Editorial: Getting together for more housing

It’s long been a tenet of this newspaper that some of the Bay Area’s most intractable problems — namely, housing scarcity and traffic congestion — could be solved only by unified regional action.

With three distinct metropolitan centers — San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose — surrounded by suburbs crowded with literally dozens of mini-cities boasting populations of 30,000 to 100,000, the Bay Area has no choice but to attack its problems across city lines.

Now all 20 cities in San Mateo County have joined with the county government to become the first Bay Area group taking advantage of 2004 state legislation that empowers cities and counties to unite for planning how best to comply with ongoing California mandates to develop more housing.

The Examiner welcomes this move as a promising template that might actually get more genuinely affordable homes built on the high-priced Peninsula. As such, it seems like a good model for the kind of intergovernmental cooperation the Bay Area needs considerably more of.

The San Mateo County Sub-region will not create a new layer of bureaucracy, because it is being coordinated by C/CAG, the San Mateo City/County Association of Governments. Staff time will be assigned at no extra cost by C/CAG and participating local governments.

The subregion’s contiguous jurisdictions are required to present the Association of Bay Area Governments with a proposed Peninsula-wide housing allocation plan by the end of the year. ABAG is the regional agency given the responsibility for allocating housing production goals to all Bay Area governments.

Before saying anything more, we must make it clear that The Examiner is hardly a big fan of the state’s current methodology of extracting pointless housing development pledges from localities.

True, there needs to be a workable plan to get more homes built for the additional population that California is virtually certain to add in coming decades. But the main failing of the Capitol’s present five-year housing goal cycle is that it does not necessarily cause a single home to be built. All it requires is for each local government to submit a plan of how the mandated number of homes might be built within their jurisdiction.

For example, suppose a Bay Area city contained a privately owned half-block vacant lot. That city could satisfy a portion of its assigned housing goal by simply turning in a report stating if the lot’s owners were ever willing to sell, the city would investigate seeking redevelopment funds to buy the property and would then contact a nonprofit such as Habitat for Humanity to see if they wanted to build some houses there.

The San Mateo County Sub-region, by acting together, might actually have a better chance to create a realistic Peninsula plan to get some homes built at prices that much-needed working families could afford.

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