Looking ahead to manage housing, transportation, and jobs
Living in Kenwood or Glen Ellen, it’s sometimes hard to think about the larger metropolitan area just to the south. The nine counties and numerous cities that make up the greater San Francisco Bay Area form a semi-coherent mass that demands regional planning for transportation, jobs and housing, planning that leads to long term policy making.
So what, you say?
These policies directly impact how federal, state and local money is distributed.
Even at a distance from San Pablo Bay, Sonoma Valley residents are no strangers to housing shortages, job squeezes and transportation problems. Solving these problems means looking for money.
Plan Bay Area 2040 compiles the latest population and job growth projections by the area’s two major regional planning agencies – the Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG). These agencies are merging right now, to better coordinate and implement long-range policy making.
“What’s important about Plan Bay Area 2040,” MTC chairman and Rohnert Park Mayor Jake Mackenzie said, is “that it requires reduction of greenhouse gases by encouraging growth patterns that combine investment in transportation and housing, and looking at how best to get housing close to jobs, reduce miles traveled, and lead to further reduction in greenhouse gases.”
Sonoma County residents got a look at the PBA2040 update at a May 22 open house at Santa Rosa’s Finley Center, one of 22 such events held in all the affected counties last month. It was a far cry from the turbulent disruptions by UN conspiracy group Agenda 21 and Tea Party climate change deniers that nearly shut down a similar MTC/ABAG hearing in Santa Rosa in 2012.
The final plan will be adopted in July.
Future state and federal funding allocations require that the numbers contained in these PBA2040 projections be incorporated into county and city General Plans that spell out how, when and where growth will actually be implemented in coming years.
Today, there are 7.2 million people living in the 7,000 square miles that make up the Bay Area. That is expected to rise to 9.6 million by 2040. PBA2040 expects that number to grow by another 820,000 households by 2040. Up to 90 percent of them will be housed in the area’s three main cities – San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose – and the six south bay counties. The remaining 10 percent will be located in Sonoma, Marin and Napa.
“This is a 25-year plan that is updated every four years,” Sonoma County Transportation Authority Planning Director Janet Spilman said. “It’s important to realize that we are about six percent of the region. They project we’ll be four percent by 2040, because the (rest of the area) will grow faster.” Sonoma County will grow, but not as fast as the rest of the Bay Area.
“Housing is at the top of everybody’s agenda right now,” Spilman said. “Housing is a big problem in Sonoma County as well, more specifically affordable housing.”
The 2040 report states flat out that, “There simply isn’t enough housing, whether market-rate or affordable, given the growing number of residents and jobs.”
Spilman said that neither MTC nor SCTA have the resources to relieve this problem. “They are leveraging transportation funding to say you should have progressive housing policies.”
The Bay Area region has been booming in the job creation department, but building housing started to lag in the 1970s and never caught up, according to the PBA2040 report. While there are a number of reasons contributing to the ongoing lag, local factors are cited as “regulatory barriers and tax policy challenges that act to restrict the production of all types of housing, especially infill development, and insufficient support for affordable housing.
Sonoma County’s portion will be about 33,000 new homes.
According to MacKenzie, the county is well positioned to accommodate the needed growth through its existing General Plan policies. Given the county’s greenbelts and urban growth boundaries, cities will be the center for this growth. Whether they can find the political will to meet these policy demands is an ongoing issue, given the demonstrated resistance to infill projects within city boundaries.
“Between now and 2040, the Rohnert Park General Plan anticipates we will be providing over 4,000 new housing units over the next decade,” MacKenzie said. “Santa Rosa clearly has a burden. The implementation of housing elements in the General Plans of the nine cities in Sonoma County is crucial.”
Some of Rohnert Park’s new housing is already under construction next to Sonoma State University off Petaluma Hill Road.
PBA2040 calls for housing to be built in designated Preferred Development Areas, or PDAs. Sonoma County’s three PDAs are clustered around Highway 101, but the Springs area, while it is certainly a targeted development area (designated a Rural Investment Area, or RIA), does not qualify for special funding allowed to PDAs because it lacks qualifying public transportation.
Sonoma County is ahead of the curve in transportation planning, having built the SMART train that is about to start regular commuter service between San Rafael and Santa Rosa. It will eventually go from Larkspur to Cloverdale. The county is also well into a 10-year program of widening Highway 101, including the infamous bottleneck between Petaluma and northern Marin, all the way to Cloverdale.
The county has started discussions with Marin, Napa and Solano counties about the future of Highway 37, the major east-west corridor at the north end of the Bay that is threatened by rising sea levels. Replacing this vital corridor could cost upward of a billion dollars. Early planning goes a long way toward satisfying regional transportation policies.
However, Sonoma County bus service remains a problem, according to Spilman.
“Even if we met all the other (requirements for PDA funding), we can’t meet that one. They have to be 20-minute headways, a bus every 20 minutes, no matter what direction. We have a hard time meeting that requirement pretty much everywhere, unless you are in a SMART corridor.”
PBA2040 also calls for open space, and greenhouse gas reduction, and in those categories Sonoma County is well ahead of the other counties, having implemented an Open Space tax many years ago that is a nationally recognized successful program.
“In protection of open space, we are leaders in the Bay Area,” MacKenzie said.
You can learn more about PBA2040 at 2040.planbayarea.org.