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REGIONAL GOVERNMENT IS AN OLD IDEA, STRONGLY

OPPOSED BY MINORITY COMMUNITIES

November 16,1991

By Yolanda Reynolds

La Oferta Newspaper.

On Oct. 31. the California Assembly and Senate Committees on Local Government held an all-day hearing on a number of bills that are depending in the legislature relative to “growth management” in California.

All of the Bills recommend some form of regional government. The most comprehensive and centralized type of government is that proposed in AB 3, frequently referred to as “the Willie Brown Bill.” If AB 3 is approved in Sacramento, 7 regional governments will be established in California.

These bills, said to be necessary to force cooperation a recalcitrant community, are being considered in Sacramento in spite of the fact that – with voter approval in Nov. 1990 – regional transportation planning is already required in order to access the $18.5 billion that will become available from the newly voter approved gas tax.

The legislation, Propositions 111 and 108, requires the formation of a Congestion Management Agency (CMA). In November, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors authorized its own CMA the day after the voters approved the measure in order to collect the tax and develop a regional Congressional Management Plan.

These proposed laws, Ab 3. Ab 76, SB 434, SB 797 and SB 929 would set up a new layer of government which would absorb many of the decision making powers that currently reside at the local level, while promising not to dismantle the local governments that currently exist.

Another Bill, SB 434 by Marion Bergeson (Senate Local Government Committee Chairperson and a Republican Senator from Southern Ca.) allows local officials to create a “regional fiscal authority” that will have “revenue generating” (taxing) authority” to “provide the funds to deal with regional problems.” These public “problems” can include projects involving “culture,” education, transportation and flood control. among others.

All of the bills adhere to a “top down,” centralized system of decision making which requires conformance by “sub-regions.” or other existing lower level jurisdictions.

The scope of responsibilities to be acquired by the new layer of government range from four areas with broad powers such as those contained in Rebecca Morgan’s SB 797, to as many as ten areas as those included in Assemblyman (Democrat, San Francisco) Willie Brown’s AB 3.

Ab 3 also includes an area of interest curiously described as “citizen participation.” Extreme leftist and rightist governments always force “citizen participation.”

Proponents characterize this latest attempt to impose a regional government in California as a “new idea.” The regional plan designed for the Bay is named BV 2020 – BV meaning Bay Vision and the enabling legislation is contained in Rebecca Morgan’s bill, SB 797.

The fact is, Regional government to the bay area recorded in a Report of the Conference on Bay Area Regional Organization. The Conference took place April 18, 1970.

The problem then, as now, included pollution, smog, traffic, garbage and sprawling suburbs. Joseph Bodovitz at that time, said that the governance in the Bay Area was not “self-governance” but an “efficient form” of “regional administration” in the form of a variety of regional agencies. He claimed that the populace had opted not for self-government, but for “goals of technology and efficiency.”

Ira Michael Hayman, then Professor of Law and City Planning at U.C.  Berkeley, was moderator of a panel to discuss the “organization, powers and representation involved in a regional form of government.”

The participants of that panel included two members of the Bay Area Council, a powerful large corporate association a member of the Association of Bay Area Governments, another U. C. Professor of City Planning and Donald P. McCullum, an attorney and President of the NAACP.

Heyman’s University colleague, T. J. Kent, expressed strong reservations about the creation of a new layer of government, with unlimited powers and remote from the people. Kent advocated the full involvement of local governmental officials in every aspect of the creation of the proposed government before any action be taken to actually form a regional government. He strongly opposed a regional body that was not directly elected by the populace. And, even if it was elected, Kent feared for the inability of less affluent candidate to find success in a regional election.

Business interests then couched their support for regionalism as a concern for decisive action (“greater control”) – preferring specific hard and fast land use decisions. They claimed that without regional decision making the state or federal government would step in to make those decisions.

Elected officials expressed concern for the enormous cost required to run for a seat on the proposed regional authority.

Cost estimates for regional office candidate campaigns, at that time (1970), ranged from $30,000 to $60,000. At today’s prices – where even a council seat can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars – the cost of running for a regional office would mean that only those who have great personal wealth or have extensive contacts with wealthy interests could contemplate holding public office.

Donald P. McCullum, NAACP President, a conference participant, said that, missing from the regional planning group were African Americans. the poor and other minorities. He pointed out the great relative wealth of the regional government proponents, a criticism that is heard again in 1991.

Today, minorities and others express the same concerns that the NAACP President expressed in 1970. They feel that, someone “from on high,” will be determining what is good for their community – that communities of color – the poor and the smaller communities, would become be the dumping grounds for unwanted land uses or used as throughways for those desiring access to the open spaces that regional government would provide – they echo his concern that “regional government is nothing more than a veiled attempt to reestablish control of the heartland of our cities under the guise of regional government.” He bluntly stated that the “regional government debate was one of struggle for power.”

Interestingly the proponents of regional government, many of whom are the same as in 1970 (Heyman and Bodovitz), do not seem to have listened to their critics in 1970. There were no minorities among the group of “Convenors” in 1991, the group responsible for resurrecting this old idea.

The BV 2020 plan does not provide for the direct election of the members of the Regional authority, but a final decision to be made later. A transfer of power, away from locally elected officials, to an appointed regional body runs counter to the hard fought advances made by democratic government. Recently districting on the basis of one citizen – one vote, has greatly empowered the electorate, particularly minority communities.

By a 9 a.m., the hearing chamber 5 at the Capitol, though large, was totally packed. There were so many in attendance that there was almost no standing room for late comers. The meeting room accommodated at least 200 people.

There were many speakers, including many who were strongly opposed to the concept of a regional government.

Among those in opposition were: Latinos for Responsible Electoral Participation, The European American Study Group, The Irish Task Force. (These are all members of the Coalition for Effective Regional Planning from San Jose, California); The Ethnic Coalition from Southern Coalition (TEC), a coalition made up of the NAACP, MALDEF, the Latino Issues Forum and the Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans; the City of Sonoma (the mayor spoke); the California Business Properties Association and Santa Clara City Councilwoman, Sue Lasher, among many others.

Joseph Bodovitz explained that growth and traffic problems, among the other concerns, would and could only be solved with the formation of a regional government.

The legislative support for the formation of a new layer of government was generally positive (over five bills have been introduced this last year) and has been bi-partisan.

It scented that some of the legislators at the hearing had already made up their minds and were planning to battle Governor Wilson who, in his campaign, said that he did not favor regional government – preferring local decision making.

Speculation among some in the audience at that hearing was that, because of the term limit sentiment among the electorate and Proposition 140, a number of long time politicians see the old regional plan as a way remain in office without even having to be elected and even if they would be forced to face an election would be elegible to run for a new political office.

Certainly the politicians and other special interest groups that stand to gain from this realignment of power are prepared to force their way upon the state unless an aware public decides to stand behind concerned citizens who are currently raising the alarm.

For more information on Regional Government, contact The Coalition For Effective Regional Planning at (408) 995-0570. © La Oferta Publication.

 

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