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How will Bay Area house 2 million new people in next 25 years?

[caption id="attachment_15283" align="alignleft" width="108" caption="Cheryl O’Connor"][/caption]

NORTH BAY – The Home Builders Association of Northern California is working on ways to help get the housing industry back on its feet and keep it green.

“Our main issues are fee reduction, entitlement map extensions, extension of home purchase tax credits both at the state and federal level and getting zoning and planning in place to house the 2 million in population growth expected in the Bay Area over the next 25 years,” said Cheryl O'Connor, the acting president and chief executive officer of the association.

Ms. O’Connor had been named chairwoman of the association in 2008. When Joseph Perkins, immediate past president and CEO of the association, left earlier this year, Ms. O’Connor stepped in to take his place.

Currently, Ms. O’Connor said, “We are trying to stay alive as all of our builders are struggling.”

The association currently has 500 members. That is down from a peak of 1,200 five years ago.

However, she said, the 85 builder members have remained consistent. The loss of membership has been more on the side of the contractors, consultants, engineering firms, architects and others.

“We are working on a lot of advocacy issues," she said, "trying to get cities and counties to help.”

They are working with area governments to get fee deferrals and map extensions for projects that are not able to be completed at this time due to the economy.

The regional office is located in San Ramon and covers 110 jurisdictions in the Bay Area, including the North Bay.

Because of necessary cutbacks due to the economy, the HBA has partnered with the North Coast Builders Exchange.

Last year, the two North Bay HBA positions were eliminated. The office is being used now every two weeks for meetings on economic development between the HBA and NCBE.

One of the main focuses that the HBA is taking is on green practices for both new and existing homes.

While San Ramon is currently the headquarters, the HBA is looking at a move to Walnut Creek. Ms. O’Connor said the HBA wants to be closer to BART for easier access to Oakland and San Francisco. It fits in with the association’s commitment to cutting emissions.

The HBA was involved with drafting Senate Bill 375, which talks about Bay Area development being around transit.

According to the fact sheet on the bill from the office of the governor, “the single-largest source of greenhouse gases in California is emissions from passenger vehicles, and in order to reduce those emissions, we must work to reduce Californians' vehicle-miles traveled (VMTs). That means helping people spend less time in their cars to get to work and to the grocery store. In order to reach California's greenhouse gas reductions goals set out in the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32), we must rethink how we design our communities.”

The Urban Division in San Francisco is helping pave the way for this, and Ms. O’Connor sits on committees and is involved with groups like the Association of Bay Area Governments and the East Bay Economic Development Alliance.

She said this helps keep the HBA informed as to what is going on as well as making sure it is involved in decision making.

“People are coming out and saying where the growth will be. We wanted to have a seat at the table with zoning. We need people to come out and say, yeah, these things should be there, close to transit,” she said.

In addition to her position at the HBA, Ms. O’Connor has been brought on as a marketing consultant for the Sonoma County Energy Independence Program.

The program, which launched March 25, is made possible though Assembly Bill 811, which allows for cities and counties in California to create financing districts for energy improvements. In Sonoma County, loans are payable on property-tax bills.

There have been $20 million in applications so far. The use ranges from insulation and windows on residences to solar and cool roofs for commercial space.

“My opinion is that it all fits together perfectly,” she said. “While we have to focus on green building practices in construction, we need to retrofit existing buildings as well.”