Lessons for regionalists on housing and transportation

TransForm headshot for the Policy Advocacy Manager, Hayley Currier

 Learning from HousingAs we rebuild public transit back from pandemic-related setbacks and look to the future of what our transportation system could and should be, it is clear that we need to tackle these problems as a region. The movement of people and goods doesn’t stop at city or county borders, and our transportation planning shouldn’t either. 

This isn’t the first time the Bay Area has worked toward a regional approach on a set of problems that were too complex to solve piecemeal. CASA, the Committee to House the Bay Area, took a multi-stakeholder, regional approach to addressing the housing crisis. Learning from this experience can help us tackle transportation issues at a similar scale.

For almost three years, TransForm has co-led Voices for Public Transportation, a coalition of labor, community-based organizations, environmental groups, transit riders, and equity advocates pushing for a progressive transportation funding measure for the Bay Area. Even beyond our coalition, there is widespread agreement in the region that transformative change and large-scale investments in public transportation are needed to meet our equity, economic, and environmental goals. 

Getting there will require the buy-in and support of nine counties, over 100 cities, 27 transit agencies, millions of transit riders, thousands of transit workers, and two-thirds of voters. On May 19, TransForm brought together key regional leaders on both CASA and regional transportation efforts to reflect on lessons learned and inform our collective work toward our transportation funding goals. The event featured Assemblymember David Chiu, MTC’s Therese McMillan, The San Francisco Foundation’s Fred Blackwell, and Urban Habitat’s Ellen Wu, in a conversation moderated by TransForm’s Darnell Grisby. See the full recording of the event, Solving Problems as a Region: Learning from Housing.

Here are some insights from the event that will inform our efforts to advance a game-changing regional transportation funding measure for the Bay Area. They are also broadly applicable to collaborative regional planning efforts anywhere. 

  1. Regional problems need regional solutions. Regional strategy and leadership is necessary to tackle problems that transcend the borders of cities, counties, and transit agencies.

“I’m outing myself as a regionalist… We know individual cities can’t solve our problems alone. Our cities, one by one, have not been able to solve the housing crisis or the homelessness crisis or the fact that we have some of the worst congestion in the world.” — Assemblymember David Chiu

  1. Balance the power of diverse stakeholders. Diversity of opinion and approaches can be a strength if power is balanced and participants trust the process. Otherwise, tension and skepticism can block progress. This will mean ensuring sufficient power and representation for historically underrepresented and disempowered groups.

“Part of how we were able to come together and put aside the skepticism was that there were three co-chairs. There was an attempt to balance the power of the different perspectives that were coming to the table.” — Ellen Wu, Executive Director, Urban Habitat

  1. Regional problem-solving won’t happen without a strong grassroots push. Grassroots groups and equity advocates play an important role in urging government leadership to take on challenging tasks and build political will to prioritize great outcomes for low-income people and communities of color, as well as the environment and the economy.

“[Convening CASA] was the product of a lot of effective community organizing and advocacy. There were a number of groups that were beating down the doors of the elected officials, saying that there needs to be something done about the housing crisis.” — Fred Blackwell, CEO, San Francisco Foundation

  1. Center historically disadvantaged communities. We have for decades underinvested in public transportation, leaving transit-dependent people, people with disabilities, and people with low incomes behind. A successful solution must ensure real benefits for historically disadvantaged people and communities. Centering their voices, needs, and leadership will be key to building the transportation system we want and need.

“We have to center the people most impacted. They don’t just need to be represented, they need to be there having the conversation, having the debates, telling their stories and the solutions they want. When you lead with equity, everybody wins.” — Ellen Wu, Urban Habitat

  1. To allow enough time for collaboration, the process must start soon. The state legislative cycle dictates the timeline for developing a regional funding measure. To ensure time for a thoughtful, equitable process within those constraints, there is some urgency to begin as soon as possible. 

“Our deadline for getting it done had to do with the legislative session. If we had had a little bit more time to sit with some of the really sticky points--I’m not going to say that we could totally agree, but we could have come closer to agreement.” Ellen Wu, Urban Habitat

  1. Compromise can be a win, not a loss. With so many diverse interests necessary to advance a solution, compromise is inevitable and should be seen as a goal of the process by all participants. That said, too often the less powerful groups end up compromising more than the deep-pocketed ones—power and compromise should both be balanced. 

“We had to really embrace this idea that in order for you to get the things that you’ve been losing on, you were going to have to stand next to some stuff that is not your favorite stuff. These ideas are all going to have to move forward together.” — Fred Blackwell, San Francisco Foundation

“You can, in compromise, achieve gain.” — Therese McMillan, Executive Director, MTC

  1. Invest in strong facilitation and good data. To stay focused on solutions that actually move the needle on the issues we care about, a regional process with diverse stakeholders at a large table needs sharp data analysis and expert professional facilitation.

“This is not sexy, but you have to invest in the backbone for them to be productive. High quality facilitation, coordination… having good data that can be brought to the table to guide decision-making. If you really expect people to come into the room and be productive, that kind of infrastructure is absolutely essential.” — Fred Blackwell, San Francisco Foundation

TransForm and our partners are working to incorporate these lessons learned into a progressive and transformative regional transportation measure. I’d love to hear from other regionalists who want to learn more about our efforts and get involved! Feel free to contact me directly at [email protected]

You can also watch the complete conversation from the event on our YouTube channel:


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.