Population growth making Bay Area into megaregion

While the population of San Francisco and the Bay Area is growing, it’s nothing compared with the boom occurring in the surrounding rural areas, according to a report released Tuesday.

Called the Northern California megaregion, it’s the result of a booming population, the rising cost of living, and a housing shortage in urban areas like San Francisco, according to the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association. Planners say the growth could lead to more traffic, a lack of resources and more pollution.

The nonprofit public-policy organization is looking to the future and the inevitable spread of the traditional nine-county Bay Area into the Central Valley, Sacramento and Nevada.

“We should just face reality — that our de facto strategy today is that the vast majority of our affordable housing is in fact being built in the Central Valley,” SPUR Executive Director Gabriel Metcalf said at a presentation Tuesday.

The answer lies primarily in high-speed rail and the infrastructure to support it, according to the SPUR report. A train that could transport workers from their homes in the Central Valley to urban job centers such as Silicon Valley would not only bring prosperity to the outer reaches of the megaregion, it would also cut down on automobile travel.

The organization is also pushing a $10 million-$20 million state bond measure for the November 2008 ballot that would jump-start a project for a transregional bullet train.

Metcalf said improvements to the BART system and Caltrain provide proof that a regional plan can improve people’s lives.

“People can get from San Jose to San Francisco much more quickly than, say, the Sunset to downtown San Franciscoon the L-Taraval,” Metcalf said.

Egon Terplan, SPUR’s economic development and governance policy director, said improved planning can also improve economic disparity in the state. Poverty is at its worst in Central Valley areas such as Tulare and Fresno counties, he said.

bbegin@examiner.com

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