Should We Plan for Sprawl?

By Egon Terplan, Regional Planning Director
June 23, 2011

Daly City, San Francisco's suburban neighbor. Photo by flickr user WarzauWynn

The implementation of Senate Bill 375, California's anti-sprawl legislation, continued with a joint meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) on June 22. The question at hand: Should the MTC commissioners and ABAG directors approve a set of five alternative growth scenarios for their staffs to further analyze? Each scenario includes a set of land-use assumptions (i.e. where growth will go), transportation assumptions (i.e. what share is spent on maintenance vs. expansion, and in the region's urban core vs. its edge), and policy assumptions (i.e. what tools will be used to change travel behavior and development). The staff presentation (PDF download) provides a good overview.

Many in the audience called on MTC and ABAG to add an additional scenario focused on equity, jobs and the environment. There were several dozen supporters of this scenario, and they heavily outnumbered the small contingent who spoke about the evils of central planning, socialism, income distribution and the perceived illegality of the entire planning process. SPUR weighed in on the debate with a policy letter to the MTC commissioners. At the meeting, we boiled down our recommendations to two main points:

1. The biggest levers to shape regional growth are transportation money and policy. Put those limited dollars into the urban core, include road pricing as a policy option and eliminate Scenario 5, which focuses on exurban development.
 
2. Make sure we plan for the full regional growth need in our scenarios. All scenarios must meet the region's housing target.
 
While our ideas were heard, we didn't win out in the end. Several commissioners agreed that all the scenarios should meet the region's complete projected housing need, rather than assume we cannot build enough housing in the region. More agreed that a scenario that shifted more growth to the edges of the region (i.e., Scenario 5) did not make much sense. This point was raised by Commissioner and San Francisco Supervisor Scott Weiner and turned into a motion by Commissioner and San Jose City Councilmember Sam Liccardo. Six voted for the motion to eliminate Scenario 5. Seven opposed, so the motion ultimately failed. 
 
The conclusion: Staff should continue analyzing the five scenarios and consider a sixth focused on equity (while acknowledging that not everyone has the same definition of equity or agrees on how best to increase it).
 
Regional planning is no easy task, and there's more to come.