Lawmakers aim to cut commute, suspend sprawl

Residents on the Peninsula already spend an average of 25 minutes commuting to work.

And with 133,000 new jobs expected to be added to the region by 2025, that commute time could increase, leading to negative effects on the environment and other quality-of-life issues, including urban sprawl.

A bill that is waiting for the governor’s approval, however, seeks to limit the amount of time that Californians spend in their cars. The legislation, Senate Bill 375, recently passed the Legislature and is awaiting a signature from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The legislation is marketed as a first-in-the-nation, all-in-one bill to address commute, housing and environmental needs.

In the simplest sense, it would require or provide incentives to local agencies, such as counties, to build more housing near commercial and public-transportation centers with the main goal to reduce the amount of time Californians spend in their cars.

The bill was authored by a Sacramento Democrat, but may be most relevant to San Mateo and San Francisco counties, where workers commonly stomach long commutes by living in other regions because there are not enough affordable housing options near their places of work.

There were three workers for every two residents in San Mateo County, and in San Francisco, employees doubled the number of residents, according to U.S. census data from 2000.

“[The bill] will speed up and simplify the process of getting homes built in San Francisco and San Mateo and throughout the region in central areas closer to public transportation,” said Elizabeth Stampe, spokeswoman for the San Francisco-based Greenbelt Alliance, which sponsored the bill along with San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, BART and dozens of others.

Of 238 residents interviewed before a San Mateo County Threshold 2008 summit in March, 68 percent said it was important to stop the growth of suburban sprawl, compared with 14 percent who said it was not important.

“The whole issue is very important to people and it’s a struggle,” Threshold Executive Director Greg Greenway said. “They’re looking for a balance between meeting the housing needs and living within our means.”

The bill may be a tad late, however. If the governor signs the bill, it would take effect Jan. 1, but San Francisco and all cities in San Mateo County must approve new housing plans by June. Much of the cities’ housing plans are so far along, however, that cities would not necessarily scrap their plans to make the bill’s incentives priorities, Burlingame City Councilmember Terry Nagel said.

mrosenberg@sfexaminer.com

County sprawl by the numbers

25 minutes: Average commute time
12 percent: Residents who could afford a median-priced single-family home as of 2006
3.5 percent: Apartments available as of September 2007
$71,000: Income needed to afford a two-bedroom apartment
71,000: Households expected to be added by 2025
133,000: Jobs expected to be added by 2025
35,000-49,000: Housing-unit shortage faced by the county in 2025 based on current development trends

Sources: San Mateo County Threshold 2008, California Association of Realtors, San Mateo County Housing Department, city/County Association of Governments

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