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Bay Area needs wake-up call

By William Inman Daily Planet Staff
Friday October 13, 2000

Stuart Cohen’s on a mission. He wants to awaken the Bay Area from what he calls its “transportation nightmare.” 

Co-chair of the Bay Area Transportation and Land Use Coalition, Cohen addressed a gathering Thursday hosted by the Berkeley Albany Emeryville League of Women Voters at the Albany Public Library.  

Cohen’s organization is a collection of 60 environmental and social justice groups working together to provide information and policy recommendations. 

The recommendations allow elected officials and the public to choose between current “sprawling” development patterns in the region and a more sustainable Bay Area. 

“We began to (lobby) the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to break the cycle of sprawl in the Bay Area,” he said. 

“Partnership of Smart Growth” came out of the effort. The partnership, formed in May 1998, includes MTC, the Association of Bay Area Governments, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the Regional Water Quality Control Board. Its goal is to integrate land use and transportation planning. 

“Our role is to ensure this process takes place independent of whether federal funding is granted, and we work to encourage broad participation in the partnership,” he said. 

Cohen added that after two years of working with the organizations, they received a federal grant this year to start “smart growth” planning in the area. 

“In 2002, when ABAG does its next set of projections (for area growth) they’re not just going to be presenting a sprawl projection,” he said. 

Cohen said that previous ABAG projections for growth in the Bay Area looked like the roof of a planetarium, “a bunch of stars, with some clusters brighter than others, but all spread out,” he said.  

Cohen said that he hopes that the smart-growth alternatives that the partnerships propose will be one of the projections that ABAG presents. 

Jean Safari, a former ABAG employee, explained that before ABAG puts the projection together, they go to the cities and counties and ask if there have been any changes in the cities’ general plans. 

Then they get the state forecast, she said, going on to warn Cohen that “the devil is in the details,” and that city zoning regulations and general plans, such as Berkeley’s, often do not allow dense urban development. 

Cohen said that agencies in the partnership will go to cities and counties to do sketch modeling to “see how much open space we can preserve.” 

The coalition is just beginning a two-year process, when members of the partnership will go to Bay Area cities and hold meetings to talk about the smart growth processes. 

Cohen said that the members will distribute a 120-page booklet: “World Class Transit for the Bay Area.” Authored by the coalition after 13 months of research, the booklet offers a broad vision and detailed steps necessary for moving to a more sustainable transportation system. 

The booklet focuses on the improvement of the existing transportation infrastructure, including 18,000 miles of roads and 600 miles of railroad tracks. 

With cost-effective projects, the proposals in the booklet would provide transit that is fast, convenient, affordable and could be ready in a few years.  

The booklet stays away from expensive and sprawl-inducing highway-widening projects. It also doesn’t propose to extend BART or provide ferry service. 

“It calls for massive improvement in the fleet of buses,” he said.  

Moreover, to get that improvement, he added, “It’s imperative that we support Measure B,” the measure on the November ballot that raises transportation funds.