How will the Bay Area actually implement its new regional plan, Plan Bay Area?

Clarrissa Cabansagan Headshot

Plan Bay Area

It’s been several months since the adoption of Plan Bay Area, but our work is far from over. Implementation is where the rubber hits the road, so TransForm is keeping a vigilant watch on MTC’s efforts to roll out specific policies and programs called for in the final Plan.

Cap-and-Trade on the Fast Track?

Last week, we hit our first bump in the road when MTC announced a hearing (held yesterday) to discuss priorities for how to spend funds from the state’s new cap-and-trade climate program. These revenues could total upwards of $3 billion per year through 2020 if cap-and-trade performs to expectations, providing significant funding for the region to strengthen transportation choices that reduce climate pollution.

Flashback: In the final hours of debate on Plan Bay Area, our regional agencies decided to assume that $3.1 billion in cap-and-trade funding would be allocated to the region over the plan's timeframe.

MTC staff initially proposed a specific distribution of this funding to support important regional needs such as public transportation operations and maintenance and transit-oriented affordable housing. But in the final Plan, Commissioners opted not to set allocations to specific programs until further notice. Instead, the Plan specifically called for a “transparent and inclusive” public process to decide on cap-and-trade spending priorities. 

Back to the present: MTC staff presented a complete proposal for how to distribute cap-and-trade funds, without any prior public process, and gave only five days’ notice of the opportunity to discuss their proposal.

What’s more, their proposal failed to disclose any analysis behind the development of these priorities, making it extremely difficult for anyone to understand the benefits of the programs in this proposal, or how they would meet important standards for helping disadvantaged communities.

Keeping the Big Picture in Focus

So along with over 40 allies, TransForm signed onto a letter to MTC Chair Amy Worth detailing our concerns and recommendations for cap-and-trade priorities. A top priority of that letter is making sure MTC upholds their commitment to a “transparent and inclusive” process. We also stressed the need to invest cap-and-trade funds in ways that benefit communities suffering the greatest toxic exposures, and to leverage the funding to benefit low-income families and provide job opportunities for those who need them most.

Yesterday, at the hearing itself, representatives from nearly a dozen of these organizations spoke to these concerns and recommendations.

As it turns out, the rush to a decision was partly motivated by significant maintenance needs and budget shortfalls at the region’s three biggest transit agencies: SF Muni, AC Transit, and BART. Funding released before the end of the year could save the region millions of dollars, as the cost of new BART cars and other sorely needed upgrades is slated to rise in 2014. (See below for more on the proposed channel for these funds, the Transit Core Capacity Challenge Grants.)

There’s also a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation with the state’s decision-making process around cap-and-trade revenues. As legislators in Sacramento decide how to allocate this funding throughout the state, MTC hopes to influence this process by showing that they have a proposal for how to spend it.

Regardless, it’s still important for the public to have a say in how this huge chunk of change will be spent in our communities – and Plan Bay Area specifically requires it.

And while overall, the cap-and-trade proposal appears to reflect the big picture intentions of Plan Bay Area, there are some missing links in the chain of allocation. For example, about $1 billion would augment the OneBayArea Grants (OBAG) program to help with transit-oriented workforce housing. But once the money is passed to the counties, there’s no actual safeguard to ensure that it is spent on anything specific – it’s just included in the overall OBAG pot of funding.

Overall, while the cap-and-trade proposal suggests a strong connection to the goals of reducing climate pollution and benefiting disadvantaged communities, it’s difficult to measure how well the proposal will do at reaching those goals. We definitely recognize external time constraints such as capital costs and state legislation – but MTC shouldn’t move so fast that it fails to choose the best options for the long term.

You can help hold MTC accountable by joining us at the next public meeting on December 11, where commissioners will next discuss this topic.

Other Movement on the Implementation Front

Cap-and-trade isn’t the only Plan Bay Area implementation we’re tracking at MTC. The agency also recently released a proposal for Transit Core Capacity Challenge Grants. These grants would invest approximately $7 billion in maintenance and repairs needed for the region’s three biggest transit agencies: SF Muni, AC Transit, and BART.

At first glance, the Transit Core Capacity Challenge Grants appear to be a good sign of follow-through on the Plan’s commitment to invest more in keeping our region’s public transit systems in good working order. We look forward to learning more as the details are discussed further.

All in all, Plan Bay Area implementation is off and running. TransForm and our allies are on board to make sure we move forward at a pace that works for all Bay Area residents, and stay true to course for the best possible future for our region.

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About This Blog

TransForum is the blog of TransForm, California's leading transportation advocate. For more about our work, including ways you can take action and contribute, visit TransFormCA.org.