Mayor pushes for city to take a stand in regional power play

By Kurtis Alexander, Daily Planet Staff
Thursday July 04, 2002

The regional agencies charged with solving the Bay Area’s traffic problems and eliminating its housing crunch has begun shuffling its ranks, and the city of Berkeley is ready to get involved. 

“We need to address things like why Berkeley is increasing its density by 20 percent when suburban cities haven’t even looked at the issue,” Mayor Shirley Dean said. 

Berkeley should weigh in on the operations of regional planners, said Dean, who is urging councilmembers to oppose a state bill that calls for the merging of two heavyweight planning boards: the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which focuses solely on transportation and the Association of Bay Area Governments, which looks broadly at regional issues like housing and open space.  

The bill says the merger is an attempt to streamline regional planning efforts 

Dean’s is not opposed to the merger itself, but to the structure of the proposed agency because it would shrink Berkeley’s political muscle, she said. 

Senate Bill 1243, authored by Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch, makes MTC the lead agency in the proposed merger calling for the MTC to “assume land use responsibilities of the Association of Bay Area Governments” and to rename itself the Bay Area Land Use and Transportation Commission. 

Dean opposes MTC’s dominant position. 

“Just look at the numbers on MTC’s board. They don’t fairly represent the inner core cities in Alameda County,” she said. 

A 19-member panel sets MTC policy. Each of the Bay Area’s nine counties gets two representatives with the exception of the smaller counties of Marin, Sonoma, and Napa, which have one representative. The two additional members represent regional agencies – ABAG and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission. 

Larger counties like Alameda and Santa Clara stand to lose with a set number of panel appointments rather than having representation based on population. For this reason, the Alameda County Conference of Mayors and the city of San Jose have expressed opposition to SB 1243. 

“The structure and past actions of MTC do not adequately reflect and meet the needs of the Bay Area’s older dense cities,” Dean noted in a written report.  

A spokesperson from Senator Torlakson’s office said that the senator remains flexible about the new agency’s governing board structure. Torlakson was meeting this week with members of MTC and ABAG to work out a mutually acceptable union, the spokesman said. 

Staff at ABAG have also come out against the proposed structure of a new joint agency, which would take effect in 2004. 

The MTC is an effective funding agency for transportation, it has resisted prior attempts for it to assume broader planning functions for which it lacks expertise or experience, read an opposition statement from ABAG. The statement noted ABAG’s expertise with land use, environmental protection, economic development and a host of other regional issues. 

An additional concern is the difference in agenda between MTC and ABAG. MTC is a state sponsored body whereas ABAG is the creation of Bay Area governments. 

Last week, MTC’s panel came out against SB 1243 as well, saying they would support the merger once issues were worked out between ABAG and Torlakson. 

Like Mayor Dean, both MTC and ABAG support the merger in concept, just not as proposed. 

Calls to unite MTC and ABAG come amid gripes that the agencies are too bureaucratic and too isolated to develop effective, integrated policies. 

For years, promises by local leaders to work with neighboring governments to solve regional problems have been met only with a diminished housing supplies, worse traffic and longer job commutes. 

Dean plans to ask City Council to join her in her opposing SB 1243 next week.