Why is Bay Area Land Use Planning and Transportation in such Disarray?

Life in the Bay Area is getting worse, not better. The housing agonies increase, the commute trips get longer and the highway backups and urban traffic congestion become increasingly oppressive. Unfortunately the local and regional agencies involved in public infrastructure seem unable to deliver the smart infrastructure improvements needed to make things better. And yet without agency change there can be no resolution of the Region’s land use and transportation problems.

How did a wealthy, environmentally and tech-savvy region get so burdened with governmental dysfunction? To answer that question it is necessary to first examine the way things are in more detail.

Bad infrastructure decision-making: The relevant agencies habitually ignore well established local, regional and State objectives, such as strengthening the public transit networks, conforming to CEQA requirements, meeting State GHG standards, and reducing traffic congestion. Instead, agencies repeatedly opt for the short-sighted schemes of developers bent on making money and yield to the parochial demands of noisy pressure groups. Complicated decisions, often based upon false or misleading information, are often made by unqualified amateurs.

Screenshot 2018-12-15 at 10.52.03 AMThese include both over-confident politicians who lack the experience needed to engage effectively in large infrastructure projects and appointed or elected Agency board members who lack the qualifications needed to do carry out their important responsibilities.  The experienced professionals who could bring expertise, objective analysis and reason to important public policy decisions are often relegated to doing little more than dutifully implementing a seemingly endless series of costly, fatally-flawed concepts put together by laypeople. (For more detail about how and why things often go awry early in the planning, conceptual engineering and environmental clearance stages of major projects, please contact us. Go to http://www.batwgblog.com.)

Bad Execution: These unprofessional practices are often followed by months or years of ineffective project management, leading to extensive delays and serious cost overruns. It is not ok for inexperienced planners and political neophytes to be meddling in public infrastructure developments. And it is certainly not ok for projects to take much longer to complete than necessary and cost much more than necessary. Yet at this time there are no real incentives within most agencies to improve the usefulness of projects, speed up projects or reduce the costs of projects.

Bad results: As a result, in recent years the Bay Area has been saddled with a string of over-priced, ineffective and counterproductive projects. Residential rents and housing prices continue to rise at unreasonable rates. The commutes get longer and the urban congestion and highway backups get worse. The ability of the public transit systems to serve their function declines. Over the last 35 years, tens of billions of dollars of State and federal transportation funding have poured into the Region. Much of this precious resource has been squandered on large highway and other infrastructure projects of small consequence. (For examples of the big mistakes made and significant improvement opportunities lost, please contact us. Go to http://www.batwgblog.com.)

Responsibility for rectifying matters lies with the State Legislature and local elected officials. Fortunately the opportunities to make things better abound.

 This article was featured in Newsletter Issue 8. Click here to go back to the newsletter.