Death and taxes are said to be the only certainties in this world, but outrage over Plan Bay Area probably should be added to the list.
The regional growth and transportation plan was approved two months ago by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments, but it remains under siege, as evidenced at a town hall meeting in Lafayette last week. The gathering was organized by the grass-roots organization Lafayette First, but the featured speaker was a seasoned warrior. Larkspur resident Peter Singleton is the founder of Bay Area Citizens, which recently filed suit against the plan.
He contends that the professed ambitions of Plan Bay Area -- smart residential development near mass transit, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and curtailed urban sprawl -- masks a plot to force residents from their single-family homes, take away their cars and inundate communities with look-alike, high-density housing.
It sounded like George Orwell's "1984," with regional authorities in the Big Brother role. His presentation captivated a crowd of about 150 who seemed eager to believe, thanks in part to his artful ability to massage facts.
For instance? The perpetrators of Plan Bay Area were described as unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats, unknown to the communities they harmed.
Contra Costa's unknown MTC representative is Orinda Mayor Amy Worth, who's been elected four times to that community's City Council and was elected to her MTC post by the county Mayors Conference, which has representatives from every city. The county's unknown ABAG representative is Clayton Mayor Julie Pierce, who's held public office for 21 years. The Mayors Conference also elected her. If a guy wanted to pick nits, he might say the unelected representatives actually were elected twice.
Listeners were told that communities failing to zone for projected housing needs could be denied transportation funds, with the implication that bureaucrats were to blame. Actually, Contra Costa voters tied transportation funds to residential planning needs when they overwhelmingly approved Measure J in 2004. It says street maintenance funds are contingent on complying with the county's Growth Management Program.
The audience also heard about the perils of low-income housing, exemplified by the new Lafayette Senior Apartments. Singleton said the project is expensive and heavily subsidized, which may be true. However, it has no connection to Plan Bay Area. If the purpose of that story was to sow seeds of confusion, it was ideal.
Singleton said that 80 percent of new housing units in the next 25 years will be high-density, multifamily units near mass transit. What he didn't say is that if they are built -- a big if -- the overwhelming majority will be concentrated in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose and inner-bay communities where high density is a way of life.
He said higher housing allocations are imposed on cities with a high quality of life, such as Lafayette. Housing allocations parallel expected population growth sites, near transit hubs with BART stations and highway access -- yes, like Lafayette -- and they mean only that planning must be in place, not that residences be built. No shovel can go into the dirt without approval of the local planning commission.
Will Plan Bay Area be good for the region? No one really knows for sure.
The only certainty is that opponents will demonize it. Cooler heads can decide if the sky is really falling.
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org.