Bay Area Clean Air Plan Comments

TRANSDEF submitted its comments on the draft 2017 Bay Area Clean Air Plan. They focus on the need to force MTC to do its share of emissions reductions.

Bay Area transit ridership down despite subsidies, enticements

In today’s Chronicle, Matier & Ross write about how regional transit ridership in the Bay Area has down for decades despite the many billions of dollars MTC has put into construction projects. This begs the question “Why?” For us, the answer is simple: MTC’s unique combination of indifference, incompetence and unwillingess to do the hard work of policy development has created a politicized unaccountable system that works great for contractors, but does little for Bay Area residents and commuters. See related several posts on this site: Bay Area Basics; a case study we did on MTC called Politics Trumps Outcomes; and a comment letter on how to set up a new transportation pot of money so that it is not wasted, as MTC’s resources have been. Read More...

New Papers from MTC Lawsuits

TRANSDEF received the fruits of a Public Records Act request from MTC today. Legal papers from Bay Area Citizens v. MTC, including the Index to the nearly 57,000 page Administrative Record, and the settlement agreements in two other cases are posted at the bottom of this page.

MTC Opposes Regionalism, Yet Again

In 2013, MTC adopted a regional plan called Plan Bay Area, in response to state requirements under SB 375 to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs). Continuing its long history of putting politics before its mandate of improving the Bay Area, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission voted today to adopt an eviscerated set of Guidelines for Bay Area counties. Draft Guidelines had been developed that called for counties, when developing their Countywide Transportation Plans, to look to the goals of Plan Bay Area. Click on Read More for TRANSDEF’s comments.

Plan Bay Area Court Decision Released

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Grillo issued a ruling today in the Bay Area Citizens v. ABAG challenge to Plan Bay Area. He denied their petition that sought a ruling that the EIR was inadequate. See the decision and the briefing at the bottom of this page. This page also contains the settlement between the MTC and Sierra Club and Communities for a Better Environment.

MTC Wants to Bury Dumbarton Rail

The staff report for MTC’s Planning and Allocations meeting, Wednesday, May 14 at 9:40 am lays out MTC's plans to bury the Dumbarton Rail project. Transit advocates have often noted that this project is the only possible way to avoid the cost of a new multibillion Transbay tunnel to deal with the lack of capacity in BART's Transbay tube. On April 23, TRANSDEF filed comments [this file without exhibits] with MTC, asserting legal arguments for why the proposed elimination of Regional Measure 2 funding for the Dumbarton Rail Project would be both illegal and unwise. [Comment file with the full set of exhibits.] Read More...

Multiple Suits Challenge Plan Bay Area

Multiple lawsuits were filed, challenging the FEIR for the Bay Area’s regional plan under CEQA. Interestingly, they attack the plan from different directions:

The Sierra Club/Communities for a Better Environment suit seeks a reduction in greenhouse gases and air pollution that affects communities of color in West Oakland. The “Bay Area Citizens” suit is a right-wing challenge to what it views as an assault on Americans’ God-given right to live in suburbs. The Building Industry Association suit makes interesting claims that have never been litigated: that the regional plan violates SB 375 by not providing for feasible levels of housing for the entire population of the Bay Area, including in-commuters from the Central Valley.

For the associated documents, see the bottom of
this page.

An Excellent Overview of Regional Planning

Environmental advocate Peter Lydon wrote these comments on MTC’s Plan Bay Area, which capture the essence of regional planning:


Independently of anything the regional agencies do, the nine-county Bay Area is growing in population and getting wealthier, so, inevitably, it is changing. That means that the region is in transition. The aspect that concerns us is a needed transition from the present land use/mobility system to a new one.

The old, existing system is based on the single-family house, the personal automobile and the freeway. It handles growth mainly through outward spatial diffusion, or sprawl. It has grown up over decades, and has become our thoroughly familiar environment. We have all deeply adapted to it. It is individualistic, and not egalitarian. Growing up in times of economic success and prosperity, it offers what people believe is freedom. Therefore, on the basis of inertia alone, the traditional layout has support from the very large share of the population (and public and private administrative structures) that are comfortable in it and who want to preserve what is known and good.

TRANSDEF Comments on Plan Bay Area

TRANSDEF filed comments on the Bay Area’s Draft Sustainable Communities Strategy today. By a fascinating coincidence, U.S. PIRG released its study today, called A New Direction, which is directly relevant to how to approach a regional transportation plan. This study points out the transportation planning consequences of the emerging pattern of millennials driving less. These documents are available here.

Joint Policy Committee Blinks

The Joint Policy Committee (JPC) is comprised of the four regional agencies: the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the Bay Area Air Quality Management District BAAQMD, the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG). With SB 849, it was tasked by the Legislature in 2004 to:

“coordinate the development and drafting of major planning documents prepared by ABAG, MTC, and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, including reviewing and commenting on major interim work products and the final draft comments prior to action by ABAG, MTC, and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.”

In its last three meetings, the JPC has walked away from the responsibility to coordinate the development of the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP), with its associated Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS), and has decided to focus instead on regional resilience and economic development. While these two subject areas certainly need the attention of the JPC, it appears that this new focus is the result of MTC not wanting the JPC involved in the RTP. Whereas the JPC was created to foster interagency cooperation, this recent move seems to be a classic turf fight--a curious one in which no one is willing to talk about it.

Given this silence and denial, TRANSDEF’s President David Schonbrunn stepped in and spoke about MTC’s decision on committed projects (See Massive Counter-Attack, next blog entry), calling upon the JPC to assert the interests of the region, which were abandoned by MTC, which would rather play politics with transportation dollars. He was gaveled down at precisely 3 minutes by JPC Chair Tom Bates, cutting off the last paragraph of his prepared remarks. See Read More for the complete comments.

Massive Counter-Attack Ends Brief Spring at MTC

In a blow to the very heart of the transportation planning process, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission voted today to preserve the longstanding dominance of local politics in the allocation of funds for transportation projects in the Bay Area. The shortage of funds due to the economic crisis had led MTC staff to propose a revision to the Commission’s Committed Projects Policy, so as to enable the MTC’s Regional Transportation Plan to be more effective. The policy essentially cemented in past project approvals, so that those decisions would never be reconsidered. Because MTC’s RTP process has been to staple together the wish lists of the various counties of the region, this has meant that project selection was primarily occurring at the local or county level.

The problem with this is that local solutions do not work when aggregated together at the regional scale. Local transportation plans assume that their residents will travel largely by automobile. However, when these residents leave their respective counties, it has not been possible to furnish adequate regional infrastructure. The extremely high cost of widening existing highways, along with the lack of physical space to do so without even more expensive condemnation of existing residences and businesses, has resulted in massive congestion throughout the region.

MTC Shows its True Colors-OAC

MTC’s Programming and Allocations Committee met to once again take the heat in deciding whether to provide additional funding for the BART Oakland Airport Connector (OAC), a truly execrable project. This project, which had died after the Federal Transit Administration pulled the plug on $70 million in stimulus funding, showed itself to have many lives, and many functionaries willing to bend institutional rules to raise it from the dead. MTC violated its own rules in bypassing a required vote by its Commissioners, and was caught at it.

Large numbers of presumably unemployed carpenters showed up to flex their political muscles, with a banner eerily calling out CIA. Only this time, CIA meant Carpenters in Action. They were calling for jobs, and clearly weren’t much concerned that the project was enormously bloated in cost, and already eliminated any benefits for the impoverished community it was to pass through. The carpenters seemed unaware that most of the jobs resulting from the project would be elsewhere, where the people mover system will be built. The use of precast concrete is going to reduce the construction jobs dramatically.

After many impassioned speeches calling for MTC to preserve the Bay Area’s underfunded transit system and not waste money on the OAC, the committee voted to approve the funding. While there was a significant group of Commissioners who saw the problems with approving the money, they were in the minority.

MTC, through this and many previous votes, demonstrated more clearly than ever before that the agency truly does not give a crap about outcomes. The fact that the OAC would waste a half-billion dollars was not a consideration. MTC has always been about cutting political deals. The OAC represented someone’s deal, and MTC’s unspoken rules prohibit going back on a deal, no matter how loathsome a project has become.

Oakland Airport Connector--Government at its Worst

Guy Span wrote a powerful post on the decision of the BART Board to put itself into serious debt, in the midst of cutting service and not having the funds to replace its cars.

Here’s the comment we posted:

Major new figure emerges in Bay Area Transportation Reporting

TRANSDEF was exceedingly pleased to discover the blog of Guy Span, available at He wrote an in-depth multi-part series on MTC decisionmaking that was, in our opinion, the very best analysis we’ve seen. Check out his List of Articles.

The BART Oakland Airport Connector

TRANSDEF blasted the BART Board as having “an extreme indifference to project cost.” Read More...

MTC threatens TRANSDEF with sanctions

Summary only available when permalinks are enabled.

MTC adopts irresponsible regional plan

Summary only available when permalinks are enabled.

Warm Springs BART litigation

TRANSDEF recently filed a taxpayers' lawsuit to prevent Bay Area transportation agencies from illegally sending BART over $315 million for construction of its Warm Springs extension. Check it out.

The Regional Transportation Plan is nearing adoption

On March 13th, MTC will have a meeting of its Planning Committee to go over final details of its draft Regional Transportation Plan, for approval on March 25th. Read More...