Brown Separates Transportation and Housing in State Reorganization

 

In releasing his proposed 2012-13 budget last Thursday, Gov. Jerry Brown also proposed a major reorganization of state government that would separate transportation and housing at the same time Brown’s policy thrust is intended to link the two closer together.

In particular, Brown has proposed a major restructuring of the Business, Transportation, and Housing (BTH) Agency that would have here parts:

  • All housing functions, as well as business regulation functions, would be merged with the current State and Consumer Services Agency to create a new Business and Consumer Services Agency. Within this new agency, the Californai Housing Finance Agency would be merged into the Department of Housing & Community Development.
  • Economic development functions within BTH, such as the California Infrastructure Bank, would be moved to the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.
  • These changes would leave only transportation functions within BTH, which would be renamed the Transportation Agency. These functions include Caltrans, the California Transportation Commission, and the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

The separation of transportation and housing comes at a time when the Brown administration – as well as regional and local officials around the state – are trying to bring housing and transportation into closer alignment. In particular, SB 375 brought Regional Transportation Plans into close alignment with the Regional Housing Needs Assessment process, which is overseen by HCD.

“With the reorganization, it separates the disciplines of transportation, housing, and economic development,” said Mike McKeever, executive director of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments. “Those are disciplines that are important to be more and more integrated.”

For McKeever and the other metropolitan planning organizations -- which are charged with implementing SB 375 -- the reshuffle means they have more places than ever to go to in the state government. They have to interact with Transportation on transportation funding issues; with the California Air Resoures Bboard (part of the California Environmental Protetion Agency) on greenhouse gas emissions targets; and now with the revamped HCD, under Consumer and Business Services, on RHNA even though SB 375 calls for MPOs to address all three of these in concert.

But Anna Caballero, the former Salinas mayor and assemblymember who is Brown’s State and Consumer Services secretary, said she is optimistic about the restructuring’s impact on SB 375 planning and the role of the state’s Strategic Growth Council.

“I don’t see it being a problem,” said Caballero. “I really think the SGC is the place where you link the two.” Presumably Caballero will be the secretary of the combined agency containing the housing functions. She was actually mentioned as a possible HCD director before be selected as consumer secretary.

McKeever did not disagree with Caballero. “What I think this means is that it’s going to be even more important than before that the SGC be an important, meaningful, component of the state government,” said McKeever. “And I hope that the governor would make it clear to the council that it’s a high priority of his that they use their statutory authority to integrate the various silos of state government.”

Gary Gallegos, McKeever's counterpart at the San Diego Association of Governments, welcomes the reorganization wholeheartedly. In fact, he has long spoken out in favor of a seperate transportation agency.

Working with Sacramento, "is always complicated," said Gallegos. "I'm not sure that it will be any more or less complicated." 

Gallegos noted that, for instance, MPOs have to work closely with the Air Resources Board on SB 375 issues and that BTH is not necessarily very integrated because a BTH secretary may tend to favor one function over the others. Therefore, he said that the reorganization, and especially the consolidation of transportation functions, will do more good than harm. Moreover, he noted that SANDAG considers SCS planning to be a "bottom-up" process involving member cities, so working with the state is a lesser concern. 

However, the reshuffle may still create a problem at the SGC. The SGC has six members – including four Cabinet secretaries and the head of the Governor’s Office of Planning & Research – and is charged with coordinating all state actions to support the goal of sustainable development. However, while the BTH secretary is on the council, Caballero is not. A statutory change would be required to add her.

Although he has been in office for a year, Brown has never appointed a BTH secretary – the only Cabinet position he has not filled. Caltrans had not had a director since last spring, and veteran civil servant Cathy Creswell has been acting as the interim HCD director. The directorship of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development is also vacant.