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December 3, 2008 > Focus on Bay Area land use

Focus on Bay Area land use

By Simon Wong

Union City's Economic and Community Development Department invited Planning Director, Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) Kenneth Kirkey to make a presentation to the Planning Commission as a prelude to a discussion of the Union City Intermodal Station District at the Planning Commission Meeting on November 20. The presentation was designed to shed light on the relationship between ABAG and local authorities; how Union City has benefited from membership of a regional body. Mayor Mark Green is Vice President of ABAG and Chair of the organization's Regional Planning Committee. Manny Fernandez represents Union City in ABAG's General Assembly with Jim Navarro as Alternate.

ABAG, established in 1961, is a regional council of elected officials from the 101 cities and nine counties within the San Francisco Bay Area and is the region's official planning agency. The Association has examined regional issues such as housing, transportation, economic development, environmental, education, water policy, waste management, earthquake hazards, and criminal justice and training. ABAG fosters coordination and cooperation among local governments through partnerships, coalitions and task forces to find solutions to problems that extend beyond city and county boundaries.

Mr Kirkey presented an overview of Project FOCUS created in May 2006 and partially funded by a Blueprint Grant from the State of California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency. The initiative is a voluntary, incentive-based program through which regional agencies and local governments can manage the growth, development and conservation of the Bay Area.

Approximately 7.1 million people with 4 million jobs live in Bay Area cities, towns and suburbs. The region's beauty, recreation areas and diversity will attract new residents swelling the population by an expected 2 million by 2035. The prospect presents challenges.

The region has longer commutes compared to other parts of the US and expensive housing. Urban sprawl has eroded the green belt and encroaches on agricultural land, extending into the Central Valley where housing is cheaper. Less land, longer car journeys and the region's Mediterranean climate hasten climate change and weaken the region's natural defense against the adverse effects of environmental damage.

ABAG, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) are four regional agencies that have joined forces, through FOCUS, and partnered with congestion management agencies, transit providers and local government to promote more efficient, compact land use in the Bay Area. The program links land use and transportation by developing communities in areas served by transit. This contains urban sprawl and results in shorter and fewer commutes by road.

FOCUS is the vehicle through which regional agencies support local governments committed to these goals by directing planning grants, capital funding and technical assistance to Priority Development Areas (PDA) and Priority Conservation Areas (PCA). Besides existing sources, future funding opportunities may be available from programs such as the MTC's Transportation for Livable Communities and Housing Incentive Program and discretionary financing from the MTC's Regional Transportation Plan 2009 Update.

PDA's were adopted in November 2007 and are defined as "infill development opportunities within existing communities. They are generally areas of at least 100 acres. These communities welcome more residents and are committed to creating more housing choices in pedestrian-friendly locations easily accessible to transit, jobs, shopping and services." Union City's Intermodal Station District met the eligibility criteria to become a PDA and is a prime example.

FOCUS designates each PDA as either "planned" or "potential." A planned PDA has a land use plan and the city council or county board has passed a resolution of support. Such a PDA is eligible for planning and capital funding and technical assistance. Potential PDA's may not receive capital funding until they become planned PDA's. The designations allow funds to be directed to those areas that are ready for development.

PCA's were adopted in July 2008 and are defined as "areas of regional significance that have broad community support and an urgent need for protection. These areas provide important agricultural, natural resource, historic, scenic, cultural, recreational, and/or ecological values and ecosystem functions." Currently, FOCUS is liaising with conservation funding agencies to raise awareness of funding opportunities of designated PCA's within the Bay Area.

Technical assistance will be launched in December 2008.

The ultimate goal of ABAG's FOCUS Program and Bay Area local governments is effective management of the region's growth and development, custodianship of its scarce resources and improvement of social and economic equity. This creates communities that live more efficiently and contribute to the region's environmental sustainability. The coordinated approach espoused by ABAG and the organization's assistance to local governments overcome the fragmentation and inequities that would arise if local governments were to act alone and independently of a regional vision.

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