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What the Rest of the Bay Area Can Learn from the Dublin (California) Miracle

Scott Lucas | May 5, 2014 | Story Politics

Last week, California released its annual estimate of the state's population—showing which cities were growing and which were shrinking. Surprisingly, the municipality that saw the highest percent increase (that wasn't thanks to a bulge in new prisoners) was Dublin—a bedroom community nestled at the crossroads of the 580 and 680 freeways. Even more surprising are the lessons for urban planning that the rest of the region can learn from the city. We called around, and here's what we found:

Lesson One: Cluster Dense New Housing Near Mass Transit "When I left the city, people would ask me, 'Where the hell is Dublin?,'" said city councilmember Abe Gupta, a 31-year-old Stanford- and USF-educated lawyer who moved there to start a family. "They thought we were like a stone's throw from Bakersfield. But I'm a five-minute bike ride from the BART station. I can get on the train and be at La Taqueria in the Mission in 40 minutes. I love coming back and being a poseur." The $106 million West Dublin/Pleasanton BART station that opened in 2011 provides a natural anchor to build dense condos and apartments around. It's only the second infill station to be constructed in the system—years after the 1976 opening of the Embarcadero station. And that's just a start. "We need to put the line all the way to Livermore," said Dublin mayor Tim Sbranti.

Lesson Two: Build Housing at All Points on the Economic Spectrum Said Sbranti,"We want to have everything from affordable-rate housing to executive housing. The idea is that a major company could put its entire workforce in Dublin." He also said that although Dublin has a lower benchmark for below-market set asides than San Francisco does—just 12.5% at the highest—it also has a much shorter pipeline from planning to opening. There's also no rent control in the city, which makes building new units of housing more attractive to developers.

Lesson Three: Beat the Sprawl Dublin city planners are aware of the East Bay's checkered history of pushing single-family housing onto pear orchards and cattle pastures. That's why many in the city are currently fighting a plan by a developer to put 2000 single-family home units on 1500 open acres of canyon land just outside the city's boundary. With the support of groups like Save Mount Diablo, residents have gathered signatures to put a measure on the ballot that if passed would require voter approval on any new development in that area. (If that sounds a little like San Francisco's own Proposition B, it is. But the key difference between the two is that Dublin's preservation measure would keep an open space open—similar to buffers around other East Bay cities—rather than restricting infill development in already built-up places.) Proponents say that the idea is meeting with enthusiasm. "In cities with new residents you often see apathy on these kinds of issues," said Seth Adams of Save Mount Diablo. "I've never seen this level of support for something like this."

Lesson Four: Attract Jobs Though many Dublin residents commute to places like Tesla or Lawrence Livermore Lab for work, the city has put a premium on keeping a fair amount of employment local. "We try to have 1.4 units of housing to one job in the city," said Sbranti. "Part of the problem is many suburbs haven't thought about that balance."

Lesson Five: Think Regional, Build Local "You have to be mindful of your regional footprint," said Sbranti. "Focus on what you can do in your local community, but keep that regional mindset."

Lesson Six: Class Up the Joint A Bit: "We just broke ground on a Whole Foods," said Gupta proudly. "And our very first Indian ice cream shop just opened up. I never thought I'd see that after I left San Francisco."

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