Guest post by: Jared Sanchez, Senior Policy Advocate, California Bicycle Coalition
California Transportation Commission Appointments
Within his first months on the job, Governor Newsom will undertake one of his most pressing and important responsibilities as the leading public servant for the state of California. And no, it’s not the passage of his newly-released massive $209 billion annual state budget proposal.
Instead, this important decision will likely go without any public scrutiny and this may be the first time you’ve heard of it: the appointment of commissioners to three crucial seats on the California Transportation Commission (CTC).
Last year’s approval of Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes’s (D-Riverside) Assembly Bill 179 was one of a number of efforts by stakeholders and advocates to reform the commission and demonstrates the urgency and importance for new appointees that reflect California’s diversity, range of lived experiences, and deep and varied expertise to address the significant climate, air quality, and equity goals set by state leaders.
A large coalition of advocates, led by California Bicycle Coalition and California Walks, submitted a letter to Governor Newsom endorsing eight candidates that will diversify and improve transportation decision-making on the Commission and beyond. His upcoming decision about who he will choose to join the Commission is as much a “statement of the state’s values” as the budget is commonly asserted to be.
Just last year, the Commission allocated over 25 billion dollars of taxpayers’ money to transportation projects across the state. Imagine what you would do with $25 billion to improve your community. Imagine how $25 billion could help your neighbor get across town to their new job without wasting three hours in traffic; help the family down the street walk their kids safely to school; help your friend commute safely by bike; provide a bus that reliably gets your cousin to her job so she can save for the future instead of taking on the expense of car ownership.
A relatively small agency charged with allocating an enormous amount of funds has an important responsibility — one that can best be implemented by Commissioners that reflect the needs and interests of all of California’s communities and that can draw from those communities’ strengths and knowledge.
The California Transportation Commissioners do not speak from and for communities that are experiencing the dire consequences of vehicle-caused pollution and its negative social costs. Further, as a homogenous group, they fail to support differing and well-documented perspectives, research, and data from leaders who can speak from and for those communities.
California is home to tremendously diverse communities with a wide range of lived experiences; many of those communities — the ones which are most marginalized and have the least access to wealth — have no voice on the CTC and are often at the most risk of displacement and have the least mobility and access to opportunity. This disparity and exclusion can be addressed by ensuring real representation on this CTC for communities that have been excluded. A strong, capable California Transportation Commission is one that reflect the priorities of all Californians.
There is no more important first step the administration can take in working towards the diverse leadership the state has needed for far too long. Now is the time for decisive and transformative action — to shape a transportation system that truly serves all Californians. Representation at the CTC can be a clear way for the general public to have a larger stake — appointments are critical decisions and are also statements of our values.
With public decisions being made almost every month across the state regarding billions of tax dollars, the California Transportation Commission is a crucial venue for increasing democratic representation.
“Courage for Change”
The governor must address what’s been ignored for too long, and build a state transportation system and decision-making process that can draw on diversity and expertise reflective of all Californians to take the bold steps we need to meet the most pressing crises of our time: climate change and social inequality.
We hope Governor Newsom shows us “courage for a change” in transportation policy by appointing three new commissioners to the agency who represent communities long neglected by the CTC and who have the expertise to address the significant climate, air quality, and equity goals set by state leaders. California is relying on him.