Bay Area Council Blog: Transportation and Land Use Archive


Council Helps Secure $5 Million Regional Planning Grant

In a big win for the Bay Area, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on Thursday awarded a $5 million grant to a group of public agencies and private organizations that includes the Council to coordinate regional planning on economic development, job creation and affordable housing. The Council played a prominent role in working with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Association of Bay Area Governments and a number of prominent social equity, environmental justice and community and economic development groups to prepare the grant application and advocate for bringing the funding here. The grant was among the issues on which the Council focused heavily during its recent advocacy visit to Washington, D.C.

Pelosi BAC

Council’s Clout on Display in D.C.

“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.

Council meets with U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation John Porcari

Council Getting Busy on High Speed Rail

The Bay Area Council has been busy these past two weeks firming up support for high speed rail, as a deadline looms for the release of a much-anticipated business plan and legislators in D.C. played politics with transportation funding.

On the D.C. front, funding for high speed rail got caught up in partisan budget wrangling, with the House of Representatives this past week eliminating $8 billion of funding that President Obama had requested for the 2012 fiscal year. After a similar move in the Senate, Senator Dianne Feinstein helped accomplish a modest reversal, winning approval for a placeholder $100 million appropriation. High speed rail will be among the topics the Council discusses with Feinstein during our upcoming trip to the Capital. Despite the shuffling in D.C. over the 2012 budget, California’s $3.3 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and other earlier appropriations remains secure, and funding for the initial construction project in the Central Valley is not in jeopardy.

Closer to home, Obama’s top two transportation officials, during visits to the Bay Area this week, reiterated in meetings with the Council the President’s strong commitment to high speed rail. Council CEO Jim Wunderman spoke privately with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who was in town last week for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation conference, and made it clear to Wunderman that securing funding for high speed rail continues to be among the President’s top priorities.

And, at a meeting hosted this week by the Bay Area Council at the request of San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, Deputy Secretary of Transportation John Porcari said that despite hitting a “few bumps in the road” high speed rail has a “strong future.” Porcari was here to outline the President’s American Jobs Act, but much of the discussion among about 20 elected, community and business leaders at the Council’s offices focused on transportation funding and high speed rail. Porcari noted that the nation’s interstate highway system when it was first proposed also attracted noisy naysayers, who later changed their tune once they realized the importance of the network to economic growth.

High speed rail makes particular sense for California, Porcari said, where it can provide an alternative to in-state air travel and preserve limited airport capacity for transcontinental and intercontinental travel and cargo. High speed rail will figure prominently during our D.C. trip from Oct. 4-6, with meetings being scheduled with both LaHood and Porcari. To participate in this trip, contact Council Senior Advisor George Broder at

Also on the home front, the Council has met in recent weeks with Governor Brown’s new appointees to the High Speed Rail Authority, Dan Richards and Senior Jobs Advisor Michael Rossi, about the upcoming release of the business plan, building support statewide and securing federal funding.



The business community must take a more active role in guiding future policy related to the impact of sea level rise in the Bay Area. That was the thrust of a discussion on Aug. 16 that Bay Area Council CEO Jim Wunderman led among a group of business leaders and Will Travis, executive director of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC).

The discussion comes as BCDC considers amendments to its Bay Area Plan — the policy and regulatory blueprint for guiding land use and development along the bay shoreline – that attempt to address the potential impacts of sea level rise. BAC was instrumental in drafting new language that helps better define the regulatory reach of the proposed Bay Plan amendments. Among those participating in the discussion, which was hosted by Juniper Networks in partnership with the Bay Planning Coalition, Building Industry Association of the Bay Area, Joint Venture Silicon Valley, Moffett Park Business Group and Silicon Valley Leadership Group, were John Igoe of Google, Larry Burnett of Cisco, Miles Imwalle of Morrison & Foerster and Michael Covarrubias of TMG Partners. This issue will only increase in impotence and impact, so watch for much more on the topic.



In a move widely hailed as a potential savior for the high-speed rail project in the Bay Area, the Bay Area Council is working to bring the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) into a leadership role in backing a “Hybrid” plan that merges high-speed rail on the Peninsula with the electrification of Caltrain into one project.  The “Hybrid” plan could potentially cut the cost of building high-speed rail in the Bay Area down to $2 billion from $6 billion.  It is a twofer opportunity that would help Caltrain potentially triple its ridership – taking approximately 70,000 vehicles a day off crowded Highway 101 in Silicon Valley – and reduce the state’s cost for high speed rail.  The project could be completed in about five years and there are still funds available.

Early responses to our proposal have been extremely positive.  High-speed rail is the signature infrastructure project that will define the United States in the 21st Century and our ability to work together to make it happen will ensure that we bring to our region not only funding and jobs, but also relief from some of the worst road and flight corridor traffic in the United States.  The Bay Area Council is committed to developing a unified voice of support from the business community around this issue, particularly on the Peninsula.  Over the coming months, we will be working with Alex Tourk of Ground Floor Public Affairs to lead an organizing and public outreach effort, including meeting with local elected officials, stakeholders and members of the business community.  There will be much more to come on this effort, so stay tuned.

Read coverage of the Council’s move here, here, here and here.

Read our letter and the press release here.


Press Release: Bay Area Council Proposes Path Forward to End High-Speed Rail Impasse on the Peninsula

Today, the Bay Area Council sent a letter to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) urging the Commission to take a leadership role in the planning of high-speed rail in the Bay Area.  In the letter, the Council suggests that the recently proposed plan to merge the development of high-speed rail on the Peninsula with the electrification of Caltrain is a promising path forward and could provide the framework for a unified vision for high-speed rail in the region.

“California high-speed rail and the electrification of Caltrain are an historic opportunity for our region,” said Bay Area Council President & CEO Jim Wunderman. “Our region is always more successful when we speak with one voice, and we have always struggled when we squabble amongst ourselves.  Our region needs to resolve the various project concepts into a single project vision, and we urge the well-respected Metropolitan Transportation Commission to take on that unifying role.  United, we can bring these funds to our region and relieve some of the worst traffic in the United States.”

In the letter, the Bay Area Council calls for the creation of a coalition of local agencies, led by MTC, that would act as the regional planning partner for the California High-Speed Rail Authority.  The coalition would organize the local agencies affected by the development of high-speed rail, presenting a unified voice to the Authority and providing a vehicle for more local engagement in the planning process.

The coalition would be a reliable regional partner that would provide expert input and analysis during the planning process, helping to shape the High-Speed Rail Authority’s final plan, to be released in late 2012.  A similar coalition, representing the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Metrolink, the Orange County Transportation Authority, the Riverside County Transportation Commission, the San Diego Association of Governments, Amtrak, and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, was created to partner with the California High-Speed Rail Authority in Southern California.

“Despite heated rhetoric of the past, in the end we all want what is best for the region,” said Wunderman.  “Luckily a spirit of compromise is emerging to make sure this project materializes.  We want to recognize the thoughtful leadership of Senator Simitian, Assemblymember Gordon, and Congresswoman Eshoo and their extremely hardworking staff, who put together the proposal to merge the Caltrain electrification and high-speed rail projects.  We will continue to work with them to drive this project to fruition.”

In the letter, the Council outlines a set of parameters, subject to revision by the proposed coalition, for the final project plan:

  • Brings both high speed rail and Caltrain electrification to the Peninsula as soon as possible, by utilizing a simple design that can be funded and built quickly.
  • Provides sufficient speed, capacity, and flexibility to support an attractive high speed rail service, while also providing adequate capacity for robust Caltrain service.
  • Minimizes community impacts by forgoing construction elements that are not needed in the near/mid-term.
  • Connects to the Transbay Terminal.
  • Meets legal requirements necessary to access Proposition 1A high speed rail bond funds.
  • Is designed such that future upgrades, should they be necessary and desired at a future date, would not require unnecessary disruption or wasteful reconstruction.

In addition to calling for the creation of this coalition, the Bay Area Council is committed to developing a unified voice of support from the business community for high-speed rail, particularly on the Peninsula.  The Bay Area Council has hired Alex Tourk of Ground Floor Public Affairs to lead an organizing and public outreach effort, including meeting with local elected officials, stakeholders and members of the business community.

“We look forward to hearing MTC’s feedback on our proposal and hope that we can work together to take advantage of this historic opportunity,” said Wunderman.

To read the letter, visit:

Press Release PDF



With Governor Jerry Brown’s May Revise of the state budget out this week, there are clearly some bright spots, including the unanticipated $6.6 billion in tax revenue to help close the deficit.  Governor Brown also plans to raise education spending by $3 billion and cut 43 state commissions and boards (by the way, we’re pretty confident that the state Sea Urchin Commission will be able to handle the work previously done by the California Commercial Sea Urchin Advisory Committee).  However, in reviewing the May revise, we were troubled by the Governor’s decision to suspend funding for CALPADS, the state student longitudinal data system (which will allow us to track student performance over time), and to stop further planning for CALTIDES, the state’s teacher database.  The Bay Area Council believes that when it comes to education, collecting more data, not less, is one of the main keys to improving student achievement and accountability in California.

Eliminating $3.5 million for the program also seems unwise since the funds were federally allocated and will therefore not help balance our shortfall.  We were pleased to see yesterday that the Legislative Analyst agrees with us, and recommended the legislature not defund the state’s student and teacher data systems, as proposed.  Expect the Council to fight tooth and nail on this issue.

In addition to education, the Council has been waging a battle this week on another front: the future of development in the Bay Area.  Bay Area Council President & CEO Jim Wunderman spoke out yesterday at the Bay Conservation and Development Commission’s (BCDC) public meeting, in support of transit-oriented, urban infill development.  BCDC is proposing a plan that would discourage development in low-lying waterfront areas, including areas such as Mission Bay and Pier 70 in San Francisco that are already “urbanized,” and areas around Moffett Field in the South Bay.  The Council believes that prohibiting building in these areas kills exactly the sort of development that will help cut green house gas emissions in the future, and we will continue to push BCDC to develop a Bay Plan that promotes smart growth throughout our region.



This week, three Peninsula legislators, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, State Senator Joe Simitian and Assemblyman Rich Gordon, held a press conference to announce an alternative plan to bring high-speed rail up the Peninsula that would save the financially-strapped Caltrain system and hopefully be the shot in the arm high-speed rail needs to gain the support of Peninsula residents.  The proposed plan would electrify Caltrain and use upgraded Caltrain tracks to run the high-speed rail trains at lower speeds along the Peninsula between San Francisco and San Jose.  It’s an interesting concept that deserves some consideration because the Bay Area can’t afford to lose the region’s only commuter rail line connecting San Francisco to Silicon Valley – especially at a time when our region’s tech footprint continues to grow.



On Wednesday, the day after Governor Brown called off negotiations with Republicans, Bay Area Council President & CEO Jim Wunderman spoke to the Solano Economic Development Corporation in Fairfield and provided his analysis of the state budget picture.  Citing California’s unknown fiscal future, Jim summed up the situation with “where we go from here is a rough ride.”  Though sacrifices need to be made across the board in order to solve the budget crisis, Jim stressed that redevelopment is a crucial economic development tool for communities across California, and we will feel the impact throughout the state if the agencies cease to exist on July 1st, as is currently proposed.  Alternatives to cutting redevelopment altogether, such as enforcing tighter restrictions on agencies, or tying in funding to support California’s laws regarding greenhouses gas emissions, deserve careful consideration.


Contra Costa Times: People must be made to understand high-speed rail strategy

By Jim Wunderman and Carl Guardino

CONFUSED IS the best way to describe how our two organizations — representing more than 600 Bay Area businesses — felt when we first heard the news that the California High-Speed Rail Authority had chosen Borden to Corcoran as the first high-speed rail segment to be built. After all, the majority of Californians probably only see those towns when they’re looking out the window as they fly up or down the state.

We would have liked to see the first phase started in the Bay Area, but the resistance cast by residents in parts of Northern and Southern California raised enough doubt in the minds of policymakers in Washington that they decided to skip over our region and allocate the funds to the safe choice. While disappointing, that should come as no surprise.

But what everyone who has called this initial route the “Train to Nowhere” is failing to grasp is that the train still needs to start being built somewhere.

Borden to Corcoran may not be ideal, but there are reasons for starting there, mainly, the estimated 80,000 jobs the first segment is expected to create. As recently as October 2010, there were 88,900 unemployed workers residing in the counties that are located along the first phase of construction — and that number doesn’t factor in the time that those Californians have been out of work, and the countless others who are struggling to get by. It’s the reason that some have dubbed the Central Valley, “New Appalachia.”

In the Bay Area, we’re still feeling the effects of the economic downturn as well, but we benefit from living in a part of the state that has historically bounced back faster, with much more prosperity when the boom hits.

The other point to consider is that regardless of where the Central Valley segment had been built, the first phase won’t be carrying trains on it. The $4.15 billion the High-Speed Rail Authority plans to spend will be used for building the stations, acquiring rights of way, constructing viaducts, grading, and re-aligning and relocating roadways, existing railways and utilities — not buying rolling stock.

So those who expected trains to be speeding by on the hour between Merced to Fresno or Fresno to Bakersfield are mistaken. It will happen, just not yet.

As many have pointed out, high-speed rail is akin to the interstate highway system created in the United States in the 1950s. The highways were not created overnight, and when they were created, construction first started in Missouri, not Los Angeles or New York. We need to think of high-speed rail the same way.

Moving forward though, the High-Speed Rail Authority needs to quell the anger and confusion about the project that is spreading across the state, and replace it with the appropriate sense of urgency and excitement that comes with a game-changing project of this type.

This can only happen if the authority better explains the nuances and complexities of high-speed rail to the public and gets buy-in for the overall strategy to bring the project to fruition over the next decade. Included in that should be a firm commitment that the next segment will connect two major California metro areas.

We cannot forget why 53 percent of Californians statewide voted to support and allocate funds for high-speed rail. This project will re-establish our leadership across the nation and around the globe. And it also won’t hurt to provide an environmentally sound alternative to the country’s busiest air route and take nearly 70 million auto trips off the road every year — which is what the statewide high-speed rail network is projected to do.

Above all, we should not let the concerns over this first phase of the project kill high-speed rail in California altogether. As the saying goes, we can’t make perfect the enemy of the good.

Building a project of this size and scope was never going to be easy and there were always going to be difficult choices and bumps in the road.

How we deal with those challenges over the long haul is what will ultimately get high-speed rail built.

This is a marathon, not a sprint.

Read the story…