How Regions are Charging Ahead – What We Heard at the 2024 Regional Leadership Forum

How Regions are Charging Ahead – What We Heard at the 2024 Regional Leadership Forum

This year’s Regional Leadership Forum was held in Monterey under the theme “Regions: Charging Ahead,” and it was our largest event to date. Over 200 leaders and partners from across the state convened to discuss the challenges and opportunities that regional organizations face as they develop transportation and housing solutions that align with state objectives in a way that serve the needs of their communities. This event stood out not only for its engaging sessions but also for its ability to bring together visionaries and leaders who are charging ahead in shaping a better future for our communities.

If you weren’t able join the conference this year, we have posted the agenda and presentation slides. Here are some key takeaways:

  1. Strategic Relationships are Essential: Regions are often charged with tackling issues in which they have little control, requiring regional leaders to rely on their relationships to make a difference. Deanna Potter’s keynote presentation focused on the importance of developing strategic relationships to advance regional goals, underscoring the necessity for leaders to adapt to changing expectations through strategic networking and influence. It was a theme that was referenced throughout the conference.
  2. More Work on Transportation Pricing: In a three-session segment, attendees learned about (1) the magnitude of decline in gas tax revenues the state will face as we transition to electric vehicles, (2) how regions are using managed lanes to improve efficiency and equity of the transportation system, and (3) how state and regional agencies are navigating challenging politics of advancing a statewide road user charge (AKA gas tax replacement) and regional roadway pricing/tolling to both get new revenues and manage congestion. Highlighted throughout these sessions was a clear need to engage in discussions with the public and elected officials about the need for, and importance of, developing innovative funding and pricing mechanisms. We need to start by clearly identifying the different problems we are trying to solve (replacing the gas tax vs. reducing VMT) and then discuss possible solutions that best address each problem. CALCOG will be working with our members and partners to explore how we can better communicate the need for different pricing mechanisms in a way that makes sense to people outside of the transportation world.
  3. REAP Grants are Advancing Regional and State Goals: While the Governor’s proposed cuts to REAP did not go unmentioned, the “What is REAP Sowing?” session mostly focused on how regional agencies are working with HCD to implement a first of its kind program that gives regions funding to implement SB 375. HCD’s Director Gustavo Velasquez spoke about the symbiotic relationship between housing and transportation planning, showcasing how REAP grants are instrumental in advancing housing, transportation, equity, and climate goals at the regional level. We appreciated the Director’s willingness to join us for the discussion during a time when so many budget questions are in the air. We are still early in the budget process and CALCOG will be working with members to highlight the transformational projects that are coming out of this funding program.
  4. California Leads on Zero-Emission Vehicle Initiatives, but there’s more to do: A composite discussion from three sessions underlined federal, state, and regional efforts aimed at transitioning to ZEVs. The sessions delineated the strategies, funding opportunities, and collaborative initiatives crucial to increasing the pace at which this transition occurs. While California is clearing in the lead when it comes to the purchase of ZEVs, we face a steep climb to increasing grid capacity and charging infrastructure that can accommodate the rate of adoption that is needed to meet state climate goals.
  5. The Not-So-Trivial Competition: Our members are convenors and collaborators in their day jobs, but don’t underestimate their willingness to engage in a serious competition! This year we brought back the “Super-California-istic, Let’s all be Precocious” Trivia Contest, revitalizing a tradition that fosters camaraderie and collaborative spirit among participants of each trivia team, with a side of fierce competition for our “Not A Trivial Champion” coffee mugs. Despite some accusations that they may have had too many people on their team, “Trivially Challenged” still garnered the most points. We congratulate the members of “Trivially Challenged” on their contested win!
  6. The New Assembly Transportation Chair Wants to Hear from Us: In an exclusive conversation with Assembly Member Lori Wilson, attendees learned that the new Transportation Committee Chair is not only passionate about housing, but she also sees the important nexus between land use and transportation. When asked what we as regional agencies could do to help her in her new role her answer was simple: come talk to her. She wants to take a holistic look at the transportation system and help move policies forward that will create a more seamless travel experience for everyone.
  7. Equity and Inclusion in Regional Planning: The state has elevated equity as an issue in planning and it’s an issue to which regions are responding strongly. The “Adopting Equity Policies that ‘Fit’ Local Agencies” session featured a discussion amongst members about the challenges of and strategies for embedding equity and inclusion in regional planning. Speakers emphasized the ways in which regional agencies can customize policies to fit the unique demographics and geographies of their communities – because after all, one size does not fit all.
  8. VMT Sessions Never Disappoint: If there’s one topic we know we can put at the end of the agenda to keep people in the audience it’s VMT. “Jim and Ron’s Excellent VMT Adventures” focused on the complexities of assessing and mitigating the VMT impacts of transportation projects on inducing travel demand and vehicle miles traveled, while highlighting innovative approaches to VMT analysis during project planning and development.

What we can’t capture in a specific takeaway are all the side conversations and networking that took place – our attendees always enjoy learning from and connecting with their peers and experts. And it never hurts to have a reception at the Monterey Bay Aquarium to create fodder for side conversation (it’s a hammerhead shark, watch out!). Our sincere appreciation goes to the esteemed speakers, participants, and conference sponsors whose support, expertise, and insights were pivotal in enriching our conference and making it a huge success.