Warm Springs TOD offers breaks to developers, and community members too?
By Allison Lasser, Executive Director of Congregations Organizing for Renewal (COR)
On July 1st, Fremont’s Planning Commission took an important step towards approving one of the Bay Area’s largest sites of undeveloped industrial land by passing a revised Community Plan and Environmental Impact Review for Warm Springs. Warm Springs will soon be home to the region’s newest BART stop, and anchors an 880-acre zone targeted by the city for “strategically urban” commercial and residential growth to optimize the economic, environmental, and social impact of this new transit infrastructure.
Readers of the GCC blog are likely up on the benefits of Transit-Oriented Development (TOD): pedestrian-oriented communities that encourage more healthy and active lifestyles, increased transit ridership and fare revenue, reduced traffic congestion and carbon emissions, more transportation choices and reduced transportation costs, and neighborhood revitalization.
In order to encourage TOD, localities typically offer developers a package of incentives or benefits, including expedited permitting, density bonuses, loan and grant programs for planning and developing housing for mixed-income households, tax credits, and funds for property acquisition and/or infrastructure. Our state, regional and local partners have paved the way with policies and flexibility to support the success of TOD.
For all of its potential benefits, TOD in practice can contribute to displacement pressures on lower income residents and small-scale local businesses. The focus on maximizing “highest and best use” of real estate, for example, often conflicts with other stated goals.
In practice, new TODs frequently accelerate increases in housing and land costs where they are located. This may increase city revenue and homeowners’ equity but makes it harder for low and moderate-income residents, particularly renters, to find affordable housing. Displacement of existing residents or exclusion of new lower income residents contributes to the suburbanization of poverty, which in turn contributes to traffic congestion, increased greenhouse gas emissions, and exacerbates economic hardship for many. This is particularly ironic, as low-income residents typically drive less and own fewer cars than more affluent residents.
This is why COR leaders, together with our partners at Urban Habitat, are anchoring a coalition and advocating for measures that will maximize affordable housing at Warm Springs and match lower income local residents with new jobs expected in the area. We would like to see at least 20% of the new housing built at Warm Springs be permanent rental housing for extremely- and very low-income families (more than the 15% required by the existing inclusionary ordinance), a job training center to help connect talented workers with non-traditional career paths to the jobs that emerge in Warm Springs, and city-wide policies including a commercial linkage fee, a targeted local hire ordinance, and a Ban the Box ordinance to prevent discrimination against those who have already served their time.
We believe the City of Fremont should work with its partners in the private sector to ensure Warm Springs serves as a model of equitable transit-oriented development. Lennar, the Miami-based corporation recently selected to develop 112 acres at Warm Springs, for example, has already worked with community groups in other cities to negotiate and implement Community Benefits Agreements. Fremont residents deserve the same.
Read more about the Fremont Warm Springs campaign here.