GUEST OPINION: Plan Bay Area offers real hope for housing
Published: Friday, May 17, 2013 at 8:38 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 17, 2013 at 8:38 p.m.
David Grabill's Close to Home column (“Housing and what ABAG doesn't get,” May 6), deserves a response.
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission, in collaboration with the Association of Bay Area Governments, is currently seeking input on the draft Plan Bay Area, which is the first transportation plan for the Bay Area to incorporate what is called a sustainable communities strategy.
The draft plan was developed with input from local jurisdictions and other stakeholders from throughout the Bay Area and reflects this input. The draft plan is consistent with state policy directives to locate new housing near transit and jobs and to preserve agricultural open space. It would fight sprawl and reduce greenhouse gas emissions per capita. These outcomes do not come at the expense of affordable housing since, under the draft plan, each jurisdiction must still plan and zone for its fair share of multi-family housing. This plan is much more likely to succeed than past housing allocations from the state as it prioritizes those areas that cities and counties have identified as locations where they welcome higher-density growth.
If Napa County is any example, past state housing mandates have been counterproductive. Ten years ago, in a previous cycle, unincorporated Napa County was required to zone for 2,000 units of housing outside city limits. This was contrary to local land-use policies that wisely protect agriculture and limit growth to within existing urban boundaries. But citing the state mandate, Grabill sued the county and won, costing taxpayers millions of dollars and rewarding Grabill with hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees.
However, as Grabill notes, not a single unit of housing for lower-income families was ever actually built as a result of this effort due to the fact that the lands outside city limits in Napa County do not have the infrastructure to support housing developments. Nothing was accomplished by this very costly process, demonstrating why this historical practice of mandating zoning where it is not wanted does not work.
Napa County has nonetheless made substantial progress addressing the housing needs of our working poor. Here are just some of those efforts:
• Over the past 20 years, Napa County has collected and spent more than $28 million in affordable housing impact fees to subsidize development of more than 1,400 units of affordable housing within city limits.
• Napa County grape growers are unique in the state in voting to tax themselves to support farmworker housing.
• In 2011, the county initiated a “work proximity” program, offering downpayment assistance for members of the workforce who meet income qualifications and want to live closer to their jobs. In the past two years, 25 low- and moderate-income families have become homeowners, and two have repaid the assistance while accumulating $100,000 in home equity.
• The county owns and manages three farmworker centers, where single farmworkers can pay $12 daily for room and board on a seasonal basis.
• The county consistently looks for ways to partner with incorporated jurisdictions to provide housing where farmworkers want to live: within communities that have services such as schools and grocery stores.
I value Grabill's advocacy for affordable housing as well as his input to the regional planning effort. But please view the plan and the record as a whole.
Mark Luce is a member of the Napa County Board of Supervisors and is president of the Association of Bay Area Governments.
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.