Planning for displacement: Short takes

Pub date May 28, 2013
WriterTim Redmond

Regional planning hits Chinatown

When regional planners at the Metropolitan Transportation Commission funded a study to create a bus-rapid transit system on Van News Avenue, they decided, in the interest of speeding the buses along, to allow only one left turn — onto Broadway.

That would turn Broadway into a much-busier thoroughfare — and have a huge impact on Chinatown, where there’s heavy pedestrian traffic. That, Cindy Wu says, is one of the problems with regional planning — it doesn’t always consider the impacts on existing, fully developed neighborhoods.

Wu is a planner with the Chinatown Community Development Center and a member of San Francisco’s Planning Commission. She’s concerned that Plan Bay Area, with its macro focus, ignores the micro — the people who already live in communities that will feel the pressure.

“Chinatown is performing amazingly,” she told me recently. There’s low car use, high density … all the things ABAG seems to want. And yet, it’s in the Priority Development Area, where new construction could lead to displacement. “It doesn’t get to the neighborhood scale, where people will be forced to control the impacts of growth.”

Gen Fujioka, policy director at CCDC, noted that the plans says people displaced from a San Francisco community like Chinatown can be accommodated elsewhere in the region. “Like that’s an acceptable alternative,” he said.

A (somewhat) better approach

The Draft Environmental Impact Report on Plan Bay Area looked at several alternatives, including doing nothing at all, which everyone pretty much agrees is a bad idea. But interestingly, a proposal put together by community groups, including Public Advocates, Urban Habitat, and TransForm, turned out to do a better job of reaching ABAG’s environmental goals.

In the DEIR models, “Alternative Five,” as it’s described, leads to slightly lower levels of displacement and less car travel. It does that in large part through the imposition of a Vehicle Miles Travelled Tax — a one-cent levy on every mile driven by a private car or light truck in the region.

That, it turns out, does indeed discourage car use. It would also raise more than $600 million a year, most of which would go to public transit and affordable housing. Over 25 years, that’s a lot of cash.

But ABAG planners rejected that proposal, preferring their own alternative.

ABAG and the UN plan for world domination

One of the biggest problems with opposing, or even questioning, ABAG’s Plan Bay Area is that some of the loudest voices against it are, in a word, loony.

Around the Bay Area suburbs, people packing hearings on the plan are talking about the secret United Nations plan to confiscate all private property, burn down suburban homes, and force everyone into tiny cells in teeming cities where our personal freedoms will be systematically destroyed.

You haven’t heard of that? It’s called Agenda 21, and the John Birch Society is convinced that it’s a global plot to destroy America.

Actually, Agenda 21 is a weak, unenforceable document that came out of the UN’s environmental conference in 1992. It suggests — as does SB375, as does just about every sane thinker in civilization — that the world’s growth ought to be planned, sustainable, and energy efficient.

But it’s getting dragged up as grounds to scuttle Plan Bay Area. The black helicopter folks, the Obama Wants To Take My House folks, and a few NIMBYs who just don’t want density in the suburbs, have been wailing about this massive conspiracy in the past few months.

It’s unlikely that the Tea Party types will make common cause with San Francisco progressives on this issue. But there’s a real danger here: If the nut cases get the attention, serious questions about the feasibility of this plan could get lumped in with the ravings of conspiracy kooks.

And as far as the UN taking over California? Hey, at least we’ll get universal health care.