Plan Bay Area takes legal punches from the left and right

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Our May 28 cover story outlined Plan Bay Area's huge impacts to San Francisco.

Plan Bay Area, the regional strategy to funnel future population growth into San Francisco and other big cities in order to combat climate change, is now being slammed with legal challenges from both sides of the ideological spetrum.

Those left-right punches could knock out a plan that critics called a schizophrenic attempt to accomplish competing goals with inadequate resources and resolve. For example, it created incentives to increase housing density along transit lines, but it did little to limit private automobile use, make that housing affordable by people who do use transit, or address the displacement of existing urban populations.

Earthjustice, Communities for a Better Environment, and the Sierra Club today filed a lawsuit in Alameda Couty Superior Court challenging Plan Bay Area’s recent approval by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments.

That lawsuit follows one filed Friday with the same court by the Building Industry Association of the Bay Area. And those two suits follow another one filed Aug. 6 by the conservative Sacramento law firm Pacific Legal Foundation on behalf of a group calling itself Bay Area Citizens.

While that first lawsuit from the Tea Party crowd criticizes the very idea of regional planning and the validity of addressing global warming, these latest two lawsuits basically call out Plan Bay Area and its supporters for not going far enough to address the goals laid out in the plan.

Earthjustice and the community groups it works with criticize Plan Bay Area for disrupting Bay Area communities with an accelerated growth plan that doesn’t address environmental justice issues like those faced by West Oakland residents, whose air quality would be worsened by an influx of automobile traffic.   

 “The people of the Bay Area take pride in living in one of the most diverse, culturally and economically vibrant metropolitan areas in the world. We demand smart planning for growth—the kind that improves our quality of life, makes life easier and less expensive for residents all over the Bay Area, and allows our communities to thrive and grow,” Irene Gutierrez, Earthjustice associate attorney, said in a press release. “This requires responsible planning that reduces climate change pollution, plans for smart public transit growth, avoids toxic zones, and dirty and harmful air quality. Plan Bay Area does not achieve those goals. The people of the Bay Area deserve a much better plan.”

And Bay Area developers are focused on how the plan calls for more transit-oriented development without investing in the public infrastructure needed to serve it, criticizing the state legislation behind Plan Bay Area that relaxes the environmental studies of projects in transportation corridors.

“SB 375 calls on the Bay Area and other regions of California to integrate residential and transportation planning in ways that fully accommodate their housing need and in ways that allow for reduced reliance on and emissions from passenger vehicles,” said Bob Glover, executive officer of BIA | Bay Area. “Plan Bay Area is a cop out.  It neither plans for enough housing nor provides a reasonable path for developing it and therefore looks a lot more like a pulling up of the draw bridge than a sustainable communities strategy."

To learn more about Plan Bay Area, you can read our May cover story, "Planning for Displacement," or the coverage of a public forum that we and other groups sponsorerd.