Transportation: COVID-19, the Aftermath

Sooner or later things will get back to “normal.” Or will they? What will the new normal be? Will people revert to their previous practice of traveling alone even if it means more years of 3 and 4 stressful hours a day lost to commuting? It’s an open question. Some people are finding that they much prefer working at home to traveling to distant and perhaps risky offices. But is it practical to work at home? Can people be as productive? What about the small city businesses that depend upon an incoming flood of commuters every day? Who gets hurt in case many office workers are located elsewhere?

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The Housing/Transportation Crisis: Next Steps

The Current Approach: Right now everything is in an existential muddle. Some say that jamming high density housing near transit stops in established neighborhoods will solve the problem. This lunacy is based upon the false premise that putting housing near transit will by itself ease traffic. Others say that continuing to permit each town and city to set its own zoning and land use standards is the most democratic, and therefore the only way to go. And then there are those who have convinced themselves that to accommodate increasing population, the growth of the sprawling low-density suburbs should continue indefinitely. (If clogged highways and insufferably long commute times was the objective then this approach has worked brilliantly. However if there are ever to be short commute times and an easing of gridlock it will require a new and more enlightened approach.) Still others are demanding that the large corporations whose hordes of incoming employees largely caused the current mess should step up to the plate and fix it. (It has been suggested that the only time California’s metropolitan highways work is during a pandemic.) Each of these approaches responds to the Bay Area’s Housing/Transportation Crisis in a different way. Taken alone, none of them makes any sense and none is acceptable.

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Synopsis from 2/21/2020 BATWG Meeting

Faster Bay Area (FBA) the so-called Megatax. In late January SB278 (Senator Jim Beall, D-15th, Silicon Valley) was advanced out of the Senate in its original format (a three-page directive to perform coordinated regional transportation planning) as a placeholder bill. It was received by the Assembly, went through first read, and is being held at the desk. Assembly committee hearings not yet scheduled.

After missing their promised targets for “populating” (adding content to) of SB278 in mid-December, Mid-January, and Mid-February, the FBA sponsors continue to work with their pre-selected stakeholders to produce a “consensus bill”.

As of 2/21/20 SB278 remained in a “gut-and-amend” status, meaning that it still had no new content.

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San Francisco Takes a Stand!

For decades San Francisco and the rest of the Region have been suffering from an increasing imbalance between incoming new jobs and housing. Municipal, regional and State governments have been either unable or unwilling to do anything about the problem.

Fed up, the people of San Francisco have now taken a stand. On March 3, 2020 they passed San Francisco Prop E. According to Ida Mojadad’s in depth article (SF Examiner 2/29/20), Prop E will require large developers to curtail office development unless an appropriate amount of affordable housing development is built in San Francisco in accordance with state-mandated affordable housing objectives. Thanks to a ballot measure passed in the 1980’s San Francisco already limits the amount of office space that can be approved every year. Prop. E will reduce the amount of currently acceptable new office space by a percentage equal to the percentage by which the city fails to fulfill its affordable housing obligations. In addition Prop E will cap large new office projects in the South of Market neighborhood until at least 15,000 new affordable housing units are provided in that area.

Why one might ask, should a transit-advocacy group like BATWG care about Prop E?

Because as well as addressing San Francisco jobs/housing imbalance, Prop E directly confronts the Region’s most intractable transportation problem, which is how to end the development community’s long established practice of piling jobs into high cost housing areas, thereby forcing incoming employees, or those displaced by incoming employees, to relocate to distant, long-commute locations.  Under this broken system developers are provided with financial incentives to both cater to the desires of large incoming employers and create additional sprawl.   A better balance between housing and jobs would benefit everyone except those who put get-rich-quick real estate profits ahead of all other considerations.

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