The dramatic rise of the San Francisco Bay Area into a globally important cultural and economic powerhouse deserves a prominent place in any history of California.
Why it happened—and why the region zoomed past its much larger rival in Southern California—is, among other things, a case study in regional cohesion.
A team of researchers at UCLA reached that conclusion after an in-depth study of how the Bay Area and Southern California economies evolved over the last four decades.
In essence, the region’s economic and political elites decided that its future lay in high technology and fostered its development through public and private investment, as the UCLA team reported in its recent book, “The Rise and Fall of Urban Economies.”
That regional approach was demonstrated again this year when the Legislature passed and Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 595, which will ask Bay Area voters to approve a very hefty hike in tolls on state-owned bridges, as much as $3, to finance regional transportation improvements.
It was enacted because of a concerted effort by the region’s business and political leaders—its power structure, if you will—that overcame weak opposition.
While the Bay Area’s contrast with Southern California is quite evident, and backed up by economic data, the Sacramento region offers another stark comparison.
As Bay Area leaders are celebrating SB 595, Sacramento’s politicians are continuing their long-running penchant for bickering.
The current example is over what to do about the region’s ever-growing homelessness—thousands of people living on the sidewalks and in the parks of Sacramento, of its satellite cities and of Sacramento County’s large urbanized but unincorporated communities.
Portions of the scenic American River Parkway, long considered a local treasure, have become slums of improvised tents, campfires and human and animal wastes, plagued by periodic wildfires and shunned by many bicyclists and joggers because of the danger.
Sacramento’s recently elected mayor, Darrell Steinberg, has pledged to open supervised shelters for the homeless and provide more mental health and other services. But Sacramento County’s officials have been leery of kicking in millions of dollars, especially for mental health services from revenue that, ironically, a Steinberg-sponsored, voter-approved state income surtax provides.
The flap over homelessness is not an isolated example of regional discord. Some of it is ideological—conservative suburbs vs. a liberal urban core. Some of it is personal—rivalries among politicians for dominance. Some of it is simple mistrust.
Whatever its antecedents, it’s a fact. And, in another irony, Steinberg fueled it when he was a member of the Legislature by carrying a 2001 bill that would have, in effect, required suburban communities to send some of their taxes to support services in Sacramento’s urban core if the suburbs didn’t build more low-income housing.
The bill was jointly backed by Sacramento’s city and county governments and irritated the suburbanites to no end. But it imploded when a city-sponsored amendment was slipped into the measure to make it easier for the city to lure away tax-generating auto dealers from the county’s unincorporated territory—in effect, a move by one political partner to shaft the other.
That bill, along with other conflicts, poisoned relations between city and county governments, and Steinberg is now facing its consequences.
Sacramento’s regional leaders say they want to emulate the Bay Area’s cohesion and, in fact, be considered an extension of the Bay Area. But they’ll have to get their act together first.