April 25, 2001 - From the April, 2001 issue

Speaker's Regions Commission Hears From Bay Area Leaders Re: Challenges

As population around the state explodes and demographics change, state leaders are realizing that our archaic governance structures no longer fit the portrait, and they too must shift to reflect California's present-day needs and goals. When talking about traffic congestion, transit planning, jobs/housing balance, and air and water quality, regional collaboration among cities and counties is obviously critical. To this end, Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg recently formed a Commission on Regionalism. MIR is pleased to present the following remarks from its last meeting, in which former State Senator Becky Morgan and Executive Directors Eugene Leong, ABAG; Steve Heminger, Metropolitan Transportation Commission; and Ellen Garvey, Bay Area AQMD share their thoughts on the future of regionalism.


Becky Morgan

Becky Morgan
Former California State Senator

A decade ago, I introduced a piece of regional planning legislation that turned out to be unsuccessful. The question is, why did we not have the votes to pass what seemed pretty simple at first-to put in place a regional planning effort? I think it was fear, not of what the bill said, but of another layer of government. Fear that it was about revenue sharing, and all the small cities were sure San Jose was going to get all the money. Fear that they would lose their autonomy and fear of becoming like Silicon Valley with its growth and traffic problems.

What I've actually come to believe is that a nine-county organization is too big. To steer policy or to do overall planning, [perhaps nine counties is appropriate]. But to get results, the nine Bay Area county region is too big. (We could say that about L.A. too.)

In contrast, the success I had in the mid-80s with saving Caltrain-the train that runs between San Jose and San Francisco-and my Joint Venture experience have convinced me that regional boundaries need to have a basis of common interests and needs. With Caltrain, it was three counties. The Governor had refused to sign any bill that continued a contract to run the train, so we put together a joint powers authority. We were successful because there were fewer legislators for me to lobby, for one thing, and there was a common interest. None of the three counties wanted the 17,000 people riding the train to go onto the 101 or the 280. People could really comprehend the loss of the right-of-way if that train was closed down and commercial and residential development went up.

In Sacramento, if you can convince the affected people, the rest of the State usually goes along. I'd hope that if we can define regions of commonality-be it need, geography, or jobs/high tech-that the State will respect those local efforts.

In summary, regions should develop from the bottom-up [according to] common interests and needs. And what the State can do-which is what joint venture firms could never do-is tax reform.

Eugene Leong
Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG)

Regarding the definition of a region and the idea that nine counties is too large, I'd like to entertain the possibility that actually it's too small. [Three to four years ago, the California Department of Finance released a table of alarming long-term growth population forecasts in all of the counties.] In particular, I was interested in the Bay Area, and I noticed how low the 40-year estimates were. So we mapped out the growth of the surrounding ten counties as well.

At that point, a light bulb went on that said, This is dumb growth. I found it very interesting that the Department of Finance does these forecasts, and yet no other State agency seems to grab them and ask, What does this mean for housing? What does this mean for air quality? They just throw [the numbers] out there and nobody says anything about them. So let me make a few observations.

First, in 40 years, San Francisco's population goes down by 14%-the only county in the State that decreases. That says that you're not likely to be able to find housing there. Now, our forecasts for 20 years show about a 14% increase. So between 2020 and 2040 , we're [basically] going to gentrify the entire city and county area.

You can also see why a regional partnership began between Contra Costa, Alameda, Santa Clara, San Joaquin and Stanislaus Counties-we know that workers are increasingly coming from the Central Valley into the Silicon Valley. Population forecasts for Contra Costa, Alameda, and Santa Clara are roughly 1% a year. But the rates for San Joaquin and Stanislaus are 2.5 times that. And it's very simple-real estate housing prices decrease about $4,000 to $5000 for every mile you drive east. It's clear that our surrounding areas are providing housing for the workers that are increasingly moving away because of impacted real estate prices.

The other thing it suggests is that we have an airshed here in the Bay Area, but we quickly get blamed for the adverse air quality in Monterey, the Central Valley, Sacramento and so forth. And it surely doesn't help to have all this cross-commute between regions. In fact, in terms of the airshed conflict, we're looking at four larger and larger regions. Again, maybe nine counties is too small to talk about a regional problem. Certainly from a housing standpoint, a transportation standpoint, and an air quality standpoint, you need a scale of this size.

In the SCAG region in Los Angeles, people have long complained that the jobs are in Orange and L.A. Counties while the housing is in Riverside and San Bernardino, creating a jobs/housing mismatch. Well, we're basically doing the same thing now .

I'm currently working on a couple of projects, including the Regional Agency Smart Growth Alternative. We're also working with the Bay Conservation Development Commission and the Regional Water Quality Control Board. It's the first time the five regional agencies have come together on this kind of a project. [Importantly] this is also an attempt to form a set of projections to be adopted by policymakers. For many years we've produced population projections, but never had them adopted as something to which local governments could conform their general plans, housing elements, etc.

The last thing I want to mention is our Housing Needs Determination process, which we completed last week. Our Board ended up adopting the process, but if I took off my shirt, you'd see lash-marks all over. In dealing with our local governments, I've found that the process is extremely flawed. [W]e really have to make local governments responsible for building housing, but if we don't put financial incentives in place [instead of simply mandating numbers] we'll continue to see the same visceral reaction we've seen from locals thus far. [F]iscal reform really is at the root of these issues.

[Because of the horrific jobs/housing imbalance] we initiated the Interregional Partnership Discussions, a project between three COGs-ourselves along with our counterparts in Stanislaus and San Joaquin. What's exciting is that the Bay Area local government reps have recognized that we do need to produce more housing (and possibly fewer jobs) and we do need to help the Central Valley produce more jobs. Hopefully, together we'll be able to reverse [this] trend.

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Steve Heminger
Metropolitan Transportation Commission

I'd like to start with a conceptual framework for looking at where development pressure is likely to occur and why-"the donut." Area "B" of the donut [the ring] is the existing residential area [630 square miles in this example, using arbitrary acreage]. "A," the donut hole, is the infill potential within the existing urbanized area [80 square miles]. And "C," the icing on the donut, if you will, is the development pressure on the urban fringe [550 square miles].

The prediction is that most of the growth is going to occur in "C." Why? First, "A" is not big enough to allow for much growth. That's the case with infill around the country. Second, "A" is already congested. Bringing additional infill to urbanized areas has a lot of plausible objectives, but reducing congestion is not one. Third, and important, is that the NIMBY zone covers all of "A." NIMBYs in "C" will only be riled up where you're doing development. But in "A" everybody cares [about infill] no matter where you're doing it, and that tends to wear down your chances of success. A fourth reason is that because "C" is seven times bigger than "A," land is cheaper.

Finally-and it's an issue that has been overlooked in almost all the Smart Growth discussions I've heard-is consumer preference. A social scientist who studied the problem said: "As you go further out, your taxes fall, housing generally costs less, schools improve, you get increasing amounts of public recreation, you're safer from crime, and [this is important] you're more likely to be surrounded by people like yourself. Given that, it's no wonder the public loves sprawl." [T]he best Smart Growth strategy the Bay Area could pursue is to approve the open public school system. When we talk simply in terms of housing prices and transportation infrastructure, we're really missing the boat. Most of it has to do with schools, with what parents care about, with our racial attitudes and how we like to get along with each other. Until we address these questions front and center, we're kidding ourselves.

So how do you get past these obstacles in the donut hole?

What we're doing in the Bay Area-partly for prudent financial reasons-is socking most of our transportation money into taking care of the system we've already built. Over 80% of the Bay Area's transportation money over the next 20 years will maintain the existing system, which is [a strong vote of confidence in the central area.]

[MTC also has a program] called Transportation for Livable Communities (TLC) to match transportation dollars with community redevelopment. Too often in the past, federal highway money has been spent blowing through neighborhoods such as West Oakland. We now have projects aimed at building those places back up. We currently have $9 million available in a capital program, and we've allocated about $27 million to date to about three dozen projects in the Bay Area.

Another more recent program is the Housing Incentive Program (HIP), which takes our TLC program a step further. This is a transportation agency getting into the housing business, which is pretty bizarre. (But you just heard a businessman say that maybe we're growing too many jobs.) [HIP] provides a direct incentive to local governments if they permit the construction of residential development next to transit. We have a Call For Projects out for the first cycle of these programs, and we'll be awarding $9 million to local government in the region.

Finally there is a lot of creative thinking that we can do in looking at the built environment, especially in the urban core. We tend to think that there's too much stuff already there, what are we going to do with housing? [But there are some great examples where localities have done innovative, unconventional redevelopment, such as removing malls and replacing them with infill.]

So if most of the development is going to occur on the icing around the donut, how do we do that? With what I call "Smart Sprawl." [That includes] protecting a suitable amount of open space and habitat [by publicly purchasing land on the suburban fringe]. It also means looking beyond the notion that everything has to look like College Avenue in Berkeley in order to be called Smart Growth. What we want are development patterns that don't force everyone to drive alone for every trip but do involve the notion of walking to shops, commuter bus hubs, telework centers, [ZEV plug-ins, etc.]

Ellen Garvey
Bay Area Air Quality Management District

I'd like to [explore further] the link between local land-use decisions, transportation options, and air quality. [L]ike Los Angeles and San Diego, we've come a long way in cleaning up our air. When we first formed in 1955, the big issue was backyard garbage burning. And in the 60s and 70s, we were looking at black smoke spewing out of smokestacks. [Back then] industry was roughly two-thirds of the problem. [But] the overall emission pie for the Bay Area today-as well as for San Diego and L.A.-shows that industry is 30% of the problem.

The number-one problem now is cars. [Six and a half million people live in the nine-county Bay Area, and we drive 5.5 million cars.] Motor vehicles are roughly 52% of all air pollution emissions. As we look at the increase in congestion and the decrease in mobility and how that affects our air quality, we begin to see the imbalance. We have stepped up to the plate and cleaned up our gasoline and tailpipes, but the number of cars in the Bay Area and the miles that we're driving are increasing at a faster pace. We need to influence our collective behavior so that we can reduce our dependence on the single occupant vehicle. ZEVs are one answer; improved transit and locating people near transit is another. Whether it's jobs and housing, transportation and transit, or industrial pollution and cleanup, the questions is: What can we do as a region to improve air quality?

Our challenge today involves how we go about using our cars, [which is] much more political, behavioral and sociological in nature [than smokestacks].

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