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February/March 2018

Bay Area League Day 2018 Primer: Regional Government

Bay Area League Day is LWVBA's annual forum. Photo by Alec MacDonald.

People who talk about making the San Francisco Bay Area a better place often focus on regionalism, regional planning, and regional governance. This emphasis comes from a recognition that so many issues transcend local boundaries, and that so many entities exist to handle these issues. The Bay Area, with its nine counties and 101 cities, has a proliferation of inter-jurisdictional agencies, single-purpose districts, and nonprofits committed to solving regional problems, whether addressing land use, water issues, air quality, climate change, natural resources, resilience in the face of adversity, housing, transportation, and more.

One of the groups involved in these efforts has been the League of Women Voters of the Bay Area, which has prioritized regionalism since the organization’s inception in 1959 (for more on this history, see “Dedicated to Regionalism: A Brief League History” below). In keeping with this longstanding tradition, LWVBA has dedicated the 2018 installment of its annual Bay Area League Day forum to this topic. Exploration of regional governance seems a timely and pertinent focus for League Day, given the merger negotiations of the past few years regarding the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), leading up to the consolidation of the staffs of those agencies in July 2017. During this process, many stakeholders engaged in widespread discussions about creating a new multi-purpose agency to implement comprehensive and integrated regional planning (for a sense of these discussions, refer to this January 7, 2016 letter submitted to MTC and ABAG by a coalition of 15 nongovernmental organizations, including LWVBA, during merger talks between the two agencies).

Entitled “Winds of Change: Regional Government’s Impact on Local Government and Community,” the LWVBA forum is on the calendar for February 3. For anyone who does not attend the event at Laney College in Oakland, this special section of the Monitor serves as a glimpse at LWVBA’s efforts on this front, and as a reminder that much more information from the forum will be available online at lwvbayarea.org in the ensuing weeks.

Of all that information to be discussed at League Day and shared online, LWVBA would like to highlight two key reports here.

Raising the Bar on Regional Resilience describes the Bay Area’s vulnerabilities to threats from flooding, sea level rise, earthquakes, and a changing climate, while outlining six steps for government to take in addressing these hazards: 1) Develop a regional governance strategy for climate adaptation projects; 2) Provide stronger policy leadership on resilient housing and infrastructure; 3) Create new funding sources for adaptation and resilience; 4) Establish and provide a resilience technical services team; 5) Expand the region’s network of natural infrastructure; and 6) Establish a regional advance mitigation program.

The report was developed by the Bay Area Regional Collaborative (or BARC, formerly the Joint Policy Committee). BARC serves to coordinate activity between four member agencies: MTC, ABAG, the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. In addition to efforts by member agencies, Raising the Bar on Regional Resilience also owes its creation to the State Coastal Conservancy and the San Francisco Estuary Partnership. All of these agencies will have a role to play in implementing the six steps above.

Released in draft form on December 14, 2017, the nearly 100-page report was open to public comment through January 15. On February 16, the report will go up for final approval from the BARC governing board (a body of sixteen voting members that contains four representatives from each partner agency, with all nine Bay Area counties represented across the whole board). BARC will print out copies for distribution and will also post a digital version online at bayarearegionalcollaborative.org.

According to BARC Executive Director Allison Brooks, the intended readership for Raising the Bar on Regional Resilience consists of elected officials and staff from a range of jurisdictions (cities, counties, regional agencies, state and federal agencies, transit agencies, and special districts such as flood management agencies) along with stakeholders from scientific and academic institutions, the philanthropic world, and nonprofit or community-based organizations focused on the environment, community development, and the needs of low-income and disadvantaged communities living at the frontlines of risk to climate impacts. She added that the report may also be of use to banks, insurers, and those in the business community (many of whom have their corporate headquarters in vulnerable locations).

The other report LWVBA would like to highlight is SPUR‘s Agenda for Change, a shorter offering from 2016 that lays out the nonprofit’s strategies for planning the region’s future. In broad strokes, these strategies are: 1) Concentrate growth inside existing cities; 2) Build great neighborhoods; 3) Make it affordable to live here; 4) Give people better ways to get where they need to go; 5) Lay the foundations of economic prosperity — for everyone; 6) Reduce our ecological footprint and make our cities resilient; and 7) Support local government.

A digital version of the report is posted online for anyone to read. Those who do will encounter a quote that nicely sums up the spirit of the 2018 Bay Area League Day: “While life is lived at the neighborhood level and government is organized at the city level, we believe that our neighborhoods and cities will function better and provide a higher quality of life if they are part of a region that works. Regional planning helps individual cities make decisions that, when aggregated together, add up to a better place for all of us.”

Dedicated to Regionalism: A Brief League History

The League of Women Voters of the Bay Area, first organized in 1959, is one of the oldest organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area dedicated to the concept of regional solutions to inter-jurisdictional challenges.

In the 1940s, concern about the overlapping problems between city and county services resulted in the formation of League county councils. In 1953, as urban dwellers moved to the ever-expanding suburbs, the League of Women Voters of the United States issued A Guide to a Metropolitan Area Study, calling attention to the new political and social problems related to economic regions, rather than to existing governmental jurisdictions.

The first steps toward a regional League in the San Francisco Bay Area came in 1956 and 1957. Enough interest was generated among local League members that eight local Leagues adopted a study of Bay Area problems and possible governmental solutions in 1959. In 1960, 10 Leagues adopted a follow-up study, evaluating proposals relating to metropolitan government in the Bay Area. In addition to a steering committee, which had formed to guide the studies, an executive committee was created to carry out administrative duties.

April 1961 saw the formal establishment of a permanent Bay Area “Inter-League Organization,” or ILO, the official title given to such a group of Leagues organized to address inter-jurisdictional challenges. In May 1970, at an annual meeting, delegates adopted new bylaws, formally establishing the League of Women Voters of the Bay Area.

From the beginning, LWVBA defined criteria for evaluating regional agencies, deciding it was not sufficient for these agencies to plan only, but should also have power to implement their plans. LWVBA supported a multi-purpose regional government, including directly elected representatives. Also in 1961, Save the Bay was formed by citizens concerned about land-use decisions affecting the Bay. During the late ’60s and ’70s, a number of studies of regional problems and possible solutions were authorized by the state legislature. Both single-purpose and multi-purpose agencies were proposed, but only the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) actually came into existence.

LWVBA participated in developing state legislation to create a multi-purpose regional agency and supported several Assembly bills — AB 2310 in 1970, AB 1057 in 1971, AB 2040 in 1973, and AB 625 in 1975. Usually these bills were killed in the Senate.

Thus, LWVBA emerged not as a directive from state and national Leagues, but at the instigation of local Leagues and their members, seeking to form a level of League structure to manage studies of regional problems and to take action at the regional level of government to attain the goals of League programming, adopted through traditional procedures.

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