"Their job is to inform the public, and they're doing a miserable job," said Heather Gass, a Contra Costa County realtor who is affiliated with the Tea Party. She is worried about a loss of local control and foresees regional clusters of "stack-and-pack" housing near transit centers.
"Unelected bureaucrats" -- her term for regional planners — "are basically planning where 9 million people will live in the future, and I think that that's wrong," said Gass. "They say there's a choice. But the choice is high-density housing or you don't get your money."
ABAG insists that's not the case, defining its role as coordinating the plans of local jurisdictions, building on existing land-use programs, but not telling them what to do. Kirkey said the economic downturn has led to a distrust in government, which may account for some of the angst the process has generated in both left-wing and right-wing activists.
"I think while the name Plan Bay Area might suggest something coming down from on high," said Kirkey, "if you look at the various draft scenarios, local community input is integral, particularly given the emphasis on locally nominated priority development areas."
Perhaps the weightiest critiques of Plan Bay Area have to do with projections. ABAG and MTC planners have reduced their forecasts of jobs and population growth since 2011, but they remain unrealistically high, according to the Contra Costa Transportation Authority and the city of Palo Alto.
Plan Bay Area's most recent projections show the Bay Area adding 1.1 million jobs to its 2010 total of 3.4 million by 2040, with its population increasing from 7.2 million to 9.3 million. The Contra Costa Transportation Authority has called the estimates "at the high end of remotely plausible outcomes." And even with those projections, the land-use element of the Sustainable Communities Strategy likely won't do much to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, leaving planners to cobble together transportation projects to reach a California Air Resources Board target of 15 percent.
"They're on very shaky ground," said Palo Alto City Councilman Greg Schmid, an economist and demographics researcher who claims ABAG and the MTC have been relying on outdated state forecasts. Palo Alto's distrust of Plan Bay Area's methodology led the city last month to oppose designating El Camino Real and the downtown as priority development areas.
Kirkey has heard the critiques of the projections and said the estimates in Friday's new document, dubbed the draft preferred scenario, will be downgraded slightly. "We're going to take an approach that I think is well-informed," he noted, "and errs on the conservative side."