Regional Governance: 9 Takeaways

Regions in California: 9 Takeaways

Sometimes, regional governance provides the most efficient way to address a problem or improve the quality of life across communities.  Many think of regional governance in terms of SB 375 and its Sustainable Communities Strategy.  Regional governance can do so much more when the circumstances are right.

But let’s cut to the chase.  Rather than give 400 words on the history of regions (e.g., “it all started with the Magna Carta . . . . “), here are 9 quick take-aways:

  • Wholly-Owned Subsidiaries. Many regional entities in California are joint powers authorities.  Others are set up differently.  But all are governed by locally elected council members and supervisors.  As one executive director of a regional agency recently told her board, regions are “wholly-owned subsidiaries” of their member local governments.
  • The “Goldilocks” Metric.  Some problems cross local boundaries in ways that are too broad to address effectively on a community by community basis, but are nevertheless not well suited for a one-size-fits-all statewide solution.  In these cases, the ability of regional governments to build consensus among local governments within a geographic area provides a level of governance that is “just right.”
  • Essential Tool For Preserving Local Control.  Perhaps counter-intuitively, regional cooperation is an essential component of effective self governance. There are a number of issues–like transportation planning–that transcend local boundaries.  Without a forum for local cooperation, more state regulation and direction would fill the vacuum.  So, contrary to those who cast the phrase “another layer” of government too loosely, the forum for regional government has quite the opposite effect.  It preserves and enhances the ability of local governments to govern effectively.
  • Long on Consensus; Short on Mandates. Regional governments must function in a political environment, but often in a non-partisan way.  They do not have the direct authority to impose mandates or dictate terms.  And they are sometimes less bold in structure and authority than a region’s needs might warrant.  They have to rely on communication, data, and consensus to build policy solutions.
  • Economies of Scale.  Why should several local governments develop policies in isolation when it could be done once at the regional level? The answer is often that the local governments want different approaches.  But that is not always the case.  Sometimes, it just does not make sense to have every local government in a region “reinvent the wheel” when the region can collaborate to make a better wheel once.  In these instances, regional governments can offer important economies of scale.
  • Flexible and Versatile. Regional governments engage in planning and program implementation on a wide variety of issues, including transportation, housing, economic development, energy, and the environment.  They are uniquely positioned to build consensus across political boundaries.  For example, the Western Riverside Council of Governments initiated a region wide residential energy financing program (AB 811) called HERO that is now financing more than $1 billion worth of energy efficiency projects around the region (and state) and helping California achieve its GHG reduction goals.  Talk about innovative!  Check out their website at
  • And SB 375. As pointed out in a Western City Magazine article (League of California Cities) by CALCOG’s then-president, Council Member Julie Pierce (Clayton), SB 375 preserved regional flexibility.  The resulting plans that are emerging reflect regional values and realities – this kind of bottoms-up regionalism is much preferred to a one-size-fits-all state mandate.
  • Learn More About Your Region. Engage more with your regional government. There are not enough hours in the day. But it’s worth your time.  Invite the Executive Director to lunch.  Talk with your representative on the regional board.  Spend 30 minutes on their website.  Read an agenda. Invite someone to speak.  Not sure who your region is?  Check out our Member Directory.
  • Set A Bigger Table. Reach out to your fellow officials and executives at other cities and counties and ask a simple question: Is there something we should be collaborating on to serve our communities better? And you just may find that the best way to get that vexing problem off your plate is to invite more people to the table.

That’s it.  Now back to the Magna Carta.

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