There is a "new order" coming to our cities and towns. Not the evolutionary changes that time inevitably brings, but changes that well- respected, well-meaning organizations arranged in Sacramento to force on our towns while we are busy with the rest of life.
This "One Bay Area" plan — quite like China's famous state planning — is forcing square pegs into round holes for a supposedly better lifestyle in townhouses and condominiums all along El Camino Real from Daly City to San Jose. The related "Grand Boulevard Plan" seeks to restrict cars to two lanes on El Camino so Parisian cafes can dot the sidewalks for all 52 miles (honest, Parisian cafes). According to a Menlo Park traffic study, displaced auto traffic will just move to Middlefield and the Alameda de las Pulgas. Does that make sense to anyone?
A little background: this plan took many years to sell. First the respected Sierra Club, wielding clout as our historic defender of wildlife and nature, persuaded Sacramento that people should be urged to give up cars so nature can flourish, then argued the state must tell cities and towns it will withhold road repair funding if they don't at least support this plan; and finally, they defined "support" as re-zoning for high-density housing according to assigned quotas (a Housing Element). The laws have been passed; Palo Alto must accommodate about 3,000 additional condos in the next six years, Menlo Park about 2,000, and so on.
Mark Luce, president of ABAG — the government authors of the plan — says this is only our "fair share" of dense housing. I don't recall having a share, but I do know that an existing single-family house in a quiet area of Union City, 20 minutes across the Dumbarton bridge, is about one-third the cost of a similar Menlo Park home, even if built in tenement blocks. And sorry if this isn't politically correct. There is no "right" to live in Palo Alto or Atherton instead of Union City. Indeed, that city and Fremont both told local leaders that they would welcome new housing projects. If market forces put housing there, can we rationally build it here?
Many of us support the concept of dense housing as an option for downsizing, a walkable lifestyle, more active surroundings, but having density forced on us by central planners risks the attractive qualities of our towns that makes our homes valuable.
City attorneys are telling all the city councils that they must abide by state law. OK, but how did 21 cities and towns sit by and let such regulations be passed? Perhaps they did not understand the consequences, but is that the end of it?
There is a jobs/housing issue in the region —- but it's not an "imbalance" and it's not a quota issue. It's about connections. It's a transportation issue, and it's not getting half the attention it should.
I agree with one principle of this supposed plan — it's time for Bay Area cities and towns to act together. But far from rubber-stamping this disaster, they need to conference-call Sacramento and terminate the force-feeding of high density-housing on the Peninsula. Councils of the peninsula, its time to move this discussion to making our transportation work.
Henry Riggs is a member
of the Menlo Park Planning Commission