August 9, 2013

By Sam Tepperman-Gelfant

This week, the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) — a self-appointed “watchdog organization that litigates for limited government” — sued to block Plan Bay Areaas an unnecessary attack on private property rights that violates the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The suit asserts in part that technological innovation and telecommuting will lead to a “natural” decline in greenhouse gas emissions from cars, making Plan Bay Area’s attempts to change historic patterns of exurban sprawl and freeway expansion unnecessary.

Public Advocates and our partners in the 6 Wins Network know better. With 2.1 million new residents expected by 2040, the Bay Area faces intertwined crises of climate change and increasing inequality that require swift and effective action. That’s why we engaged in the Plan Bay Area process for the past three years, fighting for core policies that are better for low-income communities and the environment, including:

  • More affordable homes in all neighborhoods with jobs, transit, and opportunity;
  • Stronger policies to ensure investment without displacement in lower-income neighborhoods; and
  • Adequate funding to operate frequent, reliable, and affordable local public transit for those who need it most.

These goals form the core of the Equity, Environment and Jobs (EEJ) Scenariothe 6 Wins Network and our allies created for Plan Bay Area. That’s the same scenario the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) concluded was the “environmentally superior alternative” in its environmental review of Plan Bay Area. The final plan, adopted last month, included some key amendments that move us toward the direction EEJ laid out.

Not that the plan is perfect. Even with the last-minute amendments we won, we’re disappointed with many aspects of final plan. For example, it invests insufficient funds in local transit operations.

The EEJ scenario demonstrated that improving local transit that lower-income people rely on to get to work, school, worship and recreation is also the best investment for the environment. By investing just 5% more in transit operations, EEJ would have resulted in 165,000 more daily transit trips and 83,500 fewer cars on the road than the adopted plan. Even PLF appears to agree in its complaint that investing in “transit to do what it does best, serve first the transit disadvantaged,” is an effective strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In other areas, however, our vision clearly diverges from that of the anti-regional planning groups. While PLF’s lawsuit advocates for more sprawl and unchecked “local control” for wealthy towns to exclude low income residents, we believe all neighborhoods need more affordable homes for the low-paid teachers, domestic workers, secretaries, farmworkers and others who contribute to these communities but can’t afford to live in them.

Moreover, the Pacific Legal Foundation argues that regional planning is by its very nature unnecessary and damaging. The 6 Wins Network rejects that position, believing that good regional planning is a necessity if our region’s inevitable growth is to be achieved in a just and sustainable way.

We’ll see where PLF’s efforts lead. As we know from experience, seeking change through the courts can be an arduous process. (The group is also litigating to block California’s “cap and trade” system for lowering greenhouse gas emissions as an unconstitutional tax.)

Meanwhile, Public Advocates and the more than 30 organizations that make up the 6 Wins Network will continue working to create a healthier, more prosperous and sustainable future for struggling families and for all Bay Area residents.  We remain unified, energized, and poised to continue active and productive engagement at the regional, county, and local levels to capitalize on the substantial opportunities presented by Plan Bay Area and to improve the plan in the years ahead

Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Not readable? Change text. captcha txt