IN THE DISCUSSION over the problems and promises of Plan Bay Area, one aspect of the debate was overlooked. The vote to approve Plan Bay Area was taken by a JPA — the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG).
JPA is an acronym that can refer to a Joint Powers Agreement, Joint Powers Agency or Joint Powers Authority. A JPA is formed when two or more public authorities (governments, utilities, transport districts, etc.) agree to operate collectively.
The first JPA was formed in the 1920s when San Francisco and Alameda collaborated to combat tuberculosis.
Over the years, hundreds of JPAs have been formed, especially in California. The Marin Energy Authority and the Marin County Open Space District are examples.
The good news about a JPA is it encourages cooperation, can leverage funding, incur debt and sell bonds.
The bad news is JPAs are not approved by the vote of the people, but are formed when public officials negotiate a formal agreement among themselves.
JPAs operate with their own board of directors, selected from among the participating agencies, not by a public vote. The back-room power that is accumulating in groups like ABAG undermines local control.
With ABAG we get a group of city and county elected officials attending public-private meetings alongside agencies that have alliances with corporations, developers, non-governmental organizations and government agencies.
ABAG and its partners have effectively created a layer of regional government that controls information, manipulates public discussion, and uses a carrot/stick approach to gain compliance.
Let's look at how the ABAG-JPA worked in Marin on July 18, when Supervisors Steve Kinsey and Katie Rice, and Pat Eklund voted on Plan Bay Area. The Board of Supervisors appointed Kinsey as its representative to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, a separate entity. The supervisors appointed Rice as their representative to ABAG. And the Marin County Council of Mayors and Councilmembers selected Novato Mayor Eklund to represent them.
Who represented you and me? For the majority of us, the answer is "no one!"
Typical of JPAs, this failure to have directly elected representatives make decisions undermines local control in four significant ways.
In the case of Plan Bay Area:
• Neither Kinsey, Rice nor Eklund represented a constituency, other than their own small board and the Council of Mayors.
• Not directly representing a constituency, they have no accountability for the outcomes of their decision.
• The plan and the vote were tightly controlled by unelected ABAG staff.
The vote on Plan Bay Area is behind us. However, the next challenge is emerging.
Senators Darryl Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and Mark DeSaulnier, D-Walnut Creek, have introduced SB1, the Sustainable Communities Investment Program, which creates a Sustainable Communities Investment Authority. The SCIA, a JPA, will be a mechanism to implement Plan Bay Area.
SB1 authorizes the establishment of Investment Areas and Investment Plans. Cities and counties that form SCIAs will operate with appointed, not elected members. Its boards will draft policy, issue bonds, borrow money, and use tax increment financing provisions.
All of this will be outside the public eye.
Among many concerns, one is that this new JPA's first audit occurs five years into operations, with no provision to make the findings public.
JPAs like ABAG and SCIA cloud — no, close the window of government transparency. The public is left uninformed, and awareness and commitment to the common good is eroded.
Another JPA will nudge the needle a little closer to "One Bay Area government, diminishing the pesky voice of the people who care about the quality of life in their community and want a vote in determining its future.
Susan Kirsch, a longtime resident of Mill Valley, is one of the founders of Citizen Marin, an organization that raised objections to Plan Bay Area's impact on Marin land-use planning and loss of local control.