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Complete Communities Project

Project Objective 


To develop and implement community-driven methods to address planning and affordable housing needs by creating a suite of Internet-based community surveying tools.


Issues Addressed


To ensure the development of appropriate types of growth, development and affordable housing for those most in need in specific communities. 




Regional planning agencies address planning and development strategies using a "top down" approach. However, there has never been an adequate, corresponding locally-driven, "bottom up", planning approach to address specific local planning and affordable housing challenges. Current "top down" planning needs a corresponding "bottom up" planning method to meet it in the middle in order to promote more appropriate and more desirable local planning solutions.


The lack of type of balanced planning approach continues to produce the worst of all worlds: development driven primarily by money and profit with no regard for community values or the real needs of residents.


Description of Project


CVP is developing a proprietary, Internet-based, community surveying software platform that will be implemented throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. It will combine online survey results (about growth, development, housing, etc.) with other publicly available land use data, to present a more accurate picture of the real needs and desires of each community in the region. If this pilot program is successful, it could be replicated in other cities and counties across the nation.


The Complete Communities Survey Tools will be available to all of the 109 San Francisco Bay Area member cities and Counties of the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG). The online tools will allow each community to conduct polling in real time about growth, development, housing and public policy solutions that residents and stakeholders feel are best suited for their particular needs.


This locally driven, "bottom up" planning process will involve residents of each community in order to better understand and address their unique planning and affordable housing needs. 


Polling issues will include affordable housing, public amenities, commercial development, jobs, traffic, parking, infrastructure, schools and other issues of community concern. Users will be asked to prioritize their community's needs and visions for their future. For example, users will be asked to rank various types of affordable housing by those types most needed in their community. Potential affordable housing types might include low and very low income housing, senior housing and assisted living, housing for those with disabilities and special needs, homeless shelters and women’s safe houses, live/work housing opportunities, cohousing, multifamily housing rehabilitation and preservation, building conversions, sweat equity housing opportunities, second units,  micro units, lofts and starter homes, migrant and seasonal worker housing and cohousing, and others types as they are appropriate to each particular community to best address their critical affordable housing needs.


The results will then reflect the unique character and needs of each community. Those results can then be compared to other communities, to find common ground, and to regional or State planning initiatives to gauge the success or failures of those "top down" plans.


This kind of community specific data and real time feedback doesn't exist at this time, yet it is vital to any successful planning process.


The surveys will also ask residents to comment on public policy guidelines and financial incentives that might be offered to help promote their desired affordable housing and growth outcomes, to better understand how those might be tied to planning, zoning and/or policy incentives.


For example, a city might indicate that it will look favorably on proposals that redevelop economically and functionally obsolete structures, or replace underutilized uses, or hazardous or unsafe conditions. Policy incentives might be offered for proposals that offer significant low and very low income units, or other types of housing that is most needed in the community, or development that includes desirable "green" building techniques and innovations, and/or public amenities (i.e., a path or lane, a public space, etc.), or improves public access and safety.


Displaying Real Time Results on the Internet


The results of each survey and the combined results would be displayed in real time on the Complete Communities Project web site. Color-coded graphics and comparative database display tools would allow any user to "data-mine" the results, to compare and contrast how individual communities align with each other and their regional averages.


At the present time this kind of data simply does not exist. This data would provide an accurate and accountable method of analyzing the potential effectiveness or failure of any federal, state or regional planning initiatives: initiatives that are at this time, often, completely divorced from the real needs and opportunities of our local communities.


The resulting database of "Community Profiles" would be an invaluable source to test and better assess the appropriateness of the assumptions of legislators, about growth and public policy.


Harnessing Market Forces for Appropriate Change


If desired, a city could take the final community survey results and use it to craft RFPs (Requests for Proposals) to attract the types of development and community improvement proposals they desire. They could establish a point ratings system based on their public policy and development and affordable housing types most needed in their community and award incentives based on how proposals align with community goals. 


Working with market forces for public good could have significant advantages over the often antagonistic way development currently takes place.


  • Clearly stated public policy gives developers something they can respond to with more certainty and creativity.


  • This method is more responsive to dynamic and unpredictable market forces than zoning and codes are by themselves.


  • A locally-driven method works well with existing federal and regional incentives. It maximizes the number of potential infill housing sites, maximizes the potential number of affordable housing units that can be added in a community and allows market forces and community voices to work together to achieve agreed upon goals. And it works equally well for both new development and renovation and redevelopment proposals.


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