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Should We Plan for Some Bay Area Workers to Live Outside the Region

Uploaded: Feb 14, 2016
SB 375 and current regional policy supports the idea that regions should plan for all workers to be able to live within the region.

I support this goal in theory but expect it will be difficult to completely achieve. I worry especially about providing housing that is affordable to all families within the region,

In addition some locations outside of the region, like Tracy for example, are as close or closer to job centers as locations within the region.

The main rationale for housing all within the region is to reduce commuting time and environmental impacts. I support this goal also.

But what if some housing just outside the region were combined with transportation investments that reduced single occupancy driving and the time for commuting?

What if for example, we could run shorter commute high speed rail trains to connect at San Jose to CalTrain and VTA and at Pleasanton to BART? Or extend BART and CalTrain?

It is certainly true that locations outside the region can provide types and costs for housing that are difficult to achieve within the region.

I see this as a both/and approach and have suggested to the Governor and HSR Authority that this is worth exploring.

This is NOT a blog on the merits of the main HSR proposal so please do not repeat that discussion.

What is it worth to you?


Posted by Harry Merkin, a resident of Ventura,
on Feb 14, 2016 at 10:02 pm

First and foremost a serious housing effort should buy up several dozen houses scattered around town, convert them to duplexes, and rent them below market to the workers we are ever promised will benefit from the BMR component of every housing or mixed-use development, but who somehow never do: teachers, firefighters, police, utility linemen, and other vital city workers. Nix the hype and get real.

Posted by MV resident, a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Feb 15, 2016 at 8:45 am

Steve, Reality has already outpaced this question. Housing prices and unavailability have already pushed many Bay Area workers to live "outside the region," a trend that is bound to accelerate. We should be considering how to facilitate their commute, and at the same time encouraging companies to build new facilities elsewhere than on the peninsula.

Building 15-story housing in the South Bay will not suffice to fill the demand or lower housing prices, and would be a strong negative impact on livability - and perhaps not a net improvement for congestion, compared with improved transit from "outside the region."

Posted by Jeff Rensch, a resident of Barron Park,
on Feb 15, 2016 at 8:51 am

i definitely agree that housing outside a given region makes sense when there is good environmentally-sound transportation from that region to the person's job. I think we will have no choice.

I am about to go off-topic, which I know you don't like. At the Feb 22 Council meeting there will be a discussion of addressing the jobs/housing imbalance and one option put forward is to slow job growth. This strikes me as terrible economics but I am not expert enough to articulate my argument. Will you be taking on this topic? thanks

Posted by Wondering, a resident of another community,
on Feb 15, 2016 at 1:31 pm

I see that the comment facetiously pointing out the following has been removed, yet the very real problem it pointed out remains: This blog's TITLE is currently DUPLICATED. Copied verbatim from top of this page:

"Should We Plan for Some Bay Area Workers to Live Outside the Region Should we Plan for Some Bay Area Workers to Live Outside the Region"

Is anything about this error unclear??

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Feb 15, 2016 at 1:40 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Yeah, bummer about the title posting twice. I am looking at the post I made and it only shows once. I have asked the Weekly staff for help as I cannot change it.

Posted by Train Fan, a resident of Atherton: other,
on Feb 15, 2016 at 2:27 pm

> Should we Plan for Some Bay Area Workers to Live Outside the Region

By "plan" I assume you mean that we should factor in the regions outside the bay area as part of bay area growth. In a nutshell, I think the answer is "yes, eventually".

I don't agree in principle with subsidized housing (except in the case of homelessness. A civilized society should have safety nets); it helps a few at the expense of the many, and usually unfairly and always unevenly (Exhibit A: Buena Vista).

Tax dollars are usually best served when used for the broadest impact helping the most people. Regional public transportation easily accomplishes this; it's available for everyone, but benefits the financially constrained the most.

Improved regional public transportation is a win-win-win:
1) It gives people an opportunity to live (relatively) cheaply but accessibility to higher paying jobs is still possible;
2) by making outlier communities viable commutes, you reduce the demand for more local housing, which reduces local housing costs;
3) with better regional public transportation, you reduce the need for cars, which reduces traffic;

(I'm addressing *regional* public transportation. IMHO CAHSR is a boondoggle and an incredibly poor allocation of tax dollars. A fraction of CAHSR dollars would be life changing for bay area transportation if properly focused)

The reason I added "eventually" is that there are things that can be done *in* the Bay Area to help improve transportation access between lower-cost BA towns and the more expensive towns (which frequently is where the jobs are). Dumbarton rail; A larger caltrain presence in the East Bay; public transit near/along the 280 corridor.

Posted by mark gilles, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Feb 15, 2016 at 8:38 pm

I think the question has been asked and answered as MV resident states in his post. No question that the shortage of affordable housing is basically a subset of the housing shortage in the Bay Area, and the Peninsula. I think we need better options for transportation as commute times are about double from what they were 3 years ago. BART is old and needs to be upgraded and extended around the Bay, which means through SM County. If we must have HSR, then connect it to BART. All this takes money and lots of it, but the economic drivers of tech, and bio tech coupled with the outstanding research universities and access to capital make this place unique. Also, we must have higher density development close to transportation. Growth means change

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Feb 16, 2016 at 7:32 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

@ Jeff Rensch

As i understand the Feb 22 council meeting (the agenda packet is on the city website) is to discuss giving staff direction to craft a fifth scenario for evaluation in the Comp Plan update. The draft EIR has already evaluated four scenarios including two that slow job growth.

My understanding for this fifth alternative is that they will look at improving the jobs-housing balance in the city. Evaluating this new scenario will take eight months according to the consultant as i read the staff memo.

I will listen on Monday but will not make comments at this time until I hear the discussion. There will be plenty of time for comments and I encourage everyone to come or view on the website or cable.

Posted by not p.c., a resident of Midtown,
on Feb 16, 2016 at 11:42 am

Hurrah!!! Steve Levy has finally woken up to reality. However, all the ABAG projections are partly what has ruined Palo Alto and created the mess we are in now. Thanks for all your help in ruining what waS once a peaceful, great place to live.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Feb 16, 2016 at 12:07 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

@ not pc.

Sorry you are angry and intemperate but you are also deeply confused.

The idea of having some workers and their families live outside the region is the assumption I incorporated and argued for when I did the regional projections back in 2012. As a result the Plan Bay Area projections did anticipate increasing in commuting although making it work is still a challenge.

After my work was done ABAG was sued to overturn the in commuting decision and plan for all new housing to be built within the region.

I have always believed that both the region should go all out for more housing of the right number, type and location AND anticipate that some families are better served by the opportunity to live in adjacent counties and commute in car free if possible.

Posted by the_punnisher, a resident of Whisman Station,
on Feb 16, 2016 at 2:46 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

I'll say this ONCE and will not mention it again:


Affordable housing would be built from San Jose SOUTH and a short drive to San Jose to BART would have solved the affordable housing issue.

I said in the previous column that some hard choices will have to be made, even some single family residences or even duplexes may have to be demo'ed for a higher housing density in Palo Alto that needs 4 story buildings to handle the density. The Palo Alto Drive-In area should handle much of that population density. Or a Russian style " Block of Flats " next to the Caltrain/BART/HSR ROW.

How about extending CalTrain SOUTH of San Jose and build out the land SOUTH of San Jose with 4 story and high population density, affordable housing?

Or extending VTA on the other side of 101 NORTH and add affordable housing south of the Googleplex with (GASP) INCOME RESTRICTIONS to keep housing affordable.

This is NOT an easy task because the population density ( except for all three examples I have posted ) will require some people to get forced out of their homes.

Importing the labor workforce may not work any better than it is doing now.

BTW, having a highway loop around a major city has already worked. That is why I pressed ( and helped pay ) for the BART loop. One of the first commute trains that would do the same thing as these Highway loops BUT FASTER!

Posted by Barron Park resident, a resident of Barron Park,
on Feb 16, 2016 at 10:43 pm

Fill in the bay south of the Dumbarton bridge, build 50,000 high rise apartments, and schools too. Should be enough for a few years.

Posted by It Never Ends, a resident of Barron Park,
on Feb 16, 2016 at 11:05 pm

It Never Ends is a registered user.

Yes we should plan for some workers to live outside the region. I agree that having a policy that requires all workers to be able to live within region is not practical and has led to suboptimal strategies and decision making.

Setting aside climate and sustainability goals, there are other more primary factors that affect personal housing choices. I have lived in most regions of the world and there always seems to be a trade off between living close to town and farther away. People choose to live in the suburbs for a variety of benefits including larger lots, newer housing, lower noise and pollution, less crime and easier access to recreation in the countryside (Lakes, beaches, wine country and skiing). They also seek to lower housing costs or at least achieve a better value proposition for the money.

To take the proverbial local teacher/police officer as an example, I would wager that if we had good transportation to commute from out of region and we offered them a $4K per month housing stipend that many of them would still prefer to live farther out and pocket the difference. In many cases, that would be the rational decision.

I think a major criticism of the previous tops down planning is that it has jettisoned major portions of economic theory. Maximizing individual utility is one of the most powerful drivers in society. Some people will always want to live close to the city. However, many will always prefer to live farther out because it better supports their lifestyle, budget and family priorities.

Posted by JB Brant, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Feb 17, 2016 at 2:45 am

I find it really amusing a little depressing that people would rather sabotage economic growth than think about building more housing.

Posted by Vessie, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Feb 17, 2016 at 12:31 pm

I fear too many workers already live far from their work sites, and our transport system needs improving. With current rent prices, far too many low income workers have to travel long distances to work here, which cuts into their family time and meager resources. Do we really want fire fighters and teachers, let alone the huddled masses to have to commute this far? Exhaustion from the commute alone sets in, impairing one's work. I say let's make a great effort to create affordable housing here, so our lowest income workers can stay.

Posted by chip, a resident of Professorville,
on Feb 19, 2016 at 12:21 pm

The best solution is for new commercial enterprises to build outside the immediate Bay Area. Stimulate economic growth in Merced, Antioch, Stockton, Modesto, Turlock, and Salinas. Build new commercial facilities in those communities. Workers in those industries could move there, find affordable housing and vacate housing here to lower prices enough for police, fire, and school personnel to live near where they work.

I disagree with JB Brandt about sabotaging local economic growth, as we're already over-populated to the extent that streets laid out pre-WW2 are inadequate to service the current local traffic. Timetable for the first working HSR around here is 2025. Encouraging more businesses to locate & hire here negatively impacts the quality of life for existing residents.

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