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By Steve Levy

What is ABAG?

Uploaded: Jan 27, 2012

ABAG (the Association of Bay Area Governments) is the regional planning agency for the nine-county Bay Area. Voting members of ABAG are the elected officials appointed by member city and county governments in the Bay Area—mayors, council members and supervisors. There are no corporate or private individual members.

Three major functions are: 1) the allocation for planning purposes of housing targets by jurisdiction and income category-the RHNA or regional housing needs assessment program; 2) the development of plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions—the SCS or sustainable communities strategy program; and 3) providing the job, population and housing information that MTC (the Metropolitan Transportation Commission) uses to develop regional transportation plans.

RHNA has an eight year planning horizon and the SCS and MTC planning have target years of 2035 and 2040.

The decisions on the RHNA and the SCS—the subject of criticism among Town Square posters—are made in two parts (one by the state) but the regional allocation decisions are made by members—Palo Alto's peer city and county representatives.

A new round of analysis and planning for the RHNA is underway so this is a good time to clarify the process. The state Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) develops a regional housing target for the Bay Area in collaboration with ABAG based on their joint determination of population and housing growth. There is a legal requirement for regions to plan for the housing that provides for regional jobs-housing balance. So planning for job and housing growth in supposed to be done consistently at the regional level.

I am a consultant on the regional job projections in this round for ABAG as well as for three other California regional councils of government so I know quite a bit about the RHNA and SCS although they are not my primary consulting responsibility.

ABAG does not determine the final regional housing target—that is done by HCD. What ABAG does is take the HCD regional targets and allocate the housing by income category to jurisdiction within the region.

Many people in Palo Alto are unhappy with the housing planning target developed for Palo Alto in previous RHNA cycles. And the low income housing targets are controversial in many communities because there is so little public funding to support housing for low-income residents.

However, contrary to what posters are saying, the targets for Palo Alto were developed by a committee of its peers, not be developers or land owners. The targets were developed using a process that does assign greater weight for housing planning to communities with many jobs relative to housing, greater expected job growth and proximity to public transportation—all categories in which Palo Alto and similar cities scored high. But the formula was developed by member cities, not developers or private corporations and the application of the formula was approved by member cities and counties.

And the targets for low income housing do attempt to spread the location of low-income housing more broadly in the region than is currently the case.

The RHNA process has been ongoing for many years but the SCS process is new and is a result of SB 375 whose objective is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by better coordinated land use and transportation planning. There are a number of strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emission but one is to reduce travel times through more housing in existing urban areas.

Contrary to what posters often allege, the goal is not to have everyone or even most people live in the city where they work but to reduce travel times by planning to allow people to live closer to where they work and closer to public transportation and freeway access. The goal is not to eliminate commuting but to reduce miles traveled and time of the commute trip.

One requirement of SB 375 and the SCS process is to reduce commuting from outside the region into the Bay Area for work trips so that housing for new jobs is located more or entirely within the region.

The new regional growth projections are in the process of being developed as well as alternative scenarios for where the growth will occur within the region.

For information about ABAG and a list of members and the names of representatives as well as functions and committees see the About ABAG section at abag.ca.gov.

For the public process for the new round of regional projections and planning see onebayarea.org.

I disagree with most posters about their characterization of the regional housing planning targets for Palo Alto and I disagree about how the process should woik but that is a subject for another blog. The purpose here is to clarify what ABAG is, who votes and who is responsible for the housing and other planning targets adopted by the agency.