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Newly formed coalition accuses regional planning agency of violating state codes: Spokesperson of ‘concerned citizen’ group names Los Altos mayor as ‘active’ member

Over the weekend, a message with the title “ABAG methodology process violates state codes” was mass emailed to media outlets in the Bay Area. A press release was attached by an unnamed individual who signed the email “West Bay Citizens Coalition.”

In the days that have followed, representatives of the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) are publicly refuting claims from the self-described “concerned group of citizens” that includes Los Altos Mayor Lynette Lee Eng.

The allegations

In the press release, the coalition states that ABAG’s executive committee will be violating “key legal requirements of several California codes” in its action to vote tonight (Sept. 19) on approving a methodology process for Plan Bay Area 2050.

“These codes require a public discussion of the consequences of each Bay Area city’s projected job-housing balance,” the group said in the statement, citing sections of CA Code 65584 and 65890 specifically – codes that say findings made through Plan Bay Area 2050 are regulated and requirements of the California Department of Housing and Community Development. “The methodology being presented for a vote does not include any reference to ‘a public discussion’ (of that balance).”

The coalition takes its allegation a step further, writing that a lack of “legitimate public debate” over the Plan has led to “a dreadful imbalance between jobs and housing growth, particularly in the West Bay.” The imbalance, members claim, is the genesis of “major problems that the whole Bay Area is still grappling with,” including higher housing costs and levels of income inequality, longer commutes, “failing transit systems” and more.

West Bay Citizens Coalition is composed of members of Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning, Better Cupertino and a “group” from Los Altos, media contact Greg Schmid confirmed. When inquired about what Los Altos citizen interest might be involved, Schmid checked his records and named Lee Eng as an “active” member of the group. He did not name any other Los Altos residents who may be involved.

Lee Eng left a voice message at the Town Crier – with no contact number to call back –and a second attempt to reach her via email was unreciprocated prior to our deadline. Lee Eng mentioned she would be traveling to the MTC Metro Center at 7 p.m., where the ABAG meeting will take place.

The thought process

“We started discussing it a couple of months ago, probably with all the bills that were being proposed in the legislature that would take away some of the rights and responsibilities of the local government,” Schmid said in a phone call with the Town Crier. “Plan Bay Area (2050), of course, is a regional agency that is increasingly making more and more decisions that affect local communities… the Plan is important because it is used by every single city in the Bay Area when they do their General Plan, so it’s very influential.”

According to Plan Bay Area 2050’s website, it is a “long-range plan charting the course for the future of the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area.”

“Plan Bay Area 2050 will focus on four key issues – the economy, the environment, housing and transportation – and will identify a path to make the Bay Area more equitable for all residents and more resilient in the face of unexpected challenges,” its “About” page reads.

The Plan Bay Area 2050 website says that while it suggests policies and investments “necessary to advance the goal of more of a more affordable, connected, diverse, healthy and vibrant Bay Area,” it does not fund specific infrastructure projects or change local policies.

Schmid and his colleagues beg to differ.

“Plan Bay Area 2050 also has control of the regional distribution of federal and state transportation funds, (as well as) federal affordable housing funds.” Schmid said. “So it’s a very powerful tool, and we think they should at least follow state codes.”

Schmid added that a memo was sent from the coalition to ABAG’s executive committee with 86 signatures on it around Aug. 19. The agency did reply, stating the methodology includes discussing public participation. They stood by the comment in an email to the Town Crier.

The response

“It’s not surprising that people can get confused, as the entire process takes so long and is so complicated,” said Randy Rentschler, ABAG’s director of legislation and public affairs. “In this case, this action is very technical in nature given the action is about committing to computer models using best practice for forecasting. This action is about the start of a process, not an outcome. That comes much, much later.”

Rentschler said the action is in fact a public hearing and represents the beginning of a “long, long public process and discussions that will eventually relate some of the issues discussed in the press release you sent my way, such as jobs/housing imbalance.”

Rentschler said dozens of public meetings will be held over many months.

“We look forward to that engagement,” he said.

Rentschler stressed that the housing cost issues in the Bay Area did not stem from any one action by ABAG, and are discussed and debated “every day, in every forum imaginable from the governor’s office down to the coffee shop and just about every place in between.”

“We strive to do the best possible, effective and cost-efficient public outreach we can with the limited budget we have,” Rentschler said. “We are able to have these issues covered in newspapers, TV, radio. We engage with thousands of people with polls, workshops, open houses… do each of the seven million people of the Bay Area rush to engage? Of course not. Could there always be more? Of course. But to claim there wasn’t a public debate is factually untrue.”

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