A “Memorable” Meeting with New CALSTA Secretary

Last week, Secretary David Kim visited our Executive Directors’ meeting. It was a great conversation.  But before I share the main points of our discussion, I will just say that the Secretary has a great memory. Before we started, he looked around the room and called on a number of people by name and mentioned an instance (often minor) where their paths had crossed before. Personally, he recalled a panel that we had both served on at a conference a few years ago that I could barely remember.  Very impressive.

But back to policy. The Secretary only briefly touched on his diverse background (which you can read here), and focused mostly on what he intends to focus on–with the caveat, he is still in his first month. Our executive directors raised a few questions themselves.  So it was a broad-ranging discussion. Here are some of the main issues raised (by him and us) in no particular order.

  • Innovation and Technology in the Transportation Sector.  We are definitely in a time of disruption and the challenge is not only to stay abreast of new technologies but to embrace and harness them for good.  The transportation sector needs to meet multiple goals, and technology–whether its alternative fuels or new sharing and ownership models–will play a key factor in developing policy.
  • Mobility Options.  Similarly, our planning has to embrace multiple mobility options.  The Secretary noted that the process for developing the next California Transportation Plan had just started and it would focus on improving the mobility of all users of the state transportation system.
  • Safety Remains Paramount. It’s not only the safety of drivers but for all users of the system. The Secretary was discouraged to see key indicators increase over the past year. We have to do better as a state to create safe travel options and ensure the safety of our highway workers and public safety officers as well.
  • Linkage Between Transportation and Housing. The Secretary also firmly stated his commitment to the Administration’s goal of linking housing and transportation in a collaborative and meaningful way. Then he also acknowledged we also have to account for the linkages to job centers as well–essentially connecting the job to the home–which was encouraging for our members thinking about how to holistically address the state’s climate goals.
  • Delivering on the promises of SB1. This is a principle everyone in the room concurred.  The Legislature, and then the voters, embraced SB 1 on the promise of a better-maintained transportation system that included not only local roads and state highways, but transit and goods movement systems as well.  He’s encouraged to see the number of projects that have already been completed and looks forward to seeing more in the coming months and years.
  • Finding Consistency in State Policies for Transportation, Housing, and Climate Change. Okay, this one was raised by our members, not Secretary Kim. But the group acknowledged that there is a challenge if the result of our state housing goals is to build more units in places that are likely to generate higher VMT.  This is not an argument against anyone’s policy.  But rather a plea that in adopting a goal in one subject area that we are all mindful to realize that it may have side-effects in another. Our legislative and administrative process has a tendency to isolate one of these goals at a time.  But these policies all interconnect.
  • Finally, A Real Partnership.  All sides agreed that California’s state and regional transportation agencies have a long history of partnership and cooperation in delivering and maintaining our current system. We do not always agree, but we more often cooperate to get the job done.  There is a basis there to continue this partnership as our transportation systems evolve to include new modes and mobility that could barely be conceived even 20 years ago. Our executive directors appreciated the Secretary’s understanding of this relationship.

In the end, it was a great meet and greet; a chance to get to know the new Secretary.   We are definitely looking forward to working with him.  In the coming weeks and months, he made it clear that he will be reaching out to multiple groups and geographical areas around the state to develop relationships.  He is probably going to talk to hundreds of people from all walks of life.  So if you meet him briefly in one of those meetings, and then bump into him 15 years from now at some other event, just don’t be surprised if he remembers your name and the topic you discussed!