BART may convert parking lots into housing under Assembly bill

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BART may soon turn parking lots and vacant property into housing, pending Gov. Jerry Brown’s approval of a controversial bill.

Assembly Bill 2923 — authored by Assemblymembers David Chiu, D-San Francisco, and Timothy Grayson, D-Concord  — would require BART to adopt new standards for transit-oriented development, or TOD, on its property within a half-mile of BART stations. The bill would also require local governments to reset zoning standards in conjunction with BART’s development.

“AB 2923 is a common sense measure to speed up construction in communities throughout the Bay Area,” Grayson said in a press release. “I am confident that this measure will increase housing supply, reduce traffic congestion and cut greenhouse gas emissions.”

In 2016, the BART board of directors adopted a policy aimed at building 20,000 new units of housing by 2040, according to BART’s TOD Program overview. AB 2923 would require BART to make about one-third of its new developments affordable housing.

Some local governments have criticized the bill, arguing that it would give BART too much power. Mayor Jesse Arreguín and Berkeley City Councilmembers Sophie Hahn and Linda Maio co-authored a recommendation to oppose AB 2923 in May.

“It’s a mistake for us to give away our power to another agency who has absolutely no sense of what the neighborhood is or what the city is and is guided by guidelines that are totally inappropriate for that particular site,” Maio said at a City Council meeting in May.

Campus junior and political economy major Rosalyn Jeffries, however, said “why not” to the bill. She said it would provide easy accessibility for people commuting to work or seeing family.

“Just by walking to a station you can see how difficult it is for many people to get housing and afford housing,” Jeffries said. “It makes sense for more … housing to be closer to the BART station.”

Development expenditures are estimated to total $3.2 billion, while BART expects to take in $7.8 million in new ridership yearly, according to the TOD overview. BART has already completed some TOD projects, including in its Fruitvale, Richmond, Castro Valley, Ashby and Pleasanton stations.

TOD projects are often delayed by local governments that require more parking and less housing for developments located in close proximity to BART stations, Chiu said in the press release. This increases development costs, he added, and disincentivizes BART from proposing TOD where it is “much-needed.”

BART is currently making negotiations for development near its West Oakland and Balboa Park stations, according to the TOD overview. It has also solicited partnerships to develop its Lake Merritt station and is planning development with the city of Concord for the North Concord station.

City Council is still “strongly committed” to affordable housing and transit-oriented development, Arreguín said at the May council meeting.

“We need to keep control of our zoning,” Maio said at the May council meeting. “Giving our powers away to BART is a no-starter. We must not do that. We have the power to zone it and to control the process and to get as much affordable housing as we possibly can.”

Alyssa Bernardino is the lead city government reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @alybernardino.