July 6, 2015

A sustainable development success story in El Cerrito


El Cerrito’s PDA will feature buffered bike lanes like this as well as protected cycle tracks.

Members of the Chapter’s Transportation and Compact Growth Committee are reviewing Priority Development Areas (PDAs), which are a cornerstone of the $292-billion Regional Transportation Plan. The purpose of PDAs is to reduce car travel by focusing new residents into areas where the transit service is good and where people can easily walk or ride a bike to nearby destinations. Grants of planning money are available to get the PDAs off the ground.

This article will briefly review a PDA success story in El Cerrito. PDAs are complicated creatures, and in no way is this review meant to be comprehensive.

El Cerrito has two PDAs, and both run along San Pablo Avenue, the main street in the city. El Cerrito’s city government treats them as one combined development area (the San Pablo Avenue Specific Plan), and that is how they will be treated here, too.

According to the Association of Bay Area Governments, in 2010 there were about 1,200 households within the boundaries of the combined El Cerrito PDA. By 2040, the plan is to have about 1,000 more households in the same area.

Transit service in the area is good now, with bus service provided by AC Transit, Golden Gate Transit, Vallejo Transit, and WestCat. Along San Pablo Avenue, there is an AC Transit bus about every 7 minutes. There are two BART stations in the PDA too.

El Cerrito is moving forward to make things work for the expected new residents and to cut down on driving. First, the city asked developers what changes they would like to see made to make development easier. The city was told that the building height limit had to be increased and that the number of parking spaces required was too high. The City Council increased the height limit to 75 feet and cut down on the number of parking spaces required. In areas close to BART, the reduction in parking is greater than for housing units farther away.

The city is also working with the Contra Costa Transportation Authority and AC Transit to increase bus service along San Pablo Avenue. The first success was recently achieved when the 72 Rapid bus line began operating on weekends, not just on weekdays.

One of the volumes of the Specific Plan that serves as a guide for the PDA is titled “Complete Streets.” It lays out, over 90 pages, what’s needed to make the area more attractive for transit passengers, pedestrians, and bicyclists. One interesting feature is the way bicycles and buses will be kept apart from one another, with a special, separate bike lane.

There are other things that are necessary to make a PDA work, of course. Parks, schools, and shopping are important, too. It looks like El Cerrito has these elements under control and a successful PDA on its hands.
You can check out the San Pablo Avenue Specific Plan.

The next article in this series will review a PDA in Newark that unfortunately does not look as promising. Want more? Follow @abetterbayarea on Twitter for the latest on sustainable communities in the Bay Area.

— Matt Williams, Chair, Transportation and Comact Growth Committee

State Transportation Plan shifts focus to reducing greenhouse gas emissions

ctp2040_logo_new_445x197The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) earlier this year released its draft California Transportation Plan 2040 (CTP2040), a long-range policy framework that defines goals and strategies for the state’s transportation system. Comments have been accepted from the public, and after more work, a Final Plan will be issued late this year.

The document lays out some of the things that have to happen to meet Governor Brown’s 2012 executive order requiring that transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) have to be 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

CTP2040 is intended to shift the transportation system “from a focus on infrastructure, capital improvements, and delivery, to a more sustainable focus that supports economic prosperity in concert with GHG emission reductions.” Here Caltrans is signaling that in order to reach our goals, no more highway lanes should be built. CTP2040 makes this point in more than one place. It also states, “The need to reduce GHG emissions makes the case that adding automobile capacity is not the answer.”

This new focus is a huge change for California’s transportation vision! CTP2040 is clear on the magnitude of the change, too. The shift from building highways to a sustainable focus will, in the Plan’s words, “require a fundamental, holistic transformation of the transportation systems.”

A part of the transportation “systems” that need transformation are the County Congestion Management Agencies (CMAs), many of which continue to plan for and finance expansions of roadway capacity (widening arterial streets and building new freeways are examples). How quickly will CMA policy board members (typically, members of city councils and county boards of supervisors) respond to CTP2040’s notice that a “fundamental [and] holistic transformation” is required?

Besides the rejection of more highway construction, the plan notes several other things that have to happen to get to the 2050 GHG target. Among them is the elimination of all “emissive vehicles from California roads.” By 2040, the plan says, cars would have to be “zero- to near-zero-emissions vehicles.”

Even with cleaner vehicles, Californians will still have to drive less, meaning that transit needs to carry more passengers than today. That could happen through a combination of strategies, including increasing transit travel speeds, decreasing fares, and converting 20 percent of the bus routes in the state to Bus Rapid Transit (dedicated right-of-way bus routes to avoid traffic). High Speed Rail is presumed to be running by 2040. Bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure also need to be improved.

Housing and land use is also addressed in CTP2040; the plan notes past practices have often led to an increasing reliance on cars. The goal now is to have people live in housing near transit — an approach sometimes called “transit-oriented development”. The Bay Area’s 2013 Regional Transportation Plan is attempting also to move in this direction, directing new development to areas that are walkable, bikable, and close to public transit.

In its early pages, CTP2040 references a quote from the 2013 statement titled “Scientists’ Consensus on Maintaining Humanity’s Life Support Systems for the 21st century,” signed by over 1,300 scientists worldwide:

“By the time today’s children reach middle age, it is extremely likely that Earth’s life-support systems, critical for human prosperity and existence will be irretrievably damaged by the magnitude, global extent, and combination of these human-caused environmental stressors, unless we take concrete, immediate actions to ensure a sustainable, high-quality future.”

It is encouraging to see this likelihood acknowledged in so important a document. CTP2040 is not perfect. One blunder is presuming that unbuilt highway-expansion projects (including some in the Bay Area) will go forward. An improvement would be to not build them at all. Getting to grips with GHG emissions now is critical, and despite such lapses, CTP2040 seems to take this imperative seriously.

— Matt Williams, Chair, Transportation and Compact Growth Committee

Transit-oriented development key to Warm Springs Priority Development Area

Warm_Springs_MapAfter reading the article on the Warm Springs Priority Development Area (PDA) in the April-May issue of the Yodeler, I pulled up my computer files from a decade ago. In April 2005, while co-chair of the Bay Chapter Transportation and Compact Growth Committee, I wrote comments on the BART draft environmental impact report for the Warm Springs extension. The Sierra Club comments recommended against award of federal funds for the project, citing the improbability of transit-oriented development at the site. A decade later, it is a relief to see that we were unduly pessimistic.

The City of Fremont has since proposed some transit-oriented development near the Warm Springs BART station, set to open later this year. Dense and mixed development near public transit increases the likelihood that residents will walk, bike, or patronize transit as they commute, shop, and otherwise go about their lives. Without transit-oriented development, the desired driving reductions (a key goal of PDAs) are unlikely to be achieved.

Of the 879 acres comprising the Warm Springs PDA, less than ten per cent are devoted to residences close enough to the station to cause drivers to convert to transit (BART and the buses that stop at the BART station). “Close enough” means about a three-eighths-mile (or five- to ten-minute) walk. Studies of how far passengers walk to transit show, with remarkable consistency, that half of them walk less than half a mile. Even before that distance, the fraction of residents who walk to transit shrinks dramatically. For commuters who bike to transit that distance will be somewhat greater. The land immediately adjacent to the station is where development must take place if we want to divert people from cars to transit.

The Warm Springs/South Fremont Community Plan places residences in three areas. One lies east of the BART station and is separated from it by the large BART parking lot and a major suburban arterial with five lanes and two bike lanes. Another lies to the north, alongside and west of an active Union Pacific Railroad freight line and separated from the station by another suburban arterial. The placement of these two residential areas is unlikely to discourage driving.

The third residential area offers the greatest potential for transit-oriented development. It lies west of the station, linked to it by a pedestrian bridge over the Union Pacific tracks. Unfortunately, the development as currently proposed fails to capitalize on this opportunity; almost half of the residences are over three-eighths of a mile walk from BART.

Commercial establishments are foreseen for the Warm Springs PDA, but the population base within walking distance is too small for them to compete in terms of price and selection with a regional Walmart just a short drive away. Denser, mixed development near the station would enhance both the health of local commerce and the likelihood that residents would patronize transit. Otherwise, car-free living and desired driving reductions are unlikely.

The recent Yodeler piece on the Warm Springs PDA draws attention to parking. The topic is complex and, I submit, broader than suggested in the article. It is correct that land close to the station should not be squandered on surface parking; the parking should be in a multi-level structure. The land would be better devoted to dense and mixed development appropriate to a PDA. But I disagree with the suggestion that more parking capacity should be recommended. In the sustainable city, automobile use is discouraged, not subsidized. Indeed, the Bay Chapter has long advocated that BART charge for parking.

Parking concerns exist as well in the new developments. The project developer contemplates provision of parking garages in its developments but makes no mention of pricing. Current environmental thinking is that the cost of parking should be unbundled from the cost of the residences. Owners and renters who do not possess automobiles should not have to pay for parking for neighbors who do. This distinction will become increasingly important if the trend among millennials not to own automobiles continues. An associated question is, does the City require a minimum number of parking spaces per unit? This holdover from the 1950s has no place in the sustainable community.

The Warm Springs PDA presents an opportunity to create a model of sustainable development and transportation. Current plans fail to exploit this opportunity.

— Robert Piper, PhD

Rally for Caltrain extension to downtown S.F.

Wednesday, June 24, 11 am
Polk Street steps of San Francisco City Hall
RSVP today!

transbay_terminal_renderingThe Sierra Club is cosponsoring a rally in support of the earliest-possible extension of Caltrain to the future Transbay Transit Center in downtown San Francisco.

The extension of Caltrain from its current Fourth Street terminal has been San Francisco policy since 1999 when the people voted for Prop H. It has been Sierra Club policy for even longer. The new bus terminal at the Transbay Terminal already includes the skeleton for an underground station within its structural base, with platforms for both for Caltrain and High Speed Rail. Getting the extension back on schedule will require funding commitments from San Francisco, the State, the federal government, regional agencies, and private sources. Join us at the June 24th rally to help secure this funding!

The completed Transbay Transit Center with a Caltrain connection will entice commuters who currently drive to work and play, and will provide tens of thousands of daily transit riders with highly efficient bus and rail connections. This will greatly reduce climate-change-causing greenhouse-gas emissions and congestion in downtown San Francisco.

Unfortunately, more delay is possible if we don’t speak up now. To make sure the extension is built without further delay, join us at the June 24th rally and show your support!

RSVP today!

Want to help with planning or have your organization co-sponsor the event? Contact Bob Feinbaum at bobf@att.net or call (510)534-7008.

For more information, read “The downtown Caltrain extension: vital to the future of the Bay Area“.

Letter from Sacramento: Smart ways to spend $10 billion

Photo courtesy  Peter Thoeny on Flickr Creative Commons.

Photo courtesy Peter Thoeny on Flickr Creative Commons.

A couple of weeks ago, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins shot an arrow into the air that has enlivened a perennial debate about how California can pay for its transportation system.

During a speech to a transportation organization and through a press release, the Speaker proposed a plan to raise $10 billion dollars over the next five years—about $2 billion a year—to “address the state’s transportation challenges.”

The funds would be raised by shifting some money around within the budget, and then establishing a new road user charge. Almost as fast as you can say “pothole”, I started receiving emails from Club members around the state who were asking me what the Speaker meant by this proposal.

Why so much interest by environmentalists?

First, transportation is one of the single largest sources of air pollution in the state. That includes the smog and other ground-level pollution that damages hearts and lungs, as well as the greenhouse gas emissions that disrupt the climate. There are 33 million cars and light- and medium-duty trucks registered in California, more than in any other state in the U.S. And that number doesn’t include the big heavy duty trucks that carry freight around the state.

Second, road congestion in many parts of the state has become nearly unbearable. As Speaker Atkins noted in her speech to the California Transportation Foundation, Californians annually waste nearly $19 billion in time and fuel while stuck in traffic. The average San Diego traveler can expect to spend 67 hours a year waiting in traffic, while the average San Francisco traveler can expect to spend 80 hours stuck in traffic.

Third, the way we use transportation is changing, and will continue to change. A new report by the federal Department of Transportation identifies some fascinating trends in travel habits. A few notable trends include that per-capita vehicle miles traveled has been declining nationally since 2006, even before the Great Recession began. There is no single reason for this trend, but one notable one is that millennials—people between the ages of 18 and 34—are driving much less.

Whether because of pollution, traffic, or less desire or need to move, everything points to needing to approach the transportation system differently than has been done in the past. The standard practice by transportation agencies, including our beloved CalTrans, has been to focus on building highways and heavily traveled, multi-lane surface roads designed primarily for automobiles. All the indicators say that standard practice will no longer work.

In California, the California Transportation Commission (CTC) estimated in 2011 that the state has about a $193 billion shortfall in the amount of money needed just to fix and maintain the transportation system through 2020. And that doesn’t include money to improve the system, especially bike, pedestrian and transit improvements.

Speaker Atkins’ proposal for raising $10 billion for highways, bridges and roads deserves attention. It won’t make a huge dent in the funding shortfall predicted by the CTC, but her proposal can make a difference in how California’s transportation system adjusts to the new realities. If that $10 billion is raised and spent the same way as in the past, it will be like throwing good money after bad.

But, if the funds are distributed in a way that, for instance, insures that local road improvements include fixing potholes and making them friendlier to transit, pedestrians and bicyclists, then the money will make a long-term difference for the better.

If the funds are used to establish more transit express lanes on roads and highways, they will make a difference.

However, if the funds are just spent to build some extra highway lanes, the new funding won’t mean much. It won’t get us clean air, it won’t ultimately reduce congestion (except possibly for a brief period after the new lanes open), and it won’t provide the kind of system that California needs.

The Speaker’s office tells me that details for the funding proposal, including whether the user charge will be a real user fee based on vehicle miles traveled or some other metric or just a flat fee, are still to be worked out. That’s fair. It’s early in the two-year legislative session.

Speaker Atkins did a good thing by presenting the proposal. Transportation funding isn’t an easy discussion and it takes nerve to lead the charge.

Now everyone, including environmentalists, will be trying to help direct where the arrow lands. If you have a good idea about how to raise or spend those dollars, let me know.

Kathryn Phillips
Director, Sierra Club California

For a sustainable Bay Area, tracking the viability of a key smart-growth program

Priority Development Areas shown in pink. Image courtesy of MTC, 2013.

Priority Development Areas shown in pink. Image courtesy of MTC, 2013.

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

The downtown Caltrain extension: vital to the future of the Bay Area

DTX project sketch map (1)In keeping with the Sierra Club’s principles, the San Francisco Bay Chapter’s Transportation and Compact Growth Committee wants to make the Bay Area a less automobile-dependent, less greenhouse gas-emitting, less congested, and more equitable place to live and work. One important project that would go far toward helping the Bay Area achieve these goals is not getting the attention—or funding—it deserves. That project is the planned 1.3-mile extension of Caltrain from its existing terminal at 4th and King to the future Transbay Transit Center in downtown San Francisco.

Adding Caltrain service to the spacious regional-transit center at First and Mission Streets will bring the new terminal to life and greatly improve connections among over 50 bus and rail lines. With Caltrain, the Transbay Transit Center will become the largest and most important nexus of transit lines in western North America—truly fulfilling its promise of becoming the Grand Central Station of the west.

The Bay Area has waited a long time for Caltrain’s downtown extension. In 1999, 69% of the San Francisco electorate voted for the extension of Caltrain to a downtown regional transit center.  Construction on the Transbay Transit Center itself is proceeding rapidly and completion is expected in 2018. Platform space for Caltrain (and eventually high-speed rail) is being provided on a lower level of the Center. Unfortunately, San Francisco’s politicians have been slow to pick up on the importance of the Caltrain connection, and funding has languished to the point where construction on the extension has been delayed.

When completed, the extension will connect the east-west BART and Muni Metro subways under Market Street to the 78-mile north-south Caltrain, running to Silicon Valley and San Jose and later, via high-speed rail, to the Central Valley and Southern California. With Caltrain extended and underground pedestrian links in place between the Transbay Transit Center and the Embarcadero BART Station, San Francisco’s new downtown transit hub will directly serve eight rail lines (Caltrain, BART, and Muni lines J, K, L, M, N, and F), as well as Muni, AC Transit, SamTrans, Golden Gate Transit, and other bus lines. The new terminal will be within easy walking distance of a 400,000-person employment center and over 10,000 new housing units.

The Caltrain connection will make every line serving the transit center more useful to more people. This, in turn, will encourage more transit-oriented development, both near the terminal and near other stations along the affected lines. The transit center’s value is already widely recognized, as evidenced by the astonishing amount of new high-rise construction that has sprung up in its immediate vicinity.

As with any large public project, Caltrain’s downtown extension needs significant funding commitments—in this case from high-speed rail and other state entities, as well as federal, regional, local, and private investment. Here’s a roundup of funding sources that have, or should, come through for the Caltrain extension:

  • State: High-speed rail will share Caltrain tracks and station facilities, substantially raising the costs of both the transit center and the Caltrain extension. Despite this, the California High-Speed Rail Authority has so far contributed nothing to the project.
  • Federal: The MTC has belatedly placed the Caltrain Downtown Extension in line for Federal New Starts funds, but this funding will come sooner if it’s backed by strong expressions of local support.
  • Regional: Caltrain’s extension will require toll-bridge revenues from the Bay Area Toll Authority and other regional funds. The MTC now has a new opportunity to help accelerate the construction of this vital transit-integrating facility.
  • Local: San Francisco’s contribution to the project has so far amounted to a miniscule 2.8% of the total budget, compared to its 34.8% contribution to the low-ridership Third Street/Central Subway project. A greater commitment from the City is warranted.
  • Private: Nearby landowners who benefit from the transit center have agreed to take part in a special Mello-Roos Improvement District Tax to fund the Caltrain extension and other related infrastructure needs. While some developers are now objecting to the new taxes, the city has not backed down.


The completed Transbay Transit Center with a Caltrain connection will provide tens of thousands of daily transit riders with highly efficient bus and rail connections. To make sure the extension is built without further delay it is essential that the public voice strong support for the project. Make your views known! Share this story with your friends. Write or call the MTC, Mayor Edwin Lee, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Peninsula Joint Powers Board (Caltrain), and your favorite newspaper or media outlet. Tell them to get behind the Caltrain extension project.

—Jerry Cauthen and Peter Lydon, members of the Bay Chapter Transportation and Compact Growth Committee

Contra Costa County Transportation Plan projects more driving

Photo courtesy of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority.

Photo courtesy of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority.

Transportation is the single-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the Bay Area, so it must be a key focus in our fight against climate disruption. Unfortunately, a new plan for transportation spending in Contra Costa County is projected to result in more driving, which would likely lead to an increase in greenhouse-gas emissions.

Each of the nine counties in the Bay Area has a “congestion management agency.” One of the goals of the Sierra Club Bay Chapter’s Transportation and Compact Growth Committee is to try to shift these agencies away from the hopeless cause of trying to manage congestion and towards beneficial work to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from cars and light trucks.

In August, Contra Costa County’s congestion management agency, the Contra Costa Transportation Authority, released a draft of its new 25-year Countywide Transportation Plan. The Executive Summary states: “By improving the transportation system, we can help address the challenges that a growing population, more jobs, and more traffic will bring. The [Countywide Transportation Plan] lays out a vision for our transportation future, the goals and strategies for achieving that vision, and the future transportation investments needed to promote a growing economy, advance technological changes, protect the environment, and improve the quality of life.” The Sierra Club contests the claim that this plan would protect the environment.

Alas, the Transportation Plan, which runs until 2040, states that it will result in a five percent increase in vehicle miles traveled per person—the opposite of the objective laid out by the Bay Area Regional Transportation Plan (“Plan Bay Area”), which calls for a ten percent reduction of vehicle miles per capita over the next 25 years. Greenhouse-gas emissions from cars are directly related to vehicle miles traveled, so the county’s Transportation Plan flies in the face of California’s goal of cutting the climate disruption-causing emissions.

The Bay Area Regional Transportation Plan (“Plan Bay Area”) contains a list of “performance targets.” Two of these are to “reduce per-capita carbon dioxide emissions from cars and light-duty trucks by 15 percent” and “increase non-auto mode share by 10 percentage points.” The County Transportation Authority does not disclose whether the Transportation Plan will achieve these targets, but given the projected increase in vehicle miles per capita, we can conclude that it would be incredibly difficult to do so.

As for congestion reduction, the County knows its Transportation Plan will not do much. The draft Plan notes, “Where feasible and beneficial, improve the throughput capacity of roadways while recognizing that these improvements will not, in the long run, eliminate congestion.” Despite this stated understanding, the Plan proposes to lay out $3.8 billion on building more freeway lanes. That money would be better spent on projects and programs that could lead to a reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions, such as  providing more frequent bus service or accelerating the Complete Streets program.

The Contra Costa Transportation Authority should withdraw its draft Transportation Plan and begin fresh on one with an overarching goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

—Matt Williams

Read more about Plan Bay Area in “Settlement puts Plan Bay Area back on track“.

Settlement puts Plan Bay Area back on track

Photo via Flickr.com/thomashawk.

Photo via Flickr.com/thomashawk.

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

Agencies agree to disclose environmental impacts of Bay Area Transportation and Housing Plan—Settlement lays groundwork for robust regional planning

Photo by Brandon Doran, flickr.com/brandondoran

Photo by Brandon Doran, flickr.com/brandondoran

Today the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments reached an agreement with environmental and social justice groups on litigation relating to their latest regional transportation and development plan, Plan Bay Area.

Plan Bay Area’s stated purpose was to reduce climate change pollution by planning for transportation, smart housing development and land management in the nine counties surrounding the San Francisco Bay.

In August 2013, Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) and Sierra Club sued the agencies for failing to adopt a plan that would meaningfully achieve these goals. Earthjustice, which represented the groups and was co-counseled by CBE, challenged the agencies for failing to provide information about the viability of communities targeted for development, for ignoring the public health effects of increased freight shipments through vulnerable communities such as East Oakland, and for taking credit for reducing greenhouse gas emissions which actually resulted from other greenhouse gas abatement measures unrelated to Plan (such as California’s low-carbon fuel standards).

Today’s settlement provides concrete benefits to all residents of the region.  The settlement requires the agencies to:

  • More honestly account for the Plan’s effects on greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Provide the public with information on how the areas targeted for housing growth, the “Priority Development Areas,” will be able to grow successfully and sustainably into the future (i.e., whether they are adequately served by public transportation, whether they are susceptible to sea-level rise); and
  • Examine how freight movement in the area harms already vulnerable communities, and take measures to mitigate those harms.

“This settlement provides the public much-needed information and lays a solid foundation for a better version of Plan Bay Area, which is due in 2017,” said Irene Gutierrez, Earthjustice associate attorney. “Everyone who lives in the Bay is affected by Plan Bay Area. This settlement provides area residents with insight into how they will be served by the agencies’ plan, and how their communities are expected to grow and stay healthy over the coming years.”

“This settlement requires the agencies to create a real plan for reducing the harmful pollution from trucks and trains moving freight through already highly polluted communities,” said Maya Golden-Krasner, staff attorney for Communities for a Better Environment. “It sets the groundwork for the agencies to start planning how the Bay Area will move toward zero-emission trucks and trains.”

“Climate disruption threatens Bay Area families and businesses, and passenger vehicles are a leading cause of this disruption.  This settlement provides residents and policy makers with important information about whether the next Plan will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from passenger vehicles,” said Matt Williams of the Sierra Club Transportation Committee.  “The settlement also provides the public with key information about the sustainability of priority development areas, which are at the heart of cutting greenhouse gas emissions and ensuring that area residents live near good public transit.”

Plan Bay Area is a multi-decade regional transportation and housing plan, covering transportation planning, housing development, and land management, for the nine counties around the San Francisco Bay.  The regional plan is meant to be revised every four years. The latest version of Plan Bay Area was approved by the agencies in July 2013. As mandated by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), Plan Bay Area was accompanied by an Environmental Impact Report (EIR).

Earthjustice represented the groups and served as co-counsel with Communities for a Better Environment in this lawsuit.  The groups challenged the agencies’ EIR for Plan Bay Area, alleging that the EIR for Plan Bay Area fell far short of providing the public with information needed to meaningfully participate in planning transportation and housing development in the Bay Area.

The settlement finalized today remedies those deficiencies by requiring the agencies to provide the public with more information about the environmental effects of the Plan.  The settlement provides the public with essential information about the effects of the Plan on transportation and land-use greenhouse gas emissions, the effects of freight transportation on public health, and the viability of communities targeted for development.  The gains achieved by the settlement lay the groundwork for a better regional transportation and housing plan in the future.

For more information about the Regional Transportation Plan, see “Sierra Club sues for better Regional Transportation Plan“.