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SD-LV-1-A-006.jpgAfter comments from the region’s local planning directors and Circulate San Diego, SANDAG has revised its Regional TOD Strategy to include Key Early Actions. The Actions are meant to strengthen the commitment by SANDAG to promote Transit Oriented Development in the region. 

The draft strategy released by SANDAG earlier this summer outlined numerous recommendations, but no actionable items. Instead, recommendations called on SANDAG to continue work already underway and consider exploring additional tactics.

Circulate expressed concern about the lack of commitment to TOD in part because development of the draft strategy did not represent good faith to SANDAG’s 2011 commitment to prepare a TOD Policy.

“In negotiations around the 2011 Regional Transportation Plan, SANDAG agreed to prepare a TOD policy…However, four years later, SANDAG has made an about face, and is proposing to adopt a document that has no actionable elements, and does not substantively advance transit oriented development in any way.”

The Voice of San Diego also covered the development of the TOD Strategy in a recent article, citing Circulate San Diego’s advocacy.

“SANDAG can help cities make the decisions that the cities themselves want to make,” [Circulate San Diego Policy Counsel Colin] Parent said. “But the cities need help to make those projects a reality. SANDAG can empower cities, without imposing on them.”

Circulate’s concerns were echoed by planning directors from cities around the region who meet monthly as part of SANDAG’s “Technical Working Group”. Recommendations to ‘consider’ and ‘continue’, they stated, communicated that the region was already doing enough to support TOD. Yet the reality is our region needs to get the next level and SANDAG’s strategy is an important tool to achieve this goal.

SANDAG staff released a revised draft of the strategy last week with a new section included - “Key Early Actions” – to be completed this year or in upcoming years. With each of the eight recommended actions, parties responsible for taking the lead are listed. These include SANDAG, local jurisdictions, transit agencies and developers.

Among the eight early action items is the recommendation to develop a TOD readiness tool to “evaluate the readiness of TOD sites and districts”. This has continuously been supported by San Diego planners and developers in order to evaluate areas’ TOD readiness, including market demand, parking ratios, connectivity to transit and other important gauges. Circulate San Diego supports this recommendation as a means to develop a scoring mechanism for a new or modified TOD grant program.

SD-CC-1-SC-045.jpgMissing in the list of Key Early Actions is the expansion of SANDAG’s existing Smart Growth incentives Program to increase funding and award jurisdictions based on how applicants score on their TOD readiness. Also missing is funding to help the two local transit agencies, MTS and NCTD to study how to make their lands more easily available for development as affordable homes.

Overall, the Key Early Actions represent an improvement to the original strategy. SANDAG made a commitment to its Board in 2011 to create a regional TOD policy that would promote and incentivize sustainable development. A meaningful TOD policy is needed now more than ever in our region. In 1990 SANDAG projected multi-family housing would represent 52% of new development. In 2013, after local governments updated local land use plans, the projection for multi-family housing was increased to 82% of future development. 

An actionable TOD policy will help guide funding towards this much needed housing, in tandem with transit availability. Further, the policy will help SANDAG stay competitive with state and federal grant programs as we outlined in our report TransNet Today.

The Regional TOD Strategy will be included as an appendix of SANDAG’s proposed Regional Plan, expected to go before SANDAG’s Board of Directors in early October.