Wednesday, November 28, 2018

MTC to discuss affordable housing at posh Sonoma retreat

Editorial: MTC to discuss affordable housing at posh Sonoma retreat

Metropolitan Transportation Commission holding $29,000 taxpayer-funded meeting at Wine Country inn

The Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn is known for its fine-dining restaurant, Sante, and luxurious accommodations. (
PUBLISHED: November 27, 2018 at 6:15 am | UPDATED: November 27, 2018 at 6:20 am

Talk about tone-deaf.

Members and staff of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission are holding a $29,000 taxpayer-funded, overnight retreat this week at the posh Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, where the first order of business will include discussion of affordable housing.

Seriously. You can’t make this stuff up.

Seventeen of the 21 commission members are expected to attend. Of those, 14 are expected to stay overnight, including Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo. In addition, 15 commission staff members will attend and 12 will stay overnight.

The email invitation to commissioners calls for meeting from 1-5 p.m. on Wednesday and 8:30-noon on Thursday. Participants, who were offered single or double accommodations, will be provided meals and a night’s lodging at the resort, which is known for its spa, Michelin-rated restaurant and the neighboring Sonoma Golf Club.

It’s great that commissioners want to engage in serious discussion of policy issues. But the 7 1/2 hours of planned meetings could have, and should have, been held in one day in downtown San Francisco, where the transportation commission two years ago moved into a new $256 million regional government building.

The building was masterminded by outgoing Executive Director Steve Heminger, who deceived the public about the deal. The state auditor slammed MTC for bogus accounting on the project. And the state Legislature’s attorney questioned the legality of using bridge tolls for the building.

The least the commission could do is use the building, which is accessible by public transportation, for its meetings rather than gallivanting off to Wine Country. Especially just as it’s about to raise bridge tolls by another dollar Jan. 1.

But that’s not the mindset at MTC, where money seems to be no object to the executive director. It was Heminger who flew around the world on top-priced airline tickets at public expense. Fortunately, he plans to retire at the end of February. As we’ve said before, his departure can’t come soon enough.

All of this might have been easier to swallow if MTC were doing a good job. But have you looked at the Bay Area’s traffic lately? Or ridden public transit? Commutes take longer. Tolls are going up. Fares and property taxes are escalating.

MTC desperately needs fresh leadership. Commissioners are in the process of recruiting a new executive director. Heminger was an inside hire, promoted after his boss, Lawrence Dahms, retired in 2000. Between them, they have led the agency since 1977. Clearly it’s time for outside perspective.

But as the Sonoma Mission Inn extravagance shows, the commissioners are also part of the problem — equally out of touch with the reality of the commuters they serve.

In addition to Schaaf and Liccardo, the other commissioners staying overnight are: Damon Connolly, Marin County supervisor; Jim Spering, Solano County supervisor; Scott Haggerty, Alameda County supervisor; Warren Slocum, San Mateo County supervisor; Jeannie Bruins, Los Altos City Council; Carol Dutra-Vernaci, Union City mayor; Jake Mackenzie, Rohnert Park City Council; Julie Pierce, Clayton City Council; Amy Worth, Orinda City Council; Tony Tavares, California Transportation Department; Dorene M. Giacopini, U.S. Transportation Department; and Ann Halsted, San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission.

Most of them are selected for the commission by city or county officials from their regions. Perhaps it’s time for elected board members. Maybe if they were directly accountable to the voters they would have been sensitive to the cost and the optics of this two-day extravagance.

No comments:

Post a Comment