A multi-billion-dollar ‘mega measure’ to fix Bay Area traffic for good heading your way

By Erin Baldassar : mercurynews – excerpt

Imagine a Bay Area with highways that flow instead of grind to a halt. With trains that ring the bay, some running 24 hours a day. With ferries that stop at more than a handful of terminals and autonomous buses cruising in their own lanes, blasting past cars on the freeway.

If that sounds like a fantasy, just wait. The dream may be closer to reality than you think.

A coalition of Bay Area business leaders represented by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and the Bay Area Council, along with the urban planning think tank SPUR, say that dream is the answer to traffic congestion on Bay Area roads, which grew 84 percent between 2010 and 2016. The average commuter now spends more than 29 hours a year slogging through highways at speeds of 35 mph or slower.

“People are wasting hours of their life in traffic,” said Gabriel Metcalf, the president and CEO of SPUR. “Conversations started all over the Bay Area asking the question, can we do something at a bigger scale than we have done before? Big enough to actually solve the problem? Big enough to actually get us a different regional transportation system than we have today?”…

“The voting public has got to connect the dots that if they want the transportation issues solved, if they want access to housing solved, they’ve got to do this,” he said. “And they should want to do it, and they should even be excited about it.”...(more)

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Mountain View approves nearly 10,000 homes by Google’s North Bayshore project

by Janice Bitters : bizjournals – excerpt

Mountain View’s North Bayshore Precise Plan got a unanimous stamp of approval early Wednesday morning, a culmination of more than six years of planning and nearly three years of public meetings.

The vote, taken shortly after midnight, came after City Council members worked for hours ironing out the fine details of a plan that readies the area — home to search giant Google — for a wide array of new uses, including nearly 10,000 new homes.

A cast of regional planning and development leaders showed up to voice support for the plan or witness its passage, including representatives from Google, prolific South Bay developer Sobrato Organization, Foster City-based affordable housing developer MidPen Housing and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.

“I think this is a cutting-edge plan that sets a standard not just for the Bay Area, but for much of the country,” Mountain View Vice Mayor Lenny Siegel said minutes before the vote. “We aren’t just building housing, we are building it the right way to create a new kind of community for our area.”… (more)

Careful what you wish for. You just might get it. Looks like the “live near your work” experiment jut got a shot in the arm. Will the folks who work at Google live next it the campus the way the developers plan or will the housing go to non-workers? Some day we will find out.

To Improve Transit Quality, 2 Supervisors Propose Breaking Up SFMTA

by Teresa Hammerl : hoodline – excerpt

As the Chronicle reported yesterday, the Central Subway‘s main contractor claims that the $1.6 billion project won’t be completed any earlier than 2021—a year after the city’s expected completion date, and three years later than the original target.

Contractor Tutor Perini Corporation also notes that the project will be tens of millions of dollars over budget.

In a report the contractor published for the Board of Supervisors, it noted that infrastructure delays are to blame for the later date. Because Tutor Perini was asked to relocate power lines near the Central Subway’s Chinatown station, at least 15 months were added to the project timeline, it claimed.

Phase 1 and 2 and of the T-Third expansion | IMAGE: SFMTA

Earlier today, the Examiner also reported that two Supervisors announced their own proposal for the future of the city’s transit agency.

District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin and District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safai may introduce a June 2018 ballot measure to split the SFMTA into Muni and a separate agency that handles parking and traffic management.

The proposal would give supervisors the ability to make their own appointments to the SFMTA’s Board of Directors. Currently, that power is held only by the mayor… (more)

The one thing we can count on is a daily Muni meltdown. Let’s face it, the grand experiment failed and it is time to stop the bleeding. We need a new method of managing transportation based on the real world and the needs of today’s residents. The SFMTA spends way too much time envisioning and trying to sell the perfect design for the future while ignoring the needs of the public today. Any agency that ignores its customers, blames everyone for their failures, and can’t get by on 1 billion dollars a year deserves a quick timely demise before they do any more damage or sign any more bad contracts. Hopefully, the Board of Supervisors will not dole out any more money to start any new projects until they finish the ones they are already in the middle of. If this move surprises you, you should watch some of the hearings that have been conducted recently as the entire Board has been the brunt of thousands of complaints, petitions and angry public comments. Bad decisions on the part of the SFMTA management are costing possibly hundreds of millions of dollars. It is past time to cut our loses.

California regulators hope new rules will spur more bike lanes, housing near transit

By Liam Dillon : latimes – excerpt

Bike lanes, mixed-use residential and commercial construction near transit and other development projects might get easier to build in California after regulators on Monday released a long-awaited overhaul of the state’s environmental law.

Regulators say the proposed changes, which modify rules under the California Environmental Quality Act or CEQA, will help the state meet its ambitious goals to combat climate change. That law requires developers to disclose and minimize a project’s impact on the environment…

“These rules make clear that reducing vehicle miles resulting from projects is a state goal and an environmental benefit,” said Ken Alex, director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, in a statement.

Modifications to CEQA are often politically fraught because numerous powerful interest groups, including builders, environmentalists and unions, have significant stakes in how the existing process works…

Regulators are opening public comment on the CEQA overhaul in the coming weeks and will hold at least one public hearing before the proposal becomes final, according to a spokeswoman for the California Natural Resources Agency. Regulators are hoping the new rules will go into effect sometime in 2018… (more)

This article that ran in the LA Times holds very little useful information. If this is the future of the news we are in trouble. (This happens to be the first story I have seen since the Sales of Times to Meredith was announced.)

Regulators don’t overhaul CEQA laws. Legislators do. This appears to refer to a bill that has not yet passed, with no reference to the identity of the bill, the author, or Committee the bill is in or came out of. There is no indication of where in the process the bill is now. This looks like a PR piece not a news article.

Mass Transit Experience in LA: If You Build it, They Won’t Come!

By Richard Lee Abrams :  citywatchla – ecerpt

et’s look at some facts about mass transit and see whose brain gets the most pain. In particular, consider INTRA-urban fixed mass rail transit. This includes subways, light rail and trolleys within one urban area (which will cover several cities like LA, Beverly Hills, Inglewood, etc.) A train between San Bernardino and Los Angeles, however, would be INTER-Urban. That is also a subject worthy of discussion, but not for this short article.

There are three main things to examine when thinking about INTRA-Urban fixed rail mass transit: Mathematics, Topography (geography), and Finances. (See 1915 Study of Street Traffic Conditions in City of Los Angeles for extensive study of these factors.)…(more)

We are taking no position, just want to share this author’s thoughts.

 

 

Housing crisis: Will California force its cities to OK more building?

By Katy Murphy : mercurynews – excerpt

State lawmakers are desperate to address a statewide problem that has been decades in the making.

Amid a housing crisis that is displacing the poor and forcing millennials and countless others to look outside the Bay Area to live, all eyes turned this week to the tiny Peninsula town of Brisbane where a developer wants to build thousands of homes on a 684-acre swath of wasteland.

Powerful tech companies, state lawmakers and pro-growth activists from around the region implored the City Council on Monday to allow housing on land once used as a rail yard and a landfill ​— an idea many residents oppose. But after hearing passionate arguments from both sides, the City Council shelved the decision, prolonging a land-use debate that has dragged on since 2005….

In the nine-county Bay Area, the median price for a single-family home has topped $800,000. And nearly one-third of renters statewide — 1.5 million households — spend more than half their income on rent, according to state estimates

As soon as next week, lawmakers are expected to unveil a package of affordable-housing bills that will include new tools to prod cities and counties to add their share of housing — at least, in theory.

“I think that many of my colleagues understand that individual decisions by city councils and boards of supervisors are having an extremely negative and detrimental impact on our region,” said Assemblyman David Chiu, a former San Francisco supervisor who chairs the Assembly’s housing committee. “When you have so many decisions going the wrong way on proposed housing that meets all local laws and planning and zoning requirements we have to do something different.”

But none of the pending housing bills — as written — would immediately force the city of Brisbane’s hand. And some cities have flouted existing laws with similar goals….

A more controversial proposal, Senate Bill 35, by Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, would speed up the approval process for housing developments — limiting local reviews — in cities and counties that have failed to meet state goals for home-building.

Gov. Jerry Brown has made it clear that he will only sign a deal with money for affordable housing if it includes provisions to fast-track development — which, he argues, will make housing construction cheaper and quicker… (more)

A number of lawsuits are being waged by both sides of the density debate and a few of them are mentioned in this article for those who want to delve deeper. Interesting to note is the mention of the nine-county area that many recognize as the counties in the Plan Bay Area.

The argument is largely over local versus state jurisdiction. Our Governor and Lt. Governor are suing SF for the right to develop the city waterfront. What does this tell you about the pressure coming out of Sacramento? Perhaps we need to involve the citizens in a state-wide ballot over the loss of their rights.

One Oak’s OK Challenged

: sfweekly – excerpt

An appeal has been filed against an enormous Van Ness and Market housing development.

Last year, construction workers broke ground on a $316 million project to speed up the buses that run along Van Ness Avenue — the vital north-south corridor that serves the center of the city. Dedicated bus lanes, improved boarding stations, and new vehicles will make getting from Russian Hill to Civic Center smoother, faster, and safer, when the project is completed in 2019.

“This marks a significant step forward in making transit faster and more reliable on Van Ness Avenue,” said Mayor Ed Lee when the Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit Project (BRT) launched. “We will be improving a crucial travel corridor in San Francisco. When this project is completed, everyone can enjoy a safer, better Van Ness Avenue.”.

The project sounds great. But several residential developments coming to Van Ness Avenue and Market Street could derail the millions of dollars the city, state, and taxpayers have committed to speeding up this transit corridor, thanks to the impending arrival of hundreds of privately owned vehicles, which threaten to clog up this transit-rich artery. Or so claims Jason Henderson, who last month filed an appeal of the city’s decision to allow One Oak, a 304-unit luxury apartment building, to begin construction without a thorough review of the traffic impacts its 136 parking spots will have on the neighborhood… (more)

 

Valley attorney wins lawsuit challenging adequacy of County’s Climate Action Plan

by Sonoma Valley Sun : sonomasun – excerpt

Superior Court Judge Nancy Case Shaffer in Santa Rosa has ruled in favor of local Sonoma Valley attorney Jerry Bernhaut’s lawsuit challenging Sonoma County’s Climate Action 2020 Plan. A lawyer with River Watch, a Sonoma County firm active in filing environmental challenges, Bernhaut’s suit argued that the county’s plan violated various provisions of CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act…

Commenting on the ruling, Bernhaut said, “The court’s ruling validates River Watch’s contentions that:

1. By failing to account for GHG emissions from global tourist travel and global distribution of wine and other Sonoma County products, the CAP grossly understated the true GHG emissions generated by activities in Sonoma County…

Bernhaut added, “It’s time to admit that perpetual growth on a planet with limited resources and carrying capacity is not sustainable.”

The County’s Climate Action Plan 2020 was adopted by Sonoma County last year, but River Watch’s legal action has placed the program on hold. The plan was that all nine Sonoma County cities would join the county and sign-on to the plan, conforming to its goals and methodology. That process was halted while the lawsuit proceeded, and now that the court has made its ruling, it’s unclear as to the next steps. The county can appeal the court decision, or it can decide to revamp and reissue the plan in accordance with the corrections and changes the court decision highlights.

Of particular note is the court’s reference to the need to use VMT calculations (Vehicle Miles Traveled) to better asses and calculate the full impacts of GHG (Greenhouse Gas emissions). During the recent, successful appeal of the certification of the EIR for the proposed hotel on West Napa Street, appellants objected to the fact that VMT methodology was not used to calculate the project’s GHG impacts, but city staff and the EIR consultant argued that calculations using VMT need not be used. It’s unclear what, if any, this court decision will have on that EIR, which is currently undergoing review and amendment…(more)

The latest Silicon Valley housing idea: On a landfill

By Richard Scheinin : mercurynews – excerpt

Environmental watchdogs OK plan for 1,680 units at City Place

Are we this desperate for land that we need to build on a dump? Can’t wait to see the marketing materials and disclosure statements on this one. This is not the first I have heard about building on landfill. Major problems with shifting soil would seem particularly concerning in an earthquake zone. Maybe you can sell housing to non-natives, but, it may be hard to convince people to buy on landfill after watching the effects of Loma Prieta  on the Marina and other “filled areas” in San Francisco. CEQA is becoming a big toothless grin on the face of our state. I think Ruth Shikada’s comment sums it up rather well, ““But as long as we stay the course and continue to do the research and prepare the documents … then we’re going to see housing on that site.” In other words, we can afford to hire more consultants and attorneys than the pubic so we will win in the end. She left out the politicians who are busy cementing their power over the public this season in Sacramento. SB 35 is a developer’s wet dream.

SANTA CLARA — It’s not your typical site for a new housing development: a former landfill, containing an estimated 5.5 million tons of municipal waste dumped over a quarter century in the heart of this city.

But it’s looking more and more as if the Related Companies’ plan to build a $6.7 billion mixed-use complex with up to 1,680 units of housing across the street from Levi’s Stadium will come to fruition. The project represents the largest housing project ever proposed atop a landfill in the Bay Area, regulators say, and perhaps in the entire state.

Environmental overseers have accepted Related’s massive technical document, which includes elaborate safety systems to block the escape of combustible methane gas and other dangerous vapors, and to prevent groundwater contamination… (more)

My Word: Alameda needs moratorium on new development permits

Community Opinion by Eugenie P. Thomson, P.E. : eastbaytimes – excerpt

Catellus. Alameda Landing. Del Monte. The old Naval Air Station — Alameda Point. What do all these projects have in common? Level of service (LOS) is the only criteria the city of Alameda has ever used to evaluate the traffic impacts for these megaprojects — or any other project the city has pushed through, for that matter.

The LOS-based traffic studies for these development projects have all concluded that the traffic delays they produced would be grossly lower than the delays actually occurring on Alameda streets and morning peak traffic delays dropping at the West End by 2035. Yet now, with the Encinal Terminals project (589 new homes), the city has suddenly done an about-face:

“LOS has historically proven to be an inadequate measure in Alameda because residents experience delays (at) (sic) certain intersections, yet the LOS analysis indicates that the level of service at the intersection is adequate. The delay that is being experienced is the result of downstream congestion, not a result of the intersection design or the volume of cars moving through the intersection (source: Encinal Terminals DSEIR [pdf], page 250 or page 4.G-14).”

With those words, the city admitted that the traffic studies for the Encinal Terminals and all previous megaprojects are worthless. How strange is that? I’ve been raising this point for the past 20 years in a half-dozen or more letters to City Hall…

The people of Alameda are not anti-development. We simply want the facts, including honest projections of how a proposed development and the string of expected developments will affect the time it takes us to exit or enter the Island.

These projections must be realistic and market-based: How much housing will be added as a result of this project? How many jobs, and are those numbers realistic for an island without any earthquake-lifeline-caliber connections to the mainland? We want a good traffic plan, and we want to be assured the dollars exist to build out the traffic plan via public funding and developer fees and that future developments pay their fair share.

A formal and transparent risk analysis must be undertaken to review the city costs to support all the developments, the projections of job and housing growth, the costs associated with environmental and seismic risks, and the ways to finance the public infrastructure needed. This has been standard for major transportation capital programs like high-speed rail or BART extensions and is a requirement of funding; whoever provides the capital needs evidence and assurance that the projects will be successful.

As it stands, by the time we know the facts about a proposed project and who pays for what, the developers are long gone.

We need a moratorium on building permits for these new development projects until we have a clear understanding of all potential costs and traffic impacts. If you agree, speak up on the Encinal Terminals and Alameda Marina projects; these will soon go to council… (more)