With a $750,000 planning grant in hand, the City of Berkeley is moving forward with two Priority Development Areas (PDAs); the “Adeline PDA” covers Adeline Street from Shattuck Avenue south to the Oakland city boundary, and the South Shattuck PDA runs down Shattuck from Dwight Way to Ward Street. A Staff Report released to the Berkeley Planning Commission in October has given us a window into the planning process for the PDAs. Based on that report, we see that in some areas — affordable housing and public spaces — the city is talking the talk; now it’s time to make sure they follow through. But in one crucial aspect —the PDAs’ greenhouse gas emissions — the city’s process is falling dangerously short.
Priority Development Areas (PDAs) are the cornerstone of the Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS) contained in Plan Bay Area, the $292 billion Regional Transportation Plan. The core objective of PDAs is to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in cars and light trucks so as to meet greenhouse gas (GHG) targets from the transportation sector. Yet search of the Staff Report for the following terms produced no hits: “Greenhouse”; “GHG”; “VMT”; “Sustainable”; and “Sustainable Communities Strategy”.
It is also troubling that the Staff Report, in a section entitled “Environmental Sustainability,” disconcertingly states, “there are no identifiable environmental effects or opportunities associated with the subject of this report.”
The Sierra Club will certainly be following up with City of Berkeley planning staff to find out why GHG and VMT reductions have been omitted from the PDA process thus far.
Despite this major omission, there are some areas where the Berkeley PDAs are on track. The public outreach has been impressive, and what the community thinks important generally is supportive of the Sustainable Communities Strategy. The Staff Report notes, “the need for more affordable housing and avoiding displacement of existing residents was mentioned by (all) groups (at a community visioning workshop).”
Affordable housing and displacement are huge issues for the two PDAs, and getting a grip on them by the city now would be a big help to residents. The Staff Report does not provide a timetable for affordable housing production, however, and the recent history is not hopeful. Citywide, for the years 2007-2014, only 13% of the required number of permits for very low-, low-, and moderate-income housing were issued; 93% of the required permits to build above moderate income were issued, though.
Plan Bay Area has a displacement target: “House 100 percent of the region’s projected growth (from a 2010 base year) by income level (very-low, low, moderate, above-moderate) without displacing current low-income residents.” The University of California’s Urban Displacement Project has produced a map showing the area of the two PDAs, and it appears that a section of the Adeline PDA is “at risk of gentrification or displacement.” The area is shown as a lower-income tract, with more than 39% of households considered low income. UC also indicates that much of the South Shattuck PDA and a portion of the northern section of the Adeline PDA are in a state of “advanced gentrification.”
The Staff Report also mentions slowing vehicular traffic speeds is supported by the community, which well be a help in making the PDAs more attractive to residents and businesses. As planning rolls forward, the city will need to figure out how to “calm” automobiles while not hindering AC Transit bus passengers.
Another thing the Staff Report has right is its take on providing more public and community spaces “where people could gather for various events or community meetings.” These amenities are important to successful PDAs. Adeline Street has a lot of offset surface parking lots that ought to be considered for new uses, including community spaces.
You can count on the Sierra Club continuing to monitor the planning process for the Berkeley PDAs and calling the city to account where it’s falling short.