Joyce Roy: Senate Public Hearing on Regional Governance in SF this Thursday

6 Dec

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:

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… 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:

Previous posts on MTC’s relocation:

4 Responses to “Joyce Roy: Senate Public Hearing on Regional Governance in SF this Thursday”

  1. karensmulevitzKaren Smulevitz December 6, 2011 at 6:53 pm #

    If you can’t make this meeting in SF, you will have another opportunity on December 13, when Senator DeSaulnier will hold a hearing in Oakland City Council chambers at 10 am. He will be addressing AB 57, will would give Oakland and San Jose another seat on MTC. When this hearing was held in San Jose, the public turnout was very low. It is important that we turn out some numbers to show how we value these appoinments; same for SF, if you can attend, to balance the opposition to AB57 from parties in the West Bay. In the second hour at each site, he will hear us on our dealings with MTC and how frustrating the MTC can be. He is very interested in restructing MTC.

  2. Joyce Roy December 7, 2011 at 8:08 pm #

    Karen, thanks for alerting us about that second chance.

    Here is a response from someone with real credibility, Mark Green, who serves on MTC, ABAG, JPC, etc., etc., He takes issue, thankfully, with my pessimistic view of the JPC as the vehicle for the merger of the regional agencies and spells out a path. And he ok’ed my sending these comments to you:

    I must be your vision without a road map. Actually, I think the JPC could be the agent for a total merger. If we had a full 4 agency merger, the JPC could expire gracefully. BCDC did offer to have the JPC be a collaborator in the effort to mitigate and adapt to rising ocean levels as they effect the Bay Area ( a first small step in relinquishing control). The JPC could be a true policy making body (if granted the power), but we would still have 4 of everything (personnel). The cleanest approach is to combine MTC and ABAG as the first step, then blend in BCDC and finally the Air District. I think ABAG & MTC could start as early as 2012 or 2013. Let that settle for a year and mix in BCDC in 2013 or 2014. The Air District added to the stew in 2014 or 2015. That would have everyone together for the next round of the various regional plans. The governance structure is going to be forcefully debated, but I could come up with something workable. Perhaps some directly members to the new agency after the full merger. In the long run, a board of officials in the size of 30-40 members is probably needed. They would have numerous committees to develop the highly varied topics before going to full board votes. To do the agency justice, the board members may need to be full time, but with that you would get more meaningful involvement.

    Mark Green

  3. Joyce Roy December 12, 2011 at 10:45 am #

    You have another opportunity to speak out for fair representation for Oakland on the MTC:
    Senate Transportation Committee Hearing in Oakland City Hall (Council Chambers) on Tuesday, Dec. 13 from 10 am to Noon

    I attended the hearing on Thursday in SF. Their officials spoke out against AB 57, which would give San Jose and Oakland each an additional seat on MTC, but no member of the public opposed it. There were only six public speakers at this poorly publicized hearing. (At least four people only knew about it from my emails.)

    The hearings are about both AB 57 and SB 878, empowering the regional Joint Policy Committee as a step toward restructuring regional governance. When I spoke, I said SF needs to realize that AB 57 will benefit SF because there will be more support for focusing growth in existing urban areas, that is, implementing SB 375, by MTC. There will be a greater chance that funding will focus on transit rather than highways. And re SB 878, the need for a more powerful Joint Policy Committee was demonstrated lately, when the issue of a new regional headquarter, which should have gone to them first, completely bypassed them. The entity most affected had no voice.

    If you cannot come to the hearing, you may comment by email:

    • Joyce Roy December 20, 2011 at 5:50 pm #

      The audit requested by Sen. DeSaulnier is actually going ahead and he has introduced a bill to prevent MTC spending any more bridge toll funds until the legality of it is determined. But MTC is going full speed ahead and meeting tomorrow (12/21/11) to allocate funds for architectural/engineering services. See agenda:

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