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GUEST OPINION: Housing and what ABAG doesn't get

The Association of Bay Area Governments is in the process of setting regional housing allocations for the next eight years in our nine-county Bay Area. Each city and county in the region must zone adequate sites to meet its ABAG-assigned allocation for housing affordable to families of all income levels.

The new allocations are supposed to balance housing development with employment in each community. And state law, SB 375, mandates that cities and counties reduce greenhouse gas emissions by coordinating housing needs with transportation and land-use planning so people can ride public transit, walk or bike to work. But ABAG's new numbers do just the opposite for many jurisdictions.

Your April 30 editorial ("Plan Bay Area and the benefit of regionalism") praised the president of ABAG, Mark Luce, for saying that planning for growth "is not going to be addressed by forcing zoning where it's not wanted." Zoning is supposed to address the housing needs of the whole community, rich and poor alike. People who work in a city should have the opportunity to live there in housing they can afford. Some people in wealthier cities and counties don't want more people, especially if they're lower income or of a different ethnic background.

ABAG's new One Bay Area Plan," emphasizes regional planning and environmental preservation. But more than 30,000 people commute long distances to worksites each day in Napa County from Sonoma, Lake and other counties. Most of these commuters would prefer to live closer to where they work, but housing is scarce and very costly in Napa. Ignoring this huge imbalance, ABAG proposes to reduce Napa County's housing allocations from the current 3,705 units to only 1,407. ABAG proposes to cut allocations to Marin County jurisdictions by more than half, from 4,882 to 2,436 units.

Marin is the wealthiest county in the state and racially one of the least diverse. More than 60 percent of the people who work in Marin County commute to work from Sonoma, Contra Costa and other counties. About 80 percent of the county population is white, compared to less than 50 percent for the Bay Area in general.

There's no shortage of land suitable for housing in Marin and Napa. So why is ABAG proposing these reductions? Is it because Luce, a Napa County supervisor for 16 years, and his constituents in Napa don't want more housing there for for the people who work there, and they don't want ABAG to force them to address the housing needs of the farmworkers who help make the county so wealthy?

The Napa County Board of Supervisors is unique in the Bay Area for never having approved a single unit of housing for lower-income families. Luce recently won re-election claiming that as president of ABAG he could get that county's housing allocations reduced. In both Napa and Marin, proposals for affordable housing developments face fierce opposition from residents who don't want more low- and moderate-income families living in their communities.

While ABAG proposes steep reductions in housing allocations for Marin and Napa counties and some other wealthy jurisdictions, allocations for Oakland, San Jose, Richmond and San Francisco have been adjusted upwards. This will inevitably worsen traffic delays in many areas and harm air quality.

Additionally, the federal Department of Housing and Community Development warned ABAG recently that the proposed housing allocations may violate laws prohibiting housing discrimination. Lower-income families tend to be non-white. By concentrating new affordable housing allocations in areas which already have high concentrations of non-white residents, and reducing allocations to wealthier jurisdictions that are mostly white, ABAG is helping to increase racial and economic segregation.

Regional planning for housing, transportation and environmental preservation should be a high priority, but that means balancing jobs and housing availability for the people who work in those jobs, rich and poor, urban and rural, non-white and white. That's also a goal of fair housing laws, and of SB 375, the landmark environmental protection law adopted in 2008.


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