New Report: Overarching Principles to Better Integrate Water and Land Use in San Francisco Bay Area

As many of you may know, over the past year, ClimatePlan has been working with Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) to equitably integrate water into Plan Bay Area 2050.  Through the Community Foundation Water Initiative (CFWI), ClimatePlan has also been working with five other non-profits across the state to advance statewide recommendations that address the gap between land-use and water.

From these efforts, we are excited to announce the release of two things, 

New Report: Overarching Principles to Integrate Land-use and Water in the San Francisco Bay Area

This report provides an overview of water and land-use in the San Francisco Bay Area, specifically: how land-use and water decision-making were separated, the current challenges to integrating land-use and water within the regional transportation plan, what has already been done, and what else needs to happen. 

Right now, we see five main challenges to integrating land use and water: 

  1. Limited coordination
  2. Housing affordability
  3. Prioritizing high water efficiency development
  4. Water affordability
  5. Climate change 

To address these challenges, we recommend two overarching principles: 

  1. MTC should prioritize growth in high resource and high transit areas, and should not fund projects that lead to growth in areas that are:
    1.  Threatened by sea level rise, or flooding.
    2. Displaces existing low-income affordable households.
    3. Converting open space and agricultural resources to urban uses.
  2. MTC should coordinate with water agencies to align funding and planning when possible.

Principle 1: MTC should prioritize growth in high resource and high transit areas

This first principle addresses three challenges: housing affordability, climate change, and the prioritization of water efficient development. With the wisdom of the Six Wins Coalition, specifically Urban Habitat and Public Advocates, ClimatePlan learned that priority development areas (PDAs) are voluntary, and many areas that have designated themselves as a PDA are not always the ones that are high in resources (meaning access to good schools, access to healthy food, etc) . If this status quo is not broken, there will be a continual gap of access to high resource areas for low income and very low income communities. 

SPUR, Pacific Institute, and Greenbelt Alliance shared that condensed development actually uses less water comparatively to sprawl development; moreover protecting the natural resources can lead to stronger flood protection. 

One key takeaway to ensure stronger integration between water and land-use is prioritizing growth in high resource areas with high frequency transit. 

Principle 2: MTC should coordinate with water agencies to align funding and planning when possible

This second principle addresses the last two challenges: limited interagency coordination and water affordability. Coordination with water agencies will create space for water agencies and land-use agencies to discuss barriers, coordinate tasks if necessary, and collaborate on expensive projects. Right now, grant discussions around housing affordability and transportation don’t include the cost of water utilities (especially those incurred with the infrastructure upgrades). Without the inclusion of water utilities, water agencies have to take on the cost themselves, or these costs may shift to the developer because of water neutral requirements. Without proper integration, it can result in a disproportionate burden on the low income resident struggling to balance costs. This is because low income residents would have to pay the rising water bills or would have to take the upgrades themselves, depending on the water neutral requirement.

One more recommendation: Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA)

To further address the nexus between water supply and housing affordability, ClimatePlan has made the following recommendation for the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA), and local housing elements.

  • Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) should work with the Department of Housing, local jurisdictions, equity advocates, water agencies, and other necessary stakeholders to develop guidelines for housing allocation numbers in the case that water supply is severely limited. The guidelines for allocation numbers can then be used to shape how production of housing can continue with limited water supply. These guidelines should define "severely limited" as it relates to water. 

This recommendation addresses a concern that uncertainty of water supply could be used to prevent development. Some communities in the San Francisco Bay Area have found that low income housing has been denied because of a lack of water supply. ClimatePlan is still exploring the nexus between water supply and housing affordability in other parts of California, and how this recommendation may affect the state as a whole.

Virtual Policy Briefing: Ensuring Equitable Public Engagement in Coordinated Planning

As a part of our water work in the San Francisco Bay Area, ClimatePlan partnered with five other non-profit organizations across the state, Youth United for Community Action, Fresnoland, Nature For All, Anza Borrego Foundation, and Local Government Commission to develop equitable engagement guidelines for local governments to build relationships with communities. . All six non-profits identified the lack of meaningful public engagement as a major contributor to inequitable decisions around water and land-use.

Specifically within the San Francisco Bay Area, there are a lot of efforts and plans to integrate land-use and water planning. While it is good to have multiple opportunities for the public to engage, the lack of coordination around public engagement can lead to fatigue.  This affects not only members of the community, it affects water agencies, local government officials, and non-profit organizations, especially when there is a constant ask to provide feedback, and attend a meeting. Having multiple efforts can lead to missed opportunities for communities that may be the most affected by decision making. 

These draft equitable engagement guidelines offer a resource for local governments to invest in coordinated efforts to strengthen public engagement. 

Next steps with the Project

ClimatePlan will continue to work with partners to develop actionable implementation strategies to implement the recommendations and principles of the report. And while ClimatePlan is no longer one of the  leads on the equitable engagement guidelines, the Local Government Commission is still looking for thoughts and feedback for the draft equitable engagement guidelines by September 30th.

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