The first meeting of the California Transportation Commission and Air Resources Board played to a packed room (perhaps because the room itself was small). It was . . . interesting and significant, if not riveting. Assembly Member Cervantes, who authored the bill (AB 179) that that brought the two bodies together twice a year, was first on the agenda. She emphasized the need for people to get from home to work safely and sustainably. The rest of the agenda included basic overviews, a board-commission member discussion, and predictable public comments.
Here are our 9 takeaways about their developing relationship.
- Getting to Know You. This first meeting was about establishing lines of communication for better information sharing. The board-to-commission discussion showed promise and former Senator Kehoe seems poised to emerge as an informal leader going forward. Interestingly, ARB Chair Nichols noted that individual members had reached out to each other before the meeting. So multiple lines of communication were being established on many levels. We also observed a lengthy post-meeting conversation between Commissioner Madaffer and Board Member Sperling (no doubt discussing how Autonomous Vehicles will affect ARB’s EMFAC model).
- Can they meet in the Middle? The organizational cultures are as different as the delegations of authority they enjoy. On one hand, ARB has broad authority to ARB under AB/SB 32–the Legislature set a target and delegated the means of achieving that target to ARB. They accomplish goals by setting standards that must be met. On the other hand, CTC’s authority is more bottoms-up. While they do set criteria to award funds, it is generally developed according to a specific statutory language. CTC achieves its policy objectives by selecting projects that meet the applicable performance criteria.
- How to Engage MPOs? A significant overlap point for both ARB and CTC is the Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Community Strategy (RTP/SCS). The CTC develops the RTP/SCS Guidelines and partially funds some projects in the RTP/SCS. The ARB sets the SB 375 targets and reviews the SCS (which is within the RTP) to assure that the plan would achieve the target. Thus, the RTP is the place where their two processes meet, though they often apply differing terminology and seek different outcomes. It should be an interesting discussion if their relationship to the RTP is discussed in more detail. It seems like a natural at some point they will want to involve MPOs in the discussion.
- ARB is Way Bigger. We were reminded that ARB has over 1300 staff. The Commission has 24.
- Can they Multi-Task? ARB’s mission has been fairly singular in focus—and the results (as ARB Board Member Dan Sperling noted) have been remarkable: cleaner air and fewer emissions despite increased population and economic growth. CTC’s mission is oversight and mobility. But both have important safety missions that save lives: clean air and safe roads. But if their joint work is to be effective, then they must account for both missions.
- Need to Add Housing to the Mix. The other agency that needs to be in the room is the Department of Housing and Community Development. As Commissioner Inman said, “housing is where jobs go to sleep at night.” Discussing mobility and air quality without a discussion of housing seems like trying to sit on a chair with a leg missing. We expected someone from HCD to be there (where were you Linda Wheaton?), but an invitation to HCD Director Ben Metcalf (who had addressed CTC earlier that day) would be a good addition for the next meeting.
- Other Groups (e.g., Business) Should Take This Seriously. The public testimony was dominated by social equity and environmental groups who supported AB 179. The points that they raised were legitimate for both entities’ consideration. There were many regional governments present, but only a few provided comments. Hardly any business groups were even present. One of the Commissioners even commented on the need for broader input. If any joint effort is going to have a strong footing, a broader group of organizations and interests needs to be involved.
- Bransen’s Path Forward. Those who work with Susan Bransen know that she is very thoughtful. In her opening remarks, she offered four points of potential collaboration. (See her entire presentation.) We noted that the ARB board members pointed to this framework several times as a good starting point. These included
- Climate Change: Tough Road Ahead. Perhaps the best reason for these two agencies (and maybe HCD?) to keep meeting is that there are some very tough choices ahead. A lot of the easiest ways to reduce GHG’s have already been or are in the process of being implemented. As we move closer to the goals for 2030 and 2050 the choices are going to get harder. For example, SB 375 “groupies” (we count ourselves in this group) know that the last round of targets left an additional 6% reduction from additional state and local action undefined. There are some difficult policy questions on the road ahead and improved linkages between the agencies developing and implementing programs will improve the consistency of state policy. And that is a good thing.
For an alternative take on this meeting, read the Streetsblog account.
You can also view the entire meeting via webcast.