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35,000 New Residents for Berkeley?
“Plan Bay Area” Growth Workshop

By Steven Finacom
Tuesday May 31, 2011 - 02:47:00 PM
Participants in the Plan Bay Area workshop gather in the auditorium of the
            Metropolitan Transportation Commission headquarters.
Steven Finacom
Participants in the Plan Bay Area workshop gather in the auditorium of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission headquarters.
A MTC planner, right, tries to get skeptical participants to rank choices on
            colored cards during the small group sessions.
Steven Finacom
A MTC planner, right, tries to get skeptical participants to rank choices on colored cards during the small group sessions.
Matt Vander Sluis from Greenbelt Alliance speaks.
Steven Finacom
Matt Vander Sluis from Greenbelt Alliance speaks.
Lou Hexter from MIG manages the voting process on “priorities”. The
            smokestack graphic reminded participants that clean air is good, polluted air is bad.
Steven Finacom
Lou Hexter from MIG manages the voting process on “priorities”. The smokestack graphic reminded participants that clean air is good, polluted air is bad.
A map in the Initial Vision Scenario shows the network of infill development
            proposed from Berkeley to San Leandro.
A map in the Initial Vision Scenario shows the network of infill development proposed from Berkeley to San Leandro.
The projected “priorities” after shuffled by the votes of those who participated
            in the interactive voting.
Steven Finacom
The projected “priorities” after shuffled by the votes of those who participated in the interactive voting.

(The author covered, for the Planet, a workshop held by regional agencies on a State-mandated plan to designate places for future residential and job growth in the Bay Area. The currently proposed plan would mandate thousands of new housing units and tens of thousands of new residents in Berkeley, and hundreds of thousands of permanent new residents in Alameda County overall.

This article describes the experience of attending the forum, including small group sessions, interactive voting on a carefully pre-selected set of options, and some of the objections and questions raised by participants.)

A workshop on how to accommodate a projected 900,000 new households in the Bay Area—nearly 16,000 of them in Berkeley—over the next 25 years drew more than a hundred self-selected locals to Oakland on the evening of May 24, 2011. 

Organized by a consortium of regional agencies and private organizations that promote “smart growth”, the event’s presentations and format emphasized intensifying urban development as the primary strategy to house new residents. 

The three-hour event proved to be informative, controversial, discouraging, and provocative. It was enlivened—and sometimes disrupted—by repeated audience objections to the format and methodology, and a scattering of outspoken Eastern Alameda County residents who wanted nothing to do with urban development and regional government planning and were not loathe to say so. 

The forum was occasioned by the release of an “Initial Vision Scenario” (IVS) for “Plan Bay Area”. The IVS was mandated by State legislation in 2008 that required regional transportation plans to reflect a “Sustainable Communities Strategy” covering the next 25 years. 

“The principal purpose of the IVS is to articulate how the region could potentially grow over time in a sustainable manner, and to orient policy and program development to achieve the first phases of implementation”, a handout explained. 

“The Bay Area is anticipated to grow by over 2 million people…by the year 2035. This population growth would require about 902,000 new housing units. The IVS proposes where these new units might be accommodated.” 

Berkeley is allocated 15,730 of those new households, increasing the permanent local population by nearly 25%. Oakland is supposed to take 65,453 households, while next-door Piedmont will have to settle for only 10 new households. Alameda County as a whole is expected to accommodate about 20% of the regional housing growth, with Contra Costa County about 11% percent, considerably further urbanizing the East Bay. 

On a clear day, though, East Bay residents will still be able to gaze across to the green and pleasant hills of Marin County, which must only find room for 1.7% of the regional growth total. 

Over the next year and a half the scenarios will be refined, and finally adopted by regional agencies as a firm plan. The State legislation contains regulatory carrots and sticks to prod local communities towards accommodating the regional plan growth targets. 

The primary strategy assumed by the IVS is to intensify development in already developed areas served by transit. A map was flashed on an overhead screen with these bullet points for the IVS: “70% of growth in Priority Development Areas and Growth Opportunity Areas”; “Limits Greenfield development—97% of growth within the existing urban footprint”; “preserves character of existing residential neighborhoods”; “Utilizes existing transit; strengthens planned transit.” 

An array of speakers and interactive computer programs led the audience through a carefully structured sequence of choices and options. 

Throughout the evening the event organizers and speakers repeatedly tried to emphasize that they were there to gather opinions, not to advocate a particular viewpoint. I believe they were sincere, but it was also hard to escape the impression that this was essentially an education session for so-called “smart growth”. 

The evening began with a cheerful introduction from Erica Wood, Vice President of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, one of the Plan Bay Area sponsors. 

“How is everybody tonight? Delightful! Enjoying the food?” she led off. The workshop organizers had provided boxed sandwiches and soft drinks. “My role is to be the emcee and to keep us moving and on track.” 

She said this was the 10th of 10 public events, held in recent months around the nine-county region. (There was an earlier Alameda County one in Berkeley. The May 24 event was a reprise of the Berkeley presentation, in order to accommodate additional demand from Alameda County and Contra Costa County audiences.) 

“Over the next two decades we’re expected to add 900,000 new households” in the Bay Area, Wood explained, and a larger number of jobs. 

“The point is, we know we need to grow,” Wood said. “Not IF, but HOW.” 

“We believe strongly that these are your choices to make”, she continued. She said the workshops had grown out of a series of earlier workshops at which people had asked for “more inclusive, transparent, and efficient land use and planning processes” for the Bay Area. 

“We want you to have the opportunity to tell us about what matters to you”, she said. And “we have a really neat tool”, an interactive process for voting on growth options designed by a Vancouver planning firm, MetroQuest. 

(On its website, MetroQuest says that “Municipalities and planning agencies use MetroQuest to educate and communicate the long-term impacts of the various policy choices to non-expert audiences, leaving them with a sense of ownership over the result.”) 

“We also heard we need to be more responsive to local needs”, Wood said, but within a regional framework. “We’re pleased to be working tonight with non-profit organizations Greenbelt Alliance and TransForm” and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). The Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission are also linked to the effort. 

“It’s OK to disagree with each other. It’s not OK to be disagreeable,” Wood admonished the audience before introducing the next speaker, Miriam Chion, Principal Planner for ABAG, who would be speaking “on behalf of your two regional agencies,” ABAG and MTC. 

Chion was serious and earnest. She had the mien of a general briefing skeptical subordinates on a strategic plan she felt could win a war. 

Chion said that the sponsoring organizations were pursuing two basic goals as part of this planning process. “Get clean air” and reduce greenhouse gas emissions; “house our population, including all income groups.” 

To “open the dialogue”, she said, ABAG and MTC had “used the information we had to paint a first picture”, the “Initial Vision Scenario” document. “We have received an overwhelming amount of information in terms of the places local jurisdictions want growth,” she said. 

“We received from each local jurisdiction what are the places where you think you can accommodate growth.” 

(Berkeley did indeed previously identify “planned development areas”, but retiring Berkeley Planning Director Dan Marks has subsequently voiced public objections that the Berkeley allocation for new households in the IVS is far above what City staff anticipated or think is reasonable.) 

Chion acknowledged that “Alameda County takes on a significant amount of growth in the region” under the Initial Vision Scenario. But, she added, a goal is to “retain the character of existing residential neighborhoods”, and new development “has to be done according to the character of the place that the residents, the businesses, and the local jurisdictions are defining.” 

ABAG and MTC have created “place types” she said that will serve as a guide to defining what future neighborhoods might look like. 

“Where are we going?” Chion asked rhetorically. “We’re presenting a few thoughts.” We want to “have the conversation with you,” she said. 

“Many people are not having the choice to live in the Bay Area even if they work here”, she said. “How do we want to grow?” 

How did ABAG arrive at the projections in the scenario, an audience member asked. “We had a series of meetings with local elected officials, with city staff,” she answered. “We’re hoping that the strategy allows us to bring some consensus.” 

Another question: Who will do the final plan? “It is the responsibility of the regional agencies”, Chion answered. 

That led to a follow-up question about the make-up of the governing bodies of ABAG and MTC. Staff answered that most of them are elected officials—city council members, or county supervisors— appointed to the boards from their counties. 

While the event presenters struggled to keep things on their pre-scripted track, pointed questions, audience comments masquerading as questions, called-out commentary, and rumbling, diffuse, dissent in the room frequently threatened to run the whole evening off the rails. 

From the frequent questions and shouted comments, there seemed to be two basic sorts of objections to the proceedings. 

First, several people around the room appeared to come mainly from a property rights (and, apparently, an eastern Alameda County) perspective, and constantly questioned the presenters and small group facilitators about why the presentation seemed biased against cars, single family homes, and lower density neighborhoods, and about what impacts the solutions would have on taxes and property rights. 

At one point a women who wouldn’t identify herself by name became so vehement in her interjections that the air was peppered with shouted comments of both support and objection from other participants. Calls of, “Keep ignoring her!” “Let her talk!” “Shut up, now!” “I want to hear what she has to say!” “First Amendment rights!” volleyed back and forth across the auditorium. 

Second, a number of other people scattered around the room voiced skepticism about the approach to the survey and presentation, repeatedly questioning whether it was designed to produce certain results and whether the methodology was valid. 

One of the critics, who later identified himself as a researcher at the Berkeley campus of the University of California, had a handout that crystallized that issue. “The public questions and input appear to be carefully restricted to make sure that the conclusion of the public input is that we should have denser housing in certain areas,” he wrote. 

I spoke with him briefly, near the end of the forum, and he told me that one of his primary objections was that the organizers didn’t present quantifiable costs and benefits with various options so participants could weigh them in making their choices. 

For example, someone might choose differently between “build light rail” and “build bicycle paths” based on how much of the available transportation funds each option might consume, and how much carbon might actually be saved by each option. 

He said one of his frustrations in teaching has been that students often don’t attempt to understand or quantify costs before selecting benefits to pursue. He saw the same scenario playing out at these meetings. 

Another critic who got up during the presentation to question the speakers asked if the event was “a dialogue or an advocacy pitch?” Looking at the limited questions presented, he said, “I pretty much want to say I want ‘None of the Above’,” an option that was not available in any of the voting. 

“This is intended to be a dialogue, absolutely,” said Wood. “It’s not intended to be a particular advocacy pitch.” 

She then continued, with no apparent sense of irony, “I want to start to move us into the mindset…how can we accommodate growth?” 

Matt Vander Sluis a “senior field representative” from Greenbelt Alliance spoke next. He asked the audience to hearken to an inspirational story. 

Projecting pictures of the old Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco and the new Ferry Plaza that replaced it, he said the actions of former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos who advocated for the demolition of the freeway after the Loma Prieta Earthquake showed “big change can happen within our lifetimes.” 

“The built environment about us is not permanent and we have the power to make things better.” “There are moments of opportunity”, Vander Sluis went on, “and we’re in one of those moments right now.” “It only takes one person to make a difference.” 

“The goal of this evening is to find out what you want to fix.” 

He noted that over the next 25 years about $200 billion in transportation-related funding would come to the Bay Area, and the plan under discussion would focus on how to direct that money as a “blue print for the next generation of growth”, to minimize both traffic and pollution. 

Lou Hexter, an affable private sector consultant with MIG, Inc. in Berkeley led the next section of the presentation, trying to guide the group into voting with individual keypads at their tables on a prepared list of questions projected on three screens around the room. 

The first several questions were a demographic warm up. “How would you describe your perspective?” was the first. The choices were “Business Person, Social Justice Advocate, Environmental Advocate, Community Member, Health Advocate, Government, Educator/Student, Other.” 

When audience members wondered out loud what to do if they identified with more than one category, Hexter told them to just pick one. 

The results flashed up on the three screens facing different parts of the room. “Community member” was the most common, followed by “Business Person”, “Government”, and the “Social Justice or Environmental advocates.” 

Next, 59% of the voting attendees said their neighborhood was “urban”, 36% said “suburban”, and 5% answered “rural”. 57% said they owned their home, 43% rented. 

50% commuted by car, 23% by public transit. Curiously, the question linked “Bike / Walk” together (two very different modes). That yielded an aggregate 23%. 

“How often have you attended a public meeting or workshop on transportation or land use issues in the Bay Area?” A whopping 61% answered 2-3 times, or “more than 3 times”, while 33% said “never”. 

61% of participants identified as White, 14% Hispanic / Latino, 21% in various Asian-American categories, and 3% African American. 29% said “other” or declined to state. 

“If we accept that we’re going to grow, what are the choices?” Hexter asked, repeating what was clearly the forum mantra. Conveniently, he had a list of options to help people choose. 

He commenced projecting a series of 14 “Priorities”, asking each participant to rank them on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being most important to them, and 5 being least. 

This led to a great deal of confusion and objection in the room, and the next near breakdown of the meeting. Several people objected vehemently to the generalized nature of the priority list and/or asked what individual items on it really meant. 

For example, what did the priority “conserve open space” really mean? Did it mean only rural space? Garden space in existing cities? Public or private land? 

“Open space is undeveloped land”, answered Hexter. 

“Lower Carbon Emissions”, Hexter intoned as another priority choice to vote on. “Less Local Traffic.” “More Affordable Homes”. “Clean Air.” 

“Who doesn’t want clean air?” called out an exasperated voice from the audience. What would ranking it high or low actually mean, they wondered out loud. 

“We didn’t go into a lot of detail on purpose”, Hexter said. 

“Let’s move along, I’ll ask you to suspend judgment,” Wood pleaded with the crowd. 

“This is sort of bogus data. It’s a meaningless data point!”, another audience member objected. 

“We’re not going to get through this if we have challenges to each of these,” Hexter warned. 

“I’m going to do a ‘time out’ ”, Wood admonished the increasingly restless crowd, noting that she was experienced with that approach because she has a five-year-old daughter. She asked the group to raise hands if they wanted to “move ahead”. Most did, including me. 

I actually thought “move ahead” meant give up on the awkward priority list ranking and go on to the next agenda item, but apparently I was wrong. It meant continuing to vote through the list, but without further audience questions or challenges. 

Hexter finally made it through the fourteen priorities, getting votes on items like “less driving overall”, “Safer access to schools”, and “conserve water.” 

The MetroQuest system instantly tabulated the results and the percentages voting 1-5 were projected on a screen, but whoever was managing the display consistently yanked the results out of view after several seconds, before much of the audience had a chance to absorb them. Perhaps this was simply an attempt to facilitate moving ahead, but it was disconcerting. 

Our views on the fourteen priority issues finally in the bag, Hexter next asked the group to vote for option One or Two. 

Did they want to see the necessary new growth happen all in the nine county Bay Area, or some growth exported to surrounding counties? 

Choice One specified having exactly 719,700 new households “inside Bay Area”, and precisely 319,400 “outside – new in-commuters.” Choice Two designated 1,039,100 new homes, entirely “inside Bay Area.” 

“This is ridiculous,” said someone from the audience. “You’re only giving us a choice of one extreme or another.” 

“The choice is basically should we try to accommodate the growth within the nine counties, or not?” Hexter emphasized. “If you don’t feel comfortable with these choices you don’t have to participate in this exercise.” 

Ultimately, 35% voted for “Export New Homes”, and 65% endorsed “Keep Homes Here.” 

The next question posed four choices. 

People could vote for “A”, “Business As Usual”, indicating they agreed with the statement, “I want more development on new greenfield land at the edges of the region…” 

Choice “B”, “Planned Future”, paired with a nice picture of traditionally styled homes, called for “some greenfield development, increased development along major transit corridors, roadway investments…” 

Choice “C” was “More Urban” with “majority of development to be focused around transit and in walkable neighborhoods…”, and showed a row of three story townhouses or apartments. 

Choice “D” was “Most Urban”, “I want all growth to be accommodated through infill and redevelopment in existing urban areas”. That option sported a picture of Berkeley’s downtown Gaia Building. 

“You can’t say any of this, this is a bunch of BS,” an audience member called out. 

“I’m guessing we’re going to have some challenges to the exercises,” Hexter observed, pressing forward with the vote. 

The results came up on the screens, with a quarter of the audience voting for “Business as Usual”, a quarter for “More Urban”, and 34% for “Most Urban”. Planned Future was a poor fourth finish, with 18%. 

What would those choices mean for our group priorities? MetroQuest continued to crunched the numbers and the audience stared at the screens. As we waited in suspense for the answer to appear, Hexter mentioned that some people think he looks like “Jeopardy!” TV host Alex Trebeck. 

Earlier he had said “there is a great deal of science behind some of the information you’re going to see tonight.” Apparently the MetroQuest program was applying that Science to an analysis of the effects of the options. 

A couple of tables finally appeared showing the results of the various options. 

We learned that a choice of “Keep Homes Here” in the region, and “Most Urban” development would, over 25 years, save precisely 356 billion gallons of water, 490 square miles of open space, and 31 thousand tons of air pollution a year. Bay Area households would save $4,050 per year, per household by going with more intense growth. 

Only the priorities of “Keep my town as it is today”, “Large Homes with Big Yards”, “Less Local Traffic”, and “Easy and Low Cost parking” would suffer under that scenario. 

In contrast, a combination of “Business and Usual” and “Export New Homes” from the region produced, literally, a bunch of red flags. Everything would grow worse, except for the four factors above, which would grow better. And there were “No Savings”—big goose eggs—shown in every category. Say goodbye to that $4,050 a year per household. I could already feel the hole in my pocket. 

Some in the audience nodded sagely. Others craned to see the details on the projected charts, which were fairly complex and didn’t stay up for long. 

After Hexter finished with the voting exercise, Vander Sluis returned to the podium to outline three possible scenarios for urban growth, setting the context for additional discussion. 

“City Center” neighborhoods represented areas like Downtown Berkeley and Redwood City, he said. “Suburban Centers” characterized districts like the centers of Dublin and Walnut Creek. And “Urban Neighborhoods” were represented by districts like Fruitvale and Emeryville, which he characterized as “primarily residential” with neighborhood serving businesses. 

“We want single family houses included!” someone in the audience called out, as Vander Sluis projected image after image of mid-rise infill housing, some of it from Berkeley. 

Vander Sluis didn’t seem to have a single-family house picture to share, so he pressed forward into two examples illustrating options for development. 

First he showed photographs of a stretch of San Pablo Avenue in Oakland and of Downtown San Leandro. Both looked truly dismal. The Oakland scene had no pedestrians visible except a figure jaywalking across the street. I sympathized with his smart-growth-less plight. 

Vander Sluis then overlaid on each image colorful projections of planters, trees, multiple cheerful pedestrians, and mid-rise infill buildings. Viola! Bland San Leandro and San Pablo Avenue transformed before our eyes, into alluring ‘livable’ spaces, as if Dorothy had opening the door into Oz. It was rather like those “before and after” photos from a TV home-makeover show. 

That served as the framework for the next part of the forum, small group exercises. 

The audience was asked to reorganize itself into tables representing three of the four scenarios outlined by Hexter. 

“Business as Usual”, the fourth option, had mysteriously disappeared from consideration. Even though it had tied for second place preference in the voting—beating out “Planned Growth”—it had no place at the table—or, rather, no tables in place. 

I chose to go to a “Most Urban” table populated with a couple of earnest young MTC planners and some of the audience members who had been most vocal with challenging questions and comments during the presentation period. 

(Because I didn’t identify myself at that table as working on an article, I’m going to describe the members of the public only by first name. The planners are public officials, so I’ll quote them by full name.) 

David Vautin, an earnest and pleasant Transportation Planner from MTC, energetically tried to lead the group through three exercises. 

The first was to look at a map showing potential development areas throughout the county, and say what community you were from, and what you thought of the development scenarios for your community. The second and third exercises involved taking colorful cards and “voting” with them to show what priorities the table would collectively favor. 

One set of cards read “Transportation Strategies”, and presented options such as “increase funding for most effective transit services”, “widen freeways and local roads”, “Expand Commuter Rail Service”, and “Improve Bicycle and Pedestrian Routes.” 

The second set of cards—twice as large and in more vivid colors—retailed possible votes for “Policy Initiatives”, which included “Changing your driving habits” by reducing freeway speeds, “electric vehicles”, “pricing parking”, and “economic development.” 

Each card pack also included “wild cards” where participants could write down their own alternatives. 

Our group didn’t play well together. Only one or two people were enticed by the colorful cards and wanted to play by the rules. Others refused to vote, while others cast only the wild cards. 

“Paul”, who said he worked in Berkeley, objected when he saw what was on the cards. “You’re being very deceptive. You don’t know the cost” of the various options, he said to the planners. 

“I know what you mean”, answered Sean Co, from MTC, the custodian of the cards. “It’s more about priorities, rather than specifics.” 

“You can’t set priorities without knowing costs”, Paul retorted. 

“These are ideas,” Vautin protested. “They’re loaded ideas,” said Paul. 

“David” from Livermore wanted to talk about the possibility that the plan could lead to mandatory zoning changes that would affect property values. 

“This plan will not, I repeat, will not take away anyone’s private property!” protested Vautin. David from Livermore demurred. In his town, he claimed, BART was already proposing to buy numerous land parcels for an extension. That’s not this plan, was the response. 

“It’s going to be voluntary to start with, but our local governments in an effort to conform will start rezoning”, Livermore David worried. 

“The government is not going to take anyone’s property to get higher density”, David Vautin said. “But they can rezone it!” a woman at the table objected. 

Would the Initial Vision Scenario targets for new housing in various communities be mandatory, I asked? 

“If Berkeley opts to take that growth, they will get the transportation funds” responded a woman who had joined the table and gave the impression she was from ABAG, but wasn’t wearing a nametag. “It’s voluntary.” 

A woman who might have been, from her own description, from Pleasant Hill, but would not give her name, objected to the focus of the options on infill housing and reducing driving. 

“All of the cards are about penalizing people with cars!” she said. 

Ms. ABAG looked exasperated. “If you do nothing, then trust me, this is a region you WON’T want to live in”, she snapped back, temporarily losing her I’m A Friendly Public Planner demeanor. 

“We don’t want what you guys in Oakland are pushing,” interjected David from Livermore. 

“Phillip” from Oakland disagreed, saying he lived four blocks from the meeting site and favored more infill development. He said he wanted to hear what others had to say. 

“Do you have a car?” demanded Ms. Pleasant Hill. Phillip from Oakland said he did, but tried to get around without it as often as possible. 

“Robert” from Berkeley spoke for the first time. “I live near North Berkeley BART and I’d like to see that whole parking lot torn up and replaced with higher density mixed use development.” 

The MTC and ABAG representatives looked somewhat relieved that someone had unambiguously endorsed smart growth, in his own back yard—err, parking lot—no less. 

I raised two points. One was the disproportionate amount of new housing units being assigned in the first round of projections to places like Berkeley—an increase of an estimated 35,000 new residents over the next 25 years, on top of our current population of about 112,000. 

I said that it would be more equitable if the plan focus were to be on bringing less dense communities with development capacity towards somewhat higher density, rather than attempting to fit tens of thousands of new residents into already dense Berkeley, with more than 9,000 residents per square mile. 

David Vautin nodded. “We’re going to update our projections based on new data”, he said. “Then we’re going to refine those projections based on what the local jurisdictions say.” 

Second, I suggested that part of the discussion should not simply be “how do we accommodate growth?” but “is there an upper limit to the number of people the Bay Area can accommodate?” I reminded people that the environmentalist activists from the 60s and 70s they admired had often emphasized that issue. 

Ms. ABAG looked across at me and emphatically declared, “THAT question is beyond the purview of a land use planning and a transportation agency!” 

“I came to this meeting feeling great things about it,” a woman from Eastern Alameda County plaintively said. “But “I’m not exactly sure what this whole thing is about.” She said she had lived in both dense urban areas and suburban areas before, enjoyed both, but not everyone could ride a bicycle on their commute or daily rounds. 

A guy with a big video camera wandered by and poked it in to the group to record some of the conversation. 

The small group discussion, such as it was, continued with Ms. Pleasant Hill frequently objecting and interrupting, and often two or three people speaking at once, while others sat glumly. “Phillip” gamely tried to play peacemaker, but then got in hot water by implying “David” from Livermore had disrespected Ms. ABAG. 

Ms. Pleasant Hill and Ms. ABAG were now saying less, but seemed to be glaring daggers at each other. There were some side arguments going on that I couldn’t follow. A steady roar of conversation from the other tables made it hard to hear someone just across the table. 

David Vautin from MTC began to look a bit deer-in-the-headlights, like a dealer in a high-stakes poker game realizing that the players are starting to ominously accuse each other of cheating. The stacks of cards he had been charged with sorting unfortunately reinforced the impression. 

He gamely sorted the cards that had been “voted” and read off various conclusions, including the objections that Ms. Pleasant Hill and “David” from Livermore had written on nearly every “wild card” they could secure at the table. The pile included extra wild cards “Phillip” had tossed across to them in an exasperated effort to get them to stick with the role-playing program. 

Ms. Pleasant Hill started to accuse David Vautin of stacking the deck as he laid out the collected cards. He protested that he was doing it accurately, and taking the wild cards into consideration. The lyrics “you gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run…” went through my head. 

The staffers at the table were finally saved from further rhetorical onslaughts when emcee Hill called the whole room back into a single session for a final series of electronic votes. 

“Which four Transportation Investment Strategies did your small group choose as their top priorities to complete the preferred growth pattern?” was the key question. 

The votes went in, although I wondered how any coherent result had come out of our table of three agency staff, three Berkeley people (two of them contrarian), one amiable Oakland guy, and three truly grumpy and suspicious suburban dissidents. 

“Improve bicycle and pedestrian routes” won 64% approval when the results were tabulated. “Increase funding for most effective transit services” placed second, with 55%. 

“Expand express bus and local bus service” came in next at 36%, and “increase funding to fix potholes” and “widen freeways and local roadways” tied for fourth, with 27% each. 

“Which three Policy Initiatives did your small group choose?” was the next question. “Wild card” (none of the offered solutions) raced out ahead with 82% votes, to some laughter. 

“New requirements for employers”, “changing your driving habits…”, “Pricing parking”, and “other pricing strategies” all garnered a 27% share apiece. Economic Development and Electric Vehicles brought up the rear. 

Finally, a series of wrap up questions assessed audience reaction. 45% said “Agree” to “I gained a better understanding of other people’s perspectives and priorities.” 

But “The meeting materials and information presented were clear, with the right level of detail” was a loser. 68% said “Disagree” or “Strongly Disagree”. Only 28% said “Agree”, and not one person voted “Strongly agree.” 

But would people “remain involved” in the planning process? 84% answered “Very Likely”, the survey said. 

By this time it appeared that about 60 people were still voting, and about half that number had given up in protest, confusion, or exhaustion. 

The meeting wound up. Hill announced with relief that things were right on schedule; it was exactly eight thirty. 

(Steven Finacom writes frequently on local history, planning, design, and government topics for the Planet. He thanks the organizers of the forum for making room for him at the last minute so he could attend and cover the event for the Planet.) 


The Plan Bay Area website can be found here . 

The “Full Report” of the Initial Vision Scenario for the Bay Area is available as a pdf at this link on the Plan Bay Area website. Page 40 shows the Alameda County numbers for proposed housing and job growth, including details for Berkeley. Page 50 includes a description of the “vision” for neighborhoods including those in Berkeley. 

The MetroQuest website is here.