Plan Bay Area: planners’ dream; for Citizens, not so much

August 06, 2013 | By JONATHAN WOOD

Attorneys from the Pacific Legal Foundation filed a new lawsuit this morning, on behalf of the Bay Area Citizens, challenging Plan Bay Area. The Citizens are a non-profit that supports property rights, local community control, and the environment, and opposes burdensome land-use regulation. Plan Bay Area is the first Sustainable Communities Strategy adopted for the Bay Area under S.B. 375. It aims to reduce the use of cars by concentrating most future housing and business development in 5% of the region. The Citizens oppose the Plan because it’s unnecessary to achieve the environmental goals of S.B. 375 and will likely end up forcing people to live in dense “stack and pack” housing, denying them the American dream of the single family home.

The suit challenges the Plan’s environmental analysis under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). CEQA requires state agencies to realistically assess environmental impacts before making decisions. The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the agencies responsible for Plan Bay Area, violated the act by engaging in a sham analysis that gives the misimpression that the Plan is necessary to comply with S.B. 375. It isn’t. S.B. 375 requires regional governments to prepare their housing and transportation plans so that the region will achieve a target for greenhouse gas emissions reductions. But it turns out that the Bay Area’s targets are largely going to be achieved through new vehicle and fuel standards. Rather than acknowledging this, the environmental impact report—which is supposed to allow informed public and agency deliberation about environmental impacts—ignores these reductions. It does this despite S.B. 375’s explicit direction that the targets “take into account greenhouse gas emission reductions that will be achieved by improved vehicle emission standards, changes in fuel composition, and other measures[.]” ABAG and MTC’s failure to properly consider this reality renders its environmental analysis defective, and illegal under CEQA.

The Plan’s environmental impact report also failed to consider a reasonable alternative which would have benefited the environment, without making it more difficult for residents to live where, and as, they want. In extensive and detailed comment letters, the Citizens proposed just such an alternative. They recommended expanding and improving bus services so that low income residents, who naturally drive older and less efficient cars, could switch to more efficient buses. ABAG and MTC’s staff declined to give this alternative its due. This too violated the agencies’ obligations under CEQA.