How should the Bay Area plan for growth?

So. How many of you have been following the MTC/ABAG/BAAQMD/BCDC SB 375 implementation strategy planning process?

Not many? That’s okay. Here’s a short summary:

Plan Bay Area is the next step in a natural progression of decades of regional planning. As our population is expected to grow from about 7 million in 2011 to approximately 9 million in 2040, we need to start making transportation, housing and land use decisions now to sustain the Bay Area’s high quality of life for current and future generations.

Plan Bay Area grew out of California’s 2008 Senate Bill 375 (Steinberg), which requires each of the state’s 18 metropolitan areas to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from cars and light trucks. This is important because the transportation sector represents about 40 percent of the GHG pollution that scientists say is causing climate change.

Under SB 375 each region must develop a Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS) that promotes compact, mixed-use commercial and residential development that is walkable and bikable and close to mass transit, jobs, schools, shopping, parks, recreation and other amenities. If successful, Plan Bay Area will give people more transportation choices, create more livable communities and reduce the pollution that causes climate change.

And a short video:

As part of this planning effort, MTC is holding a series of public workshops, one in every County in the Bay Area. The Alameda County workshop that had been originally scheduled is already fully booked, so they have scheduled a second Alameda County workshop on Tuesday, May 24th from 5:30 to 8:30 PM:

Participants in these forums will work together with a fun, interactive web-based simulation, YouChoose Bay Area, to outline priorities, choose different growth options and see future consequences. See the links between growth and the things you care deeply about, such as open space conservation, clean air, water consumption, public health, energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and access to mass transit.

I’ve been wanting to write in more detail about this process for a while, and just haven’t been able to find the time. At some point, I will get around to it, but I only learned yesterday about the first Alameda County workshop filling up so quickly so I wanted to make sure my readers were aware of the opportunity before the second workshop fills up too!

So if you want to learn more about regional planning (and really, who doesn’t?) and have a voice in how the Bay Area will grow over the next few decades, you should seriously consider registering for this.

According to MTC’s promotional video featuring cheerful testimonials from participants at the Santa Clara County workshop, they’re going to have interactive clickers you can use to say what you think. That’s even better than the dots on boards that I love so much!

Once again, that’s going to be on Tuesday, May 24th from 5:30 to 8:30 PM at the Metrocenter Auditorium (101 Eighth Street) in downtown Oakland.

Register here for the workshop, and get up to speed on the process by reading this little pamphlet (PDF) and exploring the One Bay Area website, and read this post on Transbay Blog about the Initial Vision Scenario and Sustainable Communities Strategy. For bonus points, take a look at the Initial Vision Scenario Overview (PDF). If you’re really hardcore, read the full Initial Vision Scenario report (PDF).

The One Bay Area website also has a bunch of interesting videos that are worth watching if you’re interested in the subject and have some extra time.

43 thoughts on “How should the Bay Area plan for growth?

  1. livegreen

    Ibid. I am curious how this will affect Oakland’s Housing Allocation, especially versus surrounding cities.

  2. len raphael

    and what if the projections are wrong. no or little growth.

    eg. what if Oakland’s population continues to decline.

  3. Chris Kidd

    It’s not just about projections for individual cities, it’s about projections for regions. It’s also about how to accommodate for regional projections in a way that will impact the quality of life for existing residents in the least negative way. It’s also about how to accommodate for regional growth in a way that is equitable, sustainable, and economically advantageous.
    If Oakland’s population continues to decline, that growth will happen somewhere else that will be less advantageous for the continued success of the bay area as a region. If the region’s population declines, we’ve got worse problems than just what’s happening in Oakland.

  4. len raphael

    Chris, you make some valid points.

    Oakland growth and development appears to be a lagging indicator for the entire Bay Area if the behavior in the last two real estate bubbles repeats in the future.

    But regarldless of when we would experience growth, if one is basing policy on projections, shouldn’t we also consider the not remote possibility that the entire Bay Area will be stagnant or even decline slightly over the next two decades?

    If anything, you’d think the lesson learned by economists from the world financial crisis of the past 3 years was that ignoring unlikely but big effect scenarios when making projections was dangerous. aka “tail risk”

    And i don’t think no or negative growth in the Bay Area is that improbable.

    -len raphael, temescal

  5. Navigator

    Oakland’s population decline has much more to do with the changing demographics than anything to do with desirability. Oakland has become a younger city with fewer families and smaller households. Having said that, the census numbers don’t really add up when you consider that SF has 25,000 empty housing units and somehow San Francisco’s population is said to have increased. If you multiply the average number of occupants by the number of occupied units in San Francisco it doesn’t come close to the over 800,000 residents they claim as San Francisco’s population. These numbers are manipulated for political reasons and somehow Oakland doesn’t seem to know how to play the game as well as some of the more potitcally influential cities in California.

    Oakland is becoming more and more like SF with smaller wealthier households with fewer families and children. It doesn’t make sense that SF would show a population increase while Oakland shows a population decline. This becomes even more evident when you take the 25,000 vacant housing units in SF and multiply the occupied units by the average number of people living in each occupied unit in San Francisco. By that standard SF would show a population of about 670,000 and a huge population drop. These population numbers are being manipulated for political clout and for federal funding. Oakland just needs to get better at fudging its population and crime figures the way SF seems to be very proficient at doing. You’ve got to play the game. It’s a dog eat dog world.

  6. Navigator

    According to the article ablove San Francisco has 31,131 empty housing units. It’s much more than I quoted above. Also, SF has the lowest density per unit of any county in the Bay Area with 2.14 residents per unit. The total number of occupied units in San Francisco is 345,810. If we mutiply 345,810 occupied units by the 2.14 residents which are supppose to occupy eah unit on average, we come up with a population figure of 740,035. San Francisco claims a population of 805,235 according to the 2010 census. We have a discrepency of 65,200 residents. Where are these extra 65,200 residents living in San Francisco? Is SF claiming 65,200 homeless residents? What’s going on? The numbers don’t add up. Oakland needs to bump up its numbers by about 32,000 to just keep up with the cheating.

  7. Navigator

    According to the article ablove San Francisco has 31,131 empty housing units. It’s much more than I quoted above. Also, SF has the lowest density per unit of any county in the Bay Area with 2.14 residents per unit. The total number of occupied units in San Francisco is 345,810. If we mutiply 345,810 occupied units by the 2.14 residents which are supppose to occupy eah unit on average, we come up with a population figure of 740,035. San Francisco claims a population of 805,235 according to the 2010 census. We have a discrepency of 65,200 residents. Where are these extra 65,200 residents living in San Francisco? Is SF claiming 65,200 homeless residents? What’s going on? The numbers don’t add up. Oakland needs to bump up its numbers by about 32,000 to just keep up with the cheating.

  8. Chris Kidd

    Nav. buddy. Please get off the anti-SF high horse. The population decline in Oakland is due to many, many complicating factors and it’s going to take a lot of teasing with the 2010 census-tract level data to work out answers. And that will only provide some of the answers.

    I’m hoping to really nerd-out with some 2010 census data for Oakland once I’m done with my graduate program, but I can give a number of guesses off the top of my head that will probably bear out under scrutiny: There was a solid undercount of poor, homeless, and undocumented peoples in the latest census. Prospering Latino households probably had a dip in persons per household, meaning less people in the same number of housing units. Downtown, JLS, and North Oakland probably had nice bumps in population while East Oakland probably had a sharp drop (I would guess driven by a lot of foreclosure during the credit crunch). The people moving into Oakland probably have less persons per household than the people moving out, meaning less population for the same number of occupied housing units.
    And that’s only census-driven stuff. There’s also crime, schools, services, etc. to figure in.
    Not all population declines are bad things, and overall population decline can mask some really interesting shifts in population demographics and the way it might impact the city in the future. I’ll see what I can put together in the coming months.

  9. Navigator


    I’m not on some anti-SF crusade. I put up figures which just don’t add up to what’s being claimed as a population increase for SF to a total of 805,000 residents. These figures also put into question the accuracy of Oakland’s count. If SF can’t explain where 65,200 residents are suppose to be living how can we have any faith on the numbers for Oakland?

  10. Max Allstadt


    If Oakland is so desirable and such a safe and wonderful place to live, why don’t you move to Oakland?

  11. len raphael

    nav, oakland has some rather large warts on an otherwise beautiful face. doubtless not unique to oakland, but daunting to current and future residents.

    went to my favorite dog park this morning at 38th and MLK with my 3year old 83lb pit. very nice dog park, maintained really well by all of us volunteers. adjacent to basketball court and grassy area.

    the dog park is very lightly used.

    take the dogs on leash back to my vehicle but the pit decides to duck out of the car and dashes towards the kids playing bball. i follow, yelling at the beast and waving a treat at same time. finally get his leash back on.

    the 20 something who was mentoring the younger kids comes over to me after i put the leash on and starts screaming at me about letting him run loose. Justified, but mistaken about what happened i calmly reply. Wrong thing to say.

    He goes nuts telling me to get my white ass out of his hood, etc etc before he busts me one. I consider the whether my pit will lick him if he hits me, or just stand aside. I wonder if i can pull my taser out in time.

    He takes a breather and I give up trying to talk to him and go back to vehicle.

    Tired of the oakland drama, i head for a piedmont dogpark. not as nice, but no risk.

    start a conversation with another middle aged dog person, a resident of Oakland, about my morning incident.

    He laughed and recounted how in 2008 his out of town wife and brother in law came to visit him in Oakland.

    He spent quite a bit of time refuting his brother in law’s nonsense about what a dangerous cesspool Oakland was.

    To show his brother in law what a great place Oakland is, he treated them to a nice dinner at Milano’s on Grand Ave.

    You probably know the ending. Just before leaving he hears a commotion, and then feels the cold muzzle of a gun against the back of his neck. He cooperates fully. Cops came in 6 minutes but bad guys left in 3mins.

    His brother in law hasn’t been back since.


  12. James

    I regret buying a home in Oakland. Violent crime is increasing, services are decreasing, and the Oakland government wants to raise taxes. I bought a brand new townhouse just to have section 8 people move virtually next door.

    But really annoys me about Oakland is how anti development some folks are in Oakland. I have seen towns turn around ghettos, but I think Oakland cares more about hugging trees and coddling criminals than real economic development. Am I cynical?

  13. len raphael

    OSA, funny you should mention traffic light timing.

    Sat evening I went to one of the newest food success stories in Temescal’s gourmet ghetto, and chatted with one of the owners about BRT. First he said how relieved he was that it wasn’t going to happen because the city council opposed it (?). I asked him if his customers felt the same way. He thought many of them drove to his location, but regardless he considers himself a strong supporter of green policies: More/bike lanes would help Tele much more than BRT.

    Neither of us could see how buses that intrinsically have to make frequent stops were a good solution.

    Then he suggested that overall air pollution in Oakland would probably drop if the traffic lights were timed better for cars and trucks.

    Just by watching the instant and average gas mileage readout on my vehicle, there is a dramatic difference between my gas consumption during the day with traffic lights timed differently than in the evening.

    Is the difference between your advocating timing the lights for buses, and the business owner’s wanted them timed for cars/trucks, the difference between you planning for higher density future vs his wanting to improve the here and now?


  14. Chris Kidd


    Los Angeles’ ATSAC system is at 91% synchronization. ….hasn’t helped them meet CARB thresholds.

    Also, don’t ever trust business owners’ opinions on *new and scary* infrastructure. They have a great handle on how things work right now, but not the best grip on how things might change. For every third bike rack I’ve put in with LADOT, we get an irate business owner demanding we remove it from “their” sidewalk, claiming that it will decrease visibility for their business and drive away customers. Six months later, guess who comes back to ask for more free bike racks, please?

  15. len raphael

    Chris, wouldn’t surprise me that optimization for cars/trucks wouldn’t make a big difference (except for my blankety blank honda ridgeline pu).

    Wb curious what the pro’s and con’s effects were in LA. eg. how much, if any, of a net decrease or increase in carbon output, from optimizing for cars/trucks? what’s the hypothetical difference between optimizing for pedestrians vs buses?

    But yes, it comes down to whether your crystal ball is better than the local business person’s crystal ball; and how you’ve weighed the costs and benes for current, mid term, or the unborn. But then as Keynes supposedly was quoted out of context “in the long run we are all dead”.

    I personally have found smart successful business people much better prognosticators of local economic development and growth trends than smart academics.

  16. Oakland Space Academy

    I’m not a (full build-out) BRT supporter, though I do agree with many of the individual goals and strategies. The primary reason is that I believe it is a regime that values movement over place. Temescal will become a lesser place if BRT is fully implemented on this portion of Telegraph; losing the parked cars will tremendously worsen the experience of eating a delicious chicken sandwich.

    I don’t doubt that most diners arrive to Temescal via car. It is a destination district, and the public transit is horrible. The cross-town bus stops running about 10:00 and is on 30 minute headways before that, the main line is on 20 minute headways. Overall air pollution probably would drop if lights were timed for cars, but with it would go all the wonderful benefits of congestion.

    I also think it a mistake to value too highly the opinions of existing business owners. Their interest in rent-seeking from competition thwarting measures (restrictive zoning, expensive entitlement processes) is just too great. It would be better to talk to those who would like to open new businesses in the area; they are just harder to identify.

  17. Ken O

    Nav which city do you live in?

    Who else is attending the May 24 design charrette? (I’m going.)

  18. len raphael

    OSA, the BRT and light synching comments were from a business that opened in the last six months.

  19. Navigator

    Max, I’m waiting for you and Len to give me the go ahead. Guys, let me know when it’s nice, safe and clean like San Francisco. Meanwhile, I’ll just raise a fuss when I see things that aren’t quite right.

    I ‘ll keep circling Lake Merritt and the Fox Theater untill things look right. Seriously, when the kids are out of the house my wife and I want to move back. I grew up in Rockridge and I love that neighborhood. Unfortunately it’s very expensive. I’ll settle for Piedmont Ave., Temescal, or the Lake Merritt area. Do I have to live in deep East Oakland to really be in Oakland? Having said that, I love and know the entire city. Every area has its positives as well as negatives. It really is a great city and you guys should explore the different neighborhoods. Don’t be so down on your own town.

  20. Navigator


    38th & MLK has always been a rough area. Shoiuld Oakland be defined byughest areas? Is SF judged by the Tenderloin, Mid Market or Hunter’s Point? I understand your frustration but why do you call it “Oakland drama.” Also, the guy who was at Milano could have been at a restaurant in Hayward, El Cerrito, San Leandro, Daly City, Martinez, San Francisco or San Jose because ll of those towns had at least one restaurant takeover robbery.

  21. Max Allstadt


    You should move to my neighborhood, from what I hear from you, it’s sunny and it’s nowhere near as dangerous as people say it is.

  22. Navigator

    Max, Do you like Oakland? I’m wondering why you choose to live in Oakland. Hasn’t West Oakland changed quite a bit in the last ten years? From what I here from you and Len maybe I SHOULD stay away from Oakland. Would you guys feel better if I made negative comments about Oakland?

  23. Chris Kidd


    I’m a little dubious about this business owners’ planning acumen. First of all, synching lights for faster car travel on a street where you operate your business will drive patronage down. Extremely successful business districts like Park Street in Alameda get that way in part because they time lights to slow traffic down to a crawl. Pedestrians feel safer, drivers are more cognizant of their immediate surroundings & are more likely to pull into a street parking space on impulse and shop.

    And second, please don’t label me as an “academic”. I’m not; I’m a practitioner. I currently work for the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, a job that requires me to work in the field every week. I may also be a graduate student, but you won’t get far with me trotting out some sort of “ivory tower” argument.

  24. len raphael

    Nav, don’t stop boostering Oakland. I forgot my basic rule of urban survival: never be a gentrifier/urban pioneer be.

    Maybe it’s my vestigial white liberal guilt, but the guy screaming at me was clearly very protective of the young kids. A near impossible task in his part of Oakland. No, it was my guilt for not being extra careful to keep pit under control.

    Nav, I wouldn’t diss you for raising your kids in the burbs.

    Raising kids in Oakland is more expensive and energy consuming for every sector except the most wealthy. We did it and it worked out fine. But not for most people.

    -len raphael

  25. len raphael

    Max, is Tuesday May 17th the city council meeting at which we’ll have the opportunity to support the Gang Injunction?

    -len raphael

  26. Max Allstadt


    I live in Oakland because I love living here, I love the community and the depth with which I’ve become connected to this place.

    It is also dangerous at times. The positives and the negatives are not mutually exclusive. There are plenty of ways in which you can manage to live here and raise kids safely. I have neighbors in West Oakland who do it, and friends and clients in Montclair and higher up the hills who do it.

    As far as risks go, I spent most of my childhood in big cities, and only one year in a suburb (Reston, VA). The abject lack of stimulating experiences in the ‘burbs was astounding to me, even at 14. The risk of growing up in a city is well worth it. Young adults that I know who grew up in big cities with some degree of latch-key experience have some special traits. There’s something very empowering about being sent around on public transit as a young kid, being empowered to travel, to explore. In the ‘burbs you don’t get to do that until you can drive.

  27. ralph

    May 17 is your day to be heard on the GI. One of the many questions, CM Brooks and Nadel asks is will the GI require disclosure under CA Real Estate disclosure laws. I presume they are concerned that the GI will curtail buyers and limit real estate transactions.

    CA Real estate laws do require a nuisance notification (e.g. a dog that barks all through the night) but I would posit the true nuisance in this case is the active gang, not the injunction. It is not the injunction which limits investment (i.e. the buying and selling of real estate) it is the actual gang and threat of gang violence that is problematic.

  28. len raphael

    Ralph, they can’t be serious, worried about real estate sale disclosure? How about a gag order on all reporting about Oakland gangs?


  29. len raphael

    Have any of the other council members besides Nadel, Brooks, indicated where they stand on the Fruitvale GI?

    DLF and Reid are for it? But no word from Brunner, Schaaf, Kernighan?

  30. ralph

    I am going with it is the kitchen sink approach. Like most, I am probably more troubled by the micromanaging of both the police and attorney’s office. A significant portion of the expenses are part of the ordinary course of business. If the approach is to micromanage the dollars of other departments, then I am going to elect to limit my tax dollars to those programs I support. Wait, it is an all or nothing approach to revenue enhancement measures, you say. Any guesses as to which way I am leaning…

  31. len raphael

    I don’t follow of the attack on the GI costs.

    a. aren’t a bunch of them legal costs incurred because of the Siegel challenge?

    b. haven’t seen any demands for an accounting of the NSA

  32. Max Allstadt

    Brunner, quite properly, has submitted documents to Judge Freedman’s court promising to recuse herself on the injunction issue. There are only 7 councilmembers voting, thus there can be no tie and no tie breaker by the mayor.

  33. livegreen

    Yes, a bunch of the costs ARE because of the Siegel challenge. The costs are the backdoor manner GI opponents are using to get the City Council to sink this and then hide behind. They create the costs then argue it’s cheaper to eliminate the entire thing.

    Len, regarding the NSA, the cost in $ or the cost in lives?

  34. Max Allstadt

    I miss the open thread being highly visible. We’re getting way too tangent-prone.

  35. Dax

    Max, unless you hadn’t noticed, its not just that the “open thread” isn’t highly visible, it no longer exists.
    You see there is no posting window at the end of the thread.

    Hence, there is no “open thread”.

  36. V Smoothe Post author

    The Open Thread is exactly as visible as it has been for the last six months, and Dax, you are incorrect, there is a posting window. If you guys don’t like how I run my site, you are more than welcome to take it elsewhere.

  37. Dax

    For some time, there was no posting box at the end of the Open Thread.

    I made a point of rechecking it (again) just prior to my 10:46 AM post saying there is no Open Thread, since there was no posting box.

    Now, there is a posting box at the end of the Open Thread.

    I had checked the Open Thread posting box several times over the past few weeks. It was not there.
    Now it is there. Good.

  38. Navigator


    My two oldest kids went to Oakland Public Schools for the primary grades. It wasn’t a matter of not wanting to raise kids in Oakland, it was a matter of affording a bigger house for our growing family in an area with high scoring schools. All my kids love Oakland. After moving to the suburbs they would hear some anti-Oakland ignorant comments from their schoolmates. One time a classmate asked my daughter if she “had ever been shot” after they found out that they had lived in Oakland. I told them to tell them “yeah, couple of times.” The ignorance really bothered them for some time. To this day they’re big Oakland boosters and it bothers them when they hear ignorant remarks from people who don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.

  39. Marisel Brown

    The One Bay Area Initiative (OBA) will influence the lives and livelihood of every resident of the nine ABAG counties. It is difficult to understand the profound changes that will affect how we live, work, and play for the next 25-30 years. The decisions and actions that result from the planning process will havee a direct impact in what is known in urban planning circles as the built environment.
    The United States comes a bit late to the idea of sustainable urban environments. The concept has its origins in the early 1970s with the World Health Organization’s Healthy Cities program. If you’ve traveled to European cities, you’ve experienced the result of healthy urban planning.
    The connection of health to city living may seem odd. But if you remember the impact the Industrial Revolution had on cities of that time, you know that the wealthy had country homes where they could escape from the filth, dirt, grime, & infectious diseases that thrived in overcrowded conditions.
    Public health (as in your local health department) turned those circumstances around, but we are discovering that the way we currently live, work, play, & learn contribute to the fact that some of us may have shorter lifespans than our grandparents.
    The Europeans made the connection between the built environment and our economic, physical, and mental well-being and now look at the impact of urban planning decisions on health. The Bay Area is just starting to approach
    Europe of the 1970s with the One Bay Area Initiative. Let us hope that as residents we will keep a vigilant eye on making sure that we integrate the evidence that points to the benefits of integrating health considerations into decisions that will affect 7 million plus Bay Area residents for several generations.
    The sphere of direct planning
    influence is the built environment: here defined
    broadly to mean the physical form and management
    of places: the buildings, spaces, streets and
    networks that make up human settlements. This
    sphere affects all the others to a greater or
    lesser extent, helping to shape some of the
    options that are open to individuals, social
    groups, businesses and state agencies.

  40. len raphael

    MB, for a second I was hoping that the OBA was a movement to consolidate the government operations of most of the Bay Area cities and counties. But no, it’s another Planner’s Go Wild fantasy.

    A city planner buddy of mine who moved to upstate NY visited me last weekend. His comment was that maybe the Bay Area has too much planning but his part of NYS does no planning.


    Bravo for long-term planning and sustainable growth, but don’t let the ink dry on those buy-sell agreements just yet.

    A few key points to consider:

    - The groups behind this development effort say we have a choice, but they present the most important choice as a simple assertion: Bay Area population will grow by 2.2 million people by 2035. Our roads, downtowns, parks, transit resources will all be more crowded.

    - According to their website, in 2010 SVCF granted roughly $75,000 each to 16 organizations that advocate for building more housing, and for groups that go to public meetings to advocate for more residential construction.

    - According to California law S.B. 375, Bay Area cities are forced to join this transit-based development effort in order to qualify for billions in Federal and regional transportation funding.

    - Transit-based development, as defined by S.B. 375, provides a loophole used by real estate developers to avoid compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

    - We have 10 percent unemployment and a glut of vacant housing in the Bay Area. Building 900,000 more units and increasing the population by 33 percent will only increase job competition, strain resources and add congestion, while the few profit.

    - And the challenge of reducing our carbon emissions consistent with California law will be made more difficult as a result of this hypothetical population increase. It’s that simple.

    You can choose Bay Area.