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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MARCH 15 – ABAG Board Meeting, Oakland, CA
Last Friday Occupy Redwood City (ORWC) officially endorsed a proposal to lock arms with environmental activists and Tea Party groups as a response to what some Bay Area residents are describing as a regional planning effort to greenwash California law SB 375 (Steinberg). The groups intend to protest the upcoming Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) executive board meeting on March 15 in Oakland to decry the lack of transparency and accountability in the planning process and to demand that regional agencies hold public workshops in all Bay Area cities and unincorporated communities. ORWC is proud to be the first Occupy group in the region to call attention to this issue and is calling on all other local Bay Area Occupy groups to join them on March 15.
SB 375 requires California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) to develop regional reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), and prompts the creation of regional plans to reduce emissions from vehicle use throughout the state. Eighteen Metropolitan Planning Organizations have been tasked with creating “Sustainable Community Strategies” (SCS) with requirements for integrated land use and transportation planning as well as demonstration of the ability to attain the proposed reduction targets by 2020 and 2035.
A consortium of regional agencies—the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and ABAG—are working on a long-range plan for land use, transportation, and housing for the nine-county Bay Area and over one hundred towns and cities.
At issue is the lack of an open, democratic process, which requires a robust public information effort. Public workshops held in January were dominated by concerns about the lack of public notification, the lack of community outreach, and concerns about an overall lack of opportunity for public input. According to Paige Scott of ORWC, “The recent ‘Plan Bay Area’ workshops were limited to one per county and they were not well publicized in most communities. We want to bring some sunshine to what is a very complex and involved planning process.”
SB 375 (Chapter 728) requires substantial public involvement in the development of the region’s SCS, yet MTC’s 2011-12 budget for Plan Bay Area’s public outreach and involvement stands at $400,000. This includes funds for public meetings and Web-based activities, as well as costs associated with public events, workshops and briefings.
Compared to the over $500,000 advertising blitz launched by Caltrans and Bay Area bridge officials to notify the public about the five-day westbound Bay Bridge shut down over Presidents Day weekend, the MTC budget is woefully inadequate. The complexity of the planning effort and the size of the Bay Area region requires a vigorous workshop program that includes information about statutory and voluntary requirements, goal-setting, financial projections, population projections, calls for projects, project evaluation, modeling, measuring, methodologies and more.
This growing protest to the lack of government transparency in the Bay Area’s regional planning process comes at a time when Attorney General Kamala Harris and the Sierra Club have individually announced that they are joining a lawsuit against San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG). The lawsuit challenges SANDAG’s 2050 Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy and was filed in the San Diego Superior Court in November 2011 by the Cleveland National Forest Foundation and the Center for Biological Diversity to counter SANDAG’s efforts to exploit SB 375 to expand freeways at the expense of public transit. Local governments and smart growth organizations across California and the country are on notice that this might be the first of many lawsuits against regional planning efforts.
James Lee of ORWC referred to the SANDAG case when he said, “These attempts to greenwash projects that ultimately do not help our environment or the people of our state are precisely what occurs when you have a closed process with very little public accountability. Once again you have the 99% being shut out of the decisions that will affect their lives by the few in power and the interests they’re beholden to. Occupiers agree with Tea Partiers on very little, but we can agree on the lack of government accountability in the regional planning process and we are excited to work with them on that particular issue.”
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Besides Occupying ABAG on March 15, ORWC also endorsed the Icelandic Parliament’s nomination of Bradley Manning for the Nobel Peace Prize and hopes that his nomination will put more pressure on the United States into allowing Manning to meet with Juan Mendez, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Torture and Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Mendez has repeatedly requested and been denied a private meeting with Manning to assess his conditions.
ORWC also intends to march against the banks once again in downtown Redwood City on February 18. The objective is again to protest the bank bailouts, CEO bonuses, and home foreclosures, but this time ORWC will also be highlighting issues important to labor and the local business community.