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Regional planning agency board approves item coalition alleges violated state law: ABAG moves forward with Plan Bay Area 2050 methodology


Screenshot from Granicus video of Sept. 19 Association of Bay Area Governments board meeting
Los Altos Mayor Lynette Lee Eng urges the Association of Bay Area Governments Executive Board not to accept the methodology for the upcoming regional review of Plan Bay Area 2050 at the board’s Sept. 19 meeting. Lee Eng gave the disclaimer that she was speaking on behalf of herself, not the city.

In a 19-3 vote, the executive board of the Association of Bay Area Governments Thursday night approved a resolution outlining the tools and techniques that will be used to yield projections for Plan Bay Area 2050, a regional blueprint for addressing the economy, the environment, housing and transportation.

Prior to the vote, Los Altos Mayor Lynette Lee Eng, a member of a citizens group that alleges ABAG has violated two state codes in its push to adopt the plan, called on the executive board to reject the resolution.

Lee Eng and nearly all of the 10 other members of the West Bay Citizens Coalition – comprised of members of Palo Altans for Sensible Zoning, Better Cupertino and an unnamed group from Los Altos – who spoke at the meeting began their pleas with variations on the same statement: “Please do not vote for a methodology that ignores California government codes and leaves out public participation.”

In an email to the Town Crier, Lee Eng explained why she, as an individual and not in her official capacity as mayor, got involved with the coalition. Her overarching goal is to make ABAG listen to and understand the concerns she believes many local residents and jurisdictions have about the plan.

“Bay Area residents experience the incredibly consequential impact Plan Bay Area has had on traffic, housing and affordability, yet few have heard of this regional entity,” she wrote. 

Using their voices

A handful of other city officials spoke at Thursday’s meeting in San Francisco, clarifying that they were acting on their own behalf and not on behalf of their respective cities. They included Kitty Moore of the Cupertino Planning Commission, Palo Alto Mayor Eric Filseth and Lafayette City Councilwoman Susan Candell.

The West Bay Citizens Coalition claimed in a press release last week Sunday that ABAG’s executive board would be violating “key legal requirements of several California codes” in its action to vote on approving the methodology process. Specifically, the group named CA Codes 65584 and 65890.

Following the release of the statement from the newly formed coalition, which media contact Greg Schmid said began working together over the last few months, ABAG representatives denied that bringing the item before the board for a vote was illegal. To the contrary, Plan Bay Area 2050 project manager Dave Vautin said the state codes had absolutely nothing to do with the metropolitan planning organization.

After the public comment period, Vautin said that though the substance behind the codes – public participation and job-housing imbalance – is vital and continually addressed by ABAG, 65584 and 65890 refer to regulations required of the California Department of Housing and Community Development.


Doing ‘more and more’

With the coalition highlighting the need for public outreach, Vautin and Cynthia Kroll, ABAG’s chief economist and assistant planning director, countered with a timeline of opportunities for comment: Presentations were given at committee and board meetings in June and July, followed by a public comment period for which notifications were posted in the nine Bay Area counties and online from July 19 through Aug. 19. An additional public hearing process and further engagement is set to begin this fall and extend into the spring.

Still, coalition members and a few members of the executive board remained unsatisfied. Novato City Councilwoman Pat Eklund voiced her displeasure with ABAG’s decision not to send the methodology to the association’s Regional Planning Committee first, a complaint that went unaddressed by ABAG staff. Later, Campbell City Councilwoman Liz Gibbons called ABAG’s outreach efforts “woefully insufficient, verging on a fatal flaw.” Gibbons told Vautin that if he expected each city to study up on the methodology, he should develop a schedule for the jurisdictions to review immediately.

In her response to the Town Crier, Lee Eng agreed with Gibbons, noting that expecting residents or municipalities to visit Plan Bay Area’s website and educate themselves on consequential hearings is “not truly democratic community engagement.”

“Receiving a blanket approval from the board and then claiming to back an iterative process where the community can weigh in when the methodology is already locked is quite perplexing,” Lee Eng said. “There was no quantifiable information and not one number in the presentation that should have illustrated the methodology to the public. The illustrations and charts did look great, but they lacked meaning.”

Ken Kirkey, planning director for both ABAG and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, prefaced a presentation by Kroll with three key ideas to keep in mind about the current stage of Plan Bay Area 2050: Thursday’s review focused solely on the procedures that would be used to craft the plan’s Regional Growth Forecast and not the forecast numbers themselves; the methodology is specific to Plan Bay Area 2050’s long-term predictions and not the Regional Housing Need Allocation; and some worries raised by coalition members – such as income inequality – have already been addressed through ABAG’s last project, Horizon. ABAG’s work on Horizon will allow for strategies studied in advance to be used in conversations about Plan Bay Area, Kirkey said.

David Rabbitt, executive board president and Sonoma County supervisor, praised ABAG’s efforts, representing the majority voice that swayed the lopsided vote.

“Those of us who have been elected for a long time … have probably never had a land-use decision where they haven’t had someone say they weren’t notified,” Rabbitt said. “Usually they’re at the meeting they claimed they weren’t notified of. You can never do enough, and we all recognize that, so we are beating ourselves up to try to do more and more.”

Despite her dissappointment with the vote, Lee Eng knows that she and her fellow group members were heard.

“But it felt like ABAG had already made its decision,” she said in her email. “They hadn’t had enough time to go through the dense, complex material and multiple members of the public and ABAG expressed their frustration with the ambiguity of the methodology. The lawyer called to answer residents' comments and ABAG members' questions offered a master class in obfuscation.”

For the Town Crier’s initial coverage of the West Bay Citizens Coalition and its original claim against ABAG, visit bit.ly/2krVLS3.

For more information on Plan Bay Area 2050, visit planbayarea.org.

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