July 5, 2000 - From the July, 2000 issue

CCRL: California's Regions Have a New Champion

Advocates for everything from environmental to economic development issues have increasingly focused on the importance of regions. Yet State policies often fail to acknowledge regional differences and local governments all to often engage in competition or isolationism. To help spur regionalism, Nick Bollman, former Senior Program Director for the Irvine Foundation, recently founded the California Center for Regional Leadership (CCRL). Supported by a grant from the Irvine Foundation, CCRL is devoted to building the capacity of "collaborative regional initiatives." TPR talked to Nick about the importance of regions in CA and the promising efforts currently under way to find cross-jurisdictional solutions to cross-jurisdictional problems.


Nick Bollman

Nick, with the support of the James Irvine Foundation, you have just embarked on a new enterprise, the California Center for for Regional Leadership. Give our readers a sense of this new organization's mission? And of what relevance it has for metropolitan Southern California.

As we enter the 21st century, we have to think of new ways of solving California's problems. Over the last several years at the Irvine Foundation, we had the privilege of working with regional civic leaders all across California. It was apparent that many of the new ideas about how to meet our economic, environmental, social equity and economic challenges, are coming from a new breed of regional leaders that we call ‘civic entrepreneurs.'

The mission of California Center for Regional Leadership is to support those leaders and their organizations using regions to reframe and more effectively address challenging issues.

Why precisely is CCRL needed? What is inadequate about the existing public and private sector institutions that requires a new regional level of organization?

The problem is that California and its communities need fresh ideas, styles of leadership and organizations to meet some rather overwhelming challenges-such as population growth, natural resource conservation and creating economic opportunities for low-income people.

The economy, the ecology and our social relations increasingly organize themselves on a regional basis. But jurisdictions in the public sector-as well as in the nonprofit and private sector-are out of alignment with these other self-organizing systems. In many cases our public entities' jurisdictional borders were created more than a hundred years ago.

A concrete example of current inadequacies is State and local fiscal relationship. Local land use planning decisions, such as attracting big box retail, puts localities in competition with each other because the State and local finance system creates an incentive to doing so. Looking at the needs for retail on a regional basis would enable collaboration between local governments for sounder decisions on where housing, commercial retail and industry should be located. But there aren't any incentives to do that right now.

Government reform will be essential as we move into this "new economy." We need to make sure that our economic development strategies acknowledge that the region is what matters. And we need to acknowledge ecological regions in how we organize support for the improvement of our natural resources.

We're very excited about the commitment that Speaker Hertzberg has made to a new Speaker's Commission on Regions. This commission will draw attention to this new regional phenomenon and provide the State government with the opportunity to think more effectively about how to align State policies, programs and practices to support regional collaboration.

Are there some prototypical regional collaboratives that you can point to as models that others might learn from?

The Irvine Foundation came upon an organization in 1994 called Joint Venture: Silicon Valley Network. It was a new regional civic organization led primarily by business leaders but also including community and public sector leaders. Joint Venture examined the next economy for Silicon Valley and discovered that sustaining that economy is fully dependent on the quality of transportation, housing and K-12 education-they've been deeply involved in addressing these issues in the Silicon Valley.

At the same time, a small group of business leaders in the Sierra Nevada were working on how to maintain the quality of life that is so important to the economic prosperity of that region. From that small handful six years ago, the Sierra Business Council has now grown to over 550 members.

SBC has a very different organizational history and concept of "vision" from Joint Venture: Silicon Valley. What they have in common is a commitment to a high quality of life and a robust economy-including economic opportunity for all.

What rules, regulations or governance reforms, besides state local finance, need to be adjusted to accommodate this regional movement which you suggest is burgeoning throughout the country and the state?

Let's take housing as an example. We have an enormous jobs-housing imbalance. There are places such as Orange County and San Diego, where the new economy is booming and creating many times more jobs than housing units. They're exporting their housing requirements to the Inland-Empire which is desperate to have the kind of high-quality jobs that are being created in Orange County and San Diego. Again, there isn't any incentive or setting for interregional cooperation to make sure that the jobs are created where affordable housing is available, and vice versa.

In the Bay Area, there's an ambitious project created by the Bay Area Alliance for Sustainable Development called the Livability Footprint. It brings together business, environmental and social equity organizations in a serious conversation about where development should be directed in the Bay Area over the next 20 years.

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Usually these issues are debated in front of city councils when particular projects come before them – and are matters of conflict rather than consensus. If through the Livability Footprint project a broad agreement can be reached among business and development, environmental, and social equity organizations, a lot of conflict and planning inefficiency can be avoided.

Another example of the importance of new regional approaches is New Schools Better Neighborhoods. Their proposition is simple: Schools can only work effectively if they are planned in collaboration with community organizations, parents and residents.

Rather than building schools in suburban green fields we should build smaller schools as magnets for reinvesting in existing neighborhoods. There isn't enough clout for this to happen in just one neighborhood or school district. You need a regional organization, like New Schools Better Neighborhoods, that can both oppose the siting of schools as suburban sprawl, as well as promote the siting of schools in inner-city neighborhoods.

Nick, with your experience in the foundation world, could you forecast whom CCRL's collaborative partners will likely be?

Our primary partners are these new regional civic organizations- in Los Angeles the Metropolitan Forum Project, the Gateway Cities Partnership, the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley, and the San Gabriel Consortium, to name just a few.

But, we're also working with issue-oriented organizations-people who are interested in smart growth, poverty, economic development and government reform. These organizations have also begun to see that a regional approach suits their purposes.

We hope to have partners in the public sector as well. There is a growing understanding by champions within local and State government, that regional approaches are more effective. We intend to work with local government organizations to encourage and support regional approaches to problem solving.

Nick, the law of physics asserts that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Politics may be a subset of physics, for there appear to be similar reactions to proposed change. What are the likely obstacles/ opponents to accomplishing the regional agenda that CCRL advocates?

There aren't a lot of villains out there. There are reasons that things happen the way that they do and most of them have to do with the old saw-that's the way that we've always done it. We think that providing better information to public officials, and building support through an engaged citizenry is the way to address this problem.

Lastly, one year from now, after your first year of operation, project what might constitute success for the California Center for Regional Leadership?

First of all, this is a long-term approach. The inadequacies of the current way of doing business didn't arise over night and they won't be changed over night. We're counseling for a lot of patience because it is going to take time.

On the other hand, I believe that by the next session of the state legislature, we will see a new unified vision between the Governor and the legislature on how the State can better support regional collaboration and approaches to issues.

There will also be some important new interregional collaborations trying to address the jobs-housing imbalance. And we hope to make important advances towards a consensus in the Bay Area and many other districts on where development should be directed.

For more information on the California Center for Regional Leadership visit their website at:www.ccrl.org.

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© 2019 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.