Bay Area Council Blog: Transportation and Land Use Archive

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Ross Program in Real Estate Info Session September 21

Please join us for the next info session for the USC Ross Program in Real Estate, presented by the Bay Area Council. We will be joined by Ross Program alumni as well as Connie Moore, President & CEO, BRE Properties, who will be speaking on “The Changing American Dream.”

Tuesday, September 21, 2010
6:00 – 8:00 PM
at the offices of the Bay Area Council
201 California St., 14th Floor, San Francisco

Please RSVP to: bflores@bayareacouncil.org or 415-946-8729

About the Ross Program:
The USC Ross Program in Real Estate is a comprehensive educational program for the working professional to elevate skills and expand understanding of real estate development and investment, while building the networks necessary to succeed in urban renewal. The nine-day program will be held between November 11 and December 4.

8.13.10

After Tour of Peninsula Rail Corridor, Council Calls on Menlo Park and Atherton to Stop High-Speed Rail Lawsuit

By Joe Arellano

Today, I joined stakeholders and elected officials from Peninsula cities to tour the Peninsula rail corridor and discuss issues related to the future California High-Speed Rail.

The tour, hosted by Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, was convened in response to a July 29, 2010 letter from Bay Area Council President & CEO Jim Wunderman that expressed concerns about an attempt by five Peninsula cities to slow down the implementation of high-speed rail.

The tour also came on the heels of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood declaring this week that California is, “…way ahead of the curve on high-speed rail,” and High-Speed Rail Authority CEO Roelef van Ark remarking that, “If you don’t get the environmental process done by September 2011, you won’t get the funding…”

After today’s tour, I issued the following statement:

“Those who oppose high-speed rail understand that delay is their best weapon to kill the project.  There are ways to resolve issues and there are ways to stop progress.  We greatly appreciate Assemblyman Hill’s effort to bridge the differences amongst his constituents.  However, the cities of Menlo Park and Atherton are continuing to move forward with a challenge to the environmental impact report of the San Francisco-San Jose portion of the high-speed rail line.

We refuse to stand by and let two small cities de-rail this historic multi-billion dollar project.  By slowing the environmental process down, Menlo Park and Atherton are trying to run out the clock on high-speed rail.

We understand the concerns of Peninsula residents and we are sensitive to their apprehension about having high-speed rail in their community.  But we need to remember that Prop 1A was supported by over 60 percent of San Mateo and Santa Clara County voters, and statewide it passed with over 53 percent support.  The people of California and the Peninsula are counting on all of us to deliver.

High-speed rail is the perfect opportunity to execute a bold, statewide vision to prove to the people of California that we are still capable of accomplishing big things.  However, doing big things takes big people.  Instead of filing their petition to stop the EIR, Menlo Park and Atherton should take a step back and work with the High-Speed Rail Authority to address the concerns of residents, find an agreeable resolution and continue to move the process forward.”

8.2.10

BAC Sends Pointed Letter to Peninsula Cities Consortium (PCC) About High Speed Rail

By Jim Wunderman

Last Friday, I sent a sharply-worded letter to a Peninsula group that poses a threat to the Bay Area’s plans for high speed rail. High speed rail is too important to let a small, vocal minority decide its fate.

Here’s the text of what I sent:

July 29, 2010

Mayor Cathy Baylock and Councilmembers, City of Burlingame
Mayor Patrick Burt and Councilmembers, City of Palo Alto
Mayor Richard Cline and Councilmembers, City of Menlo Park
Mayor Kathy McKeithen and Councilmembers, Town of Atherton
Mayor Christine Wozniak and Councilmembers, City of Belmont

Dear Mayors Baylock, Burt, Cline, McKeithen, and Wozniak, and Councilmembers:

I am writing to you regarding your cities’ and the Peninsula Cities Consortium’s obstructionist policies towards California high speed rail and the grave danger that they pose for our state. As a former public official who served two San Francisco mayors, I have the greatest respect for the dedication, responsibility, and authority of local government leaders such as yourself, and it is with some regret that I critique your leadership. I have concluded, however, that there are much larger issues at stake and that it is appropriate and necessary that I convey to you the strongly held concern and recommendation of the Bay Area Council.

In characterizing your cities’ policies as obstructionist and dangerous, I do not mean to impugn your motives, which I am entirely confident are only to best serve the interests of your local residents. Yet the fact remains that the policies and actions that your cities are pursuing are serving to obstruct and undermine a project that is quite literally of historic importance to the residents of the Bay Area and California. To say, as does your Peninsula Cities Consortium, that “high speed rail should be built right or not at all,” and that cost analysis should play no role in determining alignment, is to say that the project need not, should not, and will not be built.

You are, I trust, as aware as anyone of the importance of high speed rail to the State of California and of the environmental, mobility, and urban revitalization benefits that it will bring. You may not, however, be entirely aware of the extent to which your cities’ demands endanger the project and bolster the advocacy of the very small and very vocal minority of Californians who cannot be satisfied unless high speed rail, and Caltrain with it, is killed.

Let me point out to you the support that the Proposition 1A high speed rail bond measure enjoyed among your neighbors and constituents in the November, 2008 election. Statewide, it passed with 53 percent support. In San Mateo County it earned 61 percent approval and in Santa Clara County 60 percent support. Within the cities of your Peninsula Cities Consortium—the voters that you represent—Proposition 1A was embraced by 61 percent (46,023 yes – 29,242 no). Such overwhelming public support from your citizens for high speed rail makes it appear extremely unlikely that they would want their city to be the one standing in the way of the project coming to fruition.

Respectfully, you may also under-appreciate the staggering toll of unemployment and economic distress on millions of California families of modest means. Though your communities, like other high-wealth communities in the state, have escaped the brunt of the Great Recession, 2.3 million unemployed Californians are not as fortunate. For these struggling Californians, $4 billion of near-term high speed rail construction expenditure would be lifesaving.

There was, no doubt, a period in American history in which government infrastructure planners ran roughshod over the interests and welfare of residents and communities. Thankfully, this era is behind us, but it has been replaced by an era in which too many public officials believe that no project can or should be built unless there is universal approval of the public. Overwhelming public support with large and widespread public benefits are somehow offset by the vocal opposition of a single individual. In the case of high speed rail, a small handful of individuals in a small handful of neighborhoods in a small handful of communities raise a seemingly endless series of complaints and objections and threaten to halt the construction of a project of generational significance, and immediate economic survival, for this state and its residents.

This is not why I went into public service, and I don’t believe that it is why you went into public service. You likely were motivated, as was I, by the belief that public officials can be powerful and effective leaders to improve the public welfare. Public leadership, however, requires more than hearing and representing only the loudest voice in the room. It takes leaders who look to the future rather than the past, who throw their energy into making positive change happen rather than preserving the status quo, and who stand confidently in support of progress even when critics fling arrows. California once stood at the forefront of social progress—recognized as the nation’s leader in higher education, research and development, environmental protection, and job creation—and deserved to be called the Golden State. Today, after decades of holding progress hostage to the unachievable ideal of “universal consensus,” the Golden State moniker is used only to show how far we have fallen.

This failure of leadership did not originate with the emergence of high speed rail, and it isn’t limited to your cities. Far from it. But high speed rail is where the politics of paralysis must end. After decades of inaction, California is finally, with high speed rail, taking a step worthy of a Golden State. It is a first step and a crucial test of whether California can once again establish and execute a bold statewide vision for the general benefit of the state and its residents. If the answer is no—if Californians choose to remain bound by the politics of paralysis—then look for status quo trends to continue, with the tragic consequences that this entails for our schools, public facilities, economy, employment, livability, and, ultimately, the lives of the state’s citizens. This is not the future that I want to see, and I doubt that it is the future that you want. And I deeply believe that in approving the Proposition 1A high speed rail bond, Californians were sending a message that they too are ready for California to rebuild itself and restore the dream of the Golden State.

I urge you to step back and re-evaluate your cities’ positions on high speed rail. Look again at the benefits—economic, environmental, urban revitalization, jobs, mobility—that high speed rail offers to the citizens of California. Watch An Inconvenient Truth. Visit with unemployed construction workers. Consider the need to restore the Golden State for our children. And ask yourself if you can in good conscience advocate that “not at all” is your position on high speed rail unless every demand of every member of your community is met in full.

Sincerely,

Jim Wunderman
President and CEO

cc: Board of Supervisors, County of Santa Clara
Board of Supervisors, County of San Mateo
City Council, City of Belmont
City Council, City of Burlingame
City Council, City of Menlo Park
City Council, City of Palo Alto
City Council, Town of Atherton

4.6.10

Bay Area Agencies Must Work Together to Improve Transit System

By Jim Wunderman

As published in Bay Area News Group papers

For a region whose residents lead the nation in their support for public transit, you’d be forgiven for expecting the Bay Area to have an outstanding transit system. But anyone who rides transit here knows the reality: fares are high and rising, buses and trains are old and dirty, and services are often slow and infrequent.

If you’re dependent on transit, you’re going to spend a huge part of each day waiting for and riding the bus, especially if you live in an outlying area or work late or very early hours.

If you’re an occasional transit user? Good luck figuring how to get from point A to point B via some combination of the more than two dozen proudly independent transit operators in the Bay Area.

Life isn’t much easier for those who work at transit agencies either. With huge budget shortfalls today and as far as the eye can see, demoralizing service cuts and layoffs are the order of the day.

What is at the bottom of this mess? If you’ve followed the latest news, you might think that the state is to blame for taking money away from transit.

It’s true that the state has taken some transit funds, but the problems originated long ago and go much deeper. Sadly, most of the problems are self-inflicted. It has become clear that we are spending so much time and energy arguing among ourselves and pointing fingers that we are failing to work on the progress that we all want.

The latest example pitted two worthy goals — building a new BART rail link to Oakland International Airport, and backfilling cuts to local bus service — against each other. Any objective analysis would conclude that the Bay Area needs both, but what we’re likely to get is neither.

We’ve managed to convince ourselves that we can only get our own particular transit concern addressed if we make sure that someone else doesn’t. This is not a recipe for success.

The Bay Area spends more than $2 billion each year on public transit, including hefty chunks of money from bridge tolls, sales taxes and parcel taxes. Bay Area residents, however, choose transit for only 6 percent of their trips. It’s not just about insufficient funding — Bay Area transit funding has increased by 91 percent over the past decade, but ridership only increased by 7 percent.

This isn’t just a minor problem. The Bay Area is entering a new phase of its growth in which we will become increasingly reliant upon an effective, affordable public transit system. That’s because we’ve essentially tapped out the growth pattern of the past several decades in which our region sprawled into the hinterland, while loading more cars onto already congested highways.

Over the next several decades, new homes and jobs will need to come back to city centers and other zones that can support effective and convenient public transit. This is no longer a terribly controversial idea in the Bay Area — the Bay Area Council believes it, environmental and social equity groups believe it, Bay Area public officials believe it, and state law encourages it — but it does require a public transit system that works. We don’t have such a system, and we’re not going to get one by continuing in the direction that we’re heading.

The Bay Area can have world-class public transit, however, and I think that we must. It’s going to require more money for transit, and significant reform toward how public transit agencies use that money. The bad news is that no one is going to do this for us. The good news is that the Bay Area can largely do it on its own. We can identify what’s not working with transit, what we really want our transit system to look like, and how to best deliver those transit services that residents want. If we do it right, I am confident that Bay Area residents would support a modest regional tax increase that would make the system a reality.

All of us who consider ourselves public transit leaders need to take a step back and remind ourselves of the values and vision that we all share. We can agree to work together to achieve that vision, and we can commit to individual compromise in place of collective combat.

There’s only one way to make this happen, and that is together. Let’s put aside our disagreements, focus on our fundamental agreements and see how far we can get. We just might achieve something great and necessary for the Bay Area.

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 .