Blogging Bayport Alameda

April 4, 2012

Pulling out: not good for contraception or land use planning

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:04 am

Inevitably when the subject of Alameda’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation comes up, people grouse about it.   Probably because despite the fact that the Bay Area as a whole needs housing, no community actually seems to want housing.    Earlier this month, the City of Corte Madre took the whole grousing about the inequities of the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) not considering their “local character” or the fact that the city is “built out” or the fact that there’s already “enough people”   — you know, the same arguments people use everywhere in every town as a reason why there shouldn’t be any more housing anywhere ever — one step further.   Their City Council voted to pull out of ABAG completely.

From the Marin Independent Journal:

Now mayor of Corte Madera, Ravasio says he is worried Marin could lose its charm because of state and regional pressure to build more housing.

Ravasio and other Marin officials have directed much of their frustration toward the Association of Bay Area Governments, an agency that oversees regional land use planning and represents the Bay Area’s nine counties and 101 cities and towns. The Corte Madera Town Council voted 4-1 on Tuesday to end its membership in the agency known as ABAG.

The problem with this decision is, it doesn’t really mean much, also from the MIJ:

Tuesday’s decision, which takes effect in July 2013, will save Corte Madera approximately $2,350 in yearly membership dues but was mostly symbolic. The town would still be subject to state housing mandates — overseen in the Bay Area by ABAG — that have been a source of controversy in Marin.

In the East Bay, the Pinole City Council voted unanimously to leave ABAG in July 2011, only to reverse course two months later. The council backtracked after Union City Mayor Mark Green, then the ABAG board president, spoke at a Pinole City Council meeting and highlighted the agency’s role in securing grants for Pinole Creek improvements and other projects.

Corte Madera has not received any grants from ABAG in recent decades, according to a report prepared by town staffers for Tuesday’s meeting. But in leaving the agency the town risks losing the chance to provide input on its housing requirements — still issued by ABAG — at an early stage in the process, Town Attorney Jeffrey Walter wrote in the report.

This former Marinite penned a really good piece as to why the decision by Corte Madre was shortsighted, highlights:

Corte Madera will still need to zone for more housing.  Although ABAG is the administrator of housing requirements for this region, the mandate to zone comes from the state government.  By leaving ABAG, Corte Madera will receive its mandates directly from Sacramento, exposing it to the whim of a truly unelected and unaccountable body.  Within ABAG, Corte Madera had a voice in the association’s General Assembly.  It could contest mandates, allocation formulae, assumptions, and more.  Although staff has a major role to play in governments across the region, at least ABAG staff worked for local elected officials and were answerable to them.

Beyond ABAG, Corte Madera is still a part of the other three regional organizations – Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Bay Area Air Quality Management District, and the Bay Coastal Development Commission – which are all working on Plan Bay Area.  Indeed, Corte Madera will be materially effected by decisions made by these agencies but will lack any voice at the proceedings, as it has no representative on any of their boards.

If Corte Madera is subject to SB375, it will need to work directly with staff at each of those regional agencies to formulate its greenhouse gas reduction plans, using up valuable regional and town staff time simply to duplicate efforts and wasting taxpayer money to do so.

The wrap up is really great as well:

So what did Corte Madera get with its resolution on Tuesday?  Headlines, extra costs, and a muted voice.  Corte Madera will still receive housing allocations from ABAG in 2013 and the state in 2020, it will still be subject to Plan Bay Area, it will still be under regional organizations, but it has forfeited its voice in any of these decisions and has thrust upon its staff state-mandated planning requirements currently performed by ABAG.  The council gets to look like a hero to the county’s paper progressives, but its petulant overreaction to nonexistent problems will only compound the town’s woes.

While it’s never fun being told what to do, on the other hand staying within the ranks of ABAG gives more leverage to cities than standing on the outside trying to shout inward about how unfair everything is.  I think the reason listed in The Greater Marin’s blog are excellent reasons why it doesn’t make sense for any city to leave the regional agency and risk being marginalized on the sidelined.


  1. The part about the ABAG president visiting Pinole to let them know about the grant money they helped secure for Pinole caught my attention. This is something that would be good to know for Alameda. What grant money has ABAG helped secure for Alameda? What monies are currently available for Alameda to apply for? A lot of times the money that is available is buried in an obscure federal or state bill that only a full-time staff person could keep track of. Does Alameda get notified when grant money is available?

    Given the reduced number of staff at city hall and also their reduced work time, I could see where money that could be used for, say, making Breakwater Beach a more usable and attractive area would be overlooked because it’s not on staff’s radar. Maybe a tab on the city’s website listing grant money available might spark some ideas from residents.

    Comment by Richard Bangert — April 4, 2012 @ 7:20 am

  2. ABAG has been integral to planning and securing funding for the Bay Trail – elements of which have been funded and built along the Estuary, Bay Farm, and near the Oakland Airport.

    Lauren, you are absolutely correct, non-participation in ABAG does not preclude the municipality from participating in the Housing Element plan. As a matter of fact, it makes is more difficult to comply, because the non-participating city essentially has to meet its goals on its own, and can not shift housing units to higher-density locations that are well-served by transit.

    What really gets me is this self-centric attitude that non-participating cities have. If every city is the Bay Area behaved this way, we would have complete chaos – a lack of open space (imagine if EB Regional Parks District didn’t exist), and an uncoordinated land-use and transportation policy (no BART, no Caltrain). In short, we’d be LA or Atlanta.

    I’m thankful that back in the 1960s, City leaders were smart enough to get together to make some long-sighted decisions and plan as a region. Undoing this framework will make things worse, not better.

    Comment by joedmartinez — April 4, 2012 @ 10:26 am

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