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Case Story

FOCUS is a regional, incentive-based development and conservation strategy for the San Francisco Bay Area. Led by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), FOCUS promotes a more compact land use pattern by encouraging the development of complete, livable communities in areas served by transit and promoting conservation of the region’s most significant resource lands.

Program Highlights

  • Central to FOCUS are 1) Priority Development Areas (PDAs), locally-identified, infill development opportunity areas near transit; and 2) Priority Conservation Areas (PCAs), regionally significant open spaces with existing broad consensus for long-term protection.
  • Approximately 120 PDAs and 98 PCAs have been designated in the Bay Area. The PDAs can accommodate over 50 percent of the region’s growth by 2035 within only 3 percent of the land area, allowing for substantial reduction in vehicle-miles-traveled and conservation of open space.
  • Regional agencies are working to direct many existing and future financial incentives to PDAs and PCAs. To date, $10 million has been made available to twenty PDAs for station area planning through MTC’s Station Area Planning Grant program, with additional planning grants to be available in the next two to three years. MTC has also committed approximately $2 billion for capital infrastructure grants over 25 years through the Transportation for Livable Communities program.  

Lessons Learned

  • Program success is due to the initial buy-in and on-going support from a broad constituency throughout the Bay Area, including the political leadership and stakeholders involved in promoting the “3 Es” – equity, environment, and economy.
  • Structuring the program as voluntary & incentive-based for willing jurisdictions to participate, has been critical to the success.
  • The continued success of the program will require a variety of resources, including technical, financial, community support and political will.


The Rest of the Story…

The FOCUS Program was developed to provide a more coherent and sustainable growth pattern for the Bay Area that will better utilize scarce resources and investments. FOCUS is a response to combat the long commutes, high housing costs, and sprawl development that have been challenging the Bay Area’s long-term social, environmental and economic sustainability.

FOCUS includes programs for technical assistance, sharing of local solutions and funding opportunities, support for local planning processes to address issues of potential displacement from new development in PDAs, and other resources to assist local governments with planning and development activities in PDAs.

FOCUS unites the efforts of the four regional agencies into a single program. FOCUS is led by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), with support from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, in partnership with congestion management agencies, transit providers, and local governments throughout the Bay Area.

The FOCUS Program was adopted by the ABAG Executive Board in 2007. Locally-identified Priority Development Areas were first designated in November of 2007, and then again in July of 2008. A third round of PDAs is expected to be adopted in September of 2009.

Combating Climate Change

Climate protection is a significant benefit of a more compact growth pattern. Housing, jobs, shops and services in close proximity to one another and to transit services allows residents to travel by foot, bicycle, or with transit, reducing our contribution to transportation-related carbon emissions and associated global climate change.

Studies show that 50 percent of our carbon emissions come from the transportation sector with 85 percent of these emissions from on-road vehicles. Complete and compact communities reduce the need for driving, or vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT), by 20 to 40 percent.

Additionally, development of more housing in the core of the Bay Area, rather than at the fringes as has most recently occurred, can reduce the amount of energy needed to cool and heat our homes because temperatures in the core areas are more moderate.

The FOCUS PCAs offer the added climate benefit of protecting natural resources, which help to sequester carbon and provide ecosystem resiliency in the face of climate change impacts. PCAs provide additional co-benefits including: wetlands restoration, migration habitat, watershed protection, recreational opportunities, and preservation of prime farmland critical to our region’s economy.

Many local climate actions plans identify compact land use, transit-oriented development and the FOCUS program as significant climate change mitigation measures.

Along with reducing greenhouse gas emission, development of complete communities in the PDAs offers a range of co-benefits for residents, including:

Housing Choice – a range of housing options provides for people with different needs and means

Accessibility – people can walk, bike, or take transit for short trips and for commuting

Connectivity – people are linked to jobs, health care, parks, services, and stores

Quality of Life – the flexibility and choices provided by complete communities aid quality of life and promotes health of individuals, families, communities, and the environment

Social and economic equity – the needs of a diverse range of current and future residents can be met.

Leveraging of the substantial investments that have been made in our existing built resources, including transit, transportation, and other urban infrastructure.

Implementation and Outreach

Program evaluation metrics and implementation tracking methodology are currently being developed. These metrics and measures will focus on how well local implementation of PDAs and PCAs are meeting regional goals for compact growth. For example, reductions in VMT and housing production will be two key indicators that help to measure whether the FOCUS Program is achieving its goals.

The program was developed through significant community engagement. Regional agencies held stakeholder conferences, a series of county-wide local government forums, and policy-based discussions around the economy, the environment, and social equity to develop this long-term vision for focused growth in the Bay Area. Additionally, a Technical Advisory Committee was convened to advise staff on developing the criteria to designate Priority Development Areas and Priority Conservation Areas.

Staff from jurisdictions around the region with PDAs meet regularly to share best practices information and FOCUS staff continue to be engaged in a variety of outreach meetings throughout the region.

In 2008, the FOCUS Development without Displacement grant program funded three cities, in partnership with community-based organizations, working to strengthen communities and promote equitable development in redeveloping neighborhoods.

In July of 2009, the FOCUS Technical Assistance Program was launched to provide local jurisdictions with discrete planning and development assistance with the goal of advancing high-density infill development within the PDAs.

The FOCUS Program is partially funded by a regional blueprint planning grant from the State of California Business, Transportation, and Housing Agency.

Case Story provided by BAAQMD and ABAG, August 2009.


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