Report: Google buses reflect region in need of traffic, housing solutions
Bay Area's 101 municipal governments ill-equipped to tackle looming regional crises
Google buses rolling up and down U.S. Highway 101 symbolize the new Silicon Valley — and are potent reminders that regional solutions are needed if the Bay Area is to stay economically vibrant, a new report states.
A tech worker living in San Francisco requires four separate transit systems to get to a job along state Route 237 — a damning indictment of the Bay Area's "antiquated" patchwork of 27 separate systems that is unfit to do the job, said Silicon Valley Community Foundation CEO Emmett Carson.
"If you live on one of those lines that has a Google bus your house is worth more because the public transportation system is antiquated in its logic for serving this regional reality," Carson said.
"Silicon Valley" should be redefined to include San Francisco, he said.
Carson's comments came Tuesday, Feb. 5, with the release of the 2013 Silicon Valley Index, a yearly collection of economic and social indicators jointly presented by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation in Mountain View and the nonprofit Joint Venture Silicon Valley in San Jose.
While hailing upbeat economic news on technology job growth, it included a harsh critique of the fitness of the Bay Area's 101 separate municipal governments to manage looming crises in traffic congestion, housing affordability and climate change.
"Some of the biggest threats to the Bay Area's long-term economic competitiveness are challenges best addressed through stronger or more effective regional governance," noted the report, prepared by urban planner Egon Terplan of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association.
"Failing to address these regional problems means risking the Bay Area's standing globally. Places like Singapore, Shanghai, Vancouver and Sao Paolo are not just cities but city-regions that are acting and working regionally."
Each weekday, Bay Area residents make 17 million auto trips and 1.4 million trips on public transit, the report said.
Fragmented transit systems result in one of the highest "regional costs per rider" compared to other metropolitan areas — 95 cents here, compared to 49 cents in New York City, 53 cents in Washington, D.C., 58 cents in Chicago and Philadelphia and 64 cents in Los Angeles.
Of the regions compared, only Seattle came out higher, at $1.03 per rider.
Moreover, Bay Area transit operators face a projected combined $17 billion capital deficit and $8 billion operating deficit by 2035, the report said.
A half-century ago, Bay Area regional cooperation resulted in saving the bay from becoming landfill, preserving open space in the hills and creating BART.
But current regional entities such as the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission have limited authority because of fears they will make decisions against the interest of local governments.
For example, Menlo Park and Pleasanton have been taken to court for not fulfilling commitments under the state-mandated "Regional Housing Needs Allocation," the report noted.
"Home rule gives each community the right to say no — or yes. But the lack of effective regional governance around housing means we get too few homes overall ... and homes have little relationship to job centers.
"We get 'drive until you qualify (for a mortgage)' and mega-commutes for those seeking affordably priced homes. And we get boom-and-bust residential prices that drag down whole communities when the cycle shifts."
Palo Alto has nearly 2.5 jobs per employed resident compared to San Jose's 0.85 jobs, the report said.
"Yet both cities are part of the same labor market and essentially one housing market.
With local governments reaping more benefit from job growth than housing production, "the fiscal outcome of the location of jobs relative to homes is quite stark."
A bar chart in the report, drawn from data from the California Board of Equalization and the U.S. Census Bureau, showed Palo Alto towering over other cities in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties in total revenue per capita.
"The winner-take-all approach to local tax revenues results in fiscal and service disparity among cities. It also undermines regional or sub-regional cooperation and can lead to inefficient land-use outcomes," the report said.
It called for strengthening existing regional agencies or creating new ones — such as Portland's Metro or a tax-sharing scheme used in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn. — to tackle the challenges.
"To achieve any of these options will require turning more of our local residents into Bay Area citizens who recognize our shared fate and interest," the report concluded.
"Regionalism is not 'all or nothing' and can involve incremental changes. But only keeping what we have and assuming it will serve us for the future is no longer a viable option.
"Our needs are more interconnected now. Our governance should reflect that."
Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.