This guest post was written by Joyce Roy. As a retired architect, Joyce has raised her sights (or sites?) to the whole city of Oakland and so has been active in advocating for better transit, the right development in the right place and the reuse of existing structures. She is an active member of ULTRA.
This is for those of you who were disturbed by the recent decision of MTC (Metropolitan Transportation Commission) to leave the headquarters they share with ABAG (Association of Bay Area Governments) and use Bridge toll funds for real estate speculation by purchasing a too-big warehouse in a transit-challenged location. It was not just in itself an unwise, and possibly, illegal action, but a loud and clear symptom of the Bay Area’s transportation/land-use disconnect due to the difficulty of comprehensive planning without regional governance which would combine the functions of MTC, ABAG, the Air District and BCDC.
Here is your chance to have your concerns heard by our State Senate:
Senate Transportation & Housing Informational Hearing-
SUBJECT: Regional Governance and Bay Area Economic Development
December 8, 2011
10:00 am – 1:00 pm in the Legislative Chamber of San Francisco City Hall, Room 250
You can be assured that your comments will be given serious attention because the Chair of the Senate Transportation & Housing Committee, Mark DeSaulnier, has served on MTC, ABAG, and the Air District so he understands the dysfunctional separation of those regional agencies.
If you cannot come to the hearing, you may comment by email: Senator.firstname.lastname@example.org
You can read his proposed legislation, SB 878, which addresses regional governance. It proposes using the Joint Policy Committee as an agent of change. That requires some explanation and history.
Ten years ago, the state legislature proposed the merger of MTC & ABAG. This would have combined in one agency transportation planning and land use planning. Most regions have such an agency known as a MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization) that distributes federal and state funds for transportation. ABAG, which was formed in 1961, was slated to be the Bay Area’s MPO. But ten years later, after an employee’s embezzlement, the state created the MTC to be the MPO. So for many years, transportation planning largely ignored its effect on land use.
That first effort at merger failed, but MTC and ABAG agreed to form a Task Force for better cooperation. In 2004 it evolved into the Joint Policy Committee (JPC), which then added the Air District, and in 2007, the BCDC (Bay Area Conservation & Development Commission.)
The JPC has no real power, so has become something of a debating society. They do not meet more than once every two months and often do not have a quorum. Its agenda is actually under the control of MTC’s Executive Director. For instance, at last Friday’s meeting (Dec. 2), the Committee, with only a couple of day’s notice, was asked by him to vote to hire Will Travis (who retires this month as Executive Director of BCDC) as “lead coordinator” for the committee. The decision was tabled because of inadequate notice.
The same short-notice tactic was used with MTC about the purchase of the warehouse. In fact, this committee, which is the only body solely of all four of the regional agencies that were supposed to comprise the Bay Area Headquarters, was NEVER consulted. The Executive Director of MTC completely bypassed this committee with his plans to purchase the warehouse at 390 Main in San Francisco.
The Joint Policy Committee generates little public attention. One of the very few speakers at last Friday’s meeting pointed out the lack of public interest in the committee, which represents four regional agencies. He said, “This is the meeting that should attract crowds of people rather than single agencies like MTC.”
But the problem is it has little power because it is under the thumb of MTC, which is not going to willingly give up its power of the purse, its receipt and distribution of state and federal transportation dollars. So it seems that the Joint Policy Committee would be a weak vehicle to drive the consolidation of regional agencies.
One public official has a vision I agree with, but not the road map of how to get there. The vision is:
… a consolidation of functions is desirable in the future. Certainly, MTC and ABAG are prime candidates for a merger. The Air District is a different animal, but could be a subset of regulators handing out permits and fines when needed; yet, having their “planning” functions incorporated into an ABAG/MTC office. BCDC could also be blended into ABAG/MTC with their planning and keep a permitting function within 100 feet of the bay. Bottom line….one executive director…one financial director….one personal director…..one planning director…one receptionist…fewer duplicative consultants….less staff time lost checking in with other agencies..etc., etc.,etc.
RESOURCES for people who want to know more:
- Public Policy Institute of California testimony on 2001 proposed merger
- The League of Women Voters of the Bay Area position on Regional Governance, which has been a major concern since its inception in 1959
Previous posts on MTC’s relocation:
- 10/20/11: Good news & bad news: Damon Slough & MTC
- 10/10/11: MTC poised to purchase San Francisco building, but Senator DeSaulnier not backing down
- 9/29/11: MTC approves move to San Francisco, triggering Senator DeSaulnier to commit to drastically overhaul the agency
- 9/27/11: Despite ongoing state audit, MTC poised to move to San Francisco; ABAG unlikely to join them
- 8/19/11: MTC does the right thing, rescinds vote to move to San Francisco
- 8/16/11: Joyce Roy: MTC stealth action contradicts sustainability policy