The basic competitive unit of the global economy is not the city, but the metropolitan region. Our labor and housing markets, transportation systems, and air, water and other natural resources all cross local borders, and function at a regional scale. We are in the same boat, and will all prosper or decline together. But all too often, no one is steering the ship. For instance, the San Francisco Bay Area region is governed by a highly-fragmented patchwork of 101 cities across nine counties.
Local fragmentation, both in the Bay Area and across the country, greatly impedes cooperation. In fact, it encourages harmful competition amongst neighboring cities that leaves all of us worse off. Research demonstrates the harmful effects of this fragmentation across a range of important issues such as:
- Job creation and economic development;
- Air and water quality;
- Transportation options and congestion;
- Segregation, exclusion and displacement; and
- Housing affordable to working families.
These issues not only cross local jurisdictional lines, they are closely related one to another. For instance, greater sprawl and inadequate public transit options mean worse air quality and rising greenhouse gas emissions. Inadequate affordable housing near entry-level jobs reduces the economic competitiveness of business while also promoting segregation and exclusion of lower-income families from the opportunities that come with living in a healthy community.
Regional Governance in the Bay Area
Four separate Bay Area agencies are charged with the task of bringing the entire region together to achieve a shared vision of a healthy, prosperous and inclusive Bay Area. These regional agencies include the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG).
Unfortunately, these agencies are not up to the task. One major reason is that each operates in a separate silo – one in charge of transportation, another oversees land use, a third focuses on air quality, and the fourth preserves the Bay. And none of them focuses on promoting regional economic development and job creation, meaning these important issues fall through the cracks altogether
A second impediment to building a stronger region is that these agencies are run by locally-appointed officials. Understandably, the primary loyalty of these officials is to the voters of the city or county in which they are elected, not to the Bay Area as a whole.
In short, no regional agency has the authority to integrate regional policy in a consistent manner to address the various silos of regional policy.And no regional agency has the incentive – or the legitimacy – to steer the region toward shared prosperity.
Why is this a Civil Rights Issue?
Regional agency reform remains important. MTC’s board, like that of ABAG, is neither democratically elected nor proportionally representative. Legislation signed into law last year (AB 57, Beall) gives the cities of Oakland and San Jose each a new voting member on the MTC board. Even so, residents of small counties have far more voting power on these boards than those of much larger counties, as shown in this chart.
As a result of the lack of accountability and inclusiveness at these agencies, decisions are made that perpetuate racial segregation in the Bay Area while denying communities of color a fair share of regional resources.
The Time for Reform is Here
The Bay Area needs a body that can take the lead in developing regional policies within a common framework, subject to full democratic accountability. In December 2011 at the invitation of Sen. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Walnut Creek), chair of the California Senate Committee on Transportation and Housing, Public Advocates and several Bay Area allies testified at an informational hearing in Oakland on improving regional governance in the Bay Area.
Public Advocates testified on the urgent need for the State Legislature to reform the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s governing structure to make it more democratic, transparent and responsive to community needs. Read Senior Staff Attorney Guillermo Mayer’s full testimony.
After the hearing Sen. DeSaulnier proposed a solution: the creation of a Bay Area Regional Commission, or BARC. Under his original proposal, S.B. 1149, BARC would be a 14-member regionally-elected commission. To ensure coordination of regional policymaking, each of the existing regional agencies would be reorganized as a division of the BARC. To ensure accessibility and responsiveness, BARC would establish uniform public participation guidelines. To ensure consistency of policy, BARC would establish an inclusive process for developing and implementing goals and policies to guide the creation of all regional plans and programs, from transportation to air quality; and BARC would prepare a first-ever regional economic development strategy.
While Sen. DeSaulnier withdrew SB 1149 to pursue negotiations, interest remains high among many stakeholders for regional reform.