“Californians have never been dissuaded by naysayers. From the Golden Gate Bridge to the Internet, California’s investments in infrastructure have made it a great place to start a business or hire new employees. We can’t let congested highways and overcrowded airports slow down California’s economy. High-speed rail will play a critical role in moving California’s expanding population and economy over the next 50 years.” Those were the words that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood offered to a Bay Area Council delegation to Washington D.C. this week. High speed rail, cyber security, free trade agreements, World Expo 2020, housing policy and job creation were among the issues that a group of our members communicated with passion and clarity of purpose to legislative leaders and top White House cabinet members and advisors.
At breakfast, Senator Feinstein, Chair of the Select Committee on Intelligence, directed her staff to collaborate with the Council’s Cyber Security Committee concerning threat sharing, a rapidly escalating problem for our members. Senators Reid, Lieberman, Collins, Rockefeller, Hutchinson, and Feinstein’s cyber security staff leads (plus the Republican cyber leaders on the House side) all sat down with the Bay Area Council members on the trip to hash out details of impending legislation on cyber issues. The conversations and advising will continue, as all congressional leaders seemed to agree with lunch guest Sameer Bhalotra, White House Senior Director for Cyber Security, that legislation will move at the start of 2012, and with a good probability of passage.
On high speed rail, our two Senators, our Bay Area leaders in the House and administration officials all said that federal money would be on hold for the near future, but that getting local community agreement on the project was the key to success. They all praised the work of Caltrain, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Bay Area Council in creating a solid compromise that could allow money to flow to our region. Secretary LaHood urged the Council to continue to be forceful and direct when advocating for HSR.
Our members sincerely appreciated the candid discussion organized by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi with fellow Bay Area Representatives George Miller, Barbara Lee, Anna Eshoo, Lynn Woolsey, Mike Thompson, Zoe Lofgren and Mike Honda. All in the room lauded Congresswoman Anna Eshoo for her leadership and resourcefulness in keeping the promise of high speed rail alive on the Peninsula.
Continuing the “top-shelf” trip, the White House arranged for Carl Shapiro, Chair of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors to brief our members. He relayed that the economy used to be “Washington-proof,” but no longer is. Fortunately, the mood was lifted by a buoyant Ambassador Demetrios Marantis, the Deputy U.S. Trade Representative who told our group that the President had just sent the Colombia, Panama, Korea free trade agreements to Congress for approval, agreements for which the Bay Area Council has advocated for years.
The trip ended with lunch with Raphael Bostic, HUD Secretary for Policy Development and Research. Bostic echoed an earlier meeting with Carol Galante, the head of the Federal Housing Administration, confirming the administration’s alignment with the Council on regional housing planning, new urbanism and the need for a re-start to the housing industry.
The access and impact of trips like these make fulfilling the Council’s mission much easier and are a testament to our members’ combined clout.