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Bay Area Super-County Proposal
As the Bay Area struggles with the four horsemen of sprawl-- transportation, housing, new development, and environment--should we not ask ourselves if we have the political systems in place to manage these issues effectively? In particular, like Goldilocks, do we have a unit of government that is "just right"? I would argue we do not. The issue of sprawl is too big to be effectively handled by cities alone. Anyone who witnesses the cars pouring into San Francisco from Oakland each morning, while simultaneously cars pour out of San Francisco to Silicon Valley knows that none of these three areas is master of their fate. San Jose struggles to create a greenbelt around its city, but what prevents other cities from growing to the very edges of town? Meanwhile, county governments spend much of their energy in inter-county communication to form area-wide solutions.
As the cities within them grow larger, each county government becomes consumed with the issues of its largest city which dilutes its function of handling issues beyond the city level. In response I believe we should combine the five Bay Area counties of San Francisco, Contra Costa, Alameda, Santa Clara, and San Mateo into one super county. Around these counties we should draw a greenbelt; well in advance of current development.
A single county, representing the whole Bay Area, could add an objective voice to issues such as airport expansion by looking at better utilization of the three existing international airports. A super county, one with its members elected via proportional representation, could give citizens a forum to go to where they could have real impact on regional issues. A single county government would give us the size and scope necessary to tackle these problems without introducing an additional layer of government or wasting time and energy on coordinating bodies.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, I see government, given the right mandate and resources, as a source for good. Right now, despite my desire to participate, I don't have an accountable, representative unit of government with the power to tackle these issues. My home is in Cupertino, but I live in the Bay Area. My nightmare scenario is that we end up like LA but with a lake in the middle. The hills and flatlands either side of the bay one vast contiguous mass of hot concrete housing and offices. Despite the good intentions of the existing county structure, I think it is time to consider the idea of a Bay Area super-county.