As the new Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities (AHSC) grant program neared its October 31 public comment deadline, the program was showing a more definite sense of institutional purpose, focused on promoting dense transit-oriented urban streetscapes.

Would-be grant applicants may be disappointed if they expect AHSC to focus on maximizing affordable housing construction or promoting healthier living in small inland towns. Housing is a major statutory goal of the AHSC program, and the proposed grant criteria do allow some leeway for use in less dense areas. But this is not the comprehensive housing construction and rehabilitation program that housing and economic justice advocates would like to see the state enact.

The Strategic Growth Council's presentation materials released in late October for the current, final round of public workshops on the program were full of reminders about AHSC's narrow focus. The materials said the program is able to make only a few grants -- 13 to 23 in the main part of the program for the coming year.

The materials emphasized the goal of transit-oriented density in a look at "the big picture vision" through before-and-after renderings of urban street makeovers. These showed how a street could be made more prosperous and welcoming to visitors through denser, less car-oriented development.

"Before" images depicted broad, rough-edged commuter arteries, with sparsely placed businesses, unevenly set back from the sidewalk by parking lots, often using old-fashioned or awkwardly hand-lettered signage. "After" images created a cozier, more prosperous look, using a palette of streetcars, bike lanes, trees, pedestrians, and upscale storefronts in better-kept, taller mixed-use buildings that snuggled right up to their sidewalks. In these images, the likes of International Boulevard in Oakland and El Camino Real in Santa Clara began to look more like the likes of Barcelona.

The presentation called attention to a proposed requirement that appears in text surrounding Table 4 of the Draft Guidelines released in September. It would provide that housing developments supported by the program must have a transit station within a "walkable route" of half a mile. They would need to contain at least 100 units in a metropolitan area or 50 units elsewhere. Minimum net density for all-housing buildings would range from 20 to 60 units per acre by type of area; for mixed-use projects, minimum floor-to-area ratios would range up the same scale from 1.5 to 3.0.

On two major outstanding questions -- identification of "disadvantaged communities" and definition of a role for regional government entities -- the new materials added little beyond the early-October staff report and SGC hearing discussion. On the belated CalEPA designation of "disadvantaged" census tracts that must be "benefited" by half of AHSC funds, the new materials said the choices "will be available in the next few weeks."

The SGC Web site now provides a dedicated Web page for the AHSC program and a separate page for its separately administered farmland fragment, the Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program (SALC).

Workshops seeking to explain and receive comment on the near-final design for the main AHSC program were being held October 23 through 28, with plans to webcast the October 28 meeting in Sacramento.

Workshops on the SALC program were set for October 24 in Oroville, October 29 in Bakersfield, and October 30 in Watsonville.

Comments on both program designs are due October 31, respectively to and

The ARB cap-and-trade proceeds page displays 149 comments on the "disadvantaged communities" choice process. Comments submitted to the SGC have not yet been posted online.

The late-October AHSC materials said a final draft of the guidelines would be posted December 1 in preparation for the December 11 meeting where the Strategic Growth Council will be asked to approve the whole plan.