State bill on BART threatens local vote

By Edi Birsan on June 18, 2018

As I write this, I am leading a Concord delegation to Sacramento to argue against Assembly Bill 2923, which would allow BART to override all city zoning for BART-owned land within a half mile of a BART station.

That means BART would decide how high they want to build buildings, what parking allowance are made and what they want to put in their definition of a transit-oriented development. This is a classic case of local control vs. the state.

I could imagine a 10-story building next to the BART station with retail that could include a pet store, tobacco shop, liquor store, massage parlor, methadone clinic, a small nuclear power plant as a backup source for the oil refinery placed on the upper floors and a child-care center to be topped with a garden temple for clothing-optional religious ceremonies. Of course, this is an extreme, ridiculous hypothetical. After all, who would put a pet store next to a train station?

Land use planning was one of the main reasons that cities were created in California as incorporated entities. That this becomes a battle ground between local cities and regional/state/national governments is often a high stakes game of influence and sometimes well-intended power politics gone awry.

While the city’s knee-jerk action on the local control issue is often automatically to rally against the outsiders, there can be serious reasons to override local control.

State regulations can provide a uniformity, so as to allow commerce and day-to-day activities to go on without a mess of conflicting local rules that change dramatically from one jurisdiction to another. We would not want each local city to have its own water quality standard.

Historically, nearly all issues of civil rights have an application of overriding local control on something. I am reminded of the southern state that passed a referendum by 70 percent to effectively reinstate segregation in schools after the Brown vs. the Board of Education ruling in the 1950s that was subsequently struck down by the courts.

There is a balance to be maintained between when local control should be championed and when it is to be modified by regional regulations. Our role in city government is to try to understand when to scream and rally around the local control banner and when to accept a greater good.

In the case of AB 2923, it is pretty clear-cut from a Concord perspective. If by the end of the week’s meeting the supporters are bleeding from their deafened ears, they may get the point that, in this case, BART needs to stay out of the city zoning business.

Email questions and comments to Mayor Birsan at EdiBirsan@gmail.com

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