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In perhaps a more sensible world, the 325,000-acre Lake Tahoe Basin would not be governed by two rival states, a handful of small cities, and embittered factions of environmentalists and resort-casino owners. Nor would it have miles of open highway or 55,000 year-round residents. Rather, it would be treated like the Grand Canyon, the Everglades, or any other of America’s major natural wonders.
Judging by the likes of Oakland, Berkeley, and, of course, San Francisco, a plan to encourage density, transit use, and environmentalism in the Bay Area might seem redundant. But these vibrant urban centers are just small elements in the sprawling, nine-county region that is the subject of the fourth and final Sustainable Communities Strategy to be drafted for California’s major urban areas.
For many jurisdictions that are part of California’s “Big Four” metropolitan planning organizations, Senate Bill 375 has ushered in new, unprecedented degrees of collaboration. But whereas SB 375 makes a regional planning revolution for many, for the jurisdictions of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, the SCS is business as usual.
Judging by the likes of Apple, Google, and Chez Panisse – to say nothing of the relative stability of housing prices -- the San Francisco Bay Area might not seem like the most likely recipient of an economic planning grant. But the federal Department of Housing and Community Development thinks otherwise.
The Sustainable Communities Strategy unveiled in December by the Southern California Association of Governments struck its member cities and counties with all the uncertainty of an unwrapped Christmas gift.
While the Tea Party movement has been trying to “take back America” on the national stage since the election of Barack Obama, Tea Party activists have also turned their attention to taking back California – and, specifically, Senate Bill 375, the 2008 law that seeks to combat climate change by promoting density in the state’s metro regions.
Even if it takes a village to raise a child, apparently it does not take a planning department to raise a village. Or even a city of villages.
The City of San Diego’s Planning Department won national acclaim for its 2008 “City of Villages” general plan update, which was guided by outgoing Planning Director Bill Anderson and his predecessor, Gail Goldberg. But budget constraints have compelled Mayor Jerry Sanders to order that the department be shut down and merged with the Development Services Department.
If, as the adage goes, it’s impossible to tell the dancer from the dance, then it might be even harder to tell the SCS from the RTP.
The midpoint of 2011 is rapidly approaching, and that means the first glimpses of the “Sustainable Communities Strategies” created under SB 375 are beginning to emerge. In particular, the “Big Four” metropolitan planning organizations – those from the Los Angeles Area, the Bay Area, San Diego, and Sacramento – are all moving forward with their SCS processes, and discernable trends are beginning to emerge.
The unique geography of the San Francisco Bay ensures that there is only one Bay Area. Uniqueness and unity are not, however, the same thing, and planners are now working to convince the Bay Area’s own residents and public officials that there is indeed One Bay Area.