Regional plans for major housing growth up for approval

Plan Bay Area 2040 expects the region to add 820,000 new housing units, 1.3 million new jobs in the next 23 years

A construction worker climbs a ladder at 421 Coleridge Ave. on July 26, 2013, during the early phases of a home renovation. Bay Area elected officials are scheduled to take a final vote of Plan Bay Area 2040 in late July, which aims to take a balanced approach to job and housing growth. Weekly file photo.

Elected officials from all nine Bay Area counties are set to vote this week on a road map for sustainable growth in the region over the next 23 years.

Known as Plan Bay Area 2040, the plan calls for accelerated housing growth as a means of combating the rising cost of living in the area; it also calls for major investments in roads and public transit.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), agencies that represent 101 cities and towns across the Bay Area, were scheduled to discuss the plan on July 14, with a final vote set for Wednesday.

The plan projects that by the year 2040, the region will add 820,000 new housing units and 1.3 million new jobs; these changes are expected to be strategically placed in what are called “priority development areas” in order to reduce traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions while preserving existing open space.

While more than 40 percent of the job and housing growth is expected to occur in San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland, smaller cities including Mountain View, Richmond and Emeryville are expected to “serve as key locations for the Bay Area’s future households and jobs,” according to an MTC staff report.

Adding 820,000 new homes would be unusual for the Bay Area, which has a poor track record for building enough housing to support job growth. The region built a total of 187,500 new homes between 1990 and 2000, and 231,600 homes between 2000 and 2010; these figures are well below the trajectory proposed in Plan Bay Area 2040.

Conditions have hardly improved since then, as cities across all nine counties met only 57 percent of their housing needs between 2007 and 2014, according to data from ABAG.

The growth outlined in Plan Bay Area 2040 is based on computer modeling designed to forecast transportation and housing demand as well as future land-use changes, but whether developments actually get built is another story. Guiding growth in the Bay Area is a challenge for regional planners at MTC and ABAG because there’s no real means of enforcement — the agencies can provide funding incentives to cities that zone for higher-density projects and housing developments near job centers, but local jurisdictions retain control over land use.

Community feedback on the plan, which was collected between April and June, found that residents overwhelmingly favor short-term solutions to the affordability crisis in the region, including strategies to preserve existing affordable housing stock and ways to prevent developers from “buying” their way out of inclusionary zoning policies.

Santa Clara County residents in particular cited a need for more dense development, and finding ways to enforce housing growth commitments at the regional and the state level.

Mountain View’s plans for rapid housing growth stand out among those of the rest of the cities in Santa Clara County. The total number of housing units in the city is projected to increase from 31,957 units in 2010 to 58,300 in 2040 — an 82 percent increase in just three decades. Much of the growth comes from the city’s identified priority development areas, which include North Bayshore, San Antonio, El Camino Real and East Whisman.

Although the current version of Plan Bay Area calls for a more balanced approach to job and housing growth in the region, affordability will remain a big problem. The plan estimates that lower-income families will go from spending 54 percent of their income on housing and transportation in 2005 to spending 67 percent in 2040 — a jolting figure that left some MTC planning committee members uneasy with the plan when it was revised last year.