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Secrecy rules in regional-planning power struggle

September 1, 2015

By Zelda Bronstein : 48hills – excerpt

Critical funding, equity issues playing out with very little public input. Pat Eklund, of Novato, is the only member of the ABAG Executive Board who is calling for more openness in the process.

SEPTEMBER 1, 2015 — Last week the power struggle between the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments intensified, as the Sierra Club and the Six Wins for Equity Network entered the fray. Meanwhile, the agencies’ joint ad hoc committee resumed its secret deliberations on consolidating the planning functions of the two agencies.

Routinely ignored by the media, MTC and ABAG operate in obscurity at their MetroCenter headquarters in Oakland. That’s unfortunate, given their huge impact on where Bay Area residents live and work (or not), and how we get around. MTC oversees the region’s transportation planning; ABAG manages its planning for land use and housing. Together they prepared the region’s first, state-mandated Sustainable Communities Strategy, Plan Bay Area 2040, approved in July 2013. Under the aegis of that “blueprint,” as they call it, the two groups expect to hand out $292 billion in public funds.

Their current dispute involves money. Finance-wise, the two partners are highly unequal. MTC has an annual budget of more than $900 million; ABAG’s budget is $23.6 million. More to the point, ABAG depends on MTC for crucial funding. The first public sign of trouble appeared in late June, when MTC voted to fund ABAG’s planning and research staff for only six months ($1.9 million) instead of the customary full fiscal year.

The timing of the MTC vote was not coincidental. At the end of December the two agencies are scheduled to move into their plush new headquarters in San Francisco. If major administrative changes are in the offing, MTC officials want to make them before the relocation.

But what’s really at stake is not efficiency; it’s who will call the shots, and in what direction they will aim. In particular, will social justice count in Plan Bay Area 2.0?.

The social justice question provided the subtext of the contentious July 10 joint meeting of the MTC Planning Committee and the ABAG Administrative Committee. The agenda carried dueling recommendations from MTC and ABAG staffs over whether  a key anti-displacement policy that appears in the first iteration of Plan Bay Area should appear in the blueprint’s 2017 update, which is now under way.

The contested policy, which constitutes one of the “performance targets” in the current plan, reads as follows:

House 100% of the region’s projected growth by income level (very-low, low, moderate, above-moderate) without displacing current low-income residents.

ABAG staff wanted to keep the policy; MTC staff proposed to replace it with this:

House 100% of the region’s projected growth by income level with no increase in in-commuters over the Plan baseline year… (more)

The big power battles continue. Read the rest if you can. Voters may want to quiz all their elected officials on where they stand on these issues and what they think can be done to bring some public control back to the process of running our government and deciding our future.

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