BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer
The Bay Area agency that hands out transportation funds is holding a $29,000 taxpayer-funded retreat on the housing crisis tonight (Nov. 28) at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa, a four-star resort featuring mineral baths, a Michelin-rated restaurant and access to a championship golf course.
San Mateo County Supervisor Warren Slocum and Los Altos Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins are going. So is Redwood City Councilwoman Alicia Aguirre, but Aguirre isn’t staying overnight.
The three will be joined by 15 other members of the 21-member Metropolitan Transportation Commission. MTC is the $2 billion agency that operates, maintains and expands transit in the nine-county Bay Area.
Slocum, who said he learned about the retreat last month, wasn’t aware of the cost when reached by phone yesterday (Nov. 27).
“That’s a lot of money,” Slocum said. “I’m not real excited by having to go to Sonoma and do it that way. I personally would have preferred that we just did it here, like in the city at the headquarters of MTC.”
Goodwin said he wasn’t sure why the retreat was being held in Sonoma or who made the decision. Slocum said he assumed that Executive Director Steve Heminger, who is stepping down in February, had made the call.
Criticism of the meeting’s five-digit price tag is reasonable, MTC spokesman John Goodwin admitted.
“It’s certainly a fair point. It’s a reasonable source of criticism,” Goodwin said.
MTC built a $257 million headquarters at 375 Beale St. in San Francisco in May 2016. The eight-story building cost $90 million more than expected. Goodwin said it’s possible that these retreats are held off site because the building lacks “large, multi-use spaces” that are “ideally suited” for the workshops.
In April 2016, MTC held a retreat at the Tech Museum of Innovation in downtown San Jose. MTC held a similar workshop at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco in December 2016.
The commissioners’ deliberations at that retreat led to the $3 bridge toll hikes passed as Senate Bill 595 and Regional Measure 3, Goodwin pointed out.
The Association of Bay Area Governments held its General Assembly event at the MTC building in June 2017. Hosting the large group at the MTC facility was “awkward, but we’ve managed to do it,” Goodwin said.
Housing and transportation on the agenda
The commissioners will be discussing a proposal to dole out transportation funding to reward cities and counties for building housing.
“Some people would say that transportation and housing are two sides of the same coin, and they’re interrelated,” Slocum said. “There’s kind of a difference of opinion, obviously, between the commissioners on this matter, and it centers around the large, urban areas versus folks in smaller cities and more rural counties.”
In San Mateo County, only two jurisdictions might qualify for funding under the original proposal, Slocum said.
“As you know, we have serious transportation issues: 92, Dumbarton, Marsh Road, all that — University Avenue,” Slocum said. “So, you know, I am giving a lot of thought to this and it’s going to be a very interesting day and a half.”
The other commissioners who will stay overnight are Union City Mayor Carol Dutra-Vernacci, Marin County Supervisor Damon Connolly, U.S. Department of Transportation representative Dorene Giacopini, Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty, San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commissioner Anne Halsted, Rohnert Park Councilman Jake Mackenzie, Clayton Councilwoman Julie Pierce, Solano County Supervisor James Spering, Caltrans Director Tony Tavares and Orinda Mayor Amy Worth.
Worth will reimburse MTC for the cost of her stay and meals. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf has also asked MTC if she can pay her own way.
Aguirre will not be staying overnight, according to Goodwin. Neither will BART board member Nick Josefowitz, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo or Napa County Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza.
Slocum represents San Mateo County on MTC, and Bruins represents the cities of Santa Clara County. Both have served since January 2017. Aguirre has represented the cities of San Mateo County since January 2013.
I’m sure that no government buildings anywhere in the Bay Area were available…
This is the problem with government officials. They fail to understand that they are spending OUR hard earned money, not something that falls into the public coffers from the sky. I’m sure that if they had to pay for the lodging and meeting halls themselves they would be quite happy to meet at a government facility.
MTC and (its fellow traveler, ABAG) avoid scrutiny for the most part because they’re regional agencies with nobody specifically elected to their boards. Instead, their board members come from city councils and county boards of supervisors. It’s rare to ever see any news coverage of MTC or ABAG, though I have seen more stories in the Daily Post than other papers. I wish the Post could cover MTC more closely. The agenda of both MTC and ABAG is to push high-density housing and mass-transit concepts that have failed in other places, like bus-only lanes and road diets.