ABAG leaders betray local cities

Has the agency already decided to capitulate to the MTC's coup?

The latest betrayal of Bay Area cities by the leadership of the Association of Bay Area Governments occurred on May 17, when the Joint Committee comprising the ABAG Administrative and MTC Planning Committees and overseeing the ABAG-MTC merger planning process, posted the agenda for its May 27 meeting. The agenda has only one substantial item, an Implementation Action Plan for Option 7, the path for reconfiguring the two regional agencies that the Joint Committee endorsed on April 22.

MTC Chair Dave Cortese and ABAG President Julie Pierce
MTC Chair Dave Cortese and ABAG President Julie Pierce

Option 7 entails the Metropolitan Transportation Agency’s hostile takeover of the Association of Bay Area Governments: The land-use planning agency’s entire staff (presumably minus its executive director) would be folded into the transportation planning agency under authority of MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger. ABAG would also become fully financially dependent on MTC.

The May 17 publication of an Implementation Action Plan for this controversial measure seems premature, given that the governing boards of the two organizations have yet to weigh in an option. The ABAG General Assembly will vote on an option at a meeting scheduled from noon to 2:30 pm on May 19; the land use planning agency’s Executive Board, which, according to ABAG bylaws, carries out policies determined by the General Assembly, will vote on an option at a meeting scheduled for 7 pm that evening. The Metropolitan Planning Commission is to do the same on March 25.

Indeed, at the end of its April 22 meeting, the Joint Committee itself mulled over the appropriateness, not to say the legality, of asking the merger consultants, Management Partners, to prepare an Implementation Plan before the organizations’ respective “parent bodies” had voted on an option.

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Committee co-chair, ABAG President and Clayton Councilmember Julie Pierce, asked the consultants and the agencies’ executive directors “whether the full boards of both agencies need to ratify the recommendations of this committee before we go forward.”

Palo Alto Vice-Mayor Greg Scharff, who sits on the ABAG Administrative Committee (a subset of the Executive Board that is authorized to act between meetings of the full board), opined that “[i]t’s a mistake to go to our boards before we have all the information” about what Option 7 would involve on the ground. Along with Pierce, MTC Chair Dave Cortese, and Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty, who also sit on the ABAG Administrative Committee, Scharff has been aggressively pushing Option 7.

But another member of the Administrative Committee, Napa County Supervisor Mark Luce cautioned, “We don’t want to come in with a baked solution.”

The Joint Committee co-chair, Metropolitan Transportation Commissioner and Solano County Supervisor Jim Spering, also expressed doubts, stating that the contract with the consultants “is just for a recommendation,” not for a plan; and that Management Partners “might have to do the analysis on the option [they] are recommending” instead of one approved by the two agencies.

Actually, the contract with the consultants does call for an implementation action plan; the question was—and is: under whose authority should they properly be asked to prepare it, and when?

The matter was decided when Pierce answered her own question, decreeing that “the Executive Board gave the Administrative Committee authority to manage the contract.”

I’ve combed through the minutes of the Executive Board’s meetings that have taken place since the Administrative Committee’s fateful October 28 approval of ABAG Resolution 1215, which embraced MTC Resolution 4210, thereby authorizing the merger planning process. I find no indication that the Executive Board authorized the Administrative Committee to manage the contract with the consultant. In fact, I see no evidence that the ABAG Executive Board even ratified the action taken by the Administrative Committee on October 28.

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Indeed, Pierce’s claim appears to be just her latest pre-emptive strike against the prerogatives and integrity of her own organization. You’d think that the ABAG president would be reluctant to advance a scheme (Option 7) that will strip her agency of its staff and budget and put ABAG at the financial and administrative mercy of its arrogant and monied “partner,” MTC. Instead, since last fall, Pierce has repeatedly carried water for the MTC chair, Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese, and expedited MTC’s hostile takeover of ABAG. But she hasn’t acted alone: with the exception of Novato Mayor Pat Eklund, who also sits on the Administrative Committee, the sellout to MTC has been condoned by the rest of the Administrative Committee and Executive Board.

ABAG delegates to the General Assembly May 19 meeting, take note.