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  • Writer's pictureAmy Thomson

Linking Growth to Regional Goals: MTC Takes Big Step Forward

Updated: Sep 28, 2022

Update: MTC passed the Transit-Oriented Communities policy!

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) is about to take a very bold step, 17 years in the making, to promote a more sustainable, affordable region. TransForm is still advocating for a few changes, but we are strongly supporting the Transit-Oriented Communities policy that will be before the Commission for a final vote on Wednesday, September 28th. This policy sets guidelines for how we develop in areas near transit stations, which is pivotal to advancing equity and combating the climate crisis.

Here’s how the Transit Oriented Communities policy works.

Every four years the Bay Area has to develop a regional plan that predicts where we will grow over the next 25(ish) years and then develop a transportation plan to support that future development pattern. State law requires that the outcomes lead to a reduction in greenhouse gases, primarily by investing in green transportation such as public transit and biking, and by building more walkable, compact communities so it is convenient to drive less.

It’s not so simple, however. MTC and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), the two regional agencies that create the policy, don’t control the rules of development. Most of that power is left to the 101 cities and nine counties. So how can these regional agencies get the local jurisdictions to make broad changes to promote smarter development around our transit lines?

In 2004, TransForm led a coalition effort to say that major public transit projects should not proceed unless locals would support that transit with walkable, compact neighborhoods. Our report It Takes a Transit Village, makes the case for not just greater density but nuanced rules, like limits to how much parking is developed and rules that would, essentially, prohibit auto-oriented use like strip malls or big box stores.

Ultimately, MTC passed a simpler, weaker policy in 2005. New transit station areas would have to have plans for a certain number of homes within a half-mile radius. While groundbreaking for the time, it was very limited as it did not affect existing stations or have any nuance to ensure good access or affordability in these new station areas.

Fast forward to today. Next week, MTC will vote on its proposed Transit-Oriented Community Policy. It covers almost all of the recommendations we’d made in It Takes a Transit Village:

  • It encourages more housing and and compact, walkable communities near transit stations, by setting minimum density requirements for new development.

  • It prioritizes pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders over drivers, by setting parking maximums for new residential and commercial development and mandating that cities study how they can improve connectivity to transit stations for people on foot and wheels.

  • It requires that cities implement affordable housing production, preservation, and protection policies.

Even better, it reflects two recent changes requested by TransForm and our allies. First it applies to the full half-mile surrounding all rail, ferry, and Bus Rapid Transit stations (sites marked in blue on the map). This goes way beyond the existing policy that just applies to future station areas. Second, the policy applies to all commercial growth, not just new office development.

As a part of a larger coalition, we are still calling for a few changes before it is voted on at the September 28th MTC meeting. As a coalition we are asking MTC to eliminate the last-minute exemption that would reduce the required residential densities for a small subset of cities that are home to less than 30,000 people: Albany, Atherton, Belmont, Brisbane, Lafayette, and Orinda. This exemption would allow jurisdictions that have long excluded denser housing to continue to do so, harming our collective efforts for a more sustainable, and less racially and economically segregated, region.

We are also asking for the affordable housing and displacement menu to be dramatically improved, as the latest menu leaves jurisdictions with too many low-impact options. At a minimum, we want two policies to be a baseline, not an option: the first requires “no net loss” of homes when demolishing structures and the second is a right of first refusal by displaced tenants to rent new comparable units -- at the same rent as the demolished units.

It has taken 17 years, but the Bay Area is about to make one of the boldest attempts yet to have cities required to make local changes to better match our nine-county regional plan, known as Plan Bay Area. It is important to pass this policy now to make a meaningful impact on climate change, housing affordability, and racial and social inequities; problems that continue to get worse without coordinated regional and local action.

Click here to write to the MTC Commission to pass the Transit Oriented Communities Policy!


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