Tag Archives: housing affordability

Interviewing Angelo Siracusa — Bay Area Council boss

Marinscope / Mill Valley Herald  March 29–April 4, 1993
 Dwayne Hunn

In 1966 he began working for the Bay Area Council (BAC). Today he runs it. In 1973 he moved to Sausalito, and his Berkeley girlfriend followed. In 1983 Angelo and Diana Siracusa bought their Hawk Hill home overlooking Tam Junction.

If you enjoy an engaging speaker who pulls few punches and knows his subject, listen to him when you can. Until then, read this.

What does the Bay Area Council do?

BAC is a business supported membership organization that engages in public policy issues that have an economic and social dimension. We are involved in housing, transportation, job training, economic development and growth management.

Our economic perspective is through the eyes of business so some in the environmental community dispute whether we act in the public interest. We believe we do. Housing affordability, for example, is a public interest issue, effecting peoples’ livelihood as well as corporate location and business expansion.

How has BAC’s agenda changed over the last 20 to 30 years?

Oddly, not very much. When the Council was first formed almost 50 years ago, we were almost exclusively an economic development, growth-oriented organization concerned about promoting post-war growth.

For the past 20 years we have been close to the stuff that is affected by and affects land use. For a while, when the Association of Bay Area Governments was doing the Bay Area Management Plan, we were more deeply involved in environmental questions. We are now in environmental issues largely because of the relationship between air quality and transportation.

Oddly enough, almost 20 years ago we were deeply involved in regional planning when then Assemblyman Jack Knox introduced regional planning and governance bills. Now they are back at the top of our agenda. Recently, we were significantly involved in the development and legislative work of SB 797 which would have created a regional growth management for the Bay Area.

Prior to the 1962 ballot election on whether to issue $792 million to construct 75 miles of the BART system, San Mateo and Marin dropped out. Why did Marin drop out?

Marin dropped out for the same reason Marin resists transportation today. They thought transit would be growth inducing.

They may have hid under the argument of the Golden Gate Bridge’s inadequate engineering capacity to handle fixed rail, but the real reason was the attitude that exists today. That is Marin doesn’t want a transit system that would generate what transit systems should generate–higher density development close to transportation corridors.

How would BART or a light rail system through the North Bay effect land use?

Tough to say. When we were first thinking about BART in the Bay Area, the Mayor of Toronto gave us a presentation showing how well theirs works. His slide presentation showed clusters of high density activity around their subway stations. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on where you stand, Toronto has a metropolitan system that was able to force not just transit decisions but related land use decisions. We don’t have that in the Bay Area. Here a city or a county can say, “Even though there’s a transit station here, we don’t want to change the land patterns.” The transit station’s existence should promote development there. Instead, the will of the local government too often stymies that sensible land use.

Do you think increased rail systems development would increase the development of Sausalito architect Peter Calthorpe’s Pedestrian Pockets?

Calthorpe’s PPs is really founded on the notion that you can get a home to work environment. A jobs-housing balance creates less of a necessity for either highways or transit. Therefore, I don’t see a necessary causal relationship between PPs and transit.

The Calthorpe idea, which I strongly endorse, is “let’s create a physical, psychological and economic environment where a person can and will want to live and work in the same general area.” That “will want to” is very important.

What’s one thing you’d like Marinites to think more deeply about?

Their narrow view of their own self interest. We all want open space next to us and less traffic. It’s part of our view of quality of life. Yet that can be a very narrow, parochial, selfish view. Marin is the worse example of that.

Marin’s density pattern is appallingly low. Density can be good for the environment — although others will disagree. There is nothing wrong with protecting the dairy lands of West Marin, but I don’t buy anti-development arguments surrounding Hamilton Field or Silvera (Ranch). We need to have the jobs-housing balance that sensible development at those sites can provide.

I’m unhappy with Marin’s extreme NIM­BYism. Yet I can understand it. All of us believe that our view of the environment is the world view of the environment, but Marin’s predominant view isn’t environmentalism. It’s extreme NIMBYism.

Do you think the 11 cities in Marin have dif­ferent attitudes regarding these problems?

No doubt about it. The political philosophies of southern and northern Marin are terribly dif­ferent. As it turns out, NIMBYism happens to transcend political philosophy. Even conservatives who love the market place and property rights can be as exclusionary as extreme environmentalists. So while they are different, it’s as difficult to get things done in Novato as in Mill Valley.

When you are on the social circuit, maybe at Marin parties, are you…

I’m the outcast. Yeah, I’m not too popular.  A lot of people think I state my beliefs with respect to other communities but not Mill Valley. My beliefs are also true for Mill Valley. We should develop different kinds of density patterns even in my hometown.

Somebody wanted to build a home in my neighborhood, and somebody else passed a peti­tion to not allow it. I testified on behalf of the developer. Not because I liked the developer, but because that person had a right to build there. An infrastructure existed. Homes were already there. Development did not change the character of the community.

Could hearing characters like Angelo Siracusa improve Marin or just hurt the gray stuff between exclusive ears?