A New Year, A New Agenda for Recovery, Growth

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The Bay Area Council begins the new year with a renewed sense of optimism and energy, along with a sober and focused determination to tackle the significant challenges in front of us. Concerns about the future vitality of our downtowns and central business districts in the wake of remote work and a shaky economy run deep, and long-standing issues of housing, homelessness and the impacts of climate change remain. Add to that existential fears about crime and public safety and the future of our public transit systems and it would be easy to retreat into paralysis and finger-pointing.

But in 2023 we will be defined by our solutions, not our problems. We don’t claim to have all the answers (yet) and it will take hard work and an unprecedented level of partnership among business, government, and civic leaders to chart a new course forward. Behind the leadership of Council Chair Kausik Rajgopal, Chief People Officer for PayPal, our Executive Committee, and CEO Jim Wunderman, we have established and begun executing on a policy agenda for 2023 that we believe is matched to the challenge.

We are launching a new policy initiative that will focus on crime, public safety and the cleanliness of our streets and neighborhoods, the very foundation of our quality of life. Already, we have met with police and law enforcement leaders around the region to understand where we can have the greatest impact, including ensuring that our public transit systems are safe and inviting (see item below). Those meetings will continue. We also must do more to rebuild the employment pipeline of police officers that has run dry in recent years, leaving many departments woefully understaffed.

Our housing and homelessness crises continue to bedevil us. We made significant strides last year in winning major housing reforms in the Legislature and putting greater accountability on cities to meet their obligations. Building more housing is still the best thing we can do address our homelessness problem and improve housing affordability, and we are focused now on identifying new legislation this year to continue opening the spigot of housing production. We’re also looking at more dramatic ways to focus local leaders on ending unsheltered homelessness.

As we just experienced, the impacts of climate change are becoming more intense and frequent. Our Climate Resilience Challenge is funding innovative projects in vulnerable communities around the state. We have succeeded in bringing greater attention among policy makers to the importance of creating new water through investment in desalination and wastewater recycling. We must do more on these fronts, as well as accelerating projects to increase our water storage so we can capture more of the rainfall that comes during the atmospheric rivers like the one that just swept across the state.

Addressing the dramatic and painful impacts to our downtown and central business districts following the pandemic and the unprecedented shift to remote work will also figure prominently across all these policy areas. We are working closely with San Francisco Mayor London Breed and her administration to reimagine the city’s downtown both economically and culturally. Our Bay Area Council Economic Institute is partnering with KPMG to develop an economic recovery strategy that will be unveiled this spring. And we’re excited to work with new Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao and San Jose Matt Mahan as they forge a new path forward for their cities, and we were honored to have them join our Board of Directors meeting in December to share their vision and plans. CEO Jim Wunderman this morning joined Partnership of New York CEO Kathryn Wilde in a webinar conversation hosted by D.C.-based Federal City Council on the strategies we’re pursuing for reimagining our downtowns and central business districts and we’ll share a link next week to the video.

As we have done throughout our 78 years, the Council will continue to convene leaders to discuss and develop the strategies for addressing our biggest challenges and making the Bay Area the innovation, globally competitive, inclusive, and sustainable region in the world. And our new headquarters aboard the historic Klamath on San Francisco’s iconic waterfront provides an inspiring place to bring leaders together. To join us and help shape the future of this great region, please contact Chief Membership Officer Kirsten Vernon.

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