A coalition of Bay Area leaders late Thursday night approved a controversial plan designed 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.
Years in the making, the plan has caused anxieties in cities throughout the region, including Palo Alto, where officials have long maintained that the housing and job forecasts in the document are far too high. In May, the Planning and Transportation Commission and the council's Regional Housing Mandate Committee endorsed a letter to the regional organizations calling the projections "highly unrealistic and excessive."
The housing forecast used for the Plan predicts the need for an additional 660,000 households in the Bay Area between 2010 and 2040, an average of 22,000 a year. It focuses much of the housing growth at cities with a high number of jobs, including San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland.
The South Bay is also projected to see a major growth in both jobs and housing. Plan Bay Area forecasts that Palo Alto will see a 33 percent increase in the jobs, with the number going from 89,370 in 2010 to 119,030. It also projects a 30 percent increase in housing in Palo Alto between 2010 and 2040, a number that local officials have denounced as unrealistic and impossible to meet in a city they often describe as "built out."
"I think that the heart of the matter is that the demographics forecasts are off and that their numbers are just too high in how many they give to Palo Alto and how many they give the Bay Area," Palo Alto Mayor Greg Scharff said at the May 9 meeting of the housing committee.
On Wednesday, several hundred people packed a Marriott ballroom to protest the plan, voicing concerns that it will bring overcrowded housing developments and will bypass local control over development. Many arrived on buses from Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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.