The last thing the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area needs is to let the Metropolitan Transportation Commission amass more power.
MTC is the regional mega-agency that allots state and federal transportation dollars to projects. Its director, Steve Heminger, is an empire builder who, among other claims to fame, is squandering bridge toll money on a $256 million real estate deal in San Francisco -- now 53 percent over budget -- and has failed in an oversight role for construction of the Bay Bridge, which is riddled with cracked bolts and failed welds.
Steve Heminger, executive director, Metropolitan Transportation Commission, 2013.
Steve Heminger, executive director, Metropolitan Transportation Commission, 2013. (Gary Reyes, Bay Area News Group)
Now Heminger and Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors President Dave Cortese, who chairs MTC's board, want to unilaterally swipe the land-use planning function from the Association of Bay Area Governments, another mega-agency representing the same nine counties. ABAG's issues are environmental, waste management and others that cross city and county lines -- including land use.
It is a blatant power grab, abusing MTC's position as the pass-through agent for about a third of ABAG's personnel costs. Heminger is threatening to hold this $4 million hostage unless ABAG gives up its planners. His board should put a stop to this financial bullying, not condone it.
Unfortunately, while some city officials in the South Bay are concerned, it's hard to stand up to the agency with power to prioritize the transportation projects their cities need.
MTC and ABAG are told by the state to work together on regional planning, and they should. Transportation and land use should go together. The agencies overlap in other areas as well and should consider merging.
But this calls for careful evaluation, in public, that should be led independently. For example, the boards now are made up of appointees from city councils and boards of supervisors. Should board members of a consolidated agency be directly elected? If not, is there a way to better empower local representatives to stand up to entrenched agency staff?
Heminger and Cortese say taking over ABAG's planners is a matter of "consolidation." This would be in the sense that Russia "consolidated" Crimea from Ukraine.
In response to questions, Heminger wrote tellingly, "these different organizational styles were more than a nuisance" during recent drafting of the latest joint regional planning document. He doesn't like to waste time on the niceties of planning. "MTC is more action-oriented and project-based," he wrote, "while ABAG is more discussion-focused and policy-based."
Hmm. Building projects without thoughtful planning. Isn't that how the South Bay got to be such a sprawling, traffic snarled mess? How's that working out for us?
Stop the MTC blackmail and let the public in on how, and to what degree, ABAG and MTC should be consolidated. (Without the quotation marks.)