On June 19, Communities for a Better Environment and the Sierra Club, together with Earthjustice as legal counsel, announced an agreement with the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) over a lawsuit related to the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP), otherwise known as Plan Bay Area. This settlement is a victory for all Bay Area residents, ensuring that planning for the region’s transportation, housing development, and land management will meaningfully address the goals of reducing climate change; securing the health and safety of vulnerable communities; and promoting sustainable growth.
The litigation goes back to August 2013, when the social justice and environmental organizations filed a lawsuit under the California Environmental Quality Act. Plan Bay Area (a 28-year, $292-billion master plan) was supposed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions through smart growth programs and by improving transportation alternatives to driving. However, the plan did not provide information about the sustainability of the key smart growth programs, and did not assure adequate funding to maintain the region’s existing transit system. Plan Bay Area also took credit for reduced greenhouse-gas emissions for projects and programs unrelated to it, such as new statewide formulations for motor-vehicle fuels.
Further, there was no program for dealing with increased freight traffic, which poses health and safety risks for people living near busy truck and railroad lines (see “Oakland joins forces with neighboring cities to oppose dirty fuels by rail” on page xx).
Under the settlement, ABAG and MTC must be transparent about what the next regional transportation plan—likely to be adopted in 2017—will do to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Bay Area residents have the right to know how and to what extent the plan secures their health and safety, and that of the environment.
Plan Bay Area’s smart growth program is based on Priority Development Areas (PDAs) targeted for sustainable housing growth. For example, West Oakland Transit Town Center will have more than 6,000 new housing units built during the life of Plan Bay Area. The settlement requires that the next regional transportation plan provide the public with information about whether or not each of the approximately two hundred PDAs will be successful and sustainable. For instance, residents will be told if a PDA will be adequately served by public transit, or if it may flood due to sea-level rise.
The settlement also requires that the next regional transportation plan have a transparent and effective strategy for reducing air pollution from trains and trucks moving through populated areas such as West Oakland.
Subsequent to the environmental settlement, an Alameda County judge dismissed a related lawsuit by the group Bay Area Citizens, represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation, claiming that Plan Bay Area was unnecessary and would reduce property values.
—Matt Williams, Chair of the Chapter Transportation and Compact Growth Committee