Bay Area Continues To Grow - At Fringes

In a report detailing three decades of growth in the SF Bay Area, an urban think tank details how commercial growth has been disproportionately in the non-transit accessible suburban office parks. However, SF shares the blame. Solutions are offered.

"San Francisco lagged the region's suburbs in job growth over the last three decades, forcing increasing numbers of commuters to pack highways instead of public transportation even as the dangers of greenhouse gas emissions become increasingly evident, according to "Recentering Work: The Future of Transit-Oriented Jobs in Downtown San Francisco," released by the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association."

"When we look at the last 30 years of Bay Area history, it's been a history of increasing commutes by cars, employment spread out and decentralized over a wider and wider area, and a decline of our central cities as a share of all jobs," said Egon Terplan, SPUR policy director and the report's principal author. "We cannot meet regional climate change goals unless we change that pattern."

"But some of the proposals (SPUR offers) are certain to spark controversy, as they directly conflict with recently adopted neighborhood plans and long-standing attitudes toward development in the city.

Most notably, the study suggested easing density and height restrictions in the core downtown area.

"SPUR is way wrong," said Calvin Welch, a longtime San Francisco affordable housing activist, who said developers haven't used the full office allocations."

The nine-county Bay Area doubled its employment since 1970, but San Francisco only accounted for around 4 percent of the growth, according to the SPUR study. In contrast, Santa Clara, Alameda and Contra Costa counties captured 37 percent, 20 percent and 15 percent of the new jobs, respectively."

Full Story: Suburban job growth imperils emission goals



An important issue, but misses the point.

This story highlights some of the challenges of TOD and directing growth towards the central city, but misses a major point: the top two "suburban" counties that increased employment were Santa Clara County---home to the City of San Jose, the tenth largest city in the country at 970,000---and Alameda County, home to the City of Oakland, population 420,000. These two cities have invested millions in their downtowns over the past decade to increase density and bring jobs back, and they have transit systems that rival (and connect to) San Francisco's. In fact, in many other parts of the country, cities of this size would be considered the centers of metropolitan areas. But because they are part of the Bay Area regional economy, they are seen as "suburbs" of San Francisco. The Bay Area *does* need to curb the development of suburban office parks. But the real culprit in the rapid increase in vehicle miles traveled is not suburban office parks, but the exurban residential development that proliferated throughout California during the housing boom. (San Francisco didn't see this type of development primarily because the city was already built out.) To presume that job growth in cities like Oakland and San Jose is a cause of the problem is missing the point. In fact, given the huge residential populations that now exist in the outlying regions of counties like Santa Clara and Alameda, it may well be that bolstering the central cities there will decrease, not increase, emissions by restoring the historic jobs/housing balance that existed before the Bay Area became a single megalopolis.

Irvin Dawid's picture

downtown SJ is not Silicon Valley

Yes, downtown clearly is densifying and adding transit access via LRT, but the job destinations, for the most part, remain the 'edge' office parks off North First St., and even though LRT goes there, it's the free parking lots that are utilized to a much greater extent....
Irvin Dawid, Palo Alto, CA

Irvin Dawid's picture

SPUR Policy Paper On Bringing Jobs Back To Downtown SF


"How can we bring more jobs into the region's
most transit-rich employment center? "

Irvin Dawid, Palo Alto, CA

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