There’s no denying that the challenges of 101 cities, all with their own decision-making bodies, as well as nine counties, have led to fractured planning. The heavy-handed imposition of the transit-oriented housing with the One Bay Area plan has incentives, but the question is whether it is the forerunner of a broader regional effort.
Notably, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission has launched what amounts to a hostile takeover of the Association of Bay Area Governments (the housing planning agency). The MTC argument that planning for housing ties directly to housing is a solid one.
However, MTC’s track record with its shameful investment into real estate ownership with its San Francisco headquarters to say nothing about its mis-management of the rebuilding of the Bay Bridge calls into question its basic competence. The leader, Steve Heminger, should have resigned in shame over the bridge fiasco, instead he’s doubling down on increasing his power base.
Decades ago, cities frustrated with regional bus agencies, set up their own transit systems. That proliferation means transfers upon transfers for commuters trying to cross city or county lines. The one truly regional system is BART, which was well-designed initially, but has been run for the convenience of employees and politicians. There is a directly elected board, but, apart from an immediate crisis, the public pays little attention as along as the trains show up.
Although BART’s fare return is much better than most systems, directors and executives have allowed the system’s infrastructure to age without an aggressive plan—other than asking voters for more money or begging for federal money—to update it.
When it comes to MTC—remember the cost of the Bay Bridge tripled to $6.2 billion and replacement took more than 20 years after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, plus there are ongoing questions about issues with potential deterioration on bolts and other key parts of the new bridge.
And the MTC directors are almost completely insulated from the voters. They are elected officials appointed by city councils and county boards. Tying regional actions to local city or district re-election campaigns is difficult to say the least.
That said, as the Economic Council report stated, there are several huge needs in the Bay Area.
Housing prices are soaring because the limited supply has been far out-stripped by the demand created by robust job growth. Lack of housing near jobs means long commutes (diminishing quality of life) for workers and stressed transportation systems. To meet that challenge, it proposes a super-regional agency empowered to cross city and county lines with financing mechanism such as additional sales tax or higher tolls.
It also proposes adding real teeth to the regional housing allocations (Pleasanton’s failure to meet those resulted in losing a law suit after spending almost $3 million to defend its housing cap. That settlement and the rezoning resulted in the current spate of apartment construction—more another day). Those teeth also could include streamlining the environmental process—a step that is long overdue. Doing it for housing, instead of simply for special interest sports arenas (The new Kings area in downtown Sacramento as well as the new Warriors arena in San Francisco and a proposed stadium in downtown Los Angeles are the three the governor and the Legislature set aside for special treatment).
When it comes to transportation, a regional agency would look at the proposed BART extension to Livermore and note that it will do little to solve traffic congestion other than shifting it east on I-580 and opening up parking at the Pleasanton/Dublin stations.
The real solution is to extend it to Greenville Road at the base of the Altamont with a multi-modal station that links to the ACE train. ACE is always going to be a faster link to the Silicon Valley. That takes foresight and clout to come up with the money.
There’s plenty of cash for that link tied up in the absurd high-speed rail that the governor and his legislative allies continue to jam ahead without any regard to public opinion or financial realities.
Quality leadership would look for maximum bang for the transportation buck and allocate funding accordingly.