Affordable Housing, Berkeley, California, East Bay, MTC, Regional Transportation Plan, SB 375

SB 375 and fair share

Before Senate Bill 375, the basic premise of California’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) was that each city in a region would be expected to absorb its “fair share” of the region’s projected housing need at all income levels.  Each city would theoretically undertake a planning process to ensure that it could accommodate its assigned number of units.  This process was sometimes implemented by cities and other times was ignored, although Pleasanton’s defeat in a lawsuit challenging the city’s housing cap served as a wake-up call for cities that may have been shirking their responsibilities to plan for future housing need.  The principal goal was to ensure that each region accounted for its total housing need at different income levels, and fair share RHNA numbers were distributed to local jurisdictions throughout each region to reach that total.

Corridors like Telegraph Avenue, which are well-served by transit and have plenty of room for urban infill, will be targeted for growth. Image: Flickr account.

SB 375 now calls for a blend of the RHNA with the Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS):

It is the intent of the Legislature that housing planning be coordinated and integrated with the regional transportation plan. To achieve this goal, the allocation plan shall allocate housing units within the region consistent with the development pattern included in the sustainable communities strategy.

The final allocation plan shall ensure that the total regional housing need, by income category … is maintained, and that each jurisdiction in the region receive an allocation of units for low- and very low income households.

The resolution approving the final housing need allocation plan shall demonstrate that the plan is consistent with the sustainable communities strategy in the regional transportation plan.

(Government Code, §§ 65584.04(i)(1), 65584.04(i)(2), 65584.04(i)(3).)

SB 375 leaves open the question of exactly how the two ought to be blended.  But if you acknowledge that growth should be targeted in transit-oriented locations rather than simply allowed to sprout at random, then it is almost a direct corollary that an “unfair share” distribution of housing will result.  Perhaps because it is still early in the process, ABAG and MTC thus far have not emphasized the fair share distinction.  It was not surprising, then, to find some initial pushback in a report prepared by Berkeley city staff.  This piece in the Berkeley Patch, written by Livable Berkeley, summarizes the conclusions of the staff report as follows:

City staff’s “educated guess” is that the level of growth posited in the scenario exceeds what can be feasibly accommodated in Berkeley.  Staff is also concerned that other communities are not being asked to do as much as Berkeley.

Staff’s remarks were offered in response to the Initial Vision Scenario, which included a preliminary estimate of the new housing Berkeley should plan to accommodate: 15,730 additional units under ABAG’s aggressive growth projections, concentrated in the downtown and along more robust transit corridors like San Pablo, University, and Telegraph Avenues.  Interestingly, even though staff offers its “educated guess” that this level of growth cannot be feasibly accommodated, the report admits that “staff has not generally quantified the capacity of these areas to accommodate new units” and that “staff has not begun to test the feasibility of the numbers generated for the [Initial Vision Scenario].”  (PDF of staff report)

In short, Berkeley city staff has offered an “educated guess” that is ostensibly based on little education.  Which would make it … just a plain old guess?  The report proposes that the guess is based on the City’s Housing Element work, but that is an iterative process, and it does not terminate just because a city claims it has no more space after completing the last iteration.

The staff report illustrates the tension between SB 375 and fair share.  Hypothetically, if all cities were served by transit equally well, it would be reasonable to expect each city to absorb its fair share of housing need in the traditional sense.  In reality, though, transit service is not provided uniformly throughout the region, and a principal objective of the SCS is to bring transit networks and housing distributions into alignment.  This means that a city like Berkeley — which is home to the University, a major trip generator, and is served by three BART stations, the Capitol Corridor, and major bus transit corridors — is a natural place for growth.  Clayton (to pick one example), which was assigned just 124 new households, is not.

That disparity may seem “unfair” to some, but the Initial Vision Scenario arguably does not go far enough.  If one goal of the SCS is to increase the share of the Bay Area’s population living in places that resemble Berkeley, the Initial Vision Scenario does not accomplish that goal with respect to Berkeley itself — because the growth it describes in Berkeley closely mirrors the regional trend and is actually slower than Alameda County as a whole.  Indeed, in 2010, 1.728 percent of Bay Area households called Berkeley home; in 2035, if the Initial Vision Scenario’s allocation were to become reality, that share would barely increase to 1.732 percent.  In contrast, the allocations for other East Bay cities like Oakland, Emeryville, Fremont, Livermore, Dublin, and Pleasanton pick up the slack with growth that outpaces both Alameda County and the region as a whole.  Notably, the Initial Vision Scenario does not take into account unmet demand for more housing in walkable, centrally-located neighborhoods like those in Berkeley.

To the extent there is a break from fair share as it has traditionally been implemented, the concerns of the Berkeley staff report will resonate with other cities in California, and it will be interesting to see how fair share is ultimately folded into the SB 375 framework.

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Discussion

7 thoughts on “SB 375 and fair share

  1. Poor f-ing Berkeley! NIMBY reactionaries. They have a smaller population than they did 30 years ago. Perhaps if there was some growth, there wouldn’t be so many empty storefronts on Shattuck.

    Posted by PRE | 31 May 2011, 11:25 pm
  2. No kidding! so many empty store fronts and gaps in the building frontage in what should be prime real estate like University Ave. Instead there are parking lots growing weeds. Berkeley is so nice in many ways – but then there are these barren stretches (along University, San Pablo, Shattuck) with gaps like missing teeth. More people would do the city a world of good in my (admittedly totally uneducated opinion). I’d like to know what staff sees as the limits to feasible growth. Speed of vetting developments?

    Posted by Nathanael Johnson | 1 June 2011, 12:31 pm
  3. I find that using a city’s share of the regional total in 2010 and 2035 as a gauge of whether they are growing smartly enough is a bit lacking in a region slated to grow by 900k households. Take the case of San Francisco where the initial visioning scenario adds a whopping 90,000 households (10 percent of the regional total, and a growth of 25 percent over 2010 levels). Even with that growth, San Francisco’s share of the regional total by 2035 is smaller than in 2010.

    That is just a point on metrics, though. I think that it is an interesting conflict you point out, and one whose implications have not been laid clear at all by relevant actors. It is indeed hard to focus both on growing key transit nodes and the principle of even distributions for RHNA purposes.

    Posted by Aksel | 1 June 2011, 2:02 pm
  4. Aksel, thanks for pushing back on the “regional share” metric. It has its limitations, and it makes an implicit assumption that the only way to meet the ARB target is to pack more homes into the set of livable/functional neighborhoods that exist now. If that’s true then we’ve already lost. The greater challenge will be humanizing places that are currently auto-oriented.

    That said, I would like to see San Francisco take on a greater share of regional growth (and I say this as a city resident). Under the Initial Vision Scenario, SF’s regional share declines, while Contra Costa’s and Santa Clara’s increase. I didn’t mean to imply in this post that Berkeley was the only example, but it became a target thanks to that staff report.

    Posted by Eric | 1 June 2011, 2:51 pm
  5. While we’re considering the “fair share” of housing distribution near transit stations, let’s remember El Cerrito Plaza and Del Norte as well as Ordinda and Lafayette. Those communities could pick up the slack a bit on TOD projects.

    Also, I think the point staff is (or should be) getting at is, if Berkeley (and Oakland and SF) are going to take “more” units, we should get more benefits in terms of dollars for transit and infastructure improvements and the suburbs should get less money for road repaving and expansions. That’s what SB375 is supposed to do, but the dollar amounts being reallocated by the SCS process are puny.

    Posted by IrmaJean | 2 June 2011, 10:30 am
  6. The Initial Vision Scenario actually doubles the number of households in El Cerrito by the year 2035. The increase in households is smaller than Berkeley in absolute terms, but in terms of pace of growth far outstrips Berkeley’s allocation given that El Cerrito is a smaller city.

    Re: funding, I have written previously about how this will be an ongoing issue, and I agree that more money is needed to fund the planning processes that underpin SB 375 implementation. Planning funds are distinct, though, from the capital/operating dollars for transit that you also mentioned. SB 375 calls for consistency between spending and the SCS, but it does not generate a new revenue stream for those purposes (even though that is also badly needed).

    Posted by Eric | 2 June 2011, 10:54 am

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