Sac CAAP: affordable housing near transit


The City of Sacramento’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (CAAP), preliminary draft, sets a goal, in the Measure E-5: Support Infill Growth section to “Enable the development of 8,700 new affordable by design units by 2040 within 0.25 mile of public transit…”. Sound good, but.

This is a low goal. The city already has a deficit of affordable housing, and has no plan for raising the necessary funds to build this affordable housing (it killed inclusionary zoning, and replaced it with a completely insufficient development impact fee, and the $100 Measure U contribution to the housing fund is on hold). The city’s Housing Element, required by RHNA, specifies that 16,769 units of ‘Extremely Low- and Very Low-Income, and Low Income’ housing are needed. While it it true that some affordable projects have been, and will be, developed without any city help, setting a goal of only half what is already needed is meek.

Location within 0.25 miles of transit is a mixed bag. While it is clearly a good that affordable housing is accessible to transit (otherwise it is not truly affordable under the housing+transportation analysis), past practice has been to locate affordable housing projects on arterial roadways, those sources of pollution and noise and traffic violence that families living in affordable housing should be protected against rather than exposed to. Unless the city is making a real commitment to redesigning these roadways to reduce VMT, reduce traffic violence, reduce air pollution, and emphasize active transportation and transit, it would be better to place affordable housing elsewhere. I don’t think that CAAP is making that commitment. A strong argument made by many housing advocates is that we should be encouraging affordable housing everywhere, not just along arterial roadways (also known as stroads).

what Sacramento did wrong

I’m reviewing the City of Sacramento’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan (CAAP), preliminary draft. I’ll have several more posts on this, but what immediately comes through to me is that the plan doesn’t acknowledge what the city did wrong in the past to create such a carbon-intensive city.

So, let me help with that:

Transportation

  • focusing the transportation network on continuously expanding capacity for motor vehicles, ignoring and more frequently being hostile to other modes; this has changed slightly, but is still the dominant approach
  • spending almost all funds on roadway capacity expansion (more lanes and interchanges) instead of maintaining what we have; every pothole is a policy failure
  • refusing to accept responsibility for sidewalks, which are a critical and core component of the transportation network
  • refusing to spend any general funds on transportation improvements, other than required matches, depending instead almost entirely on grant funding from the state and federal levels
  • providing free and below market rate parking throughout the city, which not only subsidizes but increases motor vehicle use
  • going all-in on motor vehicle electrification, while nearly ignoring electric bikes; there are no electric bike incentives, and no electric bike charging facilities
  • failing to update the outmoded 2006 pedestrian plan, and/or to combine it with the bicycle plan into an integrated active transportation plan
  • refusing to develop policy around transportation solutions, as though every project were unique and had nothing to do with other projects or with the overall pattern; the bicycle and pedestrian master plans are examples, laying out individual routes but not creating policy that determines what kind of facilities are appropriate for what kinds of streets and intersections
  • refusing to innovate and pilot new ideas, as every peer city has been doing; despite accepting the progressive NACTO guidelines, the city has actually not implemented anything that does not comply to the letter with the regressive MUTCD guidelines

Housing and Land Use

  • zoning which prevented multi-family and mixed use throughout most of the city; this has changed a little, and will change more with the 2040 General Plan, but the legacy of this will be with us for generations, and yes, the intent was largely racist; zoning of this sort makes everything further away, requiring more driving
  • setting development standards which make inefficient use of land, with setbacks and height limits, which again, spreads everything out
  • eliminating inclusionary zoning without creating a viable method of funding affordable housing through development impact fees or other mechanisms; for example, the city only contributed pittance $2.8M of the $40 or so that the newly opened Lavender Courtyard cost
  • supporting and celebrating large residential greenfield developments while ignoring infill development, and placing requirements on development that are easy for large developers and onerous for small developers; this has changed a bit, but not much
  • bending over backwards to promote and subsidize very large projects, such as the arena and Delta Shores, while paying no attention to small businesses; every empty storefront is as much a failure of the city as it is of that business

None of this is to say that the city is not doing some good things, or that it is not light years ahead of the county, and ahead of most of the cities in the region. But overcoming carbon addiction requires admitting that you have a problem, and largely created the problem, and can’t overcome the problem until you stop doing the wrong things.

I think it is important that the CAAP not only state what the city will do, but also what it will STOP doing.