When Plan Bay Area released its draft preliminary growth numbers (yes, they’re that speculative), a cry went out around Marin that ABAG wants to cram growth down the gullet of stable and "non-growing' county. For years, Marin has lost jobs and so either lost housing units or grew at a snail’s pace. We aren’t like the nearly bankrupt towns of the East Bay or Delta, with vast tracts of new, identical houses. Sadly, if regional and state agencies have their way such reckless and unrestrained growth would come to our counties. You might as well kiss the Marinite way of life goodbye.
That’s a good narrative, but as with most sensationalist narratives of the government losing all reason, it’s pure nonsense.
Plan Bay Area, the sustainable communities strategy mandated by the state, needs to accomplish a simply stated task: find out where people will live and work in 30 years, funnel that growth away from open space, and provide an effective way for people to get around without a car. The first task requires projections of job and housing growth, the second utilizes the state-mandated Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) process, and the third uses grants to localities that want to expand or maintain their transit infrastructure.
The fear among opponents is that projections of housing growth will mean that the state will mandate that level of growth. I suppose it’s an easy mistake to make. RHNA numbers are released in a similar fashion, and those really are mandates for zoning to accommodate the growth. Thankfully, Plan Bay Area projections are intended to inform the whole sustainability strategy; they don’t constitute growth mandates. Yet even if they did, they would mandate slower growth for the county than has occurred in the recent past, though you wouldn’t know it listening to the plan’s opponents.
Between 2000 and 2010, Marin added about 622 housing units per year. Nearly every incorporated town (excepting Larkspur and Belvedere) and every unincorporated village added housing over the past decade. Plan Bay Area projects that growth will slow to only 272 units per year, less than half the rate of the past decade. This rate of growth includes both affordable and market-rate housing. RHNA will be informed by these projections, and so will mandate even less housing.
Besides, the “mandates” aren’t even mandates. As we’ve discussed before, RHNA requires a city to do two things: zone for affordable housing, and come up with a plan to maybe have it get built. Little ever gets built anyway.
So Marin will likely grow faster than Plan Bay Area projects, will likely be required to plan for less affordable housing than it has been required to in the past, and so things will carry on in much the same way they always have. There is no vast usurpation of local control, there is no growth mandate handed down from One Bay Area, there is no UN plot to confiscate your home. What we have is a sensible plan to focus growth away from the suburbs and towards the region's major hubs in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose. Under Plan Bay Area, the pressure's off Marin, and that's not a bad thing.