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16,000 New Households In “Vision Scenario” For Berkeley

By Steven Finacom
Wednesday April 06, 2011 - 02:18:00 PM

Should the number of Berkeley households increase by 34% over the next 25 years, adding as many as 35,000 new residents to the city?

That seems to be the premise of a low profile but significant item being transmitted to the Planning Commission for discussion on Wednesday, April 6, 2011. 

If a series of recommendations drafted by regional agencies is put into effect, the number of households in Berkeley could grow from about 46,000 in 2010 to nearly 62,000 in 2035. State and Regional pressure will be put on Berkeley’s “transit corridors” in particular to accommodate those new residents. 

Household growth, of course, essentially means housing unit growth, so that projection might necessitate the construction of nearly 16,000 new housing units in Berkeley or an average of more than 600 per year each year for the next twenty-five. 

The projection is contained in a staff report by Berkeley’s Planning Director Dan Marks transmitting what the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) call an “Initial Vision Scenario” forecasting where new population in the nine-county Bay Area might be accommodated. 

The draft document is a response to a 2008 state law (Senate Bill 375) requiring regions in California to have a “Sustainable Communities Strategy” designed to meet State targets for greenhouse gas reduction by concentrating residential development in areas where new residents are less likely to drive. 

“The underlying assumption of the Initial Vision Scenario is that the region’s growth should be concentrated in transit serving locations”, Marks says in his report to the Commission. “Many jurisdictions in the region have identified such areas within their communities with capacity for growth. These growth areas are called ‘Priority Development Areas’ or PDA’s.” 

Berkeley has already identified as part of its Housing Element six PDA’s, including Downtown, the Adeline Corridor, San Pablo Avenue, South Shattuck, Telegraph Avenue south of Dwight, and University Avenue. 

To accommodate the “Vision Statement” expectations those areas would need to grow by nearly 5,000 new households Downtown, nearly 3,300 along San Pablo Avenue, and 1,372 along Telegraph south of Dwight to the Oakland border. 

The “Vision Scenario” does not exactly state the number of residents expected per household. But using its assumption of some two million new regional residents requiring just over 900,000 new housing units, it’s possible to extrapolate a planning number of about 2.2 residents per household. 

For Berkeley, that would mean those 16,000 households would translate into another 35,000 residents, or about a 23% increase in the City’s population over 2010 Census estimates. 

Marks makes it clear in the staff report that he is not necessarily endorsing the ABAG numbers for Berkeley. 

“As ABAG / MTC did not consult with City staff prior to presenting these numbers, staff cannot say how all were derived and is seeking more information from ABAG to get a better understanding of its process. While each of the PDA’s has substantial room for initial development…(City) staff has not generally qualified the capacity of these areas to accommodate new units.” 

Marks then notes that the new ABAG / MTC numbers are dramatically different from projections of recent years. For example, in 2009 ABAG projected that Berkeley would grow by about 4,000 new housing units by 2035. The “Vision Statement”, just two years later, now ups that number by nearly 12,000 additional units. 

“City staff has not begun to test the feasibility of the numbers generated for the IVS” Marks tells the Commission. “Our ‘educated guess’ at the moment is that for most if not all of the PDA’s, the level of growth posited in the ABAG / MTC IVS is far in excess of what is reasonable or feasible to assume. We will be commenting back to ABAG to that effect.” 

The “Initial Vision Scenario” does note that it “does not take into account many factors that constraint the region’s supply of new housing units, such as limitations in supporting infrastructure, affordable housing subsidies, and market factors.” 

However, it says, it “is designed around places for growth identified by local jurisdictions. These places are defined by their character, scale, density, and the expected housing units to be built over the long term. Using ‘place types,’ areas with similar characteristics and physical and social qualities, ABAG asked local governments to identify general development aspirations for areas within their jurisdictions. These places were mostly the Priority Development Areas…” 

The driver, so to speak, of the “Vision Scenario” is that in order to reduce greenhouse gases, “vehicle miles traveled” in California should be reduced. “In order to reduce VMT, the fundamental land use strategy is to encourage more people to live near and use transit, and to develop more ‘complete communities’ where people can rely less on automobiles to address daily needs”, the Marks memo says. “The range of strategies that promote more livable communities near transit is often referred to as ‘smart growth’.” 

Consideration of the “Vision Scenario” by cities and ABAG / MTC, Marks notes, will feed into the next “Regional Housing Needs Allocation” (RHNA) for the Bay Area which takes place every eight years. 

“For the next round”, he writes, “the RHNA must be consistent with the SCS (Sustainable Communities Strategy). The SCS is the first time that there will be a regional development strategy that combines land use, housing and transportation.” 

A relatively quick process is envisioned. A draft Housing Needs Allocation will be released a year from now, and ABAG is expected to adopt a final version by fall, 2012. The “allocations”—numbers of new residents each Bay Area community is expected by ABAG to accommodate—will then filter down to the local level as cities adopt their individual Housing Elements. 

The “Initial Vision Scenario”, which Marks appended to his staff report, assumes the Bay Area will grow “by over two million people…by the year 2035. This population growth would require around 902,000 new housing units.” 

To respond to that expectation, ABAG and MTC planners proposed massive increases in growth and residential density for some Bay Area communities, and went lightly on others. 

In Alameda County, for example, the IVS posits that an additional 212,746 households should be accommodated over the next 25 years, a 38% increase countywide. 

Emeryville has the highest projection recommended in the County—a whopping 130% increase in housing units from 2010 to 2035, while most Alameda County communities receive a recommendation of about 25 to 40 percent household growth. Oakland is near the top of that group, with an increase of 65,453 units recommended. 

Albany—if the ABAG / MTC projections prove accurate—will have to find room for 2,167 additional households. In contrast, wealthy Piedmont is let off lightly. Piedmont planners will only need to search for room to accommodate ten additional households in the next 25 years to make ABAG / MTC happy. 

Both Albany and Piedmont are small towns largely built around single family neighborhoods, have no BART stations, but are connected to neighboring communities by large arterial streets and are close to freeways. 

But Albany is expected to provide for more than 217 times the number of new households than Piedmont is. Even the availability of more development sites in Albany shouldn’t create a discrepancy that large. 

Wealthy enclaves elsewhere in the Bay Area generally receive similarly light projections. 

Danville gets an 8.1 % housing increase allotment. Belvedere needs to fit in only 20 new households. On the Peninsula, most of the upscale suburbs get only small increases: Atherton (90 households); Portola Valley (50); Woodside (30). 

There are a few exceptions for the upscale. Orinda, for example, is expected to accommodate nearly 2,000 new households, for a 28% increase, presumably because it has a BART station. 

The same trend applies on the county level. Marin County is asked to grow its households by about 16.5% while Contra Costa, Alameda, and Santa Clara counties are all given targets of 37% or more and are, together, expected to take the “lion’s share” of regional growth, the IVS says. 

Marks takes note of this issue at the end of his staff report. “Staff is also concerned”, he writes, “that other communities with a capacity to accommodate growth with a concerted infill-oriented strategy (i.e. without sprawling) in the same manner as Berkeley is shown in this IVS are not being asked to step up as much. We will also be commenting to that effect in the next few weeks.” 

He did not identify any specific other communities staff used as a comparison. 

The “Initial Vision Statement” for the region will be refined into “Detailed Scenarios” by ABAG, with a release date of July 2011. These, in turn, will then be distilled into a “Preferred Scenario” by the end of this year. 

A public workshop on the Vision Scenario for Alameda County will be held May 19, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Brower Center in Downtown Berkeley. 

To see the agenda item, including both the staff report and the Initial Vision Scenario, go to: