Onward with Implementation: How we’re integrating water, land-use and equity in the San Francisco Bay Area

In August 2020, ClimatePlan released a new report -  Overarching Principles to Better Integrate Water and Land-use in the San Francisco Bay Area. [Thank you again to the water agencies, non-profits, and our partners at MTC (Metropolitan Transportation Commission), San Francisco Estuary partnership, and Local Government Commission for your wisdom and expertise].  Since the release of the report, we have been moving forward with implementing the principles laid out in the report. I have been working with MTC and ACWD (Alameda County Water District) to refine the implementation plan of Plan Bay Area 2050--the Bay Area’s regional transportation plan-- and have been developing a policy-framework to provide local guidance to implementing the strategies.  I have also been assessing collaboratives and key partnerships within the Bay Area to find spaces to develop this policy-framework.  

The Issues at Hand: New Report Summary and Centering New Context

Our new report highlights how water affordability, housing affordability, vulnerability to climate change, and transportation challenges intersect. 

Housing unaffordability is exacerbated by the challenges of high transportation costs and water costs. This is because both add an additional burden for low income households, and Black and Latinx communities. These communities have been underinvested in because of the legacy of redlining, disinvestment, and systemic racism. It is well known that the current COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how many of these communities are not able to comfortably meet basic needs of housing and water. The pandemic has also exacerbated water and housing affordability challenges, by bringing on debt: marginalized and low income residents are now unsure of how much money they owe from their suspended rent and water bills.

Moreover, these communities are more likely to be the most vulnerable to climate change because they are under-resourced. Preparing for climate change will require infrastructure upgrades to account for flooding and droughts, a financial burden that would mostly fall on residents at this moment. MTC, ABAG, and ACWD recognize these problems, and are taking vital steps towards better integrating water into land-use planning.

ABAG and MTC and ACWD current work

MTC and ABAG began conversations with water agencies, early in their update to Plan Bay Area 2050. They are currently developing these relationships and getting water agencies’ input on the challenges and opportunities to implement these high-level strategies. (They are also getting wider input on these strategies at their workshops this week!)  

Among these strategies are actions that would address the challenges raised in ClimatePlan’s recent report, and they are the following: 

  1. Allow a greater mix of housing densities and types in blueprint growth geographies
  2. Transform aging malls and office parks into neighborhoods
  3. Adapt to sea level rise
  4. Provides means-based financial support to retrofit existing residential buildings (energy, water, seismic, fire)
  5. Maintain urban growth boundaries 

As for ACWD, they have been participating in the Plan Bay Area process and reaching out to the cities in their jurisdiction to better coordinate among themselves. 

These current actions are essential to more equitably integrating water and land-use, but are not enough. These actions need to be strengthened by context-specific research, and stronger commitments to actual implementation. To fill this gap, I have been building on this work to refine implementation strategies and create a policy framework.

The Refining of Implementation Strategies and the Policy Framework:

I am focusing on refining the specific implementation strategies above, by researching the barriers to implementation and the resources that can be used to address those barriers. With this research, my goal is to create a policy framework that will guide water and land-use agencies to work together on policies that are able to be implemented collaboratively . My focus will be on the following:

  • Track the Data: what is the missing data that will inform our decisions and how can we share data? One example of gaps in the data is not knowing who needs support with their water bills. Another area to explore is what are the data needs around long-term planning. For example: what data MTC-ABAG can share around population growth and what data water agencies can share around water supply limitations?
  • Investment Without Displacement; what are the best practices around investing without displacing? Are we centering communities that are the most affected within these best practices?
  • Assess Access: Who is missing from the conversation around water and land use decisions, what are their concerns especially regarding water affordability and housing affordability, and how are local governments and water agencies addressing the concerns? 

The role of key partnerships and collaborations

As highlighted in our report, there needs to be more coordination among transportation, water agencies, equity advocates, and community based organizations. Recognizing that there are already convening spaces and incredible efforts to integrate water and land-use, I would like to find ways to increase and encourage collaboration among these existing networks. In order to do so, I have been keeping track of collaboratives in the San Francisco Bay Area that are working to integrate water and land-use within this draft kumu map. The map illustrates the regional collaboratives in purple, and organizations, local governments, and water agencies are randomly color coded. I have been reaching out to the regional collaboratives that seem to be the most connected. I see these spaces as an opportunity to get a wide range of input for Plan Bay Area 2050, while maximizing time capacity resources. 


I am excited to continue this work and partner with organizations that have been doing this work for years. And, I hope this work contributes to the foundation that envisions a more sustainable, equitable, Bay Area that does not continue to underinvest in marginalized communities of color. 


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