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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.


Posted by Facts, a resident of San Ramon
on Jan 26, 2012 at 9:59 am

New Farms. Didn't we get promised that the county could be trusted not to build in tassajara valley?

Posted by Bob Wittle, a resident of San Ramon
on Jan 26, 2012 at 10:11 am

These meetings are nothing more than window dressing and photo ops for the regional bodies. All the decisions have already been made. If you go to these meetings you will find that there is no substance to the presentation. They show meaningless videos. They do not provide any information on costs, jobs or enough info to even understand the impact of the plan. With virtually no information they ask attendees to vote on things with little poker chips like, smarter driving (whatever that is). Over $400,000 of tax payer money was spent by MTC and ABAG for these fake workshops. They say they are there to have a conversation with the public, but when asked quesetions they do not have any answers or they just blow off the questioner. It is very disconcerting how the MTC and ABAG staffers treat anyone who does not agree with their plan. Many of them roll their eyes, laugh, ridicule and otherwise marginalize the public. These people are all a disgrace and should be sent packing. To invite the public to a meeting then behave like bratty children is shameful.

After sitting through the meeting in Richmond I still don't know what the plan is so if MTC and ABAG's job was to inform the public they failed miserably!

This whole thing should be scrapped and started over.

Posted by Jessica Lipsky, a resident of San Ramon
on Jan 26, 2012 at 12:28 pm

I spoke with Supervisor Gayle Uilkema yesterday about the lack of discussion regarding central county and the overwhelming feeling that people were not being heard. She said she was shocked on both counts and encouraged residents to email Mark Luce, ABAG chair, with questions and suggestions.

Jessica Lipsky

Posted by John Q Public, a resident of another community
on Jan 26, 2012 at 12:37 pm

I've been to 3 MTC public meetings and I think that the staff members have shown remarkable restraint, especially since they have been dealing with the same band of disruptors at every meeting.
The facilitator has always answered peoples' questions politely, and if he didn't have the information at hand, promised to contact them with the answer.
Many of these people come with a conspiracy theory about the UN Agenda 21, and anyone who doesn't agree must surely be part of the conspiracy. They prevent themselves from learning about the regional plan, and they don't even know what is actually in "Agenda 21".
It's disturbing that these dissenters don't at all understand what's being presented, nor do they want to. They have their own pre-concieved opinions and mostly come to make sure that an informative conversation doesn't take place.
It's much like what the (lobbyist-funded) "grass-roots" Tea Party did during the health care debates. They don't care that the outcome of doing nothing will be worse for their children and neighbors, they just rant. If they're successful in compromising a workable plan, they will surely rant about how it doesn't work.

Posted by Denise W., a resident of Alamo
on Jan 27, 2012 at 12:30 pm

My husband and I attended the Richmond meeting and were glad to get leaflets and information about the delphi method of managing groups to get the outcome the meeting managers want. It was exactly that. A farce. I am not in the Tea Party, we are Democrats,and I don't exactly know what Agenda 21 is, but I don't doubt that something seriously wrong is happening now. The idea of having just 9 meetings for the whole bay area is ridiculous when they're supposedly trying to get the 'input' from the public. We just happened to find out about this from a friend who heard about it from her real estate agent. We never saw it in the paper. This looked like a railroading session from start to finish and I support the people how showed up and protested.

Posted by Mary E., a resident of another community
on Jan 27, 2012 at 11:02 pm

I'm from Newark and I also wanted to mention that they have been using the Delphi Technique to manage these 'forums'. They are required to connect with the community in order to look legitimate. I'm not Tea Party either. I don't care for any of the parties actually, but regardless of any conspiracy or not, these folks are certainly enjoying the shade of a governmental money tree and are not going to be easy to thwart unless we stay ahead of them and fight this waste.

Posted by Dave Hudson, a resident of San Ramon
on Feb 2, 2012 at 11:00 am

The meetings are being held partially because it is required under SB375. It is not a "done deal" and won't be until at least April 2013. The staff and board of directors for ABAG, MTC, BAAQMD, and BCDC have made attempts to do even more outreach and will continue to do so. I've been to at least a dozen meetings pertaining to the sustainable community strategy (SCS). The California Air Resource board of directors is the lead agency for AB32, the global warming solution, which includes SB375 and they will implement some strategy after they receive the April 2013 SCS. It may be waste but it still has to be dealt with until someone makes some changes in Sacramento. I see nothing changing in that arena except to go even further down the sustainable communities road.

Posted by HowMany.org, a resident of another community
on Feb 2, 2012 at 12:02 pm

The 72-year old retired grandmother said it best: "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."

We're hoping someone in the media will eventually consider the real numbers:

The California Air Resources Board under S.B. 375 (The Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008) seeks to reduce our per capita emissions by 15 percent, to 85 percent of current levels by 2035 (now apparently 7 percent by 2020).

But we've [Plan Bay Area] tied this to 903,000 new additional housing units, enough for 2.2 million more people, 33.8 percent more than live here now. Developers love the idea, trading one type of sprawl for another - suburban for vertical - but is it inevitable? Those numbers are based on pre-recession estimates. If 133.8 percent of our current population each emits 85 percent of current levels, then our total emissions rise by 13.7 percent (133.8 x.85 = 1.137).

According to the U.S. Dept. of Energy, the average U.S. household generates 59 tons of greenhouse gases annually, so that's a Bay Area increase of over 45 million tons of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gases every year. That larger population would have to reduce individual emissions by a much larger percentage to achieve 1990 levels by 2020, as required by the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (A.B. 32).

Most of our emissions are not generated locally " they are released into the atmosphere wherever the goods and food we use are produced and transported. Atmospheric greenhouse gases do not respect regional, state or national boundaries.

Sustainability advocates contend that beyond the quality of life issues " more traffic congestion, air and noise pollution " the public will justifiably be angry when they find out that this "sustainable" growth will do little to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

Building in existing urban areas has important environmental advantages over building in rural regions, so embrace the vision, but please let's reconsider the numbers.

Posted by you ordered it now eat it!, a resident of Danville
on Feb 3, 2012 at 11:51 am

Remember who is shoving this down every cities throat. The democratically controlled state legislature. Local planning done by regional planners that are not elected but appointed; accountable only to those who appointed them. We have given up local control in the name of psuedo-environmentalism. The bay area elects folks who favor this; you get what you deserve, now live with it.

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