California's "ABAG Ghettos"

Much of what you hear about California’s leading edge environmental legislation deals with the impact of the new-in-2013 “cap and trade” levies on manufacturing and utilities, the refusal to exploit the Monterrey shale and off shore oil and gas deposits, the rush toward electric cars and solar power, and the relation to fleeing employers. This posting will deal with the emerging picture of what it will do to people living in the San Francisco Bay Area.

A brief background:

– The nine counties of the Bay Area (which include San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, and about 100 smaller municipalities) have two primary regional planning agencies with professional bureaucracies and Boards of Directors comprised primarily of locally elected officials.

— The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) which serves as the primary conduit for federal and state housing money; and

— The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), which collects the tolls from seven bridges and recently purchased a $180 million office building in San Francisco, also serves as the primary conduit for federal and state transportation money – and with Nancy Pelosi’s juice we get a lot.

– California Assembly Bill 32, passed in 2006 and signed by Governor Schwartzenegger mandated the reduction of greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2020 and the initiation of a “cap and trade” structure which ratchets down the availability of permits while ratcheting up their price. (Schwartzenegger also set an objective of reducing these emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.) A ballot initiative to delay implementation of AB 32 was defeated 62% to 38% in 2010. The people want to be the global leaders on “climate change.”

Senate Bill 375 in 2008 mandated integrated planning for land use, housing, transportation, and “social equity” in 18 state regions to implement AB32. Regional planning moved from a peripheral role to center stage with enforcement leverage.


– The ABAG/MTC plan, Plan Bay Area,  which has been under development for the past two years envisions a population increase by 2020 from the current 7 million residents to some 9 million by 2040; no development outside of current “habitation zones” (currently about 5 % of the land area); and Preferred Development Areas (PDAs) where the predominant development would take place.

– The guiding vision of the plan is “stack and pack” apartment development with a density of 25 to 50 units per acre along an expanded rail structure with relocation of some 35% of the residents currenly living in the PDAs. Virtually no money will be spent on highway construction and there will be virtually no construction of single family homes.  In the interest of social justice, many smaller communities will be required to accept similar developments.

– Underlying assumptions include the premise that people will want to live in dense, heavily urbanized settings, the recent downward trend in use of mass transit will be reversed, and people will not commute from counties adjacent to the Bay Area in order to live in single family homes in more traditional suburban settings. There is no recognition that federal automobile mileage and emission standards mandate virtual achievement of the greenhouse gas standards required by AB32 without any social engineering.

The implications:

– Housing costs in the Bay Area are currently among the highest in the country. If no single family housing is built, the American dream will be priced out of reach of millions of new residents, the great majority of whom will be Latinos.

– Highways, already among the most congested in the country, will become impassable.

– Zoning decisions will be transferred from local governments to the regional planners. Local governments will be subjected to developer lawsuits if they do not comply with the plans of ABAG.

The status:

–  Despite a series of meetings in the planning community there has been little press coverage and few Bay Area residents are aware of the plan which is expected to receive approval at an ABAG/MTC meeting on July 18. In California where there are ballot initiatives on everything from preschool funding to use of plastic bags there will be no vote of the people.

– A disparate coalition of local property rights advocates, libertarians, and advocates for the lower income impacted groups has been protesting with little affect on the decision makers. The Republican Party, which has limited local influence, is providing the only organized political opposition.

– Advocates include ideological environmentalists and a network of planners, companies receiving mass transit and housing development funding, and allied unions – the core of the Democratic coalition. Promises are made for hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for “affordable housing” – which neither the US Congress nor the California governor seems willing to commit.

–  In the near term there will probably be a lawsuit or two on the basis that ABAG’s analysis of the environmental impact is faulty and the constitutional rights of property owners are being violated. Over the next few years the voters will exact their revenge on the locally elected officials who have sold out their communities for the ABAG vision of mass transit ghettos. Republicans looking for a game changer may have been handed a gift.

Like many meetings where the public is allowed to speak, some of the most stirring testimony has come from recent immigrants, particularly a few from the former Soviet Union who came to America to escape the arbitrary central planning bureaucracy of the communist commisars only to be met by the ABAG Board of Directors.


This week’s video is Vladimir Putin’s response to President Obama’s proposal to reduce nuclear arsenals. Nyet!!! He is still giving lots of speeches, but none of the world’s leaders seem to be listening.



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