August 1, 2002 - From the August, 2002 issue

Two Assembly Bills Address Regional Planning Needs

Speaker Emeritus Hertzberg's Commission on Regionalism initiated an effort to reform state government to meet regional needs. Two bills that address the conclusions of the Commission's report are AB 787 & AB 784. AB 787 reviews the organization of state agencies for regional planning. AB 784 seeks to influence community planning to benefit regional goals. To flesh out these bills, TPR is pleased to present this interview with Nick Bollman, President of the California Center for Regional Leadership.


Nick Bollman

Nick, there seems to be a legislative window for Speaker Emeritus Robert Hertzberg to implement some recommendations of his Speaker's Regionalism Commission. Could you express the objectives of AB 787 for our readers and how they relate to the work of the Commission?

The focus of the Speaker's Commission is on state policy, and most of the recommendations in our final report address policy solutions. But policy goes beyond legislation and budget decisions to administrative structures and decisions.

The thrust of AB 787 is to examine the administrative structure of state agencies to see whether, and to what extent, they are organized in a way that brings their work closer to communities and at a regional level. This is a precursor to examining the prospect and possibilities of organizing state programs at the regional level in a manner that can integrate with collaborative programming by local governments and regional agencies, also at the regional level. Imagine all levels of California government actually operating in close collaboration together on a regional basis!

Why is this important?

It's important because the state government is a long way from every part of California. In order to effectively partner between the state government and the local government at the regional level, you need to have the governmental structure-the staff capacity and the staff authority-operating at the same level as local government and regional agencies, meaning at the regional level.

At this point, however, neither the Legislature nor even the Executive branch understands whether and how state agencies are structured to work at the regional level.

What is the cost re good public policy for not doing it this way now?

The problem is that every time a local government or regional agency wants to work together in a partnership with a state agency, it has to be done in an ad hoc fashion, because the state agencies, with few exceptions, aren't organized to be partners at the regional level.

There are some good examples of how the state could work more effectively at the regional level, but we need to have this work across the board in the state government.

One example is CalTrans, which works within a regional structure. That's actually one of the models for us because CalTrans is able to work effectively with the metropolitan planning organizations and regions around the state. That is not always the case, but it certainly structurally is the case because of the nature of the organization of CalTrans.

And the Resources agency has divided the state into 9 bio-regions, and they're beginning to organize their work around these bio-regional districts.

But Nick, give us some examples of where it doesn't work and why that is so?

One example is the state's housing bond measure that will appear on the state ballot in November. The decisions about how those bond funds will be used, assuming the bond measure passes, will be made in an interaction between local government and the state government through the state Housing and Community Development Agency.

There is not a regional meeting point at which one could look at the allocation of those housing bonds on a regional allocation basis, to make sure that the bond funds were used in a way that supports and reinforces regional planning decisions. In that particular case, we simply don't have the structure in place to bring those funds down to the regional level and make them work effectively to implement regional planning.

Another example is workforce investment programs and employment and training services which are operated primarily through local workforce investment boards, designated and chartered by the state government. It is now a given that the economy in California works at a regional level. Most often people live in one part of a region and work in another part. Therefore workforce investment strategy and employment training strategies should be formulated at the regional level, even if the services are delivered locally. CCRL is working with the state Workforce Investment Board and the new Labor and Workforce Development Agency to implement this idea.

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Nick, the Commission heard a lot about the need for regional governance architecture in California. But that's a subject that doesn't seem to have a lot of sex appeal. Help us understand why the architecture of government really is so important?

It goes to the role of government itself. We ought to have certain expectations about how government is going to behave. We have laws and regulations that govern the way that our public officials and administrators make decisions. Therefore, the way in which we structure government very much determines the kinds of decisions and the level at which those decisions are made.

Ultimately, we need to get to the structural questions because that will give us the certainty and assurance that decisions will be made at the appropriate level. When local governments are committing themselves to a partnership with the state government, they ought to do it at the regional level and avoid that long dreary distance between local and state government.

What about AB 784? Can you talk a little bit about how that may further the recommendations of the Speaker's Regionalism Commission?

The Commission came down very strongly in favor of improved community planning and design. The Commission has recommended very strongly that we significantly improve the quality of regional planning. There are two reasons for doing so: First of all, many of our communities are not well-planned to begin with. And second, as we look at population growth of 12 million over the next 20 years, we have to figure out how to accommodate that population growth in a way that protects and improves the quality of life in existing communities, as well as in new communities.

But planning is not sufficient. In addition to better regional and community planning, we need better design. For example, every study we have seen suggests that most people are opposed to greater density. But when people see well-designed buildings and neighborhoods, where certain kinds of amenities, such as parks and schools, are made possible because of greater density, they are more willing to accept greater density. Good design is absolutely essential to good planning.

What's unique and significant about AB 784 is that the measure puts the state in favor of good community design, not only streets, sidewalks and neighborhoods, but buildings themselves, so that the quality of life can be improved even as our population in our urban centers becomes more compact and denser.

AB 787 and 784 are part of a family of bills introduced by the Speaker Emeritus out of the Regionalism Commission Report, as are AB 15 and AB 2588, with respect to schools and modernization funding. Give us a sense of the significance of this pattern and what's at stake with these bills as they go through the summer session.

I would add to that list legislation introduced by other legislators as well. Acknowledging the tremendous leadership that the Speaker Emeritus is playing with his own legislation, he is joined by Senator Kuehl, Senator Torlakson, Senator Peace, Assemblymember Kehoe, Assemblymember Steinberg and others who realize that in order to meet the major challenges we have with traffic and transportation, housing, economic development, workforce investment, social equity and so forth, we need to be addressing these issues at a regional level.

The major thrust of the Commission's Report is that there is no single magical solution. There's no single piece of legislation or budget decision that will solve the problem. We need an alignment of state policy that combines all of these big system reforms in a way that encourages both integration and comprehensive planning and implementation at the regional level.

Who are the allies for such a legislative realignment effort?

Certainly enlightened business, civic and grassroots leaders across the state have come to understand this work. As you know, CCRL works with many of the regional civic organizations across the state. In addition, I've been spending a lot of time recently with local elected officials, whether they are in metropolitan planning organizations responsible for transportation dollars, or councils of government responsible for regional housing needs. There is a groundswell demand for more local control through regional collaboration.

That may seem like an oxymoron, but local officials understand that only by working together on a multi-jurisdictional basis can they really adopt effective long-term solutions. And beyond that, ordinary citizens have come to understand that these problems need to be solved at the regional level, and they expect local officials to cooperate in that way.

And they're beginning to realize that the state must be a full regional partner as well. I truly believe we've embarked irreversibly into the New Regionalism, and that California's economy and quality of life will be the better for it.

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