By Dan Walters.
California’s housing crisis has spawned several other socioeconomic dilemmas, the most important being a transportation crunch.
The state’s most plentiful, best-paying jobs are concentrated in coastal urban areas, but they also have the state’s worst housing shortages and therefore its highest housing costs.
Ergo, even relatively well-paid workers cannot find affordable housing and are forced to spend many hours each day commuting from their lower-cost inland homes to their jobs in cities. One is the $81,000 a year federal employee whose 80-mile, three-hour commute from Stockton to San Francisco is detailed in a recent New York Times article.
Stockton, in fact, has state’s highest proportion of commuters – 8 percent – who spend 90 minutes or more getting to work each morning, and then another hour-plus getting home after work. But it’s not alone.
The ever-increasing commuter flow from Stockton, Manteca, Modesto and other upper San Joaquin Valley communities into the booming Bay Area is mirrored in those traveling from Southern California’s Inland Empire into coastal Los Angeles and Orange County for work, and those who live in northern and eastern San Diego County but work in San Diego itself.
The jobs-housing-transportation squeeze has morphed into regional political squabbles, such as the one over control of the San Diego Association of Governments, which governs transportation spending in that region, pitting highway-oriented suburbanites against transit-minded urban officials, and is the subject of a pending legislative bill.
The Bay Area’s regional conflict is also the subliminal issue in a bill that would create a San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission. Its goal would be extending the Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) rail system 5.5 miles into Livermore, where it could hook up with the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) train that serves Stockton and allow more people, such as the woman in the New York Times article, to make quicker commutes and take crushing auto traffic off of Interstate 580.
Assembly Bill 758, by Stockton Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, whipped through the Assembly easily, but has been stalled in the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee, thanks to opposition by BART, powerful unions, and several Bay Area senators, including the committee chairman, Jim Beall of San Jose.
Why? There are the more or less official reasons, such as fears that a new organization would dilute limited amounts of transportation funds. But the stall, which may be permanent, also reflects an urban-suburban rivalry over how the transportation-housing-job dilemma should be approached – whether by easier commutes or by building more high-density housing near jobs.
Another aspect is that BART, which is in a seemingly perpetual financial crisis thanks to generous labor contracts, needs to upgrade its aging and deteriorating facilities and doesn’t want anyone else on its turf.
Still another is internal legislative politics.
Beall’s career achievement is a large gas tax increase that the Legislature passed and Gov. Jerry Brown signed this year. It made it through the Senate with no votes to spare. Sen. Steve Glazer, a Democrat from Contra Costa County who has been a very vocal critic of BART’s performance, refused to vote for Beall’s Senate Bill 1. It then passed only because Republican Sen. Anthony Cannella supported it on promises that some money would go to extending ACE service into his Stanislaus County district.
Glazer’s refusal angered other Bay Area senators who disliked being forced to accommodate Cannella’s demands. They also see AB 758 as a benefit to Glazer because the proposed BART extension from Dublin to Livermore would be in his district, and blocking it as punishment for his apostasy.
Politics being what it is, pettiness often drives issues that have broad socioeconomic impacts.