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Environmental group finds Bay Area lacks "smart growth" development policies

By Caitilin McAdoo, Bay City News Service

June 28, 2006

The Bay Area does not have the necessary policies in place to bring about "smart growth" in the coming years, according to a report published today by the Greenbelt Alliance, a local land conservation agency.

According to the report, the region is projected to gain about 1 million people by the year 2020. So called "smart growth" is a term used to encompass everything from preventing urban sprawl to protecting open space to providing adequate public transportation that will relieve traffic congestion and reduce pollution.

"The sooner we act the more opportunity we will have to make growth have a positive impact," Greenbelt Alliance East Bay Field Officer David Reid said. He said staff members, interns and volunteers spent about a year and a half researching and compiling information for the report. "Now is the time to build the strong foundation for smart growth," he said.

Reid said that if cities have smart growth policies in place, they will be able to build stronger communities, which will in turn contribute to better schools and reduced crime rates. In addition, if counties protect open space areas, they will be able to better protect natural resources such as water supplies from becoming contaminated, he said.

The Greenbelt Alliance evaluated the policies governing development in the 101 cities and eight counties in the Bay Area. San Francisco was evaluated as a city and not as a county.

According to the report, Bay Area cities were doing about a third of what they ought to be doing to make sure policies were in place to prevent urban sprawl, make sure parks are accessible to residential areas, create affordable housing, encourage mixed uses of land and define how they would like to see their areas be developed, among other things.

On average, counties scored slightly higher than cities in having existing policies for growth currently in place, but were reported to still be about half as prepared as they should be according to the report.

Counties were evaluated for their policies related to managing growth, protecting open space, preserving agricultural land, conserving natural resources and developing public transportation.

The report also found that only 25 of 78 eligible cities (cities not bounded by water or other cities) have urban growth boundaries to define where development should and should not go.

Only 31 cities require parks to be within walking distance of every resident. Only 59 cities have ordinances that require a percentage of homes be affordable to low or moderate-income families.

Seventy-nine cities allow a mix of homes, shops and jobs in their downtowns and near transit, making it easier for people to walk from one to another.

Five of eight counties have open space districts. Sonoma County received the only perfect score on its open space protection policies.

Reid said that he hopes cities will use the report to strengthen their own general plans by looking at other cities that may be doing better in some areas. He said he also hopes citizens will use it as a tool to become active in promoting smart growth in their communities.

Copyright © 2006 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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