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Plan Bay Area 2050

MTC Makes a Mockery of Citizen Engagement

MTC has devised a frivolous and virtually meaningless two-month public participation process that failed to identify a range of stakeholders or identify appropriately geared activities to engage them. They cheerily call their report Pop-Up Events Get People Talking About Bay Area's Future.

If you want to good laugh (or cry), go to the Plan Bay Area 2050 website and check out their summary of the results of the pop-ups, called Comments from Plan Bay Area 2050 Fall 2019 Pop-up Events.

Why does this matter?

For most local governments, an effective public engagement process will include a clear definition of stakeholders and multiple ways and means of interaction. Not all stakeholders will participate at the same level. Some will engage at less complex or intense levels based on their interest and available time.

But the public participation model MTC rolled out is surprisingly inadequate. The pop-up events were held at locations like farmer’s markets, community colleges, libraries, and fun runs and festivals. Of course, individuals or families shopping for organic food and flowers, going to college, visiting a library or getting exercise should have an opportunity to have their voices heard, and perhaps we could even credit MTC with their creative approach to involve more Bay Area residents.

However, relying solely on these unusual sites, usually during the middle of the day, for engaging the public about housing, transportation, the environment and the economy excludes a huge segment of other stakeholders.

Not once did MTC offer public engagement activities in collaboration with boards of supervisors, city councils, or other public agencies. Not once did they reach out to transportation and building advocates, tenant and social service groups; neighborhood, homeowner or community groups, school districts, water districts, or other agencies who will be greatly impacted by the 30-year plan.

Their single poster board summarizing the issues of the 30-year Plan Bay Area 2050 and the single means to respond with a post-it note is an exaggeration beyond comprehension of a goal to “simplify and demystify” the choices.

You can read the silly summary of their "findings."

A public participation plan that seeks to build understanding, identify shared community values, and collaboratively solve problems, cannot depend on simplistic exchanges between government bureaucrats and unspecified stakeholders.

Besides missing the mark of reaching out to a wide range of stakeholders MTC missed the mark on offering a range of options. At best, the pop-up events informed farmers’ market shoppers, library visitors, and college students about broad issues. But failing to provide any “take-away” literature, fact sheets, or “how to contact us” information, the one-time exposure is virtually meaningless.

Professionals who create meaningful public participation, design a range of options that move from the basic level of inform to increasingly complex and impactful strategies like involvement, collaboration, and empowerment. The strategies rely on workshops, information packets, informed speakers, work groups, data collection and feedback. But not MTC. MTC offers pop-up events with post-it notes.

MTC’s summary claims “more than 3,000 comments from residents of all nine Bay Area counties at the October and November pop-up events.” Bear in mind, the 3,000 comments do not represent 3,000 people. More than once, those of us who attended a pop-up event saw one person offering multiple comments, which got recorded as 2, 4 or even 10 "comments."

Another example of "feedback inflation" comes from the Contra Costa report at the Casual Carpool location, which was set up from 6:30-8:30 am. The MTC report claims over 60 comments. However, Orinda resident Kathleen Jenkins attended this event. She said very few people arrived before dawn to stand on a narrow 48” stretch of sidewalk waiting to get in line to join a carpool.

“It goes without saying,” she reported, “that nobody, at that time of the morning, was interested in talking about a 30-year plan."

I recently posted two articles about MTC's disappointing strategy. The first is "Post-it Note Engagement for a 30-year Plan," published October 20, 2019. The second is "MTC's Pop-Up Farce in Marin," published November 10, 2019.

Consider these three questions:

1. Who benefits from a superficial analysis of four extremely complex issues--transportation, housing, environment, and economy--that impact everyone in the 9-county Bay Area?

2. Who decided that public "engagement" should consist of post-it notes recorded, by hand, by MTC staff members, rather in-depth, online outreach or well publicized and attended group presentations, discussion, and deliberation?

3. What have we taxpayers paid in staff time and materials for such a wasteful activity?

If you're troubled by MTC's public engagement process, take one or more of these actions or one of your own:

1. Highlight your ow questions and send them to your county reps to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and ABAG and ask them for answers.

2. Forward this article to your locally elected officials and local media with a request for their response.

3. Attend one or both of the Workshops on Plan Bay Area 2050 Blueprint: Housing & Economy Elements, 375 Beale Street, San Francisco.


Plan Bay Area 2050, MTC