Building Healthy and Resilient Communities

Plan Bay Area 2013 plans for two-thirds of the future growth in the Bay Area to be in locally designated PDAs. Much of this will be in PDAs in the largest cities and along major transportation corridors, including BART station areas, El Camino Real and Caltrain on the Peninsula, and San Pablo Avenue and International Boulevard/East 14th Street in the East Bay. The major investments in Plan Bay Area 2013 and ABAG's efforts to implement the vision in the Plan are directed to PDAs in the regional centers and along these corridors to support local communities' efforts to develop complete communities.

Photo of pedestrians

Oakland Chinatown

Fostering more resilient communities

The essence of the complete communities envisioned in these areas encompasses both their physical attributes and social health, which both contribute to a community's resilience. As noted in previous sections, our region can become more resilient if people have the tools to better manage chronic and acute stresses—including stable, affordable housing; access to opportunity; and places that foster a cohesive sense of community. The potential disruptions for which a community must be prepared range from climate change and earthquakes to economic recessions and the displacement of residents because of development pressure. A resilient Bay Area has to be socially, economically, and environmentally adaptive with individuals, organizations, and communities responding affirmatively to change. Taking proactive steps to decrease potential disruptions caused by a natural disaster and to prepare for the process of recovering and rebuilding communities can make communities stronger today and help them stay intact in a stressful post-disaster environment.


Home Damaged in 2014 Napa Earthquake

Collaborating to support local visions for complete communities

The specific vision for how each PDA might develop differs based on the local context and the community's needs and aspirations. At the same time, neighboring communities are bound to each other by transportation and environmental linkages as well as shared housing, employment, and retail markets. Local communities often encounter the same challenges and opportunities for meeting the long-term needs of residents and businesses. In many cases, the impact of local strategies is magnified when communities work together. Collaboration, particularly along transportation corridors, is essential to ensure that local decisions are coordinated and that actions will maximize the potential benefits for the local community and the region as a whole. This is particularly true for issues that transcend local boundaries, such as improving resilience to natural hazards or planning for future water needs.

Promoting healthy and vital places

The spaces we encounter in our daily lives—the streets, buildings, parks, and stores—influence our health, happiness, and productivity. "Placemaking" bridges the physical and social features of a community by addressing the characteristics that affect how a person experiences a place. Placemaking practices help communities define the assets they want to preserve and identify opportunities to improve public spaces in ways that celebrate local culture and provide a sense of identity. Paying attention to what a place feels like to residents, employees, and visitors when adding new homes and jobs helps promote the long-term health of the neighborhood by fostering a stronger sense of community identity and encouraging residents to develop stronger relationships with neighbors. Communities can also improve public health and increase neighborhood resilience by taking steps to reduce the impacts of air pollution and the risks of flooding and water pollution from storm water runoff.

Conserving precious water and energy resources

Ensuring the Bay Area will have sufficient water and energy to meet our existing and future demand is also critical to preserving the region's quality of life, economic vitality, and environmental sustainability. Similar to other types of infrastructure, our water and energy systems are aging and are in need of forward-looking investments to be ready to adapt to the unpredictable changes that future population growth and climate change might bring. To be a more resilient region, we have to reduce water and energy consumption, diversify our sources for these critical resources, and manage them better.

ABAG's work related to strengthening communities

ABAG partners with local governments, transit agencies, regional agencies, and other Bay Area stakeholders to collaboratively advance the vision for focused growth and complete communities articulated in Plan Bay Area. By focusing on the PDAs along major transportation corridors, this effort encourages local communities to recognize the need to work together to overcome obstacles and capitalize on opportunities in order to achieve their own local visions of complete communities. In its work on the corridors and place making, ABAG emphasizes the importance of considering the ways in which the physical environment, including streets, buildings, and public spaces, can enhance community identity and a sense of social cohesion. ABAG also works with local governments to foster the long-term health and resilience of their communities by promoting more energy- and water-efficient buildings and by reducing peoples' vulnerability to the effects of natural disasters, air pollution, flooding, and the potential impacts of climate change. Finally, ABAG advocates for additional State and Federal policies and resources to assist local communities in fulfilling their local plans for how to meet the future needs of residents and businesses.


Reduce the impact of natural hazards on communities

Complete communities are those that are not devastated by the impacts of natural hazards but can prepare for, respond to, and recover from them. This includes reducing the disruption caused by the event as well as providing tools for quick recovery. Disasters can impact residents in their homes as well as damage local businesses. When people are displaced because of damage to their homes, it disrupts existing social networks and can permanently change the demographics of communities and the region as a whole. Without local businesses, residents are less able to meet their daily needs within their own community, jobs are lost, and the local economy is weakened. Jurisdictions can help keep communities intact by implementing strategies that address natural hazards and support community members where they live.

Support communities to integrate resilience planning into all planning activities: There are many ways in which jurisdictions can integrate planning for natural hazards into daily decision-making. Standalone plans, such as local hazard mitigation and climate adaptation plans help local communities think through how to adapt to changes brought on by a natural disaster or climate change. However, natural hazards planning and strategies to reduce community vulnerability should also be integrated into General Plans, Specific Plans, sustainability plans, post-disaster recovery plans, and other local policy documents.

Provide in-depth planning assistance to implement resilience actions: While developing plans for how to respond to a disaster to minimize damage and potential loss of life is important, communities should also take steps to implement those plans. Given that many jurisdictions have limited resources to take on these projects, ABAG aims to partner with several cities to develop policy tools for implementing hazard mitigation strategies, focusing on developing housing retrofit programs and developing and adopting pre-disaster recovery ordinances. Some of the assistance and implementation tools ABAG intends to provide include model ordinances, guidance and best practices, one-on-one technical assistance, and even pre-qualification for future resilience financing tools.

Develop financial incentives to spark resilience action: Even with its well-documented history of natural disasters, the Bay Area lacks dedicated sources of funding for ongoing hazards planning and climate adaptation. Recent California legislation and creative financing tools developed by Bay Area cities are making seismic, energy, and water retrofits a reality for more homes and businesses. Property assessed financing and pay-as-you-save programs could be used in the Bay Area to finance more resilient and sustainable homes and businesses.

Adopt policies and strategies to prepare for post-disaster recovery: After a disaster occurs, it can take decades for an area to fully recover and rebuild. Amidst the chaos created by the disaster, decision makers are under immense pressure to make decisions quickly to get things back to the way they were before. Unless post-disaster recovery issues have been considered beforehand, this pressure can lead to decisions that are uncoordinated, hasty, or contrary to a community's long-term goals. Outdated rules and regulations may also present unforeseen problems. Before a disaster occurs, local governments should consider creating a recovery taskforce to manage and coordinate recovery across various departments and adopt a recovery and reconstruction ordinance that outlines specific post-disaster authorities and decision making processes.

Support local implementation of shelter-in-place programs: Jurisdictions should consider developing comprehensive shelter-in-place programs to help residents cope with the immediate impacts of a disaster. Strategies can include changes to building codes to ensure buildings will be habitable after a disaster, so people are not displaced by extensive damage to their homes. In addition, communities can sustain existing social networks by planning for neighborhood support centers where residents can access the services they need.


Support multi-jurisdiction initiatives to strengthen PDAs

Issues such as expanding affordable housing choices, promoting economic vitality, and improving transportation linkages transcend jurisdictional boundaries. These issues are difficult to successfully address alone, but are critical to implementing local plans. As a result, coordination and collaboration among neighboring jurisdictions is essential to resolving many of the challenges to creating complete communities in our region's PDAs. Creating a platform for discussion and collective action allows neighbors to identify solutions to shared challenges and take advantage of shared opportunities. Cities and counties in the East Bay, the Peninsula, and Silicon Valley have created models for this kind of collaboration. Continuing to advance these efforts while supporting future collaboration elsewhere in the region can move the Bay Area's PDAs closer to becoming the thriving places envisioned by local communities.

Support the Grand Boulevard Initiative: Through the Grand Boulevard Initiative (GBI), nineteen jurisdictions along the Peninsula and in Silicon Valley are working together to create a vision for transforming El Camino Real from an aging arterial into a centerpiece of the communities it connects and revitalizing surrounding neighborhoods. GBI provides a forum for local communities to discuss ways to rethink the corridor's potential for housing and urban development and identify strategies that local governments can use to create "a grand boulevard with meaningful destinations."6 ABAG has participated in GBI since its inception and will continue to offer its support and expertise in housing and economic development as the Initiative focuses increasing attention on these issues.

East Bay Corridors Initiative


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Advance the East Bay Corridors Initiative: In the East Bay, thirteen jurisdictions and ABAG recently created the East Bay Corridors Initiative to pursue shared objectives, focusing first on the infrastructure and quality of life in PDAs. Corridor jurisdictions identified a set of priorities to advance the Initiative, including coordinating resilience planning, improving neighborhood amenities, and focusing funding on catalyst projects. Over the next several years, the regional agencies can work with cities to build partnerships with private, non-profit, and public sector stakeholders to implement these priorities.

Facilitate future multi-jurisdiction PDA coordination: The regional agencies can support PDA-based collaboration initiated by local jurisdictions and partner agencies or help facilitate dialogs that set the stage for more formal coordination through initiatives similar to Grand Boulevard or the East Bay Corridors. These efforts could be organized by commute area, transportation network, or based upon shared issues. The key at the regional level is to share lessons learned and allow collaboration to take place organically, tailored to unique local needs.


Use placemaking to strengthen community vitality

Communities across the Bay Area have consistently said that how PDAs grow is just as important as how much they grow. Our response to a particular neighborhood and how we feel about it are often based on our experience in its public spaces—including streets, sidewalks, plazas, and parks—and how the buildings interact with those spaces. Good placemaking is essential to ensuring that new development enhances a community and is integrated into its existing fabric.

Photo: Chalk art

San Rafael, Italian Street Painting Festival

Ensure infill development contributes to a sense of identity for an area: Many communities in the Bay Area are going through a period of fundamental change. As the region's population has grown and become more diverse, many of the suburbs from the decades after World War II that consisted primarily of single-family neighborhoods are evolving to include a wider variety of homes and businesses. Without the ability to expand outward, these communities are frequently seeing development intensity and building heights increase. Technical assistance and planning grants provided by MTC and ABAG as well as collaboration among neighboring jurisdictions about shared opportunities related to place making can help PDAs experiencing a transition in the scale and density of their community.

Support local dialogs to define the character of streets and places: A key strategy for making good places is to ensure members of the community are involved in identifying the steps necessary for defining the character of public spaces. To support communities that want to engage in this type of community dialog, ABAG will sponsor forums and speaker series highlighting opportunities to infuse community identity and character into the development of streets and public places. ABAG will also develop a website with a space where communities throughout the Bay Area can describe aspirations for their neighborhoods and downtowns and share ideas with one another. Local communities can also sponsor community-based projects to shape neighborhoods and key public spaces such as parks led by schools and community organizations with assistance from academic design and planning programs.


Encourage development that protects the health and welfare of residents

Encouraging new homes and jobs in PDAs and other infill locations helps revitalize neighborhoods, capitalizes on existing infrastructure investments, increases housing and transportation choices for residents and workers, and helps improve local and regional air quality by reducing how much people drive. However, many PDAs are disproportionately impacted by poor air quality from nearby sources of air pollution, soil contamination, and risks from natural hazards. The transformation brought by new development and investment in PDAs provides an opportunity to integrate solutions to these issues through smart building, street, and infrastructure design.

Sketch: Oakland Green Street Perspective

Green Street Sketch

Reduce the negative impacts of poor air quality on residents and workers: Although air quality in the Bay Area has improved greatly over the past several decades, some communities in the region still experience relatively higher pollution levels and corresponding negative health impacts. Not surprisingly, air pollution levels are highest near air pollution sources such as freeways, busy roadways, heavily trafficked seaports, and large industrial facilities. There are also smaller sources of air pollution, including gas stations and back-up diesel generators, which exacerbate conditions in communities where levels of air pollution are already high. These localized areas of elevated pollution present many challenges because of their close proximity to where people live and work. When developing new land use plans or considering approving a new development, local governments should partner with the Air District to implement strategies to reduce peoples' exposure to air pollution.

Use green infrastructure and low impact development to enhance neighborhoods and improve stormwater management: Streets are social, economic, and environmental assets. Properly designed, they can be welcoming settings for walking and shopping and cool places on hot days. Planting trees and vegetation can help reduce the effects of heat islands in urban areas that occur when heat is trapped by concrete buildings and asphalt streets. Greening a neighborhood can make it more beautiful and increase property values, reduce energy use for heating and cooling, and improve air quality and reduce global warming by absorbing greenhouse gases. Green infrastructure and low-impact development use vegetation, soils, and natural processes to soak up and store urban runoff so it does not overwhelm gutters and sewers or pollute waterways—reducing flood risk. Collaborations between local jurisdictions and transportation agencies—such as the San Pablo Green Stormwater Spine—can create great public spaces in PDAs and address flood and water quality risks at the same time. ABAG's SFEP is working with local jurisdictions to scale up these collaborative efforts as well as help cities and counties identify the green infrastructure required to satisfy complex state water requirements.


Improve conservation and management of the region's water and energy resources

Sources of Bay Area Water
Diagram of water sources, by ABAG Resilience Program. 
		Data source: 2010 Urban 
		Water Management Plans.

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Our water system is aging and the current drought has demonstrated that, without new investments and more efficient management, it will not meet the needs of our future population or be prepared for the future impacts of climate change—which will likely include greater variations in rain and snow, more frequent and intense droughts, and increased flooding as a result of sea level rise. Reducing energy demand and increasing the efficiency of buildings lowers our energy costs, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and decreases the need for new energy sources, whether fossil fuels or renewables.

Reduce water consumption: The amount of water each person uses has declined in recent years, largely because of requirements for low-flow plumbing fixtures and appliances. Many Bay Area communities have already achieved the State-mandated target of reducing the amount of water used per person by 20 percent by 2020. However, in the face of the current drought and with the potential for more severe droughts in the future, we should take additional steps to conserve since demand for water will grow as the region's population increases—even if the amount used per person is lower. Today, approximately 40 percent of water consumed within urbanized areas is used for landscaping. Communities can reduce water demand by encouraging landscaping that uses less water and by planning for a more compact growth pattern that includes more apartments and condominiums with smaller yards and less landscaping. Local governments can also consider adopting building standards that require more efficient water use and expanding the use of recycled water—especially for irrigation. Regional and local governments should work with the region's water agencies to identify tools and strategies for reducing water use, including model ordinances, incentive programs, and public engagement. For example, ABAG is working toward regional implementation of the Bay Area Regional Energy Network (BayREN) Pay as You Save On-Bill Water-Energy Efficiency Program (aka PAYS) that enables water utility customers to make efficiency upgrades with no up-front costs and then use the savings to pay off the costs through their utility bill.

Prioritize a diverse water supply: Approximately two-thirds of the water used in the Bay Area is imported from outside the region. Climate science tells us that we will have much less winter snowpack storage in the Sierra Nevada Mountains by mid-century with less runoff into our reservoirs. And much of this supply is at risk of being disrupted if portions of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta's fragile levee system fail. Reducing our reliance on imported water will increase the region's resilience to climate change and natural disasters and reduce the amount of energy used to transport water. Strategies for increasing the amount of water available locally include better managing groundwater supplies, recycling water for reuse, capturing and treating stormwater for reuse, and desalinating seawater. Bay Area communities are increasingly re-using treated gray water from showers, bathroom sinks, washing machines, or selected industrial processes for irrigation and other uses that do not need potable water. These efforts are key to creating a more sustainable water supply because recycled water can reduce the need for imported water and can also be used to recharge local groundwater aquifers. Bay Area water, wastewater, flood protection, and stormwater management agencies should partner with cities, counties, and other stakeholders to develop long-term actions that improve local water supply reliability and reduce our reliance on supplies from outside the region.

Improve coordination of water delivery systems in the region: The Bay Area's water supply is distributed by 89 different water providers, including districts, agencies, and cities—although 11 providers distribute water to 94 percent of the Bay Area's population. These agencies work together to meet the region's need, each using a unique mix of sources to meet customer demands. Every five years each of these providers must develop a plan that shows how it will meet projected demand, including planning for potential droughts, for at least 20 years into the future. However, these agencies should consider developing plans that look further into the future to consider potential changes in precipitation amounts and timing because of climate change; the systems' vulnerabilities to disruption because of climate change or earthquakes; and possible changes in demand because of population growth, economic change, and the impacts of a changing climate. Improved coordination between agencies doing water resource planning and the local governments that do land use planning is essential to ensure that communities will have sufficient water to support their expected future populations.

Increase the energy efficiency of existing and future buildings: In California, residential and commercial buildings account for nearly 70 percent of statewide electricity use and 55 percent of natural gas use.7 While our state currently has the most advanced building standards in the US, approximately half of all buildings were built before energy efficiency standards were implemented in 1978.8 Improving the efficiency of these existing buildings is critical if we want to reduce the Bay Area's energy consumption. Energy upgrades can make homes more comfortable, improve health, and increase property values. More detailed data about energy use and the benefits of energy upgrades can help building owners make informed decisions about how to change their behavior or upgrade their homes to reduce energy consumption. Through BayREN, ABAG is also working with local governments and utility providers to make it easier for consumers to implement energy reduction measures, through retrofits for single-family and multi-family homes, assistance to improve compliance with energy codes and standards, and on-bill financing tools to facilitate water and energy efficiency upgrades (such as the PAYS program).

Bay Area Regional Energy Network

BayREN is a critical part of the solution for the State's reliable and sustainable energy future that considers water, greenhouse gases, and resiliency. Administered by ABAG and working within the nine-county Bay Area, BayREN provides a wide range of targeted, integrated, and regional-scale climate solutions that advance the capacity of local governments to offer, implement, and deliver energy efficiency and other sustainable services to their constituents. BayREN's programs include energy-saving retrofits for single-family homes and multi-family homes, assistance to improve compliance with energy codes and standards, and on-bill financing tools to facilitate water and energy efficiency upgrades (such as the PAYS program). ABAG was awarded a total contract of over $39 million for this program, and BayREN is seeking to expand its funding sources in 2016. For more information visit:

PAYS: BayREN On-Bill Water-Energy Efficiency Program

ABAG is working toward regional implementation of BayREN's Pay as You Save On-Bill Water-Energy Efficiency Program (aka PAYS). Through PAYS, member municipal water utilities can offer customers a simple path to make efficiency upgrades with no up-front costs. Participating customers pay for upgrades through a monthly surcharge on their utility bill, with the assurance that the savings exceed the surcharge. By providing access to capital to pay for up-front project costs and promoting efficient delivery of services, PAYS provides BayREN and member municipal water utilities with unique solutions to overcome common challenges to the wide-spread adoption of efficiency measures. As a result, the BayREN PAYS program will facilitate the large-scale adoption of efficiency upgrades required to meet California's mandated drought response and greenhouse gas reductions. For more information visit:

Photo of people on docks

San Francisco Bay Water Trail