Key Business, Environmental Groups Unite in Unprecedented Partnership Around Sustainable, Responsible Growth

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Failure to produce housing in the Bay Area’s urban core and near transit represents a serious threat to the region’s open space, according to a new study by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute that makes the economic case for preserving natural and working lands and identifies opportunities for responsible development in the region.

Despite the vast opportunity and need – let alone a requirement by law to help meet California’s ambitious GHG reduction targets – the Bay Area has made glacial progress realizing only 57% of the full potential for infill housing development of its urban core. More, a recent sample of 65 Priority Development Areas (PDAs) conducted for Plan Bay Area found that only 235,000 of 337,600 allocated housing units were likely to be built by the 2040 deadline. Developing every infill parcel to its fullest potential would yield 4 million new housing units statewide.

The analysis estimates the Bay Area greenbelt’s value to be as high as $14 billion per year – with direct and indirect benefits stemming from food, recreation, clean air, natural resources and protection against sea level rise. “The Bay Area’s incredible natural and working lands are an essential part of our regional identity,” says Bay Area Open Space Council Executive Director Deb Callahan. “Our parks, open spaces and agricultural lands provide myriad benefits that are highly valued by our region’s residents – including the billions of dollars of economic benefits outlined in this important report.”

Read the full report>>

Building more housing and protecting open space are not mutually exclusive. “We need to develop responsibly and actually fulfill state-mandated requirements to build within PDAs, meeting transit-oriented, infill housing goals,” says Bay Area Council Economic Institute President Micah Weinberg. “Smart growth will spare our open space and keep the Bay Area economically resilient, sustainable, and equitable.”

The Bay Area’s booming economy and record job growth, which show no sign of slowing down, are not being adequately matched by the right type of development. In 2015, the Bay Area added 133,000 jobs to only 16,000 units of housing. Inability to fulfill PDA housing development targets is forcing development further away from job centers, jeopardizing the region’s immensely valuable open space and undermining state climate change goals. Since 2012, open lands in the region have dropped from 322,800 to 293,100 acres. Continuous pressure to develop puts at least 63,500 acres at a high probability of development within the next 10 years.

Amid today’s extreme housing shortage causing skyrocketing rents and driving the median price of a single-family home to $700,000, over 100,000 commuters travel 90 minutes or more every day to their jobs from more affordable areas. As Bay Area workers relocate to less expensive areas in the neighboring regions of Central Valley, Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley, a fast-emerging megaregion necessitates new policies for sustainable growth that preserve valuable open space, as well as significant investment in our transportation systems.

“This report makes the case that protecting the Bay Area’s open spaces is an economic imperative and that by building new homes in the right places within our cities and towns we can meet our housing needs without jeopardizing our critical natural and agricultural landscapes,” says Greenbelt Alliance CEO Jeremy Madsen.

In addition to beginning more serious and immediate planning to address growing megaregional sprawl, the report provides a roadmap for responsible housing development through policy recommendations and strategies that protect and fund natural lands, streamline PDA project approvals, and reduce excessively high-costs of housing production, among others.