Local officials criticized for what some residents regard as the heavy-handed imposition of high-density transit and low-cost housing requirements in their areas have pointed to two key Bay Area agencies as driving those requirements.
The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) hold the pursestrings of a multi-billion dollar federal treasure chest, local officials say, and threaten to withhold millions in grants and incentives to cities and towns who defy their initiatives -- and who are in desperate need of the money.
Opponents denounce the agencies practices as Big Government Gone Bad. Planners trying to find a way to reduce carbon emissions and provide homes for the 2 million new Californians expected to take root in the Bay Area by 2035 say they are just trying to find a way to accomodate the new arrivals and reduce our reliance on our cars and fossil fuels.
Now, it seems, at least one Bay Area town council has voted to defy ABAG, and appears to be seeking creation of a "council of governments" that will give them the local control they seek.
"These are unelected people who have this personal vision of what is good for everybody else," Corte Madera Town Councilman Michael Lappert told the Marin Independent Journal after his council voted 4-1 in favor of leaving ABAG Tuesday night. "They have no check, no balance."
Tuesday's action seems to be the most dramatic rejection of ABAG and a plan dubbed "One Bay Area" to date. The plan, slated for review and possible approval next year, pushes for state-mandated construction of multi-story "transit villages" straddling rapid transit lines, and parcels out pre-calculated numbers of affordable housing units in Lamorinda and about 100 other area cities and towns.
Objections to One Bay Area requirements began to surface in Lamorinda as local councils were drawing up their downtown plans in 2010. Citizens were critical of the ABAG requirements at the time, saying they pushed for urban-style "stack and pack," multi-story housing at transit hubs -- like Orinda and Lafayette -- and set unreasonable standards for affordable housing in areas removed from those hubs -- like Moraga.
At the time, local officials cited ABAG's withholding of incentives and other monies as their reason for accepting of the guidelines, although citizens argued in favor of defying ABAG and leaving even then.
Since then, arguments against One Bay Area have gathered steam, with anti-Big Government Tea Party factions joining realtors and developers and others opposed to having ABAG design the future look and feel of Bay Area land use.
A series of workshops designed to elicit feedback from citizens and featuring One Bay Area propenents have been loudly challenged, leaving ABAG and MTC officials dismayed and frustrated by the process.
"We want to get a sense of whether the public wants this region to continue growing in a way it has for several decades, or whether the public is ready for a change," Lisa Klein, a senior transportation planner for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, said.
But now, it appears, at least one local town council has grown weary of the process altogether, and voted to disassociate themselves from it. It will be interesting to see if Corte Madera's move prompts other defections, and who the next town will be to cut their tie to ABAG -- and One Bay Area -- as a result.