Comments due to BAAQMD by April 1st
By Evan Reeves, Research & Policy Director, Center for Creative Land Recycling
In January of this year the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) released a draft publication called “Planning Healthy Places: A Guidebook for Addressing Local Sources of Air Pollutants in Community Planning.” This guidebook establishes "best practices" that cities and developers of new residential projects can implement to mitigate and/or minimize new residents’ exposure to existing air pollution and maps the areas -- mostly near freeways and major roads -- where those best practices should be implemented. We are overall very pleased with the direction of the Guidebook and believe that it could be a powerful tool to assist communities in building sustainable infill and transit-oriented developments that are fully health-protective. However, we are strongly concerned that BAAQMD’s support of local and regional efforts to promote “focused growth” (i.e. infill, transit-oriented, and mixed-use development) throughout the region may be severely undercut by the Guidebook’s recommendation that cities use their zoning authority to prohibit all future residential development within the identified areas.
On page 36 (Appendix B: Best Practices to Reduce Exposure to Local Air Pollution), BAAQMD makes the following recommendation:
The Air District encourages local governments to utilize zoning as a strategy for implementing health protective distances. Updating a zoning code to designate non-sensitive land uses in areas with elevated levels of air pollution (i.e. purple areas) is an excellent strategy for reducing health risks in a community.
This language, as it currently exists, could easily be interpreted to mean that cities should use “downzoning” to disallow residential development within the purple areas identified as “implement best practices,” which are illustrated on the map that accompanies the Guidebook. This recommendation creates an internal inconsistency within the Guidebook, as the summary on page 11 and Exhibit B both discuss health protective distances as a best practice to be implemented to the extent feasible. More importantly, a downzoning recommendation would very likely lead to the creation of “red-lined” areas of limited development and investment within 500-1,000 feet of all highways and major arterials within the Bay Area. This would negatively impact the Bay Area in two significant ways. First, it would create a new barrier to the economic revitalization of underserved communities, as there is significant overlap between the areas where the Guidebook recommends best practices or additional studies and the communities designated by CalEPA as disadvantaged. Second, at a time of unprecedented housing shortages, it would discourage the building of crucial new housing in the exact areas identified by the regional planning agencies as ideal for housing due to their proximity to jobs and transit.
As you can see from the maps below, Oakland is a perfect example of the potential unintended consequences of this “downzoning” recommendation. BAAQMD’s draft Guidebook effectively places underserved communities in a bind, turning away the kind of investment necessary to create high quality affordable housing and advance social equity throughout the Bay Area, especially in low income communities and communities of color, which tend to be both disproportionately environmentally overburdened and home to low quality, unaffordable and sometimes unhealthy housing stocks. These communities may also have more vacant land to support affordable housing development, but under BAAQMD's guidelines, redevelopment (already a difficult proposition for which limited funding exists) would be that much harder.
The Center for Creative Land Recycling is the only national non-profit organization solely dedicated to catalyzing the redevelopment of contaminated or underutilized land by applying specialized knowledge to accelerate results-focused, community-driven revitalization. For the past twenty years, we've worked with communities and infill developers to provide guided navigation and hands-on assistance to unblock obstacles and realize the benefits of redevelopment. Learn more about our work at www.cclr.org. Find us on Facebook or on Twitter @LandRecycling.