The Bay Area can accommodate the next 25 years' worth of growth – 2 million additional people and 1.7 million new jobs – entirely through infill development, according to Greenbelt Alliance. The San Francisco-based advocacy group unveiled the all-infill strategy in a plan called "Grow Smart Bay Area"
on Wednesday, June 10.
"Our cities and towns have plenty of room to provide for the next generation of new homes and new jobs," said Jeremy Madsen, Greenbelt's executive director. Specifically, seven areas could accommodate 80% of predicted growth – the eastern half of San Francisco, El Camino Real corridor through San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, the suburban office parks of Northeast Santa Clara County, transit-heavy Southern Alameda County, the "inner East Bay" centered around Oakland and Berkeley, Central Contra Costa County, and a planned North Bay rail corridor.
Greenbelt researchers and consultants identified 40,000 "opportunity" sites across the Bay Area. These include failing strip centers, unused parking lots, vacant parcels, underused business sites and struggling downtowns. The analysts then considered what type of development or redevelopment would be appropriate for a particular neighborhood. They increased potential housing units by 5% in neighborhoods where secondary dwelling units would be a good fit, and they accepted the Association of Bay Area Governments' estimates for 100 priority growth areas near transit stations and in downtowns. Crunch the numbers, and you find plenty of space to handle the region's predicted growth through 2035, according to Greenbelt. No need to exile Bay Area workers to Tracy, pave Solano County's prime farmland or build new towns in San Benito County.
The folks at Greenbelt present a compelling vision of walkable, mixed-use, compact neighborhoods, abundant and easily accessible parks and open space, and many alternatives to the car. Elected officials from a number of jurisdictions – including San Mateo and Napa counties, Santa Jose, Santa Rosa, San Leandro and Mountain View – nodded their heads in agreement during the presentation. San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed noted that San Jose's population has increased by 500,000 people during the last 30 years, yet the city has not substantially expanded its boundaries.
Still, the question is how to make the vision a reality in a region where anti-growth sentiment often runs strong. Obviously, good planning, zoning and development entitlement processes are necessary, but Madsen and people on a panel organized by Greenbelt repeatedly emphasized the importance of political willpower.
Reed said it is crucial for infill proponents to engage in the process early so that elected officials have a platform for making decisions that may be unpopular with NIMBYs and slow-growthers. Will Fleissig, president of Communitas Development, agreed that vocal support for elected officials in making the right decisions is essential.
Greenbelt does not frame Grow Smart Bay Area as a strategy for the region and its cities and counties to comply with SB 375, Rather, Greenbelt argues that an all-infill approach is the right thing to do environmentally, economically and socially. It took Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board, to make the SB 375 tie directly.
"Grow Smart Bay Area is a vision that we would embrace," Nichols said during closing comments Wednesday. "It really does provide a model for the state's regions. … It's up to us at the state level to do what we can do to support this vision."
- Paul Shigley