Four-county group begins looking at issues facing Santa Clara
County and its neighbors
Members of a regional study group this week discussed
impediments to balanced growth in Santa Clara, San Benito, Monterey
and Santa Cruz counties — an area bound by geography and economic
interests — and prepared to look for solutions to the
Four-county group begins looking at issues facing Santa Clara County and its neighbors
Members of a regional study group this week discussed impediments to balanced growth in Santa Clara, San Benito, Monterey and Santa Cruz counties — an area bound by geography and economic interests — and prepared to look for solutions to the problems.
“We’re looking for strategies to deal with the imbalance. We’d like suggestions either from your jurisdictions or beyond,” Kate McKenna told the advisory committee to the Inter-Regional Partnership Group – officials from the four counties. The advisory panel serves as an early warning system for the IPG, which would make any decisions that are forthcoming.
Whatever the decisions when the study ends early next year, cooperation will be the operative word. Nothing is binding on the parties. Bill Card was the representative of Hollister’s planning department, while Ann Draper represented Santa Clara County’s.
McKenna is principal planner at the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments, which is providing staff support for the study. The study is funded by a $260,000 state grant to AMBAG and its northern counterpart, the Association of Bay Area Governments. The grant is one of seven statewide for coalitions of local entities.
Before turning to the future, advisory committee members this week scanned the potholes that elected officials and others – planners, developers, the building trades, environmentalists and business interests – will have to sidestep if the four-county area is to have an even balance of jobs and housing.
Right now, the balance is precarious.
Already published reports point out that in the next 20 years, the four-county region likely will have 22 percent more residents and that many more jobs. Housing would be less affordable, traffic would be worse and the overbalance of jobs to housing in Santa Clara County would remain unchanged.
Political, fiscal, environmental and land-use practices work against an equitably balanced region.
Environmentally, the IRPG study area faces limitations on growth, the result of terrain too steep for housing, flood plains, wetlands, earthquake faults, open space preserves and first-rate farmland.
Fiscal constraints include lack of funding for infrastructure, lack of financial incentive to provide affordable housing, voter-approved spending limitations and shortfall in funds for transportation and improvement of water supply and quality.
Conflicting laws and competing needs and interests create political constraints to balanced regional growth. Regulations protecting endangered species and coastal lands, transportation and air quality requirements, local growth restrictions and homeowner opposition to projects are among the constraints.
Local land-use regulations and largely built-out communities with little but in-fill space remaining are detriments to attracting investment.
One advisory body member this week suggested that the list of environmental constraints should include endangered species habitat, and another said that an economic development component should be added to the list of fiscal constraints.
The IPG formed as a result of an exchange of letters two and one-half years ago between San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales and Jim Perrine, mayor of Marina and chairman of the AMBAG board. Coastal communities were concerned about the then imminent creation of a 400-acre, 20,000-worker business park in the Coyote Valley.
Effects of such a development would be overwhelming on neighboring counties in terms of pressure for land development and impacts on housing and transportation, Perrine said.
By the time the advisory body next meets in January, McKenna will have prepared a list of possible ways to relieve the pressure created by the imbalance of housing and jobs. She could suggest regulatory techniques such as rezoning and general plan changes and the streamlining of permit processes. Also, financial or other incentives are possibilities.
Early in the process, McKenna said that planning must now extend beyond county lines to encompass problems of regional interest or concern.
But again, the possible solutions coming from the study are only as valuable as the resolve of the participants permits.
Baseline data comes largely from ABAG and AMBAG studies, supplemented by the national 2000 census and statistics from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the National Association of Homebuilders and Woods and Poole Economics, Inc.