Bay Area Council Blog: Transportation and Land Use Archive

3.1.10

Job Creation Measure held up in Senate Environmental Quality Committee

By Matt Regan

SBX8 42 a bipartisan bill co-authored by Senator Lou Correa (D Santa Ana) and Senator Dave Cogdill (R Modesto) would help spur California’s floundering economy and put thousands of people to work this year instead of two or three years from now.

In a nutshell, this bill would protect from needless litigation, a select number of construction and infrastructure projects, that have completed the rigorous California Environmental Quality Act and been given a clean bill of health.

The CEQA lawsuit is the tool of choice of any disgruntled opponent seeking to halt any new development. The California Environmental Quality Act requires that projects of sufficient scope produce an Environmental Impact Report outlining the potential impacts of their projects and what they plan to do to mitigate those impacts. The EIR process also involves a lot of subjectivity and is therefore ripe for litigation. Anyone with an axe to grind can stall vital new projects for years.

Senators Correa and Hollingsworth are not seeking to bypass or CEQA, quite the contrary, their bill requires that any protected project must first complete the CEQA process and meet with the approval of the appropriate governing or permit issuing body. They are simply asking that once this arduous and expensive process has been completed, and the project in question vetted in public and approved, that construction can start rather than waiting another couple of years for the trial lawyers to repeat the whole process again in a court room.

Business and labor were united this week in Sacramento in support of the bill, yet it remains hung up in Committee, probably destined to die there. I wish I could report that our arguments fell on deaf ears, but the truly sad part of this story is that only two members of the Committee in question were actually present in the chamber when Senator Correa presented his bill.

Opponents of the bill rolled out the same tired arguments that we see any time CEQA reform is discussed; “it’s a slippery slope” “it’s a camel’s nose” “they’ll be strip mining Yosemite Valley next” and the sorriest of them all, “why do we have to sacrifice our environment for short term economic gains?”

This bill is very clear and limited in scope and would do nothing other than kick start environmentally sound, CEQA approved, projects in 2010 instead of 2012 or 2013.

We will continue to advocate for this legislation and for other bills that will help put Californians back to work today.

2.19.10

Bay Area Transportation Projects Get $76 Million

By Michael Cunningham

This week the last chunk of transportation stimulus funds were awarded when U.S. Department of Transportation announced $1.5 billion in TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant awards for over 50 high-priority transportation projects across the country.  More than $57 billion of projects were submitted to DOT; with only $1.5 billion available for the TIGER program, competition was fierce.  When awards were announced this week, two important Bay Area projects came out in the winner’s circle:

  • $46 million for the Doyle Drive safety reconstruction project
  • $30 million for Port of Oakland’s “Green Trade Corridor” emission reduction project (including electric shore-power for cargo vessels, and a new barge system that connects to the Ports of Stockton and Sacramento)

Congress created the TIGER grant program in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) to fund transportation projects that “have a significant impact on the Nation, a metropolitan area, or region.”  In a departure from typical practice, the TIGER program has no formula component; instead, the Secretary of Transportation was given the full authority to pick the best projects from across the nation.  A similar model was applied to stimulus funds for high speed rail, perhaps signifying that the Obama Administration intends to play a much more hands-on role in guiding federal transportation investments than in the past.

2.8.10

Council Delegation hits Washington on Jobs Agenda

By George Broder

The day after the President released his first budget, a Bay Area Council delegation was at the White House and on Capitol Hill pressing for the quick adoption and implementation of proposals that will deliver new jobs to the state and region.

The timing was perfect for the Council’s second public policy focused trip to Washington, with a “Transportation, Infrastructure and Jobs” emphasis. Click here to see the complete Policy Book, which details Council recommendations for the next Surface Transportation Act, FAA Reauthorization Act, and continued enactment of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). In summary, the Council believes that “…federal transportation policy must narrow its focus to a small number of areas of greatest national significance,” that will deliver the maximum benefit to the vasty majority of Americans who live and work in our country’s major metropolitan areas.

Along with Council President & CEO Jim Wunderman, the group was led by Transportation and Land Use Committee Chair Michael Covarrubias, Government Relations Committee Chair Andrew Giacomini, Transportation Funding Subcommittee Chair Stuart Sunshine, and BAC Executive Committee member Andy Ball. Public sector leaders Steve Heminger, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Transportation Committee, and Omar Benjamin, Executive Director of the Port of Oakland, were also part of the group.

Meetings on “the Hill” were held with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Congresswomen Anna Eshoo and Zoe Lofgren, newly elected Congressman John Garamendi (our sole representative on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee), Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio (senior member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Chair of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit), and Senator Barbara Boxer.

After a substantive meeting with senior officials at the Department of Transportation, it was over to the White House to see Derek Douglas and Adolfo Carrion, the Special Assistant to the President for Urban Policy and Director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs, respectively. Derek and Adolfo challenged the BAC to help them devise and drive a national strategy that is precise enough to be effective, with the flexibility to be adapted and successful at the local level. We will be following up on this, with the involvement of the BAC members who went to DC, and others.

12.11.09

Critical Bay Area Transportation Projects Moving Ahead

By Michael Cunningham

Oakland Airport Connector Clears Final Hurdle
After decades of debate, the Oakland Airport Connector – a train system connecting BART to the Oakland Airport – cleared its final hurdle on Thursday when the BART Board of Directors voted to award $440 million in contracts to build and operate this unique public private partnership. The Connector – a landmark stimulus project receiving $70 million in federal funds – provides a critical missing link in the Bay Area’s transportation infrastructure system, taking cars off the road and creating 2,500 to 5,000 jobs starting in 2010 to construct the project. Jim Wunderman gave testimony at the hearing and the Bay Area Council is happy to see decades of work on the project come to fruition.

BART to San Jose Project Gets Boost
The long fought, Council supported BART to San Jose extension just got a huge shot in the arm when the Federal Transit Administration recommended it for federal “New Starts” funding. Once that federal funding (as much as $900 million) is approved, Santa Clara County will finalize the environmental document and can begin to collect a new 1/8 percent sales tax that County voters recently approved. Groundbreaking won’t be far behind. The first segment of the project is actually under construction, with the Shimmick/Skanska consortium hard at work building a tunnel on the leg from Fremont to Warm Springs. Thanks to Carl Guardino and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group for driving this important project.

Caldecott Tunnel Construction to Begin Next Month
Relief is coming to motorists in one of the Bay Area’s worst highway chokepoints, with a contract awarded in November to construct the new fourth bore of the Caldecott Tunnel. Long recognized as a necessary transportation improvement, the project faced a frustrating setback in early 2009, when the state announced that it would not be able to provide the promised funds from Proposition 1B. Supporters refused to accept another delay, and a healthy contribution of federal stimulus funds put the project back on track. Opening of the new tunnel to traffic is expected in mid-2013.

There’s also hundreds of millions of dollars of federal stimulus dollars that are creating jobs and improving transportation through smaller projects throughout the Bay Area. In all, there’s almost $1 billion of federal stimulus dollars approved for Bay Area transportation projects. Even more is on the horizon, with the US Department of Transportation expected to announce projects that will be funded from two pots of stimulus funds (TIGER, and High Speed Rail) under its control. The Bay Area Council is working hard in Washington, DC to make sure that the Bay Area gets a healthy share of these funds to create jobs and improve mobility.

11.23.09

Berkeley City Council Gets On Board Ferry

By George Broder

The Berkeley City Council adopted a resolution at a recent meeting to go on record in support of a planned terminal at the Berkeley Marina. The Water Emergency Transportation Authority (WETA) is well into the environmental evaluation and permitting process, and official support from the City of Berkeley will help to smooth the remainder of the process.

WETA recently broke ground on construction of a new terminal in South San Francisco; the Berkeley terminal will be the first new terminal on the eastern shore of the Bay. Both terminals will provide not only new commute and recreation transportation but will also add critical transportation system redundancy and flexibility that will be available when bridges and highways are unexpectedly closed (and if you thought that the recent unplanned closure of the Bay Bridge was inconvenient, just wait until a 1906-scale earthquake hits).

The Council thanks Leamon Abrams, WETA’s new Community Relations Manager, for reaching out for our support. We look forward to working closely with Leamon – and Nina Rannells, WETA’s new Executive Director – to secure the funding and approvals needed to build out a true region wide ferry system.

10.7.09

BAC Trip Initiates Sustainable Development Dialogue with D.C.

By Matt Regan

A delegation of California’s leading infill developers, architects and land use lawyers participated in a Bay Area Council sponsored trip to Washington D.C. last week to talk to the administration and members of Congress about the many roadblocks that currently impede the progress of sustainable dense, transit oriented development in our cities.

Led by Michael Covarrubais, Chair of the Land Use and Transportation Committee, Andrew Giacomini, Chair of Government Relations and Jeff Heller Co-Chair of our Climate Change Committee, and Jim Wunderman President & CEO of the Bay Area Council, seventeen delegates and five Bay Area Council staff made the trip back to lobby for smart growth policies and practices.

A recent directive from President Obama instructed the Department of Transportation, HUD, and the Environmental Protection Agency to work in a coordinated manner in order to make sustainable urban development and healthy livable communities the norm rather than the exception. We met with senior officials from all three agencies as well as Fannie Mae and told them in some frank and open discussions we told them what gaps needed to be bridged and roadblocks removed in order for the President’s vision to become a reality.

We also took our case to the Capitol where we met with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Congressman George Miller, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, Congressman Earl Blumenauer, Congressman Richard Neal and senior staff from Congressman Barney Frank’s Financial Oversight Committee.

If one common thread connected all our meetings it was that we were visiting at the right time and that our message and our leadership on this important issue was noted and valued. The follow up work is ongoing and we hope to report some tangible results in the very near future.

Special thanks to Brendan Dunnigan and HKS Architects our dinner sponsors, Andy Ball (Webcor) and Jeff Heller (Heller Manus Architects) or cocktail reception sponsors, and our full team of delegates;

Andy Ball, President & CEO, Webcor Builders
William E. Berry, President & CEO, University Associates
Margo Bradish, Partner, Cox, Castle & Nicholson LLP
Michael Covarrubais, Chairman & CEO TMG partners
Shelley Doran, Vice President, Webcor Builders
Brendan Dunnigan, HKS Architects Inc.
Jim Ghielmetti, CEO, Signature Properties Inc.
Andrew Giacomini, Managing Partner, Hanson Bridgett LLP
Jeffrey Heller, President, Heller Manus Architects
George Marcus, Co-Founder & Chairman, Marcus & Millichap
Chris Marlin, Vice President, Lennar Homes
Stephen Richardson, Senior Vice President, Alexandria REIT
John Stewart, Founder & Chairman, the John Stewart Company
Tom Sullivan, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, Wilson Meany Sullivan
Nicholas Targ, Partner Holland & Knight
J.T. Wick, Principal Berg Holdings

And thanks to the Bay Area Council team, Jim Wunderman, Pearl Mazzini, George Broder, Scott Zengel and Matt Regan for their work on this very successful venture .

6.8.09

BART needs to get contract talks done by July 1

By Jim Wunderman

With a June 30 contract deadline approaching, now is the time for BART and its labor unions to avoid the battles of the past and negotiate a solution that will reduce a substantial deficit without hurting riders already contending with a tough economy. Riders are doing their part. On July 1, they will begin paying more when a previously scheduled fare increase is moved up six months. If riders have to act more quickly than planned, the unions and management should respond in kind and hammer out a contract agreement with a deadline of the same date. In years past, BART contract battles have extended for months, inconveniencing customers and creating acrimony that in some cases led to a strike. It doesn’t have to be that way, and in these economic times, it can’t happen this year.

What’s at stake is nothing less than the Bay Area’s public transit core. More than 360,000 people use BART every day – connecting to their destinations or other public transit systems – and riders travel more than 1.3 billion miles on the system annually.

Unfortunately, BART is now facing the same economic pressures and conditions that have forced fare increases and cuts in service at other transit agencies. The rail system must contend with an estimated $250 million deficit over the next four years. A decrease in state funding and high labor costs, which make up more than 73 percent of BART’s operational budget are key factors in this fiscal crisis. Balancing BART’s budget will come only after true sacrifice and some painful choices. The central question in this financial emergency is will BART make the changes needed to keep it a mass transit success for the years to come without penalizing its riders?

While the economic situation further deteriorates, BART management and labor unions representing some 2,800 BART workers are engaged in ongoing negotiations. One of BART’s unions has proposed extending the current contract, along with benefits and other provisions, for one year. While that might sound plausible, in reality a one-year rollover does nothing to reduce BART’s deficit. BART unions need to get serious about negotiations when they have the opportunity to choose how they can help bridge the system’s deficit.

BART management is committing to millions of dollars in savings and reductions that can be implemented now. These proposed reductions are part of the effort to avoid fare increases and cuts in service that would only erode the goodwill and customer loyalty the system has earned over the years. When it comes to mass transit, making it harder and more expensive for your riders to use your system isn’t exactly a winning formula for success.

Recent media reports have outlined wasteful contract provisions for union workers that haven’t changed in decades and aren’t needed or useful in today’s tightrope economy. To survive, BART – like many organizations – will have to adapt to the times and run leaner and more productively.

The unions representing BART employees need to come to the negotiating table with the understanding that the average BART rider cannot afford drastic fare hikes and will not suffer through another BART strike. The good times as we all knew them are over for now. Preserving what matters most is essential. Now, more than ever, we need BART – an affordable, environmentally sensitive and efficient transit option – to keep running for the common good. BART management and the unions need to find a solution in the coming weeks and mark a new, constructive chapter in labor relations. Let’s get this done by July 1.

This Editorial was printed in the San Francisco Chronicle on Monday, June 8, 2009

5.12.09

Affordable Housing Week Kicks-off May 15

By Scott Zengel

The Bay Area Council’s Bay Area Ross Program in Real Estate partners with SFHDC to kick-off Affordable Housing Week

Did you know that foreclosures increased by 723% in San Francisco between 2006 and 2008? Meanwhile, access to credit has severely decreased, with fewer available loans and much stricter lending practices than in past years. How does one afford to live in the Bay Area? Current stimulus opportunities and programs may provide a fresh mechanism for solving these economic setbacks.

In response to these trends, the San Francisco Housing Development Corporation (SFHDC) has organized the first ever Affordable Housing Week. This three-day event will work to resolve economic issues in the communities most affected by the recession.

SFHDC Affordable Housing Week includes a series of community workshops and other activities that focus on topics including, “Live a Greener Life,” “How to take advantage of a buyers’ market,” “Tips on how to increase your FICO score, increase your savings, and negotiate with creditors,” and “Steps to take to avoid foreclosure.” In conjunction with these workshops, SFHDC will also host an array of activities such as an “Affordable Housing EXPO,” featuring affordable homes, financial assistance opportunities, savings and asset building programs, and much more.

The Bay Area Council’s Bay Area Ross Program in Real Estate is pleased to partner with SFHDC to host a kick-off event on Friday, May 15. Participants will gather at Flora Grubb Gardens in San Francisco to hear speakers from community organizations, foundations, financial institutions and city offices share their insight on civil rights, green business and how to utilize the federal stimulus package to solve issues in urban infill. A Bay Area Ross Program information booth will also be on site Saturday, May 16 at the Affordable Housing EXPO. For more information about the program please visit the SFHDC website at: http://www.sfhdc.org/index.php/workshop/index. We hope to see you there!

3.13.09

Scaling Up: From Green Buildings to Green Cities in the US and China | May 1, 2009

By Kristen Durham

Amidst a worldwide recession, efficient use of resources becomes even more critical to the bottom line of business. For the Bay Area in particular, such an environment provides opportunities for companies both looking to reduce their energy demand and technology firms that can supply the tools necessary to achieve resource savings.

As a follow up to the US|China Green Tech Summit in Shanghai last November and ongoing activities in the technology and environment space, the Bay Area Council is excited to convene another high-level conference at the intersection of green business and policy. Working in partnership with the Asia Society of Northern California, the Council will be hosting “Scaling Up: From Green Buildings to Green Cities in the US and China” on Friday, May 1, 2009, at the PG&E Auditorium in San Francisco.

Buildings consume well over 30 percent of all primary energy in the world—more than either transportation or industry. By building green, we can increase overall operating efficiency in our buildings and reduce energy consumption in the built environment by 30-50 percent. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said in a recent work report at the ongoing annual National People’s Congress that China’s energy consumption per 1,000 yuan (147 USD) of GDP has dropped by 10.8 percent in the past three years—still leaving the country far short of its 20 percent reduction goal for 2010. The Bay Area is uniquely positioned to help China achieve these goals through knowledge and tech transfer, and the Bay Area Council is working to enable such a flow.

This one-day conference looks at the challenges and opportunities of reducing the carbon footprint of our cities while increasing global prosperity. Today, the greatest challenge for green design is to scale up — to move beyond pilot projects and piecemeal solutions to building and retrofitting on a massive scale in order to have a meaningful impact on global warming. Green materials must be mass produced, construction techniques must be standardized, and the principles of green design must inform urban planning, not simply the design of individual buildings. These are the critical issues this conference will address.

Invited speakers include (partial list): Vincent Lo, Chairman & CEO, Shui On Group; Jiang Yi, Professor of Building Science, Tsinghua University; Peter Darbee, Chairman, CEO, and President, PG&E; Jeff Heller, President, Heller-Manus; Simon Tay, Chairman, Singapore Institute of International Affairs; Dian Grueneich, Commissioner, California Public Utilities Commission; Mark Levine, Group Leader, China Energy Group, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; John Kriken, Consulting Partner, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill LLP; Stanley Yip, Director of Planning & Development, Arup China; Sabeer Bhatia, Founder, Hotmail; planner and developer, Nanocity (India).

Click here to register.

12.11.08

San Francisco Eastern Neighborhoods Plan passes – finally

By Matt Regan

There is an old military adage, “the first casualty of any battle is the plan”.  This would appear to be true in the battle to rezone San Francisco’s Eastern Neighborhoods, a vast swathe of the city stretching from the South of Market to Potrero Hill and the Mission.  In the 10 years of fighting over what should be allowed to be built in this part of San Francisco, any semblance of the original plan has long since disappeared and what remains is a patchwork quilt put together by every single issue pressure group who expressed an opinion.

On December 9, 2008 after over 10 years of meetings, hearings, disputes, threats and counter threats the San Francisco Board of Supervisors finally approved a plan that will allow developers to begin entitling dozens of bottled up projects that may bring as many as 7500 new housing units to the area, provided of course the developers haven’t either died of old age, completely lost interest, or more likely lost financing for their projects in the interim.
The approval of the plan is a phyrric victory; yes we will see a lot of new housing construction and yes we will see new neighborhoods grow out of what are currently vacant lots or obsolete industrial buildings, but at what cost?

One of the most vocal interest groups in this process were those seeking to protect the remaining vestiges of San Francisco’s 19th century industrial blue collar character.  They successfully pushed for large chunks of the Eastern Neighborhoods to be zoned “PDR” or Production, Distribution and Repair and strictly off limits to housing.  While we agree that there is a need for such industrial activities we are not convinced that they got the mix right and that too much land was zoned for industries that have left the city never to return.  As one observer noted, “zoning so much land for PDR is like zoning for gold mines, its nothing more than naïve wishful thinking.”

Perhaps the biggest flaw in the whole plan is the complete lack of consideration given to transit oriented development opportunities.  San Francisco proudly declares itself to be a “transit first” city yet  through this whole planning process height limits along Mission Street, arguably San Francisco’s most integrated transit corridor with MUNI, SamTrans,  and BART, were cut to the point where they are currently lower than height limits adjacent to suburban BART stations.  This however pales in comparison the missed opportunities along the 3rd Street Light Rail line.

The $800 million 3rd Street Light Rail was opened two years ago with much fanfare.  It was designed to connect the Bayview neighborhood to the rest of the city and service the new Mission Bay life sciences hub and eventually connect to a central subway running all the way to Union Square and Chinatown.  For over two miles this jewel in MUNI’s crown traverses the eastern neighborhoods, and for the forseeable future it will traverse a part of the city where nobody lives.  Bowing to pressure from the PDR lobby, planners zoned almost all of the 3rd street light rail line off limits to new housing construction.

While we are happy to see this bureaucratic bottleneck finally break, and that development will finally be allowed to proceed, we are concerned that when reality finally dawns on San Francisco and the city comes to the understanding that this region still faces a chronic housing shortage and a huge housing/jobs imbalance, it might be too late to do anything to recapture missed Eastern Neighborhoods opportunities and help solve some of these problems.