Last week, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments took a major step toward more comprehensive regional planning. A joint committee of the two agencies endorsed a full organizational merger. After reviewing seven proposed merger options, the committee voted to support Option 7, which would make all ABAG and MTC staff part of the same organizational structure under one executive director (presumed to be the current director of MTC).
For now, this approach leaves in place the separate governing boards of MTC and ABAG. In other words, it achieves a major change to the status quo without disrupting the distribution of power among member jurisdictions or requiring state legislation. There have been many prior attempts to merge MTC and ABAG, and all have failed — perhaps because they all tried to reform governance first.
SPUR has long been a major proponent of a full merger of the two agencies. But we have argued recently that a full staff merger is the appropriate first step. We endorsed Option 7 in an April 22 letter sent to members of MTC and ABAG.
Assuming the full organizational merger option is the path forward, the devil is truly in the details. In our letter, we identified eight questions that must be addressed in the coming months:
1. Will there be a new name and mission statement for the combined organization? We think it is essential that the merged organization have a new name that reflects a comprehensive mission (and does not necessarily have “transportation” in it).
2. What will be the process for merging units and departments, and will staff be combined by function? The precise reorganization of staff within the combined organization is important and takes more consideration than simply creating boxes and moving them around.
3. How will the two different organizational cultures and styles become effectively combined?Mergers inherently involve combining organizations with distinct cultures. Care and time must be taken to respect the differences between the cultures, and a process must be undertaken to develop a new, unified organizational culture.
4. How will the labor considerations of all staff be respected? Labor considerations that must be addressed respectfully include everything from the job classifications and benefits of current employees to the issue of union representation to paying for retiree benefits.
5. What is the direct line of authority between staff and both boards? Under any option, the existing boards would remain in place in the near term, which means there must be clarity about how to deal with the responsibilities of the specific boards, as well as potential disagreements between boards.
6. What will be the process to revise existing committees, including the role of outside stakeholders? The question of how to restructure committees has been absent from the process so far and should be taken on once the organizational merger occurs.
7. How will cities and local governments become incorporated into the larger organization?Similar to the issue of committees, there is a larger question about how best to engage the wide range of stakeholders (cities, counties, congestion management agencies, transit operators) as well as non-governmental organizations and the public.
8. What is the timeframe to reevaluate the two-board governance structure? Finally, the region may be better served in the long run when there is one board that takes leadership and responsibility for major issues of regional planning. Such a governance change would require state legislation and would likely result in some shift in the distribution of board seats among the cities and counties in the region. Now is the time to think about what the triggers should be for considering such a change.
We look forward to working with MTC and ABAG on making sure these questions and other important ones are properly addressed.
This decision is a major step forward and an opportunity to celebrate. Now we must also make sure we get the implementation details right so that this merged agency can more effectively work on solving major regional issues while strengthening regionalism in the Bay Area.