Bay Area Council Blog

6.12.09

Senate Leader Dean Florez visits the Bay Area Council

By Matt Regan

Senate Leader Dean Florez (D) Shafter, visited the Bay Area Council this week to give us the inside scoop on the state budget woes and what we should expect to see coming our way in the next month in terms of cuts and taxes. He was surprisingly upbeat and optimistic given the current fiscal situation in Sacramento and stated unequivocally that a bipartisan budget deal would be sent to the Governor by the end of the month that would not involve any new taxes.

The Senate appears to have put together the framework for a $21 billion program of cuts to state programs and services that would close the deficit, with just some minor details yet to be worked out. The only potential roadblock to a resolution appears to lie with the Governor who would like to see an additional $4.5 billion in cuts to establish a rainy day fund to offset future deficits and avoid unnecessary harmful cuts. Senator Florez and his caucus is making the argument that, while they agree in principle to the rainy day fund, the rainy day is actually here today, and that any additional cuts would cause irreparable harm to too many Californians.

Having made almost $15 billion in cuts already this year and witnessing the voters reject any new revenue streams, our legislators are faced with the very painful task of making deeper and more impactful cuts to vital programs and services, particularly to our already underfunded education system. Senator Florez was hopeful that the education cuts would not reach into the classroom that that the savings could be made by eliminating many of the burdensome state mandates that generate tons of paperwork and eat up thousands of man hours per year.

On a somewhat brighter note, the Senator left us with the good news that he fully expects a water bond to pass this year with bipartisan support. The bond would include provisions for two surface storage projects as well as conveyance and conservation. If there is a silver lining to our current fiscal crisis it appears that it just might be forcing the warring parties in Sacramento to sit down and work together to accomplish something important for the greater good.

Thanks to Chevron for hosting this enlightening policy discussion and to Caroline Rodman for making it happen.

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

5.22.09

Bay Area Council Tackles Early Childhood Education Issue

By Matt Regan

This week the Bay Area Council released a new report that highlights the impressive returns resulting from investments in quality early education.

Perhaps more than any other region in the United States, or even the world, the Bay Area is a knowledge based economy. We do not have giant smoke stacks, miles of assembly lines, or thousands of acres of crops or timber driving our economic engine. Instead we have research laboratories, venture funded start ups, innovative high technology companies and pioneering biotech and cleantech industries. The raw materials for this unique economy are not mined or harvested, they are nurtured; they are our children.

If the Bay Area is to maintain its competitive advantage in the 21st century and stay ahead of other rival metropolitan regions who would seek to succeed us as the world’s innovation leader; regions such as Shanghai, London, Bangalore or Dublin, we need to ensure that the young people entering our workforce have the best possible education and possess all the necessary skills to succeed.

We are currently failing our young people and failing the Bay Area. Our education system is not producing the caliber of graduates necessary to meet the demands of our economy. 20% of Bay Area employees lack even a high school diploma and we cannot continue along this path and expect to remain competitive.

According to Nobel Laureate in Economics, James Heckman, “The best way to improve the American workforce of the 21st century is to invest in early education, to ensure that even the most disadvantaged children have the opportunity to succeed alongside their more advantaged peers.” Early education means the years zero to five. 90% of a child’s brain growth occurs before the 3rd birthday and if that child is not sufficiently stimulated during those early years he/she will enter kindergarten unprepared and will likely never bridge the achievement gap and catch up.

The jury is now in. Investments in high quality educational experiences in the years zero to five significantly improve not only school achievement but also a range of social and economic outcomes throughout life. Skeptics will no doubt ask if we can afford such an investment particularly in these economic times, but the data is very clear; investments in high quality early care and education generate a higher rate of return than almost any other public investment.

There are also immediate or more short term economic benefits to investing in these programs. The availability of quality early care and education programs increases the productivity of today’s workforce, by reducing absenteeism, tardiness and stress related issues.

This is a business issue, one of particular importance to this region, and the Bay Area Council recognizes that fact.

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!

5.11.09

The Council’s Whirlwind Trip to Washington, D.C.

By Melanie de La Grange

The Bay Area Council Delegation got a true taste of Washington D.C. last week – from high powered meetings on Capitol Hill to being caught in a colossal traffic jam thanks to the dueling motorcades of three heads of state. The Delegation heard inside the beltway commentary from Washington Post columnist and Pulitzer Prize-winner David Broder and CNN pundit Donna Brazile. They went to Capitol Hill for a meeting with Speaker Pelosi and members of the Bay Area delegation, plus a meeting with Senator Boxer. They squeezed in meetings at the Department of Transportation, the Department of Energy and the State Department. They met with President Obama Cabinet member Ron Kirk, who, as the U.S. Trade Representative, is responsible for all current and future free trade deals. They had dinner with Senator Dianne Feinstein. They went to the White House Executive Office Building and met with: Larry Summers, Director of the White House’s National Economic Council; Christina Romer, Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors; Carol Browner, President Obama’s global warming czar; Van Jones, President Obama’s Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation; Vivek Kundra, Federal Chief Information Officer; and Matt Rogers who is in charge of the stimulus funds for the Department of Energy. And they attended a Washington Nationals ball game – all of this in under 48 hours!

We look forward to returning to DC over the coming months to continue to push our federal agenda.

4.17.09

Hewlett Foundation Awards $900,000 Grant for Education Reform

By Chandra Alexandre

Last Week, the Education Reform team at the Bay Area Council was notified by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation that they had been awarded a $900,000 three-year grant to lead a statewide education reform movement. The grant will allow the Bay Area Council to build capacity and support efforts toward statewide education reform in partnership with relevant stakeholders.

With California in crisis, we believe there is an opportunity for reform that hasn’t been seen in generations. With this grant from the Hewlett Foundation, we will continue to help drive the education reform consensus forward—particularly through our work engaging business leaders, both among our membership and in companies throughout other regions across the state. As the voice of business, the Council recognizes that it is critical for California to meet the challenges of education reform through sound and timely information, a strategic alignment of voices among business, K-12 educators, policy makers and higher education, and the ability to work together across communities, jurisdictions and industries.

The needs of our children and sustenance of our state’s economic future require that business takes a stand to help ameliorate the dramatic challenges inherent in our current public education system. The Council’s history of leading on public policy, its statewide approach, and partnerships with a variety of stakeholders make it a strong driver of successful public policy in education, and we will leverage our strengths to ensure the success of our endeavors for education reform.

With this grant, the Council will be able to focus on initiating action toward goals supported by Getting Down to Facts, a major body of research overseen by Stanford University that delves into the finance and governance of public education in California. The objective of our efforts will be to determine how best to create reform opportunities that are not only true to the underlying research and recommendations, but also that allow for input and ownership by all major stakeholders, in turn building trust and momentum statewide.

Recognizing that changes in education cannot be successful in a state whose government is broken, the grant also includes funds to utilize the forum of the Council-led California Constitutional Convention to help build the path for education reform. The idea is to start with reforming the structure of government, then quickly draft on the momentum to secure bold and systematic change in education. Our method of harnessing a “people’s movement” and building an unlikely coalition for the Constitutional Convention could also crack open the door for a new alliance on education reform. Together, the two synergistic education and government reform movements can help California get back on its feet again.

For more information on the work the Council is doing in education and to become engaged in our effort, please contact Linda Galliher, Vice President of Education and Healthcare. For an opportunity to contribute as a supporting partner, please contact Chandra Alexandre, Director of Development and click here to see the Bay Area Council Foundation’s initiatives.

3.26.09

BAC Economic Institute Prepares Economic Recovery Workplan

By Sean Randolph

The California Business Housing and Transportation Agency, through Secretary Dale Bonner, has asked the Bay Area Council Economic Institute to prepare a Bay Area Economic Recovery Work Plan. The purpose of the plan is to guide the allocation of federal stimulus funds (and other funds and programs available to the state) to support economic development in California. We have been asked to do this in partnership with the region’s leading business and economic development organizations—with the goal of presenting the Bay Area’s top line priorities. Those priorities will be strategically focused and aligned with both near-term needs and long-term goals. We have been given a fast time frame in which to do this: an initial product is due by April 1 and a final product by June 1.

Click here for the latest information on the Economic Recovery Workplan.

Click here for our press release: At State Request, Bay Area Council Economic Institute Coordinating Quick, Massive Regional Response to $30-50 Billion In Stimulus Opportunities

Donate now to help create a better Bay Area through support of our Economic Recovery Work Plan efforts.

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.

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Effective data can save money and kids

By Linda Galliher

President Obama has said that his administration will have one simple test for whether he continues to spend money on any government program. That test is “Does it work?” California currently spends $50 Billion a year on public education without good data on what works. In these hard budget times especially, we must spend our precious public dollars efficiently. We need a 21st Century data system to supply the information needed for teachers, administrators, and parents to know which practices are best practices. At no cost to taxpayers, McKinsey & Company, an elite global consulting group, has designed such a data system for California. See the design here. The Bay Area Council and many other individuals and groups have written to encourage the Governor to support the development of this critical tool for education excellence. See the Governor’s reply letter supporting the data system here. To keep the issue active on the public and legislative agenda, Chief Magnus and I recently co-wrote an opinion piece for the Contra Costa Times.

3.6.09

Best Practices in Early Childhood Education

By Matt Regan

There is a growing body of research and evidence that is pointing towards the very clear conclusion that investing in early childhood education and development produces returns not seen in any other arena of government spending.   Studies by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minnesota, Nobel Laureate Economist James Heckman, and a soon to be released economic impact report commissioned by the Bay Area Council, all indicate clearly that quality early childhood programs result in higher educational attainment later in life, lower rates of social problems such as drug dependency or teen pregnancy, lower dependency on welfare and lower rates of criminal behavior. Some research indicates that the return on investment in such quality programs can be as high as 17:1.

So what does a quality early childhood education program look like and where can one be found?  Bay Area Council Director of Government Relations, Matt Regan, travelled to New Jersey this week with a delegation of California lawmakers, business leaders and child advocates on a fact finding mission to observe what is arguably the premier early childhood education system in the nation.  The purpose of the trip was to collect examples of best practices, learn how the State of New Jersey has funded and rolled out this impressive program in such a short period of time, and see what, if anything, could be brought back to California.

The Abbott Preschool Program was developed in response to a 1998 mandate from New Jersey’s Supreme Court, requiring the provision of preschool for all 3 and 4 year olds in the state’s highest poverty districts.  This decision was part of a larger court mandate to provide all the state’s children with a “thorough and efficient education” as required by the New Jersey State Constitution.

New Jersey now requires that all Abbott preschool teachers have a Bachelors Degree and an early learning certificate. Each Abbott classroom has no more than 15 children with a teacher and an aide. Each 20 classes have support from a Master Teacher as well as a team of social workers and professionals in special needs areas.  Abbot schools are designed to strict guidelines with a minimum of 950 sq ft per classroom with two bathrooms, as well as five defined and researched curriculums that schools can choose from.

Abbott preschools have proved incredibly popular with parents are over subscribed. New Jersey  Governor John Corzine, recognizing the success of the program and the long term benefits to his state is seeking court permission to expand Abbott preschools to all of New Jersey’s school districts, not just the most impoverished.
As in everything we look at in these cash strapped economic times, the question must be asked, how much does this Cadillac program cost, and can California afford to emulate it?

California currently spends $3,486 per year per child in our State preschool program, New Jersey spends $11,831 per child enrolled in the Abbott program and a partial local government match is required.  These figures represent a distinct difference of priorities and vision between our two states and time will only tell if New Jersey’s investment pays off but the early signs are good.  According to the first longitudinal effects study of the program carried out by the National Institute for Early Education Research the achievement gap that had previously hampered children from underprivileged communities was closing fast and that Abbott children were out performing their peers in language skills, reading and math.  Continuing studies of Abbott children are ongoing as they progress through the K-12 system, and if The Federal Reserve of Minnesota, James Heckman et al are correct, New Jersey can begin to reap the benefits of Abbott very shortly if they are not doing so already.

So the question we should be asking here in California is not whether we can afford a similar investment in our children, rather can we afford not to?