East BayTransit

Law gives BART new influence to build housing near stations

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With Gov. Jerry Brown signing Assembly Bill 2923 into law Sunday, Bay Area Rapid Transit officials say they want to build 20,000 new housing units – at least 35 percent of them affordable – at or near its stations by 2040.

The bill was authored by Assemblymen Tim Grayson, D-Concord, and David Chiu, D-San Francisco and supported by business groups, unions and transportation officials who favor the “transit village” approach to building and locating housing near transit stations. Supporters contend the approach eases pressure on area highways and helps employers by making homes more affordable and commuting easier.

Grayson said Sunday:

“By signing this bill into law, the governor is sending a powerful message to residents throughout the Bay Area that the same old ‘Not In My Back Yard’ arguments will no longer be able to drown out their voices and calls for more affordable housing.”

BART General Manager Grace Crunican said in a statement Sunday night:

“The current regional housing crisis has shone a bright light on the need to accelerate development, especially in places where a transit infrastructure already exists.”

Opponents of AB 2923 have included many Bay Area cities that did not relish the idea of BART having any zoning and/or development influence on land within their city limits. Officials from Walnut Creek, Fremont, Livermore, Hayward, Lafayette and Pleasant Hill made trips to Sacramento and San Francisco to lobby against the bill.

On Aug. 7, Walnut Creek Vice Mayor Cindy Silva told a council audience city leaders were concerned about the prospect of BART having powers to rezone land, specifically to rezone parking lots to host affordable housing. Those parking lots, she said, wouldn’t necessarily be replaced.

Silva, at that Aug. 7 meeting, said there are:

“… concerns that an agency whose core mission is to provide safe, reliable and economical transportation … would be wanting to move into the housing business.”

The bill also calls for some cities to update their zoning of BART property to accommodate housing.

The battle over AB 2923 helped prompt the resignation of Lafayette’s longtime city manager, Steven Falk, last week. A proponent of 2923, Falk was at odds with his City Council, which had opposed it.

While some city officials have said they don’t want BART making local land-use decisions, BART’s Crunican said Sunday that BART is committed to continuing a collaborative approach.

Crunican said in Sunday’s statement:

“We have found that working closely with neighborhoods and local elected officials to consider community needs is not only respectful, it’s the most efficient way to get the job done.”

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