MTC poised to purchase San Francisco building, but Senator DeSaulnier not backing down

10 Oct

Two weeks ago the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) voted to move their headquarters to San Francisco, despite an ongoing state audit initiated by Senate Transportation Committee Chair Mark DeSaulnier. At the time, one bit of hope was that MTC might be outbid by another entity because staff claimed that there was now competition for the building and that if the MTC didn’t move quickly, they might lose out on the opportunity to buy it.

Who knows if others were bidding on it, but it now seems as if MTC is close to making the purchase. This Wednesday they will meet in closed session to negotiate the purchase, and then in open session to discuss the deal and financing.

In my last blog post on this issue, I mentioned that Senator Mark DeSaulnier is not so pleased that MTC is moving forward with the building purchase and questionable use of toll funds. He said at the time that he would hold hearings and introduce a bill to drastically overhaul MTC. Since writing that, I saw another article where he explained in a bit more detail what he plans to do:

DeSaulnier has started another round of regional governance reform hearings that could revive contentious talk of merging agencies including the commission, Association of Bay Area Governments and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

“As someone who has served on three regional Bay Area agencies over a span of 10 years, I can tell you that regional governance is going to change dramatically,” DeSaulnier said.

“And I don’t believe that, in the end, that building in San Francisco will be the regional agencies’ headquarters.”

DeSaulnier’s comments are very exciting to me. The MTC’s conversation and ultimate decisions on the Oakland Airport Connector funding a couple of years ago made it clear to me that the MTC has an immense amount of power and a lack of oversight in two directions – few people are paying attention to what they do and the MTC provides little oversight to agencies like BART, instead presuming that all the information BART presents to them is accurate. So it’s great that DeSaulnier is fired up about this – I look forward to seeing what he proposes.

I’m sure that DeSaulnier’s comments have not made the MTC too happy, but with his powerful position, you might think that the commissioners would at least be respectful towards him and to others who oppose the San Francisco building purchase. Well, you’d be wrong. MTC Chair Adrienne Tissier wrote an opinion piece in the Contra Costa Times that was titled, “MTC is moving, deal with it.” Though I’m sure the editors chose that title and not her, what she wrote expresses the same sentiment:

[W]hen — not if — MTC leaves its current location, the move itself and preparation of the new location will incur costs. Whether such moneys — drawn from Bay Area Toll Authority reserves — are being expended in Oakland, San Francisco or Clayton is the real question.

The war of words over MTC’s move is not about whether to spend money, but rather where the money will be spent.

MTC did what the public and the news media demanded: It stepped back and reviewed itself in an open and honest manner…

MTC is moving, period.

So at this point MTC and Senator DeSaulnier are moving full steam ahead, nearly surely towards a collision next year. MTC is moving forward with their questionable building purchase, apparently with no contingency plan of what to do if they purchase the building and then the state determines they cannot use the bridge toll funds for this purchase. DeSaulnier is moving forward with the audit and likely with state legislation to reform not just the MTC but all of the Bay Area regional transportation and land use agencies.

Whatever happens on Wednesday, it looks like we won’t know the end of this story until at least next year. In the meantime, it is critical that the MTC commissioners know the public is watching them.

You’re welcome to attend the meeting, which begins at 9:00 am on Wednesday, October 12 in the MTC auditorium at 101 Eight Street in downtown Oakland. Keep in mind that they’ll be in closed session first so it’s possible that public comment won’t start until 10am, 11am or even later

So it might make more sense to email the commissioners before the meeting. The big question to ask is what their contingency plan is if they purchase the building and then the state determines that MTC can’t use toll funds for the building purchase. Here are their email addresses:,, Thomas_W._Azumbrado@HUD.GOV,,,,,,,,,, ,,,,,

Previous posts on MTC’s relocation:

3 Responses to “MTC poised to purchase San Francisco building, but Senator DeSaulnier not backing down”

  1. Patrick M Mitchell October 10, 2011 at 3:13 pm #

    I’m taking off work for this meeting – I’ll be there! The MTC has clearly overstepped their boundaries yet again. MTC will indeed be moving – and for their sake they should hope the door won’t hit them too hard on the way out.

  2. Joyce Roy October 12, 2011 at 2:55 pm #

    At today’s meeting, the same six commissioners voted against the purchase and eight in favor. Not a rousing endorsement, but enough, so they will be closing tomorrow or Friday. The price came down from $107 million to $93 million What a bargain, for a white elephant no other buyer wanted!
    Rebecca Kaplan, who is really on top of this, showed me a letter dated July 15, 2011 from CBRE, the commercial real estate agency. It claimed that unless a decision was made at the July 27th meeting, the “property will be immediately taken to the open market for sale in a competitive bid process.” It stated the price would then likely be 15% – 25% over the $107 million price. They were only off by $14 million!
    A few in the public spoke after the decision. Will Travis, Executive Director of BCDC, stated they would be willing to move in after their lease expires in 2013. He said, “people shape buildings as much as buildings shape people.” When I spoke, I said I agree that buildings shape people, and how would people be shaped working in a dungeon-like space? I also said the good news is that this decision could help expedite the re-structuring of regional agencies so we finally would have an MPO. (Scott Haggerty, energetically shook his head.)
    Explanation: Most regions have a MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization) to distribute federal transportation funds. But we have a split with one body, MTC handing out the dough for transportation, and another, ABAG, concerned with land use. An MPO would connect transportation and land use.

  3. Daniel Schulman October 12, 2011 at 3:59 pm #


    Thank you for staying on top of this issue and letting everyone else know what has been happening. While it is far from a perfect outcome, you and the other activist did just save the public a bunch of money.

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