This article is the first in a series about the Bay Area’s Priority Development Areas, or PDAs, and the Sierra Club’s efforts to ensure that this critical smart-growth program is implemented successfully and sustainably.
In 2015, the Bay Chapter’s Transportation and Compact Growth Committee will focus special attention on two related subjects: 1) working to make Priority Development Areas (PDAs) a success, and 2) attempting to shift the focus of county Congestion Management Agencies from congestion management to greenhouse-gas reductions.
PDAs, or Priority Development Areas, are areas targeted for infill development alongside public transit. Successful PDAs should be developed as “complete communities”—that is, they should provide amenities and services to meet the day-to-day needs of residents in a pedestrian-friendly environment. The goal of PDAs is to ensure sustainable housing growth even as the region’s population booms (by one estimate, the Bay Area will be home to an additional two million new residents by 2040). Successful implementation of the region’s PDAs should prevent sprawl, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, provide affordable housing, and preserve open spaces.
PDAs are the core smart-growth program of Plan Bay Area, the region’s integrated land-use and transportation plan. The integrated approach to regional development was a result of the California Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008 (SB 375), which set regional emissions-reduction targets and required each region to develop a strategy to reach that goal. Plan Bay Area was the region’s roadmap to reaching required cuts to per-capita greenhouse-gas emissions of 7% by 2020 and 15% by 2035; and to sustainably house the influx of new residents.
Thus, the 2013 Regional Transportation Plan (Plan Bay Area) was, for the first time, the joint responsibility of the transportation agency, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), and the land-use and housing agency, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG). As noted in Plan Bay Area, to meet the requirements of SB 375, “Plan Bay Area directs more future development to areas that are or will be walkable and bikeable and close to public transit, jobs, schools, shopping, parks, recreation and other amenities.”
This summer, the Sierra Club and Communities for a Better Environment settled a lawsuit brought against MTC and ABAG, the agencies in charge of Plan Bay Area. The lawsuit alleged several areas of concern with regard to the Plan’s ability to meaningfully address its stated goals of reducing climate change; securing the health and safety of vulnerable communities; and promoting sustainable growth. A key concern was the viability of PDAs in the first iteration of Plan Bay Area. The Sierra Club and others were troubled by the fact that some PDAs have little or no access to public transit, and that there was no guarantee as to what to expect in the future in terms of the provision of adequate service. Further, several PDAs are vulnerable to earthquake hazards or flooding from sea-level rise, while others potentially pose a risk to nearby natural resources.
One of the agreements reached in the settlement is that there will be an analysis of PDA performance before the next update of Plan Bay Area in 2017. The Sierra Club will support PDAs that ABAG and MTC demonstrate are likely to be successful. But if a particular area has flaws that suggest it will not be viable as a PDA, then it is not unreasonable for the responsible agencies to consider taking the area off of the PDA list and to stop providing funds to support its development.
MTC and ABAG have now begun work on developing the successor to Plan Bay Area. It will be interesting to see the PDA analysis as the new plan is assembled.
Stay tuned for the next article in this series, which will appear in the April-May 2015 issue of the Yodeler. The next article will review two East Bay PDAs: one that looks like it will be a success, and another that has several troublesome factors.
— Matt Williams