Kent said. "To listen to them tonight, and to look at the maps they have created for us to see, it doesn't sound very well thought out. It's upsetting to me. The plan doesn't hold water."

To learn more about Plan Bay Area, visit www.onebayarea.org.


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