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February/March 2015

Bay Area Monitor History, Part III: Expansion Excitement

By Leslie Stewart

By the mid-1980s, the Bay Area was flourishing — but not without consequences. Growing suburbs meant freeways jammed with commuters, jeopardizing progress toward meeting air quality standards. Water management agencies, required to meet the increasing demand, encountered a five-year drought. Onlookers worried that environmental mitigations required by the California Environmental Quality Act weren’t adequately enforced.

In reaction to the growth surge, regional parklands were expanding, while the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission was creating guidelines for waterfront housing developments, commercial fishing, and water-related industry.

The Bay Area Monitor covered all this and more between 1986 and 1995. In mid-1986, a lead article introduced the concept of “jobs-housing balance.” Coverage of transportation corridor plans — Highway 101 North and Interstate 80 — was succeeded by articles on “traffic mitigation” to reduce auto use, and then by reports on congestion management plans.

Air quality coverage expanded from smog to air toxics as new regulations addressed the health aspects of air pollution. As Adelia Sabiston, former president of the League of Women Voters of the Bay Area, noted, “The Bay Area League lobbied the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to take this on, before the federal regulations.” In the Santa Clara Valley, where toxic chemicals from semiconductor industries had contaminated groundwater, the cleanup led to an Integrated Environmental Management Plan covering water, air, and ground.

With a single staff person to cover multiple agencies and topics, the Monitor engaged League of Women Voters members as “monitors” to observe and report on the myriad of meetings involved in the IEMP and other plans.

Several of these observers also wrote for the Monitor. Jo Nugent wrote special editions on ozone, the San Francisco Estuary, and Bay-Delta planning, as well as regular articles about water management. Sabiston observed the Air District for many years, and in addition to regular articles, also wrote a special edition on air quality. She characterized it as “an attempt to draw attention to the topic during quite a long period in which there was no improvement in federal air quality planning.”

An article on an Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) earthquake planning workshop appeared in the July/August 1989 edition; shortly thereafter, the October 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake forced the Monitor to re-locate its office from Oakland to Lafayette. Yvonne San Jule Koshland, who retired in 1987 as an ABAG planner, recently recalled that “ABAG had been studying earthquakes for some time, focusing on preparedness and recovery.” Numerous articles in the years after Loma Prieta looked at earthquake planning, the impacts on park agencies, and seismic retrofits to the Golden Gate Bridge and by the East Bay Municipal Utility District. A 1990 article on fire control in the “urban interface” preceded the 1991 Oakland Hills fire; it was followed by many articles on fire restoration and prevention.

Other themes as the region entered the 1990s included ferries and increased rail service, especially the new Capitol Corridor trains. Ridesharing and employer-based trip reduction programs were primary congestion management strategies. New on the scene were electronic toll collection, BART paratransit services, alternative fuels, the concept of “growth management,” and two residential air quality programs, “Spare the Air” and “Don’t Light Tonight.” Drought impacts and water supply management plans were constant topics. By the mid-1990s, writers were reporting on proposals for intelligent vehicle highway systems, new state requirements for “clean” cars, and accommodating multi-modal freight movement. A shared farecard pilot project called TransLink premiered in 1993, and in 1995 there was a new event called “Bike to Work Day.”

Relationships between agencies — a constant topic in previous years — received attention again when a two-year study by a committee of influential Bay Area decision-makers proposed merging several large regional agencies for more efficient regional planning. The Bay Vision 2020 Plan was summarized in a 1991 Monitor edition. According to Koshland, who was following the process for the League, “It lacked a bit of extra support” in the legislature, and went nowhere. “It was the fate of all those efforts,” she lamented.

When Monitor editor Ernestine DeFalco retired in 1995, she had greatly expanded the publication’s coverage since assuming the role in 1984. Adding Bayshore planning, parks, water and wastewater services, and transit services to the original transportation and air quality planning topics, she also built a group of well-informed observers and writers. MTC honored her with an award for work on her own forte, transportation issues, shortly after her retirement.

Leslie Stewart is the most recent former editor of the Bay Area Monitor.

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