Bay Area Citizens, a nonprofit co-founded by a Larkspur lawyer, filed suit in Alameda Superior Court on Tuesday seeking to revoke approval of Plan Bay Area.
Bay Area Citizens is being represented free of charge by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit legal organization based in Sacramento that litigates nationwide to protect property rights.
The suit asserts that Plan Bay Area -- a Bay Area-wide plan that seeks to promote the development of new, more affordable housing along transportation corridors and near mass transit to reduce greenhouse gas production -- violates the California Environmental Quality Act.
Damien Schiff, the Pacific Legal Foundation lawyer handling the case, said the law required the regional agencies proposing Plan Bay Area to consider alternatives that would achieve the same results but with reduced effect on the environment.
"Here we think the plan fundamentally failed," Schiff said.
John Goodwin, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, one of the regional agencies that helped create Plan Bay Area, declined to comment on the suit.
Peter Singleton of Larkspur said he co-founded Bay Area Citizens in March.
"It is to basically to protect and represent Californians' interests in areas like local community control, the environment, land use and property rights," Singleton said. "It is a complementary effort to the other citizens groups in Marin and throughout the Bay Area."
Susan Kirsch, one of the co-founders of Citizen Marin, a coalition of neighborhood associations opposing Plan Bay Area, said she was familiar with Bay Area Citizens; but added, "We're completely separate."
Singleton said Bay Area Citizens has about 100 members, a number of whom live in Marin, including Sausalito Councilwoman Linda Pfeifer. Nevertheless, Singleton said Bay Area Citizens chose to file its suit in Alameda County because many of its members also live there.
A collaboration of four regional government agencies, Plan Bay Area sets out housing and transportation plans in response to the California Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008, which requires each of the state's 18 metropolitan areas to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks -- 7 percent per capita by 2020 and 15 percent by 2035.
Plan Bay Area aims to achieve the greenhouse gas reduction targets by requiring 78 percent of new housing and 62 percent of new jobs in the Bay Area through 2035 to be located within some 200 "priority development areas." These are areas typically accessible to mass transit, jobs, shopping and other services that have been identified and approved by local cities or counties for future growth. Local jurisdictions that approve priority development areas will be rewarded with grant money.
The plan was designed to cut greenhouse emissions by reducing automobile trips.
Schiff said, "But the plan's CEQA analysis ignores the air quality improvements that will result from existing clean-air initiatives at the state level. In fact, the region's greenhouse gas targets are projected to be met naturally, largely because of mandated fuel efficiencies that are on track to be imposed."
Schiff said the Plan Bay Area approval process also was flawed because it failed to include an evaluation of an alternative approach suggested by Bay Area Citizens. The alternative called for expanded bus service and reducing transit fares.
Schiff said the regional agencies overseeing Plan Bay Area contend the alternative was offered too late in the process -- during the period for public comment on Plan Bay Area.
But Schiff said, "Nothing in state law sets this arbitrary time limit on reviewing proposals."
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