Mi casa es su casa?
A special joint meeting of city councils from local jurisdictions was held in San Leandro on January 30th to hear a presentation by representatives of Metropolitan Transit Commission’s (MTC) Committee to House the Bay Area (CASA). They have crafted a “CASA Compact” to address the housing crisis in the San Francisco Bay Area. This is a 15-year “policy packaged” plan, a comprehensive evaluation and response to the shortage of housing and its direct and indirect impacts on our communities.
In the works since the summer of 2017, this ambitious project is designed to guide the area toward three principal outcomes:
- Increasing housing production at all levels of affordability
- Preserving existing affordable housing
- Protecting vulnerable households from housing instability and displacement
These are laudable goals; a coordinated approach to an area-wide problem must be addressed in a systemic manner that is inclusive and comprehensive. According to MTC, CASA originated following the release of the draft Plan Bay Area 2040 [http://www.2040.planbayarea.org/], that “projects the region will see 2.4 million more people, 820,000 new households and 1.3 million new jobs by the year 2040.”
Response from local councilmembers was mixed since all are aware of the housing shortage and strain this has caused on infrastructure, environment and quality of life. It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that there is and has been inadequate coordination between civic jurisdictions resulting in an exacerbation of the problem by some communities while others are left to bear the brunt of unbridled business expansion. Blinded by the promise of high-tech good times and taxes, some communities welcomed seemingly unrestricted construction for thousands of employees without much thought about where and how these people would live. If a neighboring jurisdiction was adversely impacted, so be it.
In response to the CASA compact, local elected representatives made it clear that although appreciative of the effort, the Steering Committee only included mayors of the three largest (by population) cities that were not representative of many others and amounted to a “road show after the fact.” Fremont’s Mayor Mei noted the effect of pass-through traffic that has plagued Fremont and surrounding cities. It was clear that the CASA compact was designed without the benefit of input from an important constituency – Southeast Bay Area cities. To create a comprehensive plan, it is imperative to include as many stakeholders as possible, including our cities – large and small.
After years of watching a steady stream of traffic, skyrocketing housing costs and an inevitable greed component infiltrate our communities, it is time to look at the root causes of this problem. To break it down to one simple component, it is the insatiable, cyclical appetite of large firms with titanic campus environments that need bodies – lots of them. Little attention is paid to where these people will come from and repercussions of extensive growth in a limited geographic area. Sending buses to outlying communities is one symptom of this disparity. While many tangential communities share in the growth patterns, the over-arching problem of too much growth is left to symptomatic relief. Build more roads, more mass transit, more housing that cannot possibly keep up with the pace of employee demand. The cycle is clear but the solution is uncomfortable. Some of these industries have to consider additional facilities in other locations.
The CASA preamble states this problem in direct terms:
“During our remarkable run of economic expansion since the Great Recession ended in 2010, the Bay Area has added 722,000 jobs but constructed only 106,000 housing units. With housing supply and demand that far out of whack, prices have shot through the roof and long-time residents as well as newcomers are suffering the consequences.”
When is enough, too much? When do we stop saying “mi casa es su casa”?