Op-Ed: We Don't Want 'One Bay Area'

Local resident says regional plan won’t solve the core problem of providing quality housing choices for those most in need.

These are uncertain times. But if there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that no one decides to live in the Bay Area because it's "One Bay Area."

If anything, we’re the poster child (and the butt of endless jokes) for diversity of people, ideas and "place."

But lately, we’re inundated with guilt-giving Op-Ed pieces extolling the virtues of central planning and a dystopian vision called the One Bay Area Plan. It’s wrapped in politically correct phrases like “affordable housing” and “reducing greenhouse gases” and comprised of a truckload of contradictory laws, terms and agencies like SB375, AB32, RHNA, ABAG, MTC, TAM, BCDC, BAAQMD, PDAs, SCSs and APDs - enough to take a thousand lawyers a thousand years to comprehend.

This “nexus of nonsense” is the work of prominent politicians, backed by deep pocket development and construction interests, “ladder climbing” staff and local elected officials, and a non-stop chorus of shaming from brown-nosing, wannabe bloggers and agenda-driven, nonprofit academics, funded by anti-local control social engineers.

The only problem with this cacophony of "smart" growth advocacy is its complete lack of common sense and factual basis.

We’re told we can “build our way out of climate change” (SB 375), which, even disregarding for a moment its complete lack of scientific basis, defies even a 6th grader’s sense of logic. We’re told that “housing is the key to sustainability,” though all evidence points to the exact opposite.

Truth be told, housing has nothing to do with sustainability, economic, environmental or otherwise. Las Vegas, Denver and Atlanta all bore the worst of the housing bust because they overbuilt their real housing needs. Manhattan and San Francisco have never had enough affordable housing yet they thrive. The South Bronx and Oakland have always had an excess of affordable housing and they continue to struggle. From the Sumerians to the Mayans, the real cause of unsustainability has been resource depletion from too much growth, as will be the case with water in Marin.

And who’s to say it wouldn’t be better for the planet to build entirely new “green” towns hundreds of miles north, where a balance of development and impacts could be better achieved? I don’t know, but I do know it’s not Sacramento central planners who should decide.

But then why let facts get in the way of a good jobs program in an election year?

Still, even as ABAG pressures us to build, we’ve had the comfort of believing that as an unfunded mandate, very little development was actually going to happen. However, now comes SB 1220, brought to us by some of the same people who brought us SB 375 (Steinberg). It proposes a $75 tax on recording every document related to real estate transactions and sends its $700 million to $1 billion a year in proceeds into a bureaucratic black hole called the “Housing Opportunity Trust” in Sacramento. Decisions about how the money is spent will now be governed only by politicalcagendas and big money special interests.

SB 1220, combined with SB 375’s plan to “warehouse” the poor in high-density developments next to highways and rename open space “resource areas,” may represent the final nail in the coffin of local control of zoning and property rights. Generations of efforts to create Marin’s unique quality of life will be dismantled.

And in the end, my bet is that One Bay Area’s stillborn vision of homogenization still won’t have solved the core problem: providing quality housing choices for those most in need.


Bob Silvestri is a member of the , which was formed in response to recent housing and zoning legislation such as SB 375 and housing allocations in the One Bay Area plan.

John Ferguson March 29, 2012 at 06:52 PM
As far as I can tell, the only reason that housing in Fairfax trails the other Ross Valley communities in value is the fact that it's harder to commute to the urban core, thus limiting the amount of buying pressure in pushing up housing prices. A friend of mine who recently bought a house in Mill Valley was interested in living in Fairfax because he's a musician but told me that his agent wouldn't let him look at any houses west of the Hub. Because he and his wife both work in San Francisco, the agent decided for them that the commute would be too much for them.
Sharon Rushton March 29, 2012 at 08:12 PM
I agree with Bob Silvestri. The One Bay Area Plan (led by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Bay Area Air Quality Control) uses unrealistic jobs and population growth projections to mandate unsustainable housing development. Indeed, the entire premise of One Bay Area that new development of high-density housing will lower green house gases is unfounded. Construction is one of the biggest contributors to green house gases. Moreover, with insufficient infrastructure and public services, Marin County and cities cannot properly provide for the current population. They definitely should not be creating housing elements and development codes that encourage additional growth and that undermine local control, long standing development standards, environmental protections and public health & safety.
Ann Spake March 29, 2012 at 08:29 PM
Plans, projections and performance targets are only as valid as the assumptions on which they are based. The Bay Plan jobs/housing connection scenario is based on flawed assumptions about both growth and the environmental and health impacts which are beyond the planners control. 'Peak everything' i.e. depletion of natural resources, debt crisis and climate change all demand an 'End of Growth' according to Richard Heinberg. Planners seek to 'streamline' development to avoid responsible consideration of both environmental and health and safety impacts, favoring 'public benefit' over 'public risk' in the face of unmanageable manipulation of real constraints such as sea level rise and cardiac, cancer and pulmonary effects on vulnerable populations to be placed in vulnerable (PDA's) locations.
Ann Spake March 29, 2012 at 08:43 PM
For further information regarding 'End of Growth' reference in prior comment - see http://richardheinberg.com/
Burton Miller March 29, 2012 at 10:41 PM
To "nexus of nonsense" I would add those who evangelize any plan or development project with the words "sustainable", "affordable" or "transit-oriented" merely attached. Laudable goals have been co-opted to mean aggressive, high-density growth and development - a bizarre, incongruous and distorted abuse of the concepts. As noted by the author, the notion that we can build ourselves to sustainability is entirely without merit. Thank you for your critical thinking and constructive commentary.
Barbara Madrid March 29, 2012 at 11:37 PM
Now, given that everyone here is of the same mind, the real task is to get to our mayors, supervisors, council persons, etc., and let them know we EXPECT them to represent OUR viewpoints. Well-written, Mr. Silvestri!
Bob Silvestri March 29, 2012 at 11:53 PM
My personal vitriol for bureaucrats aside, the question remains, how do we move forward with workable solutions? As background, I would point to two articles written in 2007: http://www.marinij.com/ci_6301427?IADID=Search-www.marinij.com-www.marinij.com http://www.marinij.com/ci_6313459?IADID=Search-www.marinij.com-www.marinij.com But 2007 was a long time ago, before SB375, AB32, Plan Bay Area, increasingly bizarre ABAG / RHNA quotas, the real estate crash of 2008, before we’d spent $3 trillion on foreign wars, and before the newly proposed SB1220. So I offer these archived references with a grain of salt. The challenges today have changed. But the concept of local voices and local control are more important than ever. So to explore solutions, going forward, there are two things to consider: (1) What exactly is the problem? And (2) what can we learn from old rule about “follow the money?”
Bob Silvestri March 30, 2012 at 12:00 AM
Assisting those most in need is the number one problem. And local control and locally based solutions, are the best way to do that. And that requires local control of funding. But we’re not doing that and that’s a problem. Most of the “affordable housing” subsidy money is being siphoned off by market rate developer profits under present inclusionary methods. A great example of doing it right is the recent support the Marin Community Foundation and the Marin Workforce Housing Trust have provided to ensure quality housing for West Marin farm workers. http://www.marinij.com/marinnews/ci_20242213/program-could-provide-homes-up-200-farmworkers-west?IADID=Search-www.marinij.com-www.marinij.com I applaud these efforts to support housing for those most in need and to do it through locally based and controlled community stakeholders. This is an example of funds being used efficiently and effectively. This is the opposite of SB375, where hundreds of millions of local taxpayers dollars leave the County to return in the form of programs and agendas that we don’t need or want. We need to do more of this in every area of need: elderly and assisted living, live/work lofts, innovatively designed starter units and group living facilities. The list is long.
Mitch Wortzman March 30, 2012 at 12:18 AM
Great piece Bob! Thanks for cutting through the “nexus of nonsense” for us! After sitting through Ken Kirkey’s ABAG presentation last night – all I can say is - I applaud Corte Madera for pulling out of ABAG. I hope the City of Mill Valley develops a strategy quickly for fighting ABAG’s allocations before it’s too late.
Bob Ratto March 30, 2012 at 01:08 AM
Bob Fantastic piece! All of this phony greenwashing aka, "build your way to a sustainable community", is Steinberg 's legacy of SB375. Now with the abolishment of RDA's, he comes up with SB1220-read the legislation, it goes beyond just real estate transactions-it also covers UCC Financing Statements and mechanic's liens, so it is much broader than simply a tax (And yes it is another regressive tax) and it will serve to drive up costs in all sectors of the economy, with funds to be stored in yet another bureaucracy. ABAG/alpha soup have so far overstepped their original boundaries it's truly scary-and if you compare their costs with their contributions, well that is even scarier! Thanks so much for all of your research and insight, it is appreciated.
Bob Silvestri March 30, 2012 at 02:54 AM
The Marin Coalition will host a luncheon presentation on April 11, 2011. Topic: "ABAG's ONEBAYAREA - The Truth About Regionalized Planning (ABAG) in Marin County and the Impact of Giving up Local Control" Guest Speakers: Mike Moore - City of Mill Valley Director of Planning & Building, and an ABAG (Assoc. of Bay Area Governments) member Mayor Robert Ravasio - Mayor of Corte Madera Bob Silvestri - Architect, Member of Marin Communities Coalition for Local Control Date: Wednesday, April 11, 2011 Time: 11:30 am - 1:30 pm Location: Twin cities Police Bldg./Community Room 250 Doherty Drive, Larkspur (between Redwood High School and next Hall School) The meal will be catered by Ping's Mandarin Restaurant. Cost: $15 for members $17 for non-members Payment by check is preferred. RSVP: Reservations to friedazolan@att.net or call Frieda Zolan at 415-492-0983 by Monday, April 9th. Members of the public are invited and we encourage members of the Marin Coalition to please bring a friend.
Pam Drew March 30, 2012 at 01:02 PM
Legislators DeSaulnier and Steinberg are stalking the taxpayer bird with a double barreled shotgun (SB 1220 and SB 375) in the wetlands (Cargill) of Redwood City and all across the Bay Area. The taxpayer bird is delicious when bamboozled, trussed, and roasted, or dazzling for a trophy when shellacked a brilliant green. This bird is expected to become endangered from overhunting by the Torres Assembly Committee on Housing and gigantic public works stimulus projects, causing a famine for the 2 million new residents being lured to the Bay Area by the promise of low wage jobs and housing subsidies over the next thirty years.
Pam Drew March 30, 2012 at 03:16 PM
An advocacy site for SB 375 and SB 1220 lists many of the players who spearheaded PlanBayArea's slanted and spurious public participation plan, not to mention Calthorpe and Associates for their 'educational' materials and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation for their 'gift' to the process: Greenbelt Alliance Non-Profit Housing Association Public Advocates SPUR TransForm Urban Land Institute – San Francisco Urban Habitat
Michael March 30, 2012 at 03:43 PM
layer upon layer upon layer of non producing government entities focused on telling the taxpayer what is best for them and oh by the way... you pay for what we tell you is right taxpayers. When will people wake up. The more we give to government the more they will spend. History supports this fact. Bob, to your comment "Assisting those most in need is the number one problem" I say, "says who?" We have created an environment where over 50% of our population do not contribute anything to the pie they want to take from. We have trained armies of people who, regardless of their irresponsible actions, line up for 'free' government assistance. We taxpayers know this assistance is not 'free' rather it is paid for by those of us who are responsible. Example; why do we provide 'free' food in schools to feed kids who's parents do not feed them? Why is that my responsibility? Why did they have children they knew they could not afford to take care of? Why do so many want to continue to reward irresponsible behavior like this? Same with so called affordable housing. To me affordable housing means providing taxpayer assistance to many who act irresponsibly. Yet when you place these real issue on the table people call you cold hearted and tell you that you simply do not care. People do not want to address the root cause of our core problems only the result of the problems. Our government should not be involved in areas like housing.
John Ferguson March 30, 2012 at 05:29 PM
Michael, yours is a traditional right wing belief but I doubt it has much sponsorship in Marin county. I disagree with both your 'facts' and with your stated values. Government is essentially redistributive - that is one of its most important roles IMO. As far as what the problem is, to paraphrase a fringe presidential candidate of a few years ago 'The rent is too damn high!'. Now, if you're fortunate enough to have a 6 figure income that may not be true but not everyone in Marin county is so well prepared for housing costs of $2k + per month for a simple 3 bedroom house. For a family of four making a median income of $50k a year that's in excess of 50% of disposable income, which is an enormous problem. We may disagree on how to solve it, but we first have to acknowledge that we have a problem. Housing costs are simply too high.
Cathy In Marin March 30, 2012 at 07:59 PM
I just returned from a housing policy conference in Washington D.C. last night. I was very impressed with a developer/and property owner of many affordable housing properties nation wide. He actually spoke out in the seminars and to the HUD official present against the tax credit incentives and the siphoning off of subsidy money by market rate developers to increase their profits under the guise of providing affordable housing. He realized the great need, as well as the problems in filling it with the current incentives. Many developers are more in it for the money, rather than the need which puts the "affordable" housing stock at risk in the long term. There is serious concern for what is being done with the existing affordable housing stock in Marin. Most has been under the radar and not known as it has co-existed in the various neighborhoods in Marin for many decades without the high density, crime, or other negative impact. This all needs to be preserved and not lost in the efforts to rehab and "mix-use" it due to the Marin community's valid and legitimate concerns for high density development. Unfortunately, this component in the convoluted quagmire of "affordable" housing in Marin is not a priority or concern for many in both local government or the general population. But, I do think it matters and have devoted five years in advocacy to protect and preserve it.
Monica Sanchez March 30, 2012 at 08:24 PM
Thank you Bob for writing this article. We need everyone to stand up and speak up against such manipulation and government control.
Michael March 30, 2012 at 09:58 PM
Hey John F... do you really disagree with the fact that the more we give to government the more they will spend? If so, wow. Our government has a documented history of spending more than they take in. Just look at the deficits. Yes the government is supposed to be 'redistributive' as you note. It is my belief that a huge amount of the redistributed funds go to pay for layer upon layer of redundant gov't, worthless agencies many as ways to continue forced social engineering like ABAG. And I refuse to label myself or tie myself to any label like democrat or republican or left wing or 'right wing' as you indicate. Most people have no idea what these names really mean. But if the belief that ALL people should be responsible for themselves and those they bring into the world is in your words 'right wing' then that's me. And your example of the family of 4... plays directly into my point. Why would 2 adults with limited income choose to have 1 then 2 children they can't afford to take care of? Why is that forced on me as a taxpayer as 'my problem' when they can't take care of their children? And you are correct that in Marin county I find few who wander past their basic democratic party beliefs. I for one will never give up my dream of leadership from somewhere other than the democrat or republican parties. Nothing significant will change until we break the 2 party stronghold on our tax dollars. But I welcome the continued discussions and disagreements.
Bob Silvestri March 30, 2012 at 10:47 PM
Just to clarify: This luncheon is hosted by the Marin Coalition (http://marincoalition.com), an organization that has been holding monthly luncheon events for many years. This not the same as the Marin Communities Coalition for Local Control (MCC4LC).
John Ferguson March 30, 2012 at 11:25 PM
@Michael, I fully agree with you on one point, and that is that the two party system has failed to deliver real choice to us as voters. To your question about funding of government; because it is far easier to borrow money than to raise taxes we have a government that takes in far less than it needs to pay for its obligations. The real discussion we ought to be having is how much government is appropriate and how much will that cost? And how will we pay for it? Everyone wants bread and circuses for free - that's the essential failure of democracy. People aren't realistic. As far as why a family who makes $50K or even $75K a year would want to have children, well I think you'll have a hard time telling them that they shouldn't. You call this 'limited income' but that's a proper living wage almost anywhere else in the country and a fortune almost anywhere else in the world. What I've never understood is why a 30 year old 3 bedroom house on a postage stamp piece of property with multiple issues (old windows, no insulation, etc.) can be sold here for close to a million dollars. That's the issue that needs fixing. I repeat - the rent (or mortgage) is too damn high and the only people who claim it isn't are the ones who profit from high housing costs - developers, real estate agents and others who already 'have theirs'.
Linda Rames March 31, 2012 at 09:11 PM
Time to get back to the subject of the article. ABAG was formed in 1961 at the height of the redevelopment frenzy in the bay area. It is currently obsolete as the redevelopment agencies no longer exist. In an effort to retain its existance, ABAG has now taken on the job of assigning affordable housing numbers to bay area communities. The RHNA numbers are arbitrary and appear to have no basis in reality. In Marin County, there is no evidence that the numbers relate to need. It is time for us to take back our communities by refusing to be a part of this agency which regularly uses extortion to further their cause. Our elecred officials need to hear this and they then need to act as did the town council of Corte Madera. Linda Rames
Bob Silvestri April 01, 2012 at 04:12 AM
Well said.
Vicki April 01, 2012 at 08:04 PM
Homogenization spoils quality and vitality in many arenas. Education comes to mind. Marin's small school districts are settings in which local control can respond to unique community needs and character. Housing should be no different.
David Edmondson April 01, 2012 at 08:30 PM
Bob, Just to clarify: did you intend to imply that there is no scientific basis for climate change, or no scientific basis that climate change can be cured by building? The sentence in question: '"We’re told we can 'build our way out of climate change' (SB 375), which, even disregarding for a moment its complete lack of scientific basis..."
Bob Silvestri April 01, 2012 at 08:39 PM
Climate change due to human population, civilization and activities is an indisputable fact and completely backed by all credible scientific data. My reference is to the concept that we can cure it with more and more growth and more and more building. A detailed examination of the GHG assumptions SB375 and accurate scientific calculations of its metric tonne assumptions is in order... and coming soon.
Ralph April 02, 2012 at 12:03 AM
Bob, Another great article. Keep at it. Michael Allen who is running for State Assembly is endorsed by Steinberg, who is the root of all of this high density housing and loss of local control
David Edmondson April 02, 2012 at 04:41 AM
Thanks for clarifying - just making sure I was reading it right!
Bob Silvestri June 07, 2012 at 03:13 PM
Here is a link to Part I of a new 4 part series that will appearing every Thursday throughout June on the Patch: http://millvalley.patch.com/blog_posts/the-best-laid-plans-part-i-a-brief-history-of-planning The goal of this series is to provide a context for the ongoing debates about ABAG, planning and affordable housing in Marin. As the Plan Bay Area initiative moves forward, this conversation is more important than ever.
Bob Silvestri June 14, 2012 at 03:08 PM
The Best Laid Plans: Part II: 21st Century Planning http://millvalley.patch.com/blog_posts/the-best-laid-plans-part-ii-21st-century-planning
Bob Silvestri June 21, 2012 at 06:21 PM
The Best Laid Plans: Part III - Affordable Housing http://millvalley.patch.com/blog_posts/the-best-laid-plans-part-iii-affordable-housing


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