Northern News

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A publication of the American Planning Association, California Chapter, Northern Section

Making great communities happen

Jobs and housing — a delicate balance

By Jose Rodriguez, MTC, in Northern News, June 1986

Over the past few years in the Bay Area, “traffic mitigation” has come to mean an array of practical measures to manage traffic growth, such as encouraging ridesharing and the use of transit. But now a report by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) adds new dimension — and punch — to traffic mitigation.

Titled Jobs/Housing Balance for Traffic Mitigation, the ABAG report — prepared for MTC’s ongoing 1- 680/1-580 Corridor Study — goes to the root of congestion problems in suggesting a number of strategies for reducing the number and length of trips by bringing jobs and housing closer together.

“A key finding of the study is that transportation and housing and jobs need to be planned as a package rather than singly,” said ABAG Planning Coordinator Yvonne San Jule, who is the principal author of the report. “This needs to be done on a subregional level, with cities and counties working together.”

“It is clear that we are approaching the Los Angelization of the Bay Area,” warned Raymond Brady, head of ABAG’s information analysis group, at the Association’s spring General Assembly and 25th Anniversary Celebration. “If trends continue, every freeway in the Bay Area will be at the worst levels — in planners’ jargon, at level D, E, or F — by the year 2000, even with planned [transit and highway] improvements. There will be congestion all day long.”

Projections for the 1-680/1-580 Corridor, which runs through central Contra Costa and Alameda counties, bear out that contention.

Between 1985 and 1995, some 85,000 jobs and 54,000 households will have been added along the corridor, eventually building up to a 92-percent increase in overall traffic in the area forecast by the year 2005.

Traffic problems in the corridor have been compounded through the years by a growing imbalance between jobs and housing, as the addition of jobs outpaced the construction of nearby affordable housing, according to Brady.

The problematic land-use patterns result in part from the economic realities of Proposition 13, which cut local property-tax revenues drastically. County governments were hit hardest because their alternative revenues were limited. Federal reductions in funding for highways, water, and sewer facilities and low-moderate income housing exacerbated the problem. Counties increasingly began looking at economic development and job growth as ways of raising revenues, according to a separate background report written by San Jule for the ABAG General Assembly.

As a result, according to the background report, new centers of development sprang up in unincorporated areas within counties. Because office, industrial, and commercial development brought retail sales and business taxes to counties, and because commuting workers spent money in the area while requiring fewer public services than resident workers, jobs grew at a pace faster than housing.

The housing that was built in outlying areas, according to San Jule, often required expansive [sic] infrastructure extensions and additional public services, such as water, sewer, roads, waste disposal facilities, public safety, schools, and libraries. These costs, paid in the past through property taxes, were passed on to developers — and subsequently to homebuyers — inflating the price of housing beyond the reach of many of the workers in these areas.

The Jobs/Housing Balance report recommends six general strategies that local governments can adopt to close the gap between jobs and affordable housing and to reduce the number and length of commute trips on freeways.

The measures include:

  • Increase the supply of housing close to job centers.
  • Encourage production of affordable housing.
  • Phase housing construction with job growth.
  • Promote transit and ridesharing for home-to-work-trips.
  • Encourage developers to locate where affordable housing is available.
  • Increase employment of local residents in new jobs.

Republished, with permission, from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s April 1986 “transactions.” Author Jose Rodriguez was then with MTC’s Public Information Department.

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