ABAG Who? While attending the public meeting on the ABAG One Bay Area plan there were two consistent knocks on the group that was repeated over and over again:

Knock 1: The organization should not exist

Knock 2: The members should be directly elected.

Let us go over this and see what the alternatives are –

KNOCK 1: ABAG as an organization

The history of the organization goes back over 50 years as an attempt by the local governments in the Bay Area to deal with cross local concerns that are greater than a city, greater than a county but not on a State wide level. This is sometimes called a Regional approach. We all impact the Bay Area so why not have something where the folks can moan and groan collectively?

If we did not have the ABAG what happens? Well, in the first instance the funds and actions that would be applied on a regional basis would be handled by a sub-committee of a sub-committee in Washington or more horrendously a sub-committee out of Sacramento. That would most likely mean that the funds to do things would be decided not here and for sure we would see a lot more heading south. How would we divide up 289 Billion dollars over 28 years? Do you really think that each county and city would mysteriously gather through ESP (Extra Special Politics) to give money to build BART tracks to San Jose from San Francisco? I can just see the donation jars going up in the Orinda Movie House to cheer that project.

Additionally the ABAG stands between the local cities and even counties and the statewide mandates such as housing. Through ABAG the allocation of affordable housing is actually focused on the three main cities here: SF/Oakland/San Jose the result is that places like Orinda and Danville have a significantly less pressure to take care of ‘those people‘ as was murmured about through the meeting.

So how would we deal with things like different needs for low cost housing, or more traffic lanes, or BART stops if ABAG did not exist and we did not want Sacramento to torment us with their partisanship? Well we would call for a gathering of all the locals to talk about it and decide on what could be done. Oh wait that is exactly what ABAG is.

KNOCK 2: ABAG officials are not being directly elected.

Sounds like a reasonable idea at first what could be wrong with directed elected officials? Well I am an elected official in Concord and I had to pay about $1200 to get a ballot statement to an electorate of 57,000. Now you want to have directly elected folks to a 9 county area that includes about 7 million people. OUCH- how am I going to pay for that Ballot statement let alone a campaign that reaches voters with what I want to do or in the case of those campaigning to the folks that showed up at the meeting what they do not want to do?

For a handy guide the POSTAGE cost alone to get a single piece of bulk mail out to people is about 23 cents and then there is the cost to the company to make the label arrangements and the printing costs so you can easily hit .40 per post card/flyer times an electorate of millions.

Remember there are no government financed local campaigns. Well we could rely on really good fundraisers to pay for the ballot statement. Let’s see who would want to contribute to that campaign cost. When Chevron spends $1.2 million dollars to influence the Richmond City Council race, you can imagine how much the builder’s association and the major development corporations and the other components on the other side such as Labor Unions and Environmental groups would put in. Now of those groups who do you think is going to pile up the biggest campaign funds?

But wait, we do not have to do it on a 9 county wide basis, we could have say 2 people from each county so that the costs of those statements are only in the $30 to $50,000 range and we can bring the campaign costs down on a county basis to maybe $250,000. Then we could have say a person elected by each individual city to make up a General Assembly so that truly there would be really LOCAL representatives.

So we would have another ballot statement bill in Concord and all the other 100 plus cities in the 9 county regions. Just what we need another 110 elected officials and only maybe another 4-5 of million spent through a process to elect a bunch of more elected officials.
Then again there is the cost of making the ballots and all that election counting. Democracy is not cheap the problem is that the electorate does not want to pay for it.

So how about as an alternative that we then take each of the counties and have them pick two people from their elected board of supervisors and then let each of the cities send one of their representatives to the General Assembly to create an executive board and to approve actions as in a Republic form of government. After all they would be more in tune with a local situation than some sub-committee and these folks are closest to the electorate. Not a bad idea, it saves the costs of elections, provides for elected officials, and even has a large number to allow for discounting local political bias. Oh wait, that is exactly what we have in ABAG now.
So Knock Knock, what’s there on these issues: ABAG.

~ The views expressed by the author, who currently serves a a Concord Councilmember, are the opinion of the Author and not to be construed as a position of any organization, government body.

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Author: Edi Birsan

Concord Resident since 1983, raised two children here who went to the public schools. Working in the international container cargo business since 1973 with my own small business since 1986 involved in Container Technical Surveys and related services.

3 thoughts on “KNOCK KNOCK: It’s ABAG”

  1. Edi, I could not disagree more with your flimsy defense of ABAG.

    1. Why on earth do you assume that if we did not have ABAG, local, even regional planning decisions would be made in sub-sub committees in Washington? That certainly is a whitewash of any process that ought to respect self government and local representation. Why else do we overpay for County and City planning departments? Those bureaus and the electeds that theoretically oversee these departments should be first and most responsible for decision making, conveneing together for a limited time only for well defined purposes, not the creation of an unaccountable and unelected shadow regional government.

    And exprience and serious documentation shows that the best to meet supply and demand for low-cost housing is best achieved is through market activity, not various forms of government subsidies and mandates. See Howard Husock’s Trillion Dollar Housing Mistake, that thoroughly chronicles the failure of subsidized housing for the poor in the U.S.

    2. Your defense of unlected officials controlling ABAG and the Draft Plan process by bemoaning the cost of elections to some Regional Board took my breath away. Really? That’s all you got?!

    The bright side is, you did not trot out the specious argument that there are electeds on these boards, as that argument has been completely and repeatedly proven hollow as everyone knows electeds are elected to local posts and duties, in municipalities, not to decide on questionable social policy on a regional politically driven board determined willy-nilly to produce its agenda voters be damned.

    Your complaints about the costs of a seven or nine county-wide election comparing them to the modest costs of runing for some City council is a sham. Of course regional elections would cost more, as they should, especially when one considers the hundreds of billions if not trillions of dollars of our taxes that will be spent on highly questionable projects seeping from unscientific assumnptions that will not come close to stated goals or solve real problems.

    County representatives could be elected locally on such boards. We seem to manage that process with aplomb here in Contra Costa for county wide offices like Sheriff and Registrar thanks to Steve Weir (retired) and the able hands of incoming registrar Joe Canciamilla and staff that manage county elections.

    So to throw one’s hands up in the air as you did is baffling, when there are such easier, local, democratic, and transparent solutions at our fingertips. Why even go there?

    Who got to you, Edi?

    1. Go ask the County Clerk’s office how much a county wide ballot statement costs. Ask a processing house how much to mail 300,000 pieces of paper to the county high propensity voters.

      Now who is going to run for those positions? Who is going to fill the fund raiser coffers? The current structure avoids that fiasco.

    2. To make it clear, it is the CANDIDATES cost that is a big killer in the process, not just the cost to the county to run the election.
      What sort of candidate do you think you are going to get who is going to shell out $150,000 or more to run for your county wide position?

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