Northern California Megaregion gets big write-up: pluses and minuses cited.

The Contra Costa Times, a daily paper covering the fast-growing suburbs of Contra Costa county in Northern California, ran a lengthy article following SPUR's November newsletter and study of the Northern California megaregion. The article is interesting in that it highlights both the advantages and disadvantages of the emerging megaregion identity and reality in Northern California.

On the positive side, reporter Erik Nelson describes how transportation officials recently used the Northern California megaregion identity to secure more transportation funding from the California Transportation Commission -- as much as $840 million -- to address the megaregion's freight needs, including a growing export economy. He writes,

At a recent meeting of the MTC, its executive director, Steve Heminger, unveiled San Francisco Planning and Urban Research's map of the Northern California megaregion and credited the concept with the funding coup that would pay for major freight rail improvements and other aids to easing the area's flow of cargo.

One of Northern California's key selling points was that it "could show more bang for the buck, a greater return for the infrastructure bond investment up here, based on a variety of projects and a variety of benefits," said Steve Gregory, senior port strategic planner for the Port of Oakland.
The megaregion has another advantage over Southern California, O'Connor said. The area has prodigious political clout, from San Francisco's House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling the shots in Washington to Oakland's Sen. Don Perata running the state Senate.

But on the downside are the forces giving rise to the sprawling megaregion: longer and longer commutes by people in search of affordable housing who are priced out of San Francisco and Bay Area communities. Nelson describes one commuter, Jon Rubin, who seems to typify the pressures faced by millions of families in Northern California.

A San Jose native, Rubin found buying a townhouse in Silicon Valley out of reach and extended his family's search as far south as Morgan Hill, even though he was working in Pleasanton at the time.
"We saw how big the homes were and they had front and backyards," he recalled. "So then we thought, 'Wow, for less money we can actually buy a detached home with a yard.'"
Four years later, Rubin, a software test engineer, is commuting 124 miles round trip each day to Palo Alto.
Gabriel Metcalf, co-author of the SPUR study attributes the growth of the megaregion to the failure of coastal communities to accept their share of the housing growth.

"The existing cities of Northern California have been unwilling to grow," Metcalf said. "They have, for the most part, decided they are perfect as they are. That doesn't mean that the area stops growing. It's pushed out."
This sentiment is echoed with frustration by those working for economic development and sustainability in the Central Valley.  Carol Whiteside, founder of the Great Valley Center, is quoted in the article,

"Most people are increasingly frustrated with the (Central) Valley providing cheap housing for people who work in the Bay Area," she said.

This snapshot of the dynamics in the Northern California megaregion encapsulates the opportunities and challenges presented at the megaregion scale. By finding common cause around issues that connect adjacent regions, communities can gain mutual benefit, as demonstrated in the increased funding obtained for the megaregion from the State.

But the forces of sprawl and lengthening commutes between the coast and Central Valley in Northern California -- with negative impacts in both regions -- highlight the fact that growth in California has outgrown the "metropolitan" approach. However resistant the regions may be to a shared identity, the need for a planning process that includes a much larger area (and proactive strategies to create more employment in the Valley itself) is underscored by the spillover growth that is threatening quality of life and the environment in Northern California.