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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Plan Bay Area gets chilly reception at Solano hearing

Richard Brnett, right, of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, points out features of proposed new bicycle facilities on a map of the Bay Area to Kathy Kerridge during the open house on the Draft Plan Bay Area, in Vallejo, Monday. (Adam Smith/Daily Republic)

By Barry Eberling
From page A1 | April 23, 2013 | 4 Comments

VALLEJO ­ The Plan Bay Area roadshow came Monday to Solano County and got mixed reviews, with most of the people who spoke during a hearing voicing criticisms.

Plan Bay Area is a proposal by the Association of Bay Area Governments and Metropolitan Transportation Commission on how the Bay Area should grow through 2040. It stresses the development of compact, pedestrian-friendly communities near mass transit hubs, as opposed to traditional suburban subdivisions on the region’s fringes.

In Solano County, growth hot spots would include the Peabody and Vanden road areas in Fairfield near a planned train station, the Texas Street corridor in Fairfield, downtown Suisun City, downtown Vacaville, the Vallejo waterfront and the Rio Vista waterfront. The various communities have designated these places as “priority development areas.”

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Association of Bay Area Governments have been holding open houses and public hearings in the nine Bay Area counties prior to voting on Plan Bay Area in July. The Solano County event took place in McCormack Hall at the Solano County fairgrounds.

First came an open house, with displays describing the plan and listing such benefits as preserving open space, creating economic vitality and building healthy and safe communities. Officials from the Association of Bay Area Governments, Metropolitan Transportation Commission and other agencies stood by to answer questions.

Vallejo resident Nathan Stout spoke to an official, then expressed skepticism over Plan Bay Area. He asked how the Association of Bay Area Governments is accountable to citizens. He said the Vallejo priority development area might create more low-income housing in downtown Vallejo, which he opposes.

Nearby, Vallejo resident Doug Darling called the plan “social engineering.” He criticized the Metropolitan Transportation Commission for promoting priority development areas by making transportation dollars available for such areas.

The agency is “dangling money like a carrot in front of a horse,” Darling said.

When questioned about this, Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesman John Goodwin said the carrot is small, with $320 million available for all of the Bay Area’s priority development areas over the coming four years.

“There’s nothing coercive about it,” Goodwin said. “The absence of reward is not punishment.”

About 40 people attended the public hearing portion of the event and about 20 people spoke, almost all of them against Plan Bay Area. Vallejo resident Natalia Clarke said she came from Ukraine to get away from socialism.

“If this is such a good idea, why not put it to a vote of the people?” Suisun City resident George Guynn said.

Kathy Kerridge of Benicia spoke in favor of Plan Bay Area. It’s vital in a region as interconnected as the Bay Area to do long-range planning, she said.

“I think when you have infill housing and you have a little higher density, you can preserve more of the open space that is around us,” she said.

Solano County Supervisors Jim Spering and Linda Seifert led the public hearing. Spering is on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Seifert on the Association of Bay Area Governments board.

Spering ended the hearing by saying he believes there are misconceptions about Plan Bay Area. He offered to talk with citizens to go over details of the plan.

A person from the audience asked Spering if he really, in his gut, favors Plan Bay Area.

Spering said that he does. It’s important to plan for the future, but a mechanism is needed to adjust the plan, he said.

Driving the development of Plan Bay Area are state laws that link transportation with land use planning and that seek to cut back on greenhouse gases. The plan makes use of what proponents call “smart growth” policies that have been discussed in the Bay Area and Solano County since the 1990s.

The Bay Area will grow from about 7 million residents today to about 9 million by 2040, according to Plan Bay Area.

Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or Follow him on Twitter at