The San Francisco Bay Area has many desirable attributes: distinctive communities of all sizes, with varied populations and cultures; beautiful natural environments and recreation areas; and a robust and innovative economy. This vast region stretches from Cloverdale at the northern edge of Sonoma County to Gilroy at the southern edge of Santa Clara County and includes a total of 101 cities and nine counties with San Francisco Bay as a focal point. Although it can be difficult to imagine what these different areas have in common, we—by which we mean the individuals who live and work in the Bay Area—are connected by complicated webs of housing markets, job locations and commute patterns, and critical environmental linkages. A goal of this report is to help all of us to see how and where we fit into the region and to distill its complexity to three principles that matter most for the region's future: people, places, and prosperity.

Photo of BART train in motion


In 2013, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) jointly adopted Plan Bay Area 2013—the region's long-range regional land use and transportation strategy. As the Council of Governments (COG) for the Bay Area, ABAG is responsible for regional land use planning and coordination with local governments. MTC is the transportation planning, coordinating, and financing agency for the region. As mandated by the Climate Protection and Sustainable Communities Act of 2008, or SB 375, Plan Bay Area 2013 was the first time a Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS) was included in the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP). By emphasizing growth in Priority Development Areas (PDAs) and promoting preservation of Priority Conservation Areas (PCAs), Plan Bay Area 2013 identifies a strategy for future housing and job growth and transportation investments that will allow the region to develop an efficient transportation network, provide more housing choices, and grow in a financially and environmentally responsible way.

Purpose of this report

ABAG has produced this report to provide context for the regional dialogue that is under way as part of development of Plan Bay Area 2040—the update to the plan adopted in 2013. Although Plan Bay Area 2013 established a vision for how the Bay Area will evolve over the next several decades, ABAG and MTC are required to update it every four years. These frequent updates allow us to refresh the vision to reflect current circumstances and incorporate new information and perspectives based on what we, as a region, have learned from efforts to implement Plan Bay Area 2013.

To inform conversations about renewing the vision from Plan Bay Area 2013, this report documents the region's efforts to address some of the key challenges highlighted in Plan Bay Area 2013 as critical to achieve the region's long-term vision. Many of these issues are complicated, and may require many years to resolve. However, important progress has been made and this report highlights the activities that ABAG has undertaken in partnership with local governments, regional agencies, business groups, community organizations, and other stakeholders to advance the land use pattern articulated in Plan Bay Area 2013.

Photo of downtown Oakland

Downtown Oakland

The purpose of People, Places, and Prosperity is to provide a more comprehensive and in-depth look at the ways in which economic, housing, and environmental issues relate to one another and how they are affecting local communities and the region as a whole. While transportation strategies and investments will, of course, be critical to achieving the goals outlined in Plan Bay Area 2013, this report focuses on the challenges and opportunities related to land uses in the region. The objectives put forth in this report highlight actions to promote regional economic vitality and shared prosperity, increase housing choices and affordability, build healthy and resilient communities, protect and enhance the Bay Area's natural assets. ABAG staff hopes the ideas and information in this report will contribute to the Plan Bay Area 2040 discussions about how we, as a region, prioritize the actions needed to protect and enhance our quality of life and achieve our goals for a more prosperous and sustainable region

Local communities laying the groundwork for future growth

Since local governments are responsible for land use decisions for their communities, the Bay Area's success in moving toward a more sustainable future depends on cities and counties choosing actions that support the pattern of development outlined in Plan Bay Area 2013. For this reason, Plan Bay Area 2013's vision for a more sustainable future builds on the planning work that local communities have been doing for the past decade or more. The region's PDAs and PCAs are the foundation for the Plan. PDAs are locally nominated areas where amenities and services can be developed to meet the day-to-day needs of residents in a pedestrian-friendly environment served by transit. The compact growth envisioned through these PDAs is based in large part on local aspirations and community context. The Bay Area has a range of existing communities and the 1881 adopted PDAs reflect this diversity.

PDAs are projected to accommodate most of the Bay Area's new homes and jobs, and the Plan's major investments in transportation and planning assistance are focused in the PDAs to support future growth. The regional vision is based on the concept that local governments know best how to build "complete communities" that capitalize on the region's extensive transportation and transit infrastructure. The planning principles behind complete communities are not new—indeed they represent a return to development patterns common to older cities and towns throughout the world. The flexibility offered by complete, compact communities prepares these areas for future changes in population; job locations; or housing, lifestyle, and job choices.

The PDAs are complemented by PCAs, which are areas of regional significance that have broad community support and an urgent need for protection. The PCA program helped spur collaboration between local governments, public agencies, and non-profit organizations to nominate 1682 PCAs that provide important agricultural, natural resource, scenic, cultural, recreational, and/or ecological values and ecosystem functions. The PCAs represent opportunities for land conservation, and regional agencies are working with state agencies and funding entities to protect PCAs through purchase of land or conservation easements with willing landowners.

When planning for future growth, most Bay Area communities no longer have the option to simply push outward. As a result, more attention has to be paid to how to fit new development into an existing context. There is a greater emphasis on how people experience the places in which they live and work and what works (or doesn't work) for them in their daily lives, as they try to get their job on time, find a safe place for their kids to play, visit the doctor, or spend an evening out with friends.

Increasingly, discussions about how and where to grow are focusing on issues such as increasing access to employment opportunities and affordable housing (and particularly the relationship between the two) as well as access to amenities such as good schools, healthy food options, and services. These discussions get at what it means to have a complete community and the difficult questions of who has the opportunity to live in our communities and who does not, and what steps we can take to make sure that as our communities grow and change over time, they work for everyone. The answers to these questions will vary for every community in the region.


Graphic: linked rings representing priority development areas
		and priority conservation areas


Regional snapshot: the Bay Area in 2015

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Santa Rosa

The Bay Area's high quality of life has always attracted new residents and businesses, but the regional economy's concentration of innovative industries has led to volatile periods of job change. With the economy's recovery from the Great Recession, the Bay Area has experienced significant employment growth and housing development. This growth has allowed many areas, particularly PDAs, to realize their local visions with the addition of new homes and commercial spaces, infrastructure improvements, and lively public spaces. However, the accelerated pace of recent growth has led to widespread anxiety about its impact on the region's quality of life. The most noticeable concerns have been the region's escalating housing costs, increased traffic congestion as people travel between available jobs and homes they can afford, and uncertainty about retaining the diversity and character of neighborhoods in the face of rapid change.

Another concern is that the effects of growth—both positive and negative—are not shared equally in the region. While some cities and towns struggle to hold onto their identity in the face of intense development pressure, others cannot attract the jobs their residents so desperately need. The region is also grappling with a new economic reality of increasing income inequality, where the incomes and wealth of those at the top of the economic scale are much higher than those at the bottom. Many middle- and lower-income households face increasing financial barriers to essential resources—such as housing, transportation, and education—within the region.


(Click image to enlarge)

The trends described above have led to an increased emphasis on improving the resilience of the entire Bay Area. Resilient communities are able to respond to chronic social stresses and acute shocks by being socially, economically, and environmentally adaptive. The concept of resilience is often mentioned as a component of preparing for and recovering from a natural disaster, such as an earthquake. However, the region will also benefit by being more adaptive when facing less acute (but no less significant) threats, such as the region's chronic housing affordability challenge, growing income imbalances and the need to weather the next inevitable (and yet often unexpected) downturn, or the expected impacts of climate change such as sea level rise.

Creating a more resilient region will require a comprehensive approach that encompasses critical investments to repair and expand our aging infrastructure, improvements to our educational systems to better prepare people for the changes ahead, and helping people succeed by improving access to jobs, education, transportation, and other amenities. And, while the Bay Area has a long history of protecting its cherished open spaces, trail systems, and working landscapes—which are essential to the Bay Area's quality of life—we should consider ways to ensure these assets continue to thrive in the face of development pressures, economic shifts, and a changing climate. As a region, we are at a critical moment for making choices about how and where we want to grow in order to preserve what we love about the region and be better prepared for the future—with all of its opportunities and uncertainties. The PDAs and PCAs provide a shared framework for future growth that can help guide and coordinate our efforts toward a Bay Area that sustains the well-being of its people, cultivates vital places, and fosters and shares prosperity.

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Contra Costa County

The role of ABAG

In 1961, elected officials from the Bay Area's towns, cities, and counties formed ABAG to provide a forum to discuss common issues that transcend local boundaries and affect the region as a whole—particularly those related to land use planning. As the council of governments for the Bay Area's nine counties and 101 cities and towns, ABAG facilitates communication among jurisdictions, organizations, and other stakeholders to foster greater collaboration and understanding around regional economic, housing, and environmental issues. ABAG provides data and information to support these regional dialogues and advocates at the state, regional, and local levels to give communities the policies and tools they need to prepare for and capitalize on future growth.

Photo of ABAG General Assembly breakout session

ABAG General Assembly, breakout session

Since adoption of Plan Bay Area in 2013, ABAG has used these strengths to engage a variety of stakeholders and support partnerships to advance implementation of Plan Bay Area 2013. These efforts have focused on the following key objectives for the region, which are described in more detail in the rest of this report:

In recognition of the many interwoven threads that define our daily experiences in the Bay Area, this approach to implementing the vision for the region's future integrates efforts across economic development, housing production and affordability, infrastructure improvements, open space, and resilience. ABAG has collaborated with local jurisdictions and stakeholders to support the development of complete communities as well as the protection of rural and industrial areas and natural resources. ABAG helps its member cities and counties create and preserve inclusive neighborhoods that—although they may vary in size, scale, mix of uses, and ambiance—all offer places in which it is affordable and enjoyable to live, work, and play. As people who love the Bay Area, we want to create places that will endure for future generations and produce a legacy that we are proud to leave for our children and grandchildren.