On May 29th the Marin IJ published a front page story about a survey results entitled Area ‘disconnect’ cited in housing policy opinion. The survey was commissioned by an organization calling itself the Bay Area Council , which has a mission to:
Fight unreasonable barriers to infill, transit-oriented, and urban development
Should it be any surprise that the survey gives the “council” the mandate to be shovel ready to build high density infill housing region-wide?
Low Number of Marin Respondents, High Degree of Error
The disclosure of a 16% margin of error for the north bay is highly significant. They only interviewed 1,018 respondents across the entire Bay Area of which 18% were in the North Bay which is likely to include Sonoma as well as Marin. So that’s 183 respondents, of which perhaps half were from Marin?
There’s No Disconnect
What’s emerging is the reality – the Bay Area is a highly constrained area. It’s a very attractive place to live with lots of high paying jobs that can kick start the career of a young graduate. The natural economics of such a situation are for rents and housing prices to rise; and it’s appropriate that respondents find that questions about these costs being high resonate.
Build or Don’t Build, The Survey Presents a False Dichotomy
The issue with the survey is that it asks whether respondents agree we should build more housing. This is a false dichotomy: to say “no” presumes that we should stop all house building – hardly realistic, and few would agree.
The Bay Area Council has framed this question nicely to achieve their desired mandate to build. A follow up question secures a mandate that fees and regulations on new housing should be reduced! This appears right after asking the leading question:
The Bay Area is Facing a Crisis in Housing Costs – Agree/Disagree
Even if you were to poll those against high density housing (as I did in Civic Center/Terra Linda) you will find that most support building more affordable housing – but this needs to be in architectural character and to consider constraints such as traffic, parking, schools. taxes…
More Leading Questions
Consider these two statements that respondents are asked their position on (agree/disagree):
I would be willing to live in a smaller house and a more urban neighborhood if I could live closer to jobs, shops, restaurants and good entertainment options.
I would be willing to have a much longer commute if I could have a bigger house, with better schools, and a safer neighborhood.
In the second statement the adjective “much” is injected before the term “longer commute”. There is no such suggestive adjective in the first statement. If the first statement said “willing to live in a *much* smaller house” then the question would be fairly presented.
Improving Streets and Highways
It’s revealing to see the survey demonstrate that while people feel that roads and highway improvements are just slightly more important than public transportation improvements (82% vs 79%) 68% – 78% never use transit.
This overlooks the fact that despite increasing investment in transit since the 1980s per capita public transit use has declined in the Bay Area. In Marin there has been a significant increase in working from home since 1990, and a slight increase (0.7%) in cycling to work, while transit usage has declined by 1.6% (Source: US Census).
So What’s the Disconnect?
The disconnect is transit oriented development. There is a small but vocal group that believes it can encourage significant adoption of public transit despite a strong body of evidence to the contrary. Such an effort is especially ineffective in a suburban area such as Marin more suited to cars.
Increasing adoption of public transit might be achievable if transit fares can be dropped, but this special interest group has an over-fixation on installing fixed guide-rail projects such as the SMART train that have the consistent impact of driving up transit costs and fares that serves to reverse their desired outcome.
However this group is highly effective at using persuasive language – language that suggests to the respondent how to think – “smart trains”, “smart growth”, “sustainable”. This language discourages questioning that can help get to the real answers.
Even the survey’s commissioners follow this trick – calling themselves the “Bay Area Council” suggesting that they are an elected body with legitimate regional authority.
This language is then combined with dishonest and non-transparent processes where these groups with strong feelings have become over-represented on councils, advisory boards and planning commissions.