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Regional plan aims to ease traffic by boosting housing

Road map for Bay Area growth paints a sustainable future, but with a lot of assumptions

Bay Area city and county officials approved a massive plan last week that promises to turn the tide on gridlock traffic and high housing costs that have gone from bad to worse over the last decade. The long-range plan, known as Plan Bay Area 2040, provides the blueprint for how much housing would be needed -- and where it ought to be built -- to have sustainable growth across the Bay Area between now and 2040.

On a 41-2 vote, elected leaders serving on the executive board of the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) approved the latest update to Plan Bay Area, which proposes a path where the region essentially builds its way out of the affordability crisis. The plan calls for 820,000 new homes -- accompanied by 1.3 million new jobs -- between 2010 and 2040, nearly half of which would be centrally located in the "Big 3" cities of San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose.

If all goes according to plan, MTC staff predict the planned growth would go a long way toward reducing traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions, and keep up with the housing demand that will come from expected job increases in the area.

The primary thrust of the plan is that the region needs to fix, or at least take the edge off, the growing housing crisis in the Bay Area. Data provided by ABAG shows that rental costs, adjusted for inflation, have nearly doubled in the Bay Area since the 1970s, and low-income families are spending more than half their paychecks on housing and transportation costs. An estimated 500,000 "lower-income" households are at risk of displacement in the Bay Area, a majority of whom live in Santa Clara, San Francisco and Alameda counties.

At the same time, commute times and traffic congestion are at the highest level on record for the Bay Area.

Whether or not Plan Bay Area's growth projections will be close to reality remains to be seen. Although the plan sets estimates for all 101 Bay Area cities and towns, MTC and ABAG have little say in whether any of the housing gets built. Local control remains in the hands of individual municipal governments, and there's a host of ways cities can choose to slow down or prevent growth from happening. The assumption is that local jurisdictions are going to put their best foot forward to follow the plan, and that a package of incentives, including money for planning and transportation projects, should be enough to encourage sustainable growth.

An average of about 27,300 housing units per year would be a significant U-turn for the nine-county region, which has seen decreases in overall housing production since the 1970s. More recent data from ABAG is hardly encouraging: Permits issued for new housing between 2007 and 2014 show the region is already off to a bad start, with the addition of only 123,098 homes during the seven-year period.

One of the hardest parts of the plan to digest is how these growth projections are created and whether they're a best-guess estimate or an ambitious goal -- a question that was answered more than once in the final meetings leading up to the vote on Plan Bay Area. ABAG President Julie Pierce, a member of the Clayton City Council, told her colleagues at the July 26 meeting that the growth targets are created by a complex "UrbanSim" calculation that determines what the developer market would build based on information like city zoning and general plans, traffic data, land values and development costs. In other words, the estimates give a realistic picture of what Bay Area growth would look like if market forces drove development between now and 2040.

Where will the housing go?

A staggering 77 percent of all the new housing growth is projected to be built on less than 5 percent of the Bay Area's land in so-called Priority Development Areas (PDAs), specific regions that local cities and counties elect for concentrated, higher-density growth. These PDAs tend to be located along transit lines and near job centers, and play a critical role in meeting the goals laid out in Plan Bay Area.

High-growth cities like Mountain View embraced the idea of PDAs, designating its East Whisman, North Bayshore, El Camino and the San Antonio Shopping Center areas as major locations for future growth. These plans translate into an estimated 82 percent increase in the city's housing stock -- from 31,957 to 58,300 homes -- between 2010 and 2040, putting Mountain View among the top 15 cities that will serve as "key locations for the Bay Area's future households and jobs." Pierce told the Voice in an email last week that cities volunteering for high growth are first in line for MTC funding to plan growth as well as discretionary transportation funding.

Mountain View's neighbor, the city of Palo Alto, went a different direction by designating only one area, in the California Avenue region, as a PDA, opting against volunteering its downtown or El Camino Real corridor as candidates for high growth through the regional plan. Palo Alto is one of only a few cities along the entire stretch of El Camino Real that opting against designating the thoroughfare as a PDA, leaving a small Midpeninsula gap on a near-unanimous plan to concentrate development in the area.

Palo Alto Mayor Greg Scharff, who serves on ABAG's executive board, told the Voice last month that the decision was made in order to retain complete control over the city's future development, and that electing to add more PDAs means the city could be pressured by the state to build more housing than its residents are comfortable with in the coming years.

"We want to be able to chart our own destiny," Scharff said. "If you choose to make something a PDA, you're saying 'Give us more development.'"

All carrots, no sticks

Now that the Bay Area has a road map for 820,000 homes by 2040, how much of it is actually going to get built? That's the big question facing ABAG and MTC, neither of which have the power to force cities and counties to adopt land use policies, zone for the growth or approve any development that would advance the goals of the newly approved Plan Bay Area.

Despite that challenging reality, public perception of the plan as a top-down, regional dictate that forces lower-density suburbs to accelerate construction and build up has been an ongoing challenge for the joint agency. The plan's FAQ web page is littered with language denying the loss of local control and demonstrating the elective nature of the job and housing estimates. Even at the July 26 meeting, MTC staff continued to stress that Plan Bay Area does not "usurp" local control, and that California government code states that nothing in the plan should be interpreted as "superseding the exercise of the land use authority of cities and counties within the region."

Plan Bay Area is a state-mandated plan under state law SB 375, which requires that the region adopt a "Sustainable Communities Strategy" that can demonstrate future growth and development will result in a reduction in per-capita greenhouse gas emissions. The housing and job growth in the updated Plan Bay Area is separate from the state's eight-year Regional Housing Need Allocation (RHNA) cycle, which requires cities to update so-called housing elements to zone for enough housing to keep up with population growth.

But depending on whom you ask, even the RHNA cycle hardly has any teeth. A 2017 report by the state's Housing and Community Development department points out that although the state can compel cities to zone for housing, there's no shortage of ways to keep it from being built. A lengthy and burdensome development review process, along with community opposition, can severely limit the type of housing that can be built and prevent projects from penciling out for prospective developers. The report specifically calls out Palo Alto residents for placing a measure on the ballot to overturn plans for a 60-unit low-income senior housing project.

Plan Bay Area's detachment from any mandatory land use policies wasn't enough to assuage concerns from Brisbane city officials, who showed up in full force at the July 26 meeting with frustrated demands to revoke the housing projections for the small city south of San Francisco. Plan Bay Area projects that a massive 684-acre baylands site located in Brisbane could accommodate 4,400 new homes, but city officials say it's hardly a done deal and simply one proposal by the developer who owns the property.

The projections may not affect the RHNA allocation of the city, but it does make a big difference if the higher housing number is included in the plan, said Brisbane council member Madison Davis. She said it's entirely possible Brisbane will be on the hook for 4,400 new homes in the next iteration of the RHNA process, and the city would be compelled to move forward with the development in order to tap into discretionary transportation funding.

"On the one hand, we're told that Plan Bay Area doesn't dictate local land use, yet on the other hand, it appears that the city could be financially punished for exercising our local land use in a way that displeases MTC," Davis said.

Brisbane's Mayor Pro Tem Clarke Conway called the growth expectations for the city "ludicrous," and demanded the joint agency's executive committee members delay a vote on Plan Bay Area and its environmental impact report until after the city's decision on the baylands project in late August.

"You need to stop listening to this executive planning director and do the right thing," he said, pointing at MTC staff members. "Table this 'til September, otherwise this guy, this staff and his counsel, are pulling you into the legal arena."

Scott Lane, a member of MTC's policy advisory council, said he fully embraces Plan Bay Area and understands the Bay Area is already be something close to 300,000 housing units behind on new demand, but said putting such a heavy burden on one city amounts to "utter insanity" that puts MTC at risk of a lawsuit.

"This is like telling a homeowner how to develop their property," he said. "I have been for years saying MTC and ABAG need to have more jurisdictional authority and power, (but) this is an abuse of power, there's no other way to say it. Every city needs to be the master of their own domain."

Palo Alto's Scharff said he believes the fears over Bay Area's growth projections are "misguided," and that the real threats to local control reside in Sacramento. The state legislature has proposed close to 130 different bills aimed at addressing the state's housing shortage, and some aim to limit the ability of local governments to slow down or block approval of housing developments. One such bill, SB 35 authored by State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), proposes a streamlined approval process -- or so-called "by-right" housing -- for projects that meet certain criteria within cities that are behind on meeting RHNA goals.

Wiener's proposed legislation isn't a big shock, given his comments as an MTC member last year. During a review of Plan Bay Area in November, Wiener -- who was a San Francisco supervisor at the time -- said he was uneasy with the idea that the goal of 820,000 new homes wasn't going far enough to stop displacement and stem the affordability crisis. Indeed, Plan Bay Area conceded that lower-income families will likely be paying two-thirds of their income on housing and transportation by 2040. Weiner suggested a second set of numbers be produced that showed the break-even point for housing affordability.

Scharff, on the other hand, argued at the Nov. 17 meeting that MTC and ABAG ought to go in the opposite direction, and review what would happen to a broad set of performance metrics if the Bay Area failed to build the housing estimates in Plan Bay Area 2040. Scharff later told the Voice that the plan goes a long way towards preventing displacement and skyrocketing housing costs, and that a break-even point would hardly be realistic.

"Some things you just can't fix -- there's no lever you can pull to change that that's reasonable," he said. "I think you want to have a realistic plan about what's really going to happen as opposed to something that's aspirational."

After a lengthy back-and-forth among MTC and ABAG members about the fate of Brisbane's jobs and housing estimates, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said he was disappointed by the dialogue that veered away from handling a very real housing crisis in the region. His original plan, he said, was to vote no on Plan Bay Area because it doesn't go "nearly far enough" to resolve the jobs-housing imbalance in the region, and that it lacks the teeth needed to force cities and jurisdictions to "bear the responsibility for housing that we are clearly not bearing as a region." And this is in spite of San Jose fighting to balance out its jobs-housing ratio by attracting more jobs in recent years -- not housing.

"I represent a city that has, among the major cities in the United States, the worst jobs-housing ratio," he said. "We're the only major city in the United States that actually has a smaller daytime population than nighttime population."

Liccardo added that the entire Bay Area needs to come together to fight an affordability crisis that makes traffic intolerable and could make it impossible for the next generation to live in the Bay Area because jobs are located in "jobs-rich communities" and all the housing is located elsewhere.

"As long as smaller jobs-rich towns are not willing to take their responsibility for housing, we will continue to perpetuate exactly what we have now," he said.

A big opportunity

Amid the multi-year process of updating Plan Bay Area, both MTC and ABAG began the slow process of combining forces as a joint agency, consolidating staff from both agencies and retaining a firm to make sure both agencies have "better and deeper relationships" and a "shared sense of purpose," according to a January merger update. Although the vague platitudes hardly go into detail on what it will mean to have a combined regional planning agency in the Bay Area, some housing advocates are already calling it a big win.

A June report released by the Nonprofit Housing Association (NPH) of Northern California called the merger a tremendous opportunity to use MTC's transportation planning and wealth of funding in conjunction with ABAG's "sophisticated housing expertise" in a way that finally addressed the dearth of housing being built in the Bay Area. Sustainable housing growth is inextricably linked with the region's transportation woes, and MTC has plenty of ways to pour some of its $1.9 billion annual budget into direct investments in housing, according to the report.

"We see this as an enormous opportunity," said Amie Fishman, executive director of NPH. "We see this as a critical chance to meld transportation and housing together to make sure we're investing in the infrastructure we need."

Among the suggestions in the report, NPH is advocating for MTC to pour its reserves into a regional "infill infrastructure bank," whereby MTC would help finance infill development for transit-oriented affordable housing -- particularly in situations where the project wouldn't otherwise pencil out for a developer to build. Despite MTC's purview as a transportation commission, establishing an infill infrastructure bank is within the agency's power and could start tomorrow, said Pedro Galvao, the regional planning and policy manager for NPH.

Back in 2012, MTC launched what's called the One Bay Area Grant program, which conditioned discretionary transportation funding on whether cities have an updated housing element in their general plan and make progress toward reaching housing goals. Even though Plan Bay Area has been approved, it's still not clear how much of MTC's $74 billion in discretionary transportation funding over the next 24 years will be tied to the One Bay Area program.

Since Plan Bay Area's complex calculation for job and housing growth was based on market forces, MTC's investment may need to be geared towards the kind of housing that won't get built in today's housing market -- particularly housing for low-, very low- and extremely-low income housing, Fishman said. A diverse housing stock is going to be necessary to preserve the character of the region, she said, as the Bay Area continues to see rapid growth.

"We know there's massive growth coming, and we need to stand tall with the values that our region stands for -- that we are an inclusive, welcoming community. That needs to be reflected in our land use and policy decisions."

Comments

33 people like this
Posted by Me
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 4, 2017 at 3:18 pm

Really? More houses, more people and less cars??????????


18 people like this
Posted by Tina
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 4, 2017 at 3:23 pm

Its really disingenuous to say that " On a 41-2 vote, elected leaders serving on the executive board of the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) approved the latest update to Plan Bay Area, which proposes a path where the region essentially builds its way out of the affordability crisis."

It sounds like the voting public elected them when really they are hand picked by officials in government.

Web Link

Don't worry Mr Laccardo Google acquired twice as much space in SJ than they have in Mtn View. Im sure more companies will follow.


31 people like this
Posted by Rodger
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Aug 4, 2017 at 3:34 pm

This plan is a nightmare for Mountain View, it will transform our city into a crowded mess. Any ideas on how to fight back????


16 people like this
Posted by Albert
a resident of Stierlin Estates
on Aug 4, 2017 at 3:38 pm

1.3 million more jobs? How are those people supposed to get to work? Riding VTA or Caltrain? Why don't they build more housing and put a lid on job growth until a realistic mass transit system is in place?


36 people like this
Posted by Mythology
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Aug 4, 2017 at 3:51 pm

Can we put an end to the tagline that more housing will reduce traffic.

Here's what it will do:

Pre-Extra Housing: People drive to work; people drive home from work. Mostly on freeways or major arterials.

Post-Extra Housing: People drive to work; people drive home from work. Much is still on freeways. But now, more will be clogging up local arterials. In addition, and this is HUGE - all of these new residents WILL ALSO be driving on local streets multiple times during the day above and beyond commuting to work. They'll take kids to school and extracurriculars; they'll go grocery shopping; they'll visit a park or restaurant in a neighboring town.

More housing = more traffic. Pure and simple. Slow it down. And if balance is required, slow down the commercial growth too.

PS - The 43 people include a lot of names representing "interest groups" - not elected officials.


28 people like this
Posted by William Hitchens
a resident of Waverly Park
on Aug 4, 2017 at 6:14 pm

What a total crock!!! We residents increasingly are sane people trapped in an insane asylum run by the most insane, ignorant, and naively idealistic of its inmates. I have to wonder just how many of these incredibly ignorant and crazed fools are bureaucrats "earning" six-figure salaries and promised six figure pensions?


8 people like this
Posted by Anke
a resident of North Whisman
on Aug 4, 2017 at 6:26 pm

"Don't worry Mr Laccardo Google acquired twice as much space in SJ than they have in Mtn View. Im sure more companies will follow."

When they double (or triple) the population of SJ, it will spill over into other cities, just as crowding in SF, MV and others is spilling over into other Bay Area cities. This is an interconnected region where what happens in one city is acutely felt in other cities. Or were you being facetious? ;-)


12 people like this
Posted by Waldo
a resident of Waverly Park
on Aug 4, 2017 at 7:45 pm

Waldo is a registered user.

The children of all these new residents will be educated how? More schools and teachers will be needed. The MVLA high school district will need a new campus,
located in the heart of this new growth. Los Altos high school and Mountain View high school are located at the periphery of Mountain View, five to ten miles from these proposed new homes.


2 people like this
Posted by PA Resident
a resident of another community
on Aug 4, 2017 at 8:10 pm

What happened to the VTA pilot express bus service from Gilroy and Morgan Hill to Mountain View?

I think the key would be better transportation of express buses from areas where there is room for more housing. If Google can successfully run buses from San Francisco for its workers, then surely buses for everyone can follow the same pattern with express luxury buses from the outlying southern area of SC county to the north part of the county.


12 people like this
Posted by ResidentSince1982
a resident of another community
on Aug 4, 2017 at 8:51 pm

ResidentSince1982 is a registered user.

Here's a solution element that is not considered. Restrain the growth of jobs. Place some kind of revenue sharing requirement on cities that add more jobs than housing,
to support expenses for cities which do the reverse. Residents cost in terms of city services and infrastructure, on balance more than jobs. Yet the revenues to the cities
are GREATER from commercial office development than they are for residential development.

As for San Jose attracting more Google jobs, well, Google should give up some of that
land in Mountain View and Sunnyvale for residential development. Revenue sharing from cities that get lots of new office buildings should be spread across those building more housing, as well as subsidizing the development cost of the housing. There's got to be a reason cities like Mountain View have favored adding so many new jobs. At least Palo Alto has tried to restrain the addition of new jobs, as much as they can.

You've got places like Stanford University adding tons of jobs though, and doing naught all to add housing for these workers. These are jobs on COUNTY land and tax exempt facilities and real estate. Stanford too should step up and fund the cost of creating housing for their workers, because it does not come for free.


3 people like this
Posted by Anke
a resident of North Whisman
on Aug 4, 2017 at 9:31 pm

"At least Palo Alto has tried to restrain the addition of new jobs, as much as they can."

I'm not so sure. Look at Palanatir, and at Facebook's new giant campus project that they say will add 1500 housing units but 10,000 jobs.

Either way, if we want to slow down, let alone reverse, the destruction of our communities, addressing the root cause - runaway Big Tech growth - is the only approach that will be affective. Everything else is just pretending.


13 people like this
Posted by swissik
a resident of another community
on Aug 4, 2017 at 10:17 pm

Is this a joke? If so it isn't funny at all. More housing will reduce traffic? Have all these bureaucrats gone insane?


6 people like this
Posted by ResidentSince1982
a resident of another community
on Aug 5, 2017 at 12:53 am

ResidentSince1982 is a registered user.

Facebook is in Menlo Park, a different county even than Palo Alto. Palantir
has done what Google has also done in Mountain View, namely grow by taking over
one property after another and cramming it full of more people than was ever
done before. There are few laws that let a city control how many occupants
a company places into a location. The company can even build a new location
and immediately staff up beyond the planned maximum capacity.


6 people like this
Posted by PA Resident
a resident of another community
on Aug 5, 2017 at 7:42 am

It is a fantasy to say that more housing will reduce traffic. Regardless of where people work, they will want to move around rather than stay in a walkable bubble or even a bike ride bubble.

The best solution is to get people into public transportation by making it efficient and a better alternative to solo driving.

If I could get where I was going in a faster manner without having to worry about finding somewhere to park, I would use public transport as opposed to getting stuck in traffic and driving around in circles looking for somewhere to park. Unfortunately, I have to drive as there is no sensible alternative. I recently had a meeting in downtown Mountain View with people who arrived from several points on the Peninsula. Traffic and parking issues delayed the meeting as well as taking time on the inevitable discussion of how bad traffic and parking had been.

In this center of innovation and technology, it is absolutely amazing that innovating technology to improve traffic and parking issues is so behind the rest of the world.


6 people like this
Posted by Anke
a resident of North Whisman
on Aug 5, 2017 at 9:17 am

"Facebook is in Menlo Park, a different county even than Palo Alto. "

Yes certainly, but they have a huge project in Palo Alto in the works. They're calling it Facebook Village or something like that.

"Palantirhas done what Google has also done in Mountain View, namely grow by taking over
one property after another and cramming it full of more people than was ever
done before. "

Exactly.

"There are few laws that let a city control how many occupants
a company places into a location. The company can even build a new location
and immediately staff up beyond the planned maximum capacity."

What about zoning laws and height limits? Surely there are laws on what a company is allowed to build in the first place. For example, Mountain View actually did say no to Google's plan for a gargantuan sprawling campus a few years ago and they went back to the drawing board (and came up with something only slightly less gargantuan).


6 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Aug 5, 2017 at 12:18 pm

"Mountain View embraced the idea of PDAs...estimated 82% increase in the city's housing stock" & Palo Alto opted out. My question to our city's leaders, why in the world did you give away some of the City's water rights to East PA after asking MV residents to cut our water consumption & simultaneously increase our water rates, without having thought that there would be an increased need of water for our City's future growth? Perhaps you could have eased water restrictions, lowered our rates & preserved the use of our water? Instead, you unwisely saved yourself a little money (eliminating the non-usage water penalty) & recieved a one time bonus (1 time payment for all future water rights) and permanently gave away an extremely valuable resource that this city will have clear need of with it's continued growth. Short sighted indeed!


7 people like this
Posted by More Housing
a resident of Willowgate
on Aug 5, 2017 at 2:01 pm

Finally. We've been putting more jobs in Mountain View than housing for a very long time now. Those people are commuting long distance, polluting the air and jamming the roadways, or paying high prices to live nearby, displacing lower income people elsewhere to pollute and cause traffic jams. With enough housing nearby, the community shuttle will finally make sense to run at a higher frequency, and we can get rid of the stupid rent control law that in 5 years will mostly benefit people working outside of Mountain View and commuting long distance while polluting and causing traffic jams just because they have a good deal on rent.


5 people like this
Posted by Pat
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 5, 2017 at 2:29 pm

There's no escape from the corruption. What we need is some people with some ethics running this city. So sick of these groups of "elected officials", that want more power. Anyone wanting a position of "power", certainly doesn't deserve it. Mountain has been destroyed. They're only trying to get more people here, so they can continue to raise the rents and squeeze every last drop of money out of us. I'll cross my fingers and hope for a large quake.


Like this comment
Posted by ResidentSince1982
a resident of another community
on Aug 5, 2017 at 2:39 pm

ResidentSince1982 is a registered user.

No, No, No, Facebook Village is on Willow Road in Menlo Park.


2 people like this
Posted by Anke
a resident of North Whisman
on Aug 5, 2017 at 2:54 pm

Apologies; you're right, I was wrong, my bad. I got it mixed up because the discussion I saw was on the Palo Alto Online website where many PA residents were plenty unhappy with it. Either way, the cities of the Peninsula and South Bay are heavily intertwined and planning mistakes in one directly affect the others. And I absolutely agree with you that the growth of jobs should be restrained.

Web Link


16 people like this
Posted by Robyn
a resident of another community
on Aug 5, 2017 at 4:58 pm

It is time for high density hovels in Hillsdale, Saratoga, Monte Sereno, etc.
Spread the pain! Why limit the discomfort to the current residents of Mountain View and San Jose?
Those who vote to increase our housing density and ruin our quality of life should be condemned to live in it.


6 people like this
Posted by Uhhh.....
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 5, 2017 at 8:35 pm

"If all goes according to plan, MTC staff predict the planned growth would go a long way toward reducing traffic congestion..."

What does a "long way toward" mean?


Like this comment
Posted by Gary
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Aug 5, 2017 at 11:31 pm

Gary is a registered user.

Menlo Park was sued based on state laws by special interests several years ago to compel it accommodation its "fair share" of more housing. The City simply agree to the court order. Cities are left to say precisely where the development will occur - not whether.


5 people like this
Posted by Anne
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Aug 6, 2017 at 1:20 pm

I don't know the exact statistics, but it seems to me that 820,000 housing units might be needed to support the 1.3 million new jobs, leaving us exactly back where we are now. The elephant in the room is jobs growth.


9 people like this
Posted by Tina
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Aug 7, 2017 at 5:06 pm

Anke, I was being very facetious!

I think the FANGS should set up shop in Modesto and Stockton, that's where folks can afford a house and they certainly need the tax base.
I also think Mtn View (City Council) is extremely short sited. A city should never put all their eggs in one basket; GOOGLE might not be in business in 5-10 years. I like Google products, by the way.
Remember Silicon Graphics, Netscape, AOL to name a few.

Web Link


10 people like this
Posted by jay ess
a resident of another community
on Aug 8, 2017 at 3:14 pm

Does anyone ever talk about human birth control. this world is going to suffer more and more from over crowding. Food shortages, water shortages, pollution, noise pollution and other problems like epidemics and extinction of wildlife as more and more space is occupied by people.


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