The Bay Plan Amendment Closes in on Consensus

BY LAURA TAM, SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT POLICY DIRECTOR
June 16, 2011
San Francisco Bay. Image courtesy flickr user photoartist3

There’s something in it for everyone to hate and something for everyone to love, but after two years, we are optimistic: We may be very close to a consensus on how to amend the San Francisco Bay Plan with new information about climate change.

Over the last two years, the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) has been working on a proposal to amend its guidance document, the Bay Plan, to include new findings and policies related to climate change and sea level rise. BCDC has held countless public hearings and public workshops, amended its draft staff recommendation more than three times, and received thousands of public comments. Last November, SPUR provided specific language suggestions to BCDC, which were widely read and used as the basis of other stakeholders’ comments.

In May, SPUR Executive Director Gabriel Metcalf was invited to appear on a panel before the commission at a public workshop. Seated right between the two most vocal and oppositional groups engaged in this process — three people representing the environmental community, and three people representing the building industry — Gabriel suggested that the commission consider both protection of the Bay and good infill development around it as equally important regional benefits. And within the limited areas where it’s possible to site new transit-oriented infill development, he urged, the plan should encourage such projects on a case-by-base basis. This is no overreaching assault on the environment: The Bay Plan already presumes no development in fragile managed wetlands, and BCDC has almost no authority to site or permit new development anywhere else.

Since that meeting, the proposed Bay Plan Amendment has changed again, in ways that SPUR strongly supports. Instead of rewriting an entirely new definition of infill development — a subject of wide disagreement — the new amendment refreshingly removes the definition and replaces it with information about the FOCUS program, which identifies the Bay Area’s regional priority development areas for infill. It also recognizes that BCDC is one of several regional agencies working to align policies around sustainable communities and transit-oriented development. The document now references the California Climate Adaptation Strategy, a guidance document developed by and for state agencies on how to plan for climate change. While mildly controversial in that it has not been legally adopted, the strategy is already being followed by a number of other state agencies and was recently endorsed by the California Ocean Protection Council.

The new amendment also recognizes that we will need to invest vast resources in protecting communities and infrastructure along the shoreline and that we need a regional strategy, so that one city’s levee doesn’t worsen sea level rise for its neighbors. Finally, it is abundantly clear that the proposed amendments are not an expansion of BCDC’s jurisdiction — which is extremely limited.

In the first week of June, I testified to BCDC about our support of this new proposal and shared my optimism that we are very, very close to a final amendment. Alongside an intrepid and persevering BCDC staff, SPUR is hoping to see it adopted in October.

SPUR’s recent report “Climate Change Hits Home” explores what rising sea levels will mean for people, property, infrastructure and fragile Bay wetlands.

 

Read the SPUR report "Climate Change Hits Home" >>

Read our previous coverage of the Bay Plan amendment >>

Read more about our climate adaptation work >>