Bay Area Leaders Approve Long-Term Population Growth Plan After Contentious Meeting

A coalition of Bay Area leaders late Thursday night approved a long-term regional plan meant to accommodate population growth over the next few decades while meeting state mandates for cutting air pollution and improving access to public transportation.

The final vote on Plan Bay Area came during a marathon joint meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) at the Oakland Marriott.

The two groups are made up of 21 Bay Area county supervisors, mayors and other local leaders.

Several hundred people, many who boarded buses from Marin and Santa Clara counties, packed a Marriott ballroom to protest the plan, voicing concerns that it will bring overcrowded housing developments and will bypass local control over development.

Hundreds of attendees from groups such as Discontent with Plan Bay Area said they believe such a plan should be subject to a public vote and toted signs and chanted “Let us vote!” or “MTC, don’t speak for me!”

Several dozen others from Oakland-based public transit advocacy group TransForm carried yellow signs expressing support for alternatives to the plan under the slogan “Equity Environment and Jobs” or EEJ.

According to the MTC, the plan is a “work in progress “ that continues earlier efforts to “develop an efficient transportation network and grow in a financially and environmentally responsible way.”

Created by several agencies including MTC and ABAG, Plan Bay Area comes up with blueprints for the region’s nine counties to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent by the year 2040, as required under state Senate Bill 375. The plan also focuses on providing housing for all residents of all income levels near transportation hubs, according to MTC and ABAG officials.

The federal government requires the agencies to update the plan every four years to keep up with shifting demographics and new data, MTC spokesman John Goodwin said.

“There are no easy solutions in this plan but…this plan creates a way for the residents of the Bay Area to discuss our future openly,” said ABAG Executive Director Ezra Rapport.

But many of the Bay Area residents who spoke at the meeting said they either did not feel included in the planning process or felt that requests for public input were disingenuous and that board members had already made up their minds to approve the plan.

Some speakers also voiced concerns that the plan would give the government undue authority to dictate where and how communities are allowed to develop housing.

“It’s clearly a social engineering experiment,” Fairfax resident Kevin Krick said during the public hearing.

Dozens of people said they would support the plan as long as it included amendments to increase funding under the plan for affordable housing and public transit options – amendments that were adopted later in the meeting.

Some speakers praised the plan as it was originally presented, expressing hope that it will provide a wider variety of alternatives to congested Bay Area roadways and prevent the displacement of low-income residents as rents throughout the region soar.

“I’m really glad to see the region take this pioneering step,” said Adina Levin of Menlo Park.

The Bay Area is among the state’s 18 regions tasked with creating a vision for meeting mandated emissions reduction targets and implementing transit and housing solutions.

Thursday night’s vote came at the end of a three-year planning process involving the MTC, ABAG, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the Bay Conservation and Development Commission and local communities and agencies.

Laura Dixon, Bay City News

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