• BIA Beats Back Regional Industrial Land Preservation Zoning--For Now

  • At its February 24 2016 meeting, MTC adopted a final San Fransisco Bay Area Goods Movement Plan [attached]. According to MTC, the Plan represents "a long-range strategy for how to move goods effectively within, to, from and through the Bay Area by roads, rail, air and water. It provides specific strategies--projects, programs, and policies--focused on goods movement that will ultimately inform Plan Bay Area."

    For the building industry, what is not in the final Plan may be as important as what is. Initial and subsequent drafts contained very counterproductive language and proposed policies relating to industrial land preservation across the region--policies that would negatively impact new housing. For example, early documents asserted the existence of a "shortage of industrial land" causing "freight sprawl", "displacement of jobs", and "air quality impacts." They also called for a regional approach to "managing industrial land supply" and regional coordination of "industrial land preservation."

    As a member of the Plan's Technical Advisory Committee, BIA repeatedly objected to the accuracy and wisdom of the direction being taken on this issue. BIA noted in particular that industrial land preservation has been used as a way to restrict the development of much needed housing in job rich cities throughout the Bay Area, and that the Plan's goods movement policies related to land use should focus on developing strategies to reduce traffic- and safety-related conflicts between different existing and planned land uses.

    As a result of BIA's efforts, the final Plan does not include the problematic language and proposals regarding regional industrial land shortage and preservation, and instead focuses potential traffic and safety issues through a program to develop "land use guidelines and incentive programs to cities that reduce land use conflicts" that "will coordinate with regional and state efforts to address land use conflicts."

    While changes made to the final Plan represent a sound public policy victory for BIA and the region's housing situation, proponents of industrial land preservation will no doubt continue to attempt to advance this agenda in future regional planning efforts, so continued vigilance is required.

    Finally, it is important to note an instance where BIA's suggested changes were not accepted. Part of the adopted Plan involves assessing the performance of various goods movement-related infrastructure projects across a set of "Goal Areas." The Plan's Goal Areas include Economic Prosperity, Safety and Reliability, Innovation, Interconnected/Intermodal, and Improved Quality of Life. The term "Quality of Life" has a generally accepted meaning embracing all aspects of human well being. The Plan, however, uses the term as a substitute for "reducing the localized health and environmental impacts of goods movement projects." This leads to some bizarre results in the performance assessment. For example, several projects that score highest ("High Positive Impact") on Economic Prosperity, including a wide array of Oakland Army Base improvements), are branded as having a "Negative Impact" on Quality of Life. As BIA pointed out in its comments, the typical member of the public or elected official will likely find it perplexing to read that a project that greatly increases economic prosperity also greatly decreases quality of life.