NBLC CEO Comments on Updates To The Richmond-San Rafael Bridge And West Bound Plans

In an article posted on Mercury News, written by Adrian Rodriguez, he said, ”

Bay Area transportation planners are taking another look at what it would take to open the westbound shoulder of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge for commuter traffic.

The emergency and maintenance lane on the bridge’s upper deck was converted into a bicycle and pedestrian path that is protected by a moveable barrier in 2019 for a four-year trial period.

The controversial path remains open pending a final report that could determine the fate of the test project. Critics, mostly commuters and their employers, say traffic is worse than ever, while supporters maintain the path is a successful multimodal connection between the North Bay and the East Bay.

John Goodwin, spokesperson for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, said staffers will be presenting a proposed scope, schedule and cost for preparation of a “design alternatives study” that would include opening the shoulder as a bus and carpool lane during peak hours.

The presentation is expected at the MTC-Bay Area Toll Authority Oversight Committee meeting on March 13.

“More details to come over the next six weeks,” Goodwin said Friday.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” John Grubb, chief operating officer of the Bay Area Council, said of the planned proposal. The Bay Area Council is an influential business group that has been advocating for reopening the third lane for commuter traffic.

“Having a project requires a planning process, and what they’ve agreed to do is start that planning process,” Grubb said.

Warren Wells, policy and planning director for the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, said his group hopes bicyclists and pedestrians will continue to have access over the bridge.

“We look forward to seeing the results of the design alternatives study,” Wells said, assuming officials authorize staff to move forward with it.

Wells said he expects any new studies to show similar results to a 2021 study that showed the addition of a third lane would require $70 million to $310 million in improvements. However, he said, the potential costs likely have increased.

That study was revisited in a recent report by the Transportation Authority of Marin that detailed what it would take to open the lane. The report was expected to be presented at the TAM board meeting on Jan. 25, but it was tabled because Kevin Carroll, the board member who requested the discussion, was absent.

According to the study, it would cost about $100 million annually to move the barrier twice a day during weekdays to allow vehicular traffic during peak hours. A machine capable of doing the job would cost $1.27 million. The installation of the barrier was $12 million. The cost of removal is unknown.

The report says adding a third westbound lane would reduce travel times by 11 minutes for drivers headed toward northbound Highway 101. However, drivers traveling to southbound Highway 101 would be delayed by three minutes.

The report said it would cost between $70 million to $90 million to reconfigure the western side of the bridge in San Rafael to handle the new traffic flow. Any such projects would require overcoming environmental hurdles lasting several years.

Carroll, a member of the Larkspur City Council, said he’s experienced backups on the bridge himself. He said he didn’t need to wait for the result of the path study to be completed to know how he feels about it.

“My feeling is the sooner it ends, the better,” he said of the pilot path. “What I am hoping to get is, all the elected officials on the board of TAM, how do they feel about it.”

Marin County Supervisor Stephanie Moulton-Peters, a member of the boards governing the Transportation Authority of Marin and Metropolitan Transportation Commission, said the main issue is that “when we bring more traffic over the bridge it’s going to get backed up in Marin County and it may actually take people longer to get to work than it does currently.”

“So some improvements are needed in Marin and those improvements cost money,” Moulton-Peters said. “They’re not funded so we are looking at HOV and bus lanes as options, and it’s all under discussion.”

MTC and Caltrans are also pursuing a suite of projects — dubbed “Richmond-San Rafael Forward” — that were conceived to shave up to 17 minutes off the westbound morning commute into Marin County.

One of the projects is to remove the toll booths to make way for open-road tolling and an extended carpool lane at an estimated cost of $24 million. That project is expected to open in the winter of 2026.

Other near-term projects include a $5 million Richmond Parkway interchange, transit improvements and more bicycle infrastructure improvements.

Now, TAM officials say they want to hear about those active projects and new proposals from the regional planners leading the charge. Staffers with MTC and Caltrans are expected to give a report this spring.

Brian Colbert, chair of the TAM board and a member of the San Anselmo Town Council, said officials have to balance the needs of all their constituents. He said he is interested in seeing what planners are doing to address backup in San Rafael, too.

“It’s not just about the bike lane, it’s a full, 360-degree view of what’s going on on the bridge,” he said. “We want to look at the congestion of the corridor and what is the medium and long-term outlook of the bridge.”

An average of 115 cyclists use the path on weekdays and an average of 325 cyclists on the weekends, according to commission. The weekday pedestrian average is 15, while the weekend average is 30.

By comparison, more than 80,000 vehicles cross the 5.5-mile bridge on weekdays. Westbound drivers can experience delays of nearly half an hour during peak commute times.

Bay Area business interests say the traffic is an equity and environmental issue that needs to be addressed.

“There is huge support from employers, commuters and residents from both the East Bay and the North Bay to open the third lane on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge,” said Joanne Webster, president and chief executive officer of the North Bay Leadership Council. “The four year bike-ped path pilot did not produce the data, nor the mode shift many were hoping for.”

North Bay Leadership Council Endorses Proposition 1-Vote on March 5th

The North Bay Leadership Council announces its support of Proposition One, also known as Behavioral Health Services Program and Bond Measure   The two-pronged proposition on the March 5th ballot includes a nearly $6.4 billion bond to build 10,000 treatment units and supportive housing.

It also asks voters to redefine how counties spend money collected from a special “millionaire’s tax” already passed by the voters, to allocate a share of it for housing for people with behavioral health illnesses.

Housing and homelessness continue to be top issues for the business community in the North Bay. Employers are experiencing an increase in crime and worried about the safety of their employees and customers from those suffering from acute mental illness and substance abuse. It is our goal to support housing for the unhoused with the goal of placing them in permanent, supportive housing where they can get the assistance needed. Our state needs to prioritize Californians with the deepest mental health needs, living in encampments, or suffering the worst substance use issues. This ballot measure will refocus billions of dollars in existing funds and provide bond funding for housing homeless individuals, those at risk of being homeless, and veterans with mental health or substance abuse disorders.

Another item we are watching closely is the U.S. Supreme Court decision to review a controversial lower federal court ruling that disallows local jurisdictions from banning camping on sidewalks, streets, parks or other public places. We will continue to update you on this item.

Proposition 1: Behavioral Health Bond and Services Act on the March Ballot

To provide more help for the unhoused, the Governor has placed a ballot measure on the March election.  In Gavin Newsom’s mental health plan is going to voters. Here’s what you need to know by Kristen Hwang (Link) we learn that “California voters next spring will get to decide on a ballot measure to create housing and treatment options, especially for homeless individuals with serious mental illness. If it passes, the measure championed by Gov. Gavin Newsom would mark the first major overhaul of the state’s community mental health system in 20 years.”

Hwang says, “The two-pronged proposition on the March primary election ballot includes a nearly $6.4 billion bond to build 10,000 treatment units and supportive housing. It also asks voters to redefine how counties spend money collected from a special ‘millionaire’s tax’ to allocate a share of it for housing for people with behavioral health illnesses.”

Newsom and supporters have promoted Proposition 1 as a way to help address the state’s deteriorating homelessness and addiction crises. They contend increased investment and an update to the state’s Mental Health Services Act is ‘long overdue.’ The most significant change put forth by the governor is a requirement that counties invest 30% of their Mental Health Services Act tax dollars — roughly $1 billion based on last year’s revenue — in housing programs, including rental subsidies and navigation services. Counties would have to spend half this money on people who are chronically homeless or living in encampments. They could also use up to one quarter of the money to build or purchase housing units.

The second half of Newsom’s proposal places a $6.4 billion general obligation bond before voters to dramatically expand the state’s psychiatric and addiction treatment infrastructure.

The California Chamber of Commerce has endorsed Prop 1. “California employers are on the front lines of our state’s homelessness crisis and many have been challenged with safety issues for both their workers and customers,” said CalChamber President and CEO Jennifer Barrera. “Today, the CalChamber board voted to support Proposition 1 because it provides an effective and ambitious plan that addresses the three interrelated social crises of homelessness, untreated serious mental illness and drug abuse in California. Importantly, the measure includes accountability metrics that will ensure funds are spent in the most effective ways possible so that services that are foundational for treatment are successful.”

“If approved by voters, Proposition 1 will authorize $6.38 billion in general obligation bonds to finance, among other things, more treatment beds and supportive housing units for Californians with severe behavioral health challenges and substance use disorders. Specifics of the measure can be found here (chromeextension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/https://www.lao.ca.gov/ballot/2024/proposition-1.pdf?utm_campaign=Press%20Release&utm_medium=email&_hsmi=285782820&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-8fof2z3RGTJKSlmnLCMydGBbipKEBp-mswQyltiCgAWlLhO5WRRGOirYR58HtW7Zj-lryPFn-0cVYW5UwSIwZWS-gmnLGDj8tSFQd1orfx78szdmU&utm_content=285782820&utm_source=hs_email).”

“In addition to support from the business community, Prop. 1 has been endorsed by health care entities and cities.”

Other support for Prop 1 was found In the PPIC Statewide Survey: Californians and their Government, (December 2023

https://www.ppic.org/publication/ppic-statewide-survey-californians-and-their-government-december-2023/) where “two in three likely voters would vote yes on Proposition 1, which includes the Behavioral Health Bond and Services Act.”

“Six in ten Californians name economic conditions, homelessness, and housing as the three most important issues facing the people of California today.”

“A solid majority continues to view homelessness as a big problem in their part of California. Most are concerned about the presence of homeless people in their local community and see someone who is experiencing homelessness on a frequent basis. About two in ten say they have frequently interacted with homeless people or that they or someone in their close family has experienced homelessness or housing insecurity. Overwhelming majorities say that substance abuse (78%) and lack of affordable housing (70%) are major factors in homelessness in their local community. Majorities across parties favor policies to help people experiencing homelessness.”

“Californians name jobs, economy, and inflation, homelessness, and housing as the top state issues. Overwhelming majorities across the state’s major regions view housing affordability as a big problem in their part of California. About half say the cost of housing is a financial strain, and about half of lower-income adults and renters report that the cost of housing causes “a lot” of financial strain. Majorities of Californians across partisan and demographic groups and regions say the state needs more policies geared toward making both homebuying and rental housing more accessible.”

Given the housing crisis in California which contributes to the growth in homelessness, there is some good news for 2024.  In California’s Economy: Reasons For Optimism  (https://cbcal.com/californias-economy-reasons-optimism/), UCLA Anderson Forecast report “expects a continued recovery in the housing market, including consistent new homebuilding and a demand for housing. Real estate represents a large portion of California’s GDP. According to Statista, finance, insurance, real estate, and leasing (grouped together in this metric) were $477 billion in 2022, second only to professional and business services. 2023 has been a fairly unstable year for housing throughout the country.”

“In September, the California Association of Realtors (C.A.R.) released its 2024 Housing Market Forecast. Their predictions were guardedly optimistic, including the following:”

  • Housing affordability (the percentage of households able to afford a home at the median price) will remain flat at 17%.
  • The median home price will reach $860,300, a rise of 6.2%.
  • Sale of existing single-family homes will increase to 327,100 units, a rise of 22.3% from 2023.
  • Slower growth and declining inflation will reduce mortgage interest rates and help stimulate home sales in California.

These housing market forecasts are another reason to be cautiously optimistic about the overall strength of California’s economy in the coming years.

More Money, Same Problems

Sen. Steven Glazer is a Democrat who wants to see more accountability in state government.  He wrote an op ed back in July that points out that the Legislature keeps missing the boat by continuing to fund programs that don’t live up to expectations.  In Opinion: More money, same problems: My fellow California Democrats keep repeating this mistake (Link), Sen Glazer writes, “The California Legislature…passed the latest state budget. The $310-billion plan is a reflection of our values, dedicating spending to getting homeless people off the street, supporting schools, keeping public transit afloat and treating mental illness. As a member of the state Senate’s Democratic majority, I voted for all of those things.”

“But as many Californians know, we’ve already spent billions of dollars on the same problems — with very little to show for it.”

“Our failures are evidence that good intentions and lots of money are not enough to fix what ails the Golden State. To make our progressive beliefs mean anything, the Legislature must ensure that the money we spend is actually improving the lives of the people we say we are committed to helping.”

“We can do that with two major changes in the way we work. First, we need to stop hamstringing programs and services with special interest demands that doom them to fail. Second, we need to gather and evaluate data on how our programs are working, and that includes supporting independent watchdogs to tell us when government is wasting our money and failing to get the job done.”

“Consider our much-discussed commitment to affordable housing. Five years ago, the Senate Judiciary Committee killed a proposal to make it harder to use the courts to slow and ultimately block new affordable housing. Not a single Democrat voted for the bill. A year later, a similar bill cleared the Senate but was killed in the Assembly.”

“Finally, in 2021, the idea won overwhelming Democratic support. What changed? The bill was amended to require that affordable projects use only ‘skilled and trained’ labor — code for union workers — even though state law already required such projects to pay union-level wages. The provision will make it that much more expensive and difficult to build housing, putting the interests of construction unions ahead of the needs of low-income people who can’t afford a place to live.”

“Efforts to help homeless Californians have been similarly stymied. Proposals to require treatment for mentally ill individuals who are living on the street and too sick to care for themselves have repeatedly been blocked by civil rights groups arguing that people essentially have a right to live homeless and untreated.”

“Or consider the public schools. Democrats know that hundreds of our schools are failing and far too many kids are unable to read, write or do math at grade level. And we know that those struggling students are disproportionately low-income children of color. But that issue gets almost no attention from Democrats in the Capitol, who have made no recent efforts to discover why schools are falling short and what can be done to improve them.”

“Legislation to hold bureaucracies more accountable is also a tough sell in Sacramento. The Legislature wants to bail out the Bay Area Rapid Transit system by increasing bridge tolls. But for the past two years, Democrats have blocked a proposal to give BART’s inspector general the independence to hold the system accountable for how it spends the money it has.”

“And while we spend more than $6 billion a year on mental health services, the state has very little information about which programs are working and which are not. Yet the Newsom administration has quietly opposed legislation to collect data and measure results. Bills to do so were introduced in 2021 and 2022 but failed to advance.”

“There are glimmers of hope for more effective approaches. Bills by state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland), for example, would promote affordable housing without caving to the unions, and they appear to have a good chance of passing. Sen. Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) is again pushing legislation that would allow real intervention to help people with mental illness and addiction get off the street, and it might actually pass this time.”

“Meanwhile, the Joint Legislative Audit Committee approved independent performance audits of the state’s long-troubled wage theft enforcement program as well as our woeful performance on homelessness. We can only hope those investigations lead to meaningful change.”

“But that’s just a start. We need a lot more principled leadership if California’s progressives are serious about creating a government and a society that are a compassionate and sustainable national model — and not a cautionary tale of failed hopes and promises.” Amen!

San Rafael Chamber CEO to Head North Bay Leadership Council

In an article in the Marin Independent Journal, written by Richard Halstead wrote, “The CEO of the San Rafael Chamber of Commerce has been selected to head the North Bay Leadership Council, a regional business advocacy organization.

The council’s longtime president and CEO, Cynthia Murray, is retiring. Joanne Webster, president and CEO of the chamber has been named to take her place.

“I had planned to retire in 2020,” Murray said, “but then the pandemic hit, and I decided that I should stay with the organization and see them through it. I have seen them through it, and I’m now 73, and I think it’s a perfect time to retire.”

Webster said, “It took a very special position for me to leave the chamber because I love San Rafael, and I love the San Rafael Chamber of Commerce. I’m going to be able to advocate for businesses on a larger platform and on a regional level. I’m very excited.”

Murray has headed the 33-year-old council for the last 17 years. She doubled the organization’s membership after serving only a few years in the position. The nonprofit, employer-led public policy advocacy organization has a little over 50 dues-paying members.

“We’re the voice of employers, not just the voice of business,” Murray said, “because we do have many nonprofits and public members. We look for the leaders in their sectors.”

Collectively, the council’s members have over 25,000 employees.

Murray’s tenure with the council has been eventful. Two years after she arrived, the nation lapsed into the Great Recession. The recession was followed by major wildfires in the North Bay fueled by climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s becoming more and more apparent,” Murray said, “that having organizations that represent employers at the table when you’re trying to formulate public policy in a time of uncertainty and change is really important.

She added, “I’ve really seen an increased need for business, government and nonprofits to all work together to achieve goals.”

Murray said her experience as a Marin County supervisor from 1999 to 2006 prepared her well for leading the council.

“It gave me an advantage in understanding how decisions are made,” she said, “what works and doesn’t work when you’re trying to present new ideas.”

Webster began her career in business before being introduced to local government.

After growing up in Swampscott, Massachusetts, and earning her bachelor’s degree in mathematics and computer science at Boston College, Webster moved to California to operate a Double Rainbow Cafe franchise together with her husband Charlie Garfink, whom she met in college.

“I was really excited about coming to the Golden State,” Webster said. “When you’re a little girl and you grow up in New England, you have visions of what that means.”

Webster and her husband opened their first Double Rainbow Cafe in Los Gatos and then a second one in San Rafael in 1988. They sold the Los Gatos franchise after the cafe suffered damage during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. They bought a house in Fairfax and focused on the San Rafael cafe, which they would jointly operate for 23 years.

“One of the hardest things you can do is meet a payroll,” Webster said. “You can be a business with 10 employees or a business with 100. You have similar challenges. It’s just on a different scale.”

From 2001 to 2011, she also served as director of San Rafael’s business improvement district. The city devoted revenue derived from a portion of its business license fee to promotion of the downtown business district, and Webster helped guide how the money was spent.

“I really got to understand how the city was run and had the opportunity of creating very strong relationships with elected officials and city staff,” Webster said. “I got them to understand how challenging it is to run a business.”

When Webster and her husband sold the Double Rainbow franchise to a former employee in 2011, Webster became director of marketing for the San Rafael Chamber of Commerce, and in 2014 she was named president and CEO of the chamber.

Webster said her biggest challenge as chamber CEO was responding to the pandemic. She is proud of the fact that San Rafael was the first chamber of commerce in Marin to create a disaster relief fund for local businesses.

“We were able to solicit a quarter of a million dollars in donations so we could give out over 75 grants to small businesses,” Webster said. “I still have a lot of those businesses thank me for that because they were able to pay rent or pay their employees and keep their doors open.”

Webster said the pandemic took a heavy toll on sole proprietorships in San Rafael, due to difficulties they experienced getting Paycheck Protection Program loans.

“We kept as many businesses open as we possibly could,” Webster said, “whether they were chamber members or not.”

Webster said the biggest challenge North Bay Leadership Council members face is finding employees.

“What we’re hearing from employers is that the cost of living in the North Bay is making it really difficult to recruit,” Webster said. “We’re seeing a lot of positions remaining unfilled. It’s having an impact on the efficiency of companies’ operations. A lack of housing at all price levels is driving the problem.”

Beginning in November, Webster will work alongside Murray, until Murray departs at the end of the year.

“Joanne leaves the chamber on solid footing,” said Carol Parks, who heads the chamber board. “Our membership is strong with over 500 member businesses, representing over 26,000 employees across 25 different industry sectors.”

In a statement, Murray said, “There is no one more capable of leading NBLC into its next iteration than Joanne.”

NBLC Announces Joanne Webster as Incoming CEO

North Bay Leadership Council (NBLC) has hired Joanne Webster as their incoming CEO upon the retirement of longtime CEO, Cynthia Murray at the end of the year.  Jordan Lavinsky, Chair of NBLC’s Board, said “The Board is confident that Joanne Webster can take North Bay Leadership Council to the next level in leading on public policy issues of interest to the leading employers in the North Bay. We are excited to have her as the voice of employers who have a big role to play in shaping sound public policy.”

Joanne Webster has been with the San Rafael Chamber of Commerce since 2011, serving as President and CEO for the past 9 years. For three decades, Joanne has been an active member of the business community, winning Marin’s Small Business of the Year and Spirit of Marin Awards in 1998 and 2008 and, as Chamber CEO, the North Bay’s Best Business Community Leader Award in 2021.  Her specialties include business advocacy, connecting leaders and influencers, and building coalitions.

“I am honored and excited to succeed Cynthia Murray as the CEO of the North Bay Leadership Council and am deeply grateful for the opportunity. I look forward to working with the Board of Directors, membership and staff in the coming months as we move the organization forward together,” Webster said.

Lavinsky also thanked Cynthia Murray upon her retirement.  He said, “Cynthia Murray led the last big transformation of NBLC and her 17 years as CEO and President have made NBLC a force in the North Bay, the greater Bay Area, and the state of California.  We appreciate her leadership and ability to steer NBLC through uncertain times, having led the Council through the Great Recession and the pandemic.”  Murray will continue to assist NBLC as a consultant after her retirement.

Cynthia Murray said, “It has been my honor to lead NBLC and see it grow in clout and effectiveness. I leave knowing that NBLC is in good hands with Joanne Webster at the helm.  We have worked together for years and there is no one more capable of leading NBLC into its next iteration than Joanne.  I look forward to a smooth transition as Joanne successfully steps into the leadership role.”

Webster will join NBLC starting in November and will work with Murray until the end of the year.

North Bay Leadership Council is an employer-led public policy advocacy organization committed to providing leadership in ways to make the North Bay sustainable, prosperous and innovative. As business and civic leaders, their goal is to ensure economic health by building more housing, improving mobility, promoting better education, and creating jobs to make our region a better place to live and work. Collectively, their members have over 25,000 employees.

North Bay Leadership Council’s Response to Affirmative Action Ruling

Affirmative action in college admissions has been a mainstay in most states with the noble intent to level the playing field for marginalized students and recognize the significance of race in providing equal opportunity.

The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to end affirmative action admissions by colleges and universities will have far reaching affects, with impacts on businesses who recognize that diversity within their workforce is imperative, and on the workforce facing greater obstacles to getting the education and training needed to meet the skill requirements of employers.

The Supreme Court ruling disrupts the fifty years of progress made that provided more people with accessibility and opportunity to participate fully in American economic and civic life.  The Court supplants its judgment over that of the most prestigious educational institutions in the country, as well as 82 corporations and business groups who signed three amicus briefs to the court, including Google, Salesforce, Microsoft, Verizon, Starbucks, and American Express.

The amicus brief filed by International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) and Aeris Communications, Inc. (Aeris) along with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Stanford University “underscore[s] the importance of diversity not just within higher education or the corporate world at large, but in the particular cross-section of academia and industry within the intensely collaborative, and increasingly global, STEM industries.” As IBM, Aeris, MIT, and Stanford explain, “Not only does diversity promote better outcomes for students in STEM, it contributes to better science.  As such, American businesses at the forefront of innovation in STEM depend on the availability of a diverse cross-section of talented graduates from the nation’s most rigorous and elite institutions.”

Demographic changes demand that employers attract diverse employees and ensure that these diverse employees have the skills needed in the workplace.  Brookings’s Joseph Kane says, “The overall labor force will grow from 161 million workers to 169 million (an additional 4.8%) over the next decade, largely driven by women and people of color. From 2021 to 2031, the number of women in the U.S. labor force will increase by 6.1%, while the number of men will only increase 3.5%. At the same time, the number of Black and Latino or Hispanic workers will increase 8.2% and 23.6%, respectively, while the number of white workers will only increase 1.6%. The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not separately report other racial groups—including Asian American and Native American workers—but groups in the “all other” category will grow the fastest (24.1%).”

These statistics show that the workforce will be increasingly diverse. America’s economic future depends on that workforce being educated and skilled. Without affirmative action, the pipeline to educate diverse students will be reduced as has been proven in states like California that don’t have affirmative action in admissions.  In California, which stopped affirmative action after the passage of Prop 209 in 1996, other methods to improve diversity have not been able to match the positive results of affirmative action, especially in the more selective campuses of University of California. California’s diversity is not reflected in the student bodies of our public higher education institutions, and this means our changing demographics will exacerbate this situation. This ruling also means that the private universities in California must also end race-conscious admissions which will further limit diversity on those campuses and ultimately, in our workforce.

Given that the workforce will be more diverse, employers need to redouble efforts to build a stronger long-term talent pipeline, which crucially depends on reaching and supporting more diverse workers. It is expected that groups opposing affirmative action will now be focusing on employers’ hiring and promotion practices.  However, it is important that employers maintain their commitment to their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs as companies that are more diverse will do better at attracting more diverse employees in the competition for talent.

To make their DEI programs less of a target for litigation, employers should remove quota systems for hiring and instead improve their recruiting practices to cast a wider net of potential employees.  This can include recruiting from higher education institutions that serve more diverse student bodies, offering apprenticeships and more collaboration with their local universities and colleges.

And all of us can do more to support local college and career readiness programs, universal preschool, greater funding of educational institutions, mentoring programs, internships and other mechanisms to help level the playing field before a student gets to college.  Let’s make the disappointment in the Court’s decision a driver for us to do more to ensure that students get the education they need so our economic and civic lives prosper.

North Bay Leadership Council is an employer-led public policy advocacy organization committed to providing leadership in ways to make the North Bay sustainable, prosperous and innovative. As business and civic leaders, our goal is to ensure economic health by building more housing, improving mobility, promoting better education, and creating jobs to make our region a better place to live and work. Collectively, our members have over 25,000 employees.

For more information, contact:

Cynthia Murray

(415) 246-0593

cmurray@northbayleadership.org

Statewide and Regional Business Community Responds to Supreme Court Decision on Affirmative Action

Recommits to DEI measures to support businesses and employees

North Bay Leadership Council joins with the united business community today in issuing the following response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned affirmative action practices for college and university admissions:

“The statewide business community remains steadfast in our commitment to creating job opportunities and improving the diversity of our businesses across all sectors. California thrives because of the diversity in our population, the diversity of our workforce, and the diversity of our economy. While today’s ruling may seem narrow, only affecting the education sector, we are concerned that it could threaten the business community’s commitment to diversity and inclusion initiatives by creating future barriers in building a diverse and qualified workforce, especially for C-suite and executive level positions.

“As part of our ongoing commitment, we will work to educate employers about the Supreme Court’s decision and how we can ensure that our employees and their families continue to know they are an integral part of our businesses and our communities.”

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  1. Today’s ruling has no impact on existing or future hiring practices and does not affect existing or future DEI initiatives.
  2. Businesses rely on strong and diverse colleges and universities to attract qualified workers into the workforce. Rulings like this that affect the education system affect the workforce as well.
  3. California businesses look forward to continuing to partner with our world-class colleges and universities to ensure today’s decision does not impact the commitment and progress we have collectively made.

The joint statement was signed by:

  • Rob Lapsley, President, California Business Roundtable
  • Lynn Mohrfeld, President and CEO, California Hotel and Lodging Association
  • Lance Hastings, President and CEO, California Manufacturers & Technology Association
  • Dan Dunmoyer, President and CEO, California Building Industry Association
  • Jot Condie, President and CEO, California Restaurant Association
  • Mike Roos, President and CEO, Southern California Leadership Council
  • Jim Wunderman, President and CEO, Bay Area Council
  • Maria Salinas, President and CEO, Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce
  • Paul Granillo, President and CEO, Inland Empire Economic Partnership
  • Tracy Hernandez, Founding CEO, Los Angeles County Business Federation (BizFed)
  • Cynthia Murray, President and CEO, North Bay Leadership Council

The Shrinking infrastructure Workforce Challenge

In looking at the struggle for California to compete for the big federal Infrastructure pot of money, there are other areas of concern. Perhaps the most compelling is that even if California can get its act together, it may not be able to muster up the workforce needed to build the improvements.  In The incredible shrinking infrastructure workforce — and what to do about it, by Joseph W. Kane, (Brookings, Link), we learn the U.S. infrastructure workforce is rapidly losing talent.

Kane describes how the billions of dollars the Feds unleashed for infrastructure projects “has the enormous potential to support up to 15 million new jobs over the next decade, according to the most ambitious estimates. Many state and local entities eligible to receive this funding—think transportation departments, water utilities, and more—are scrambling to secure new pots of money and get workers ready for all the projects to come.”

But the problem with all those news jobs, is that we are hemorrhaging current infrastructure workers and having a hard time finding new workers.  Kane says, “The U.S. infrastructure workforce is rapidly losing talent. As recent Brookings research shows, nearly 17 million infrastructure workers are projected to permanently leave their jobs over the next decade due to a wave of retirements, job transfers, and other labor market shifts. Infrastructure workers are not just construction workers—they are plumbers, electricians, civil engineering technicians, or dozens of other occupations, primarily involved in the skilled trades. And they are responsible for operating and maintaining our roads, rails, pipes, power plants, and other facilities over many decades. Filling these shoes is not simply about patching a pothole or building a bridge—it represents a generational challenge affecting many industries nationally.”

“Yet filling these new infrastructure jobs also represents a generational opportunity,” says Kane. “Infrastructure jobs pay 30% more to lower-income workers and those just starting their careers relative to all jobs nationally, while also posing lower formal educational barriers to entry. But too many workers—especially younger workers, women, and people of color—continue to be sidelined from these careers. The infrastructure workforce is aging, male, and white; only 11% are 24 years old or younger, 18.5% are women, and under a third are people of color. Many prospective job seekers not only lack awareness these positions exist, but they also lack flexible and accessible pathways to fill them, including struggles to gain needed on-the-job training and limited supportive services (e.g., child care, transportation).”

Kane points out, “Difficulties in hiring, training, and retaining a younger, more diverse workforce limit economic opportunity, slow down projects, and pose the very real possibility of mission failure for infrastructure employers, including the owners and operators of these systems. These difficulties are also likely to get worse given the country’s declining—and diversifying—labor force participation. The BLS estimates that the U.S. labor force participation rate—the percentage of the population that is working or actively looking for work—has gone up since the pandemic, to 62.6% last month. However, this rate is still lower than the pre-pandemic level (63.3%), and further declines are projected over the next decade (down to 60.1%)—continuing a longer-term trend as more baby boomers exit the labor force.”

There are big demographic changes in workforce participation, too.  Kane says, “Amid these broader declines, an even more significant change may soon impact the infrastructure workforce: The overall labor force will grow from 161 million workers to 169 million (an additional 4.8%) over the next decade, largely driven by women and people of color—the groups traditionally overlooked and marginalized across the infrastructure sector. From 2021 to 2031, the number of women in the U.S. labor force will increase by 6.1%, while the number of men will only increase 3.5%. At the same time, the number of Black and Latino or Hispanic workers will increase 8.2% and 23.6%, respectively, while the number of white workers will only increase 1.6%. The BLS does not separately report other racial groups—including Asian American and Native American workers—but groups in the “all other” category will grow the fastest (24.1%).

Action is required to produce the needed workforce.  Kane says, “Bridging the infrastructure sector’s talent gaps in the short term needs to coincide with building a stronger long-term talent pipeline, which crucially depends on reaching and supporting more diverse workers. That means conducting more extensive community outreach to reach new and different workers, including additional demonstration projects. That means collaborating with workforce development boards, educational institutions, community-based organizations, and other partners to define hiring and training priorities, expand work-based learning options, and provide more supportive services. That means changing how infrastructure projects are done, including new local hiring standards, procurement strategies, and contracting practices to reach women- and minority-owned businesses.”

In conclusion, Kane says, “The key is for infrastructure and workforce leaders to both recognize the urgency of this challenge and the need to start experimenting with a different approach. Time is fleeting, and the federal money is already flowing.”

NBLC Helped Get Highway 37 Tolling Approved Which Will Fund Improvements

North Bay Leadership Council helped lead the way to raise funding to improve Highway 37, a key commuter route for employees working in Marin and Sonoma Counties coming from the East Bay.  The project is being led by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to reduce traffic by widening and elevating the roadway in stages, as well as providing environmental improvements to the wetlands along the highway.  Cynthia Murray, CEO, NBLC, testified at a hearing on tolling, that “We feel that as it becomes a bridge it should be treated like other bridges and we really want to make sure that we have a functioning highway before it goes under water, and these improvements are critical in making sure that the road can be raised and widened to meet the needs of the North Bay,” she told the commission.

The California Transportation Commission approved the Bay Area Infrastructure Financing Authority’s request to apply a toll on State Route 37. Part of their approval was because of the support by NBLC.

According to Susan Wood, North Bay Business Journal, (Link), “The unanimous vote, made during Wednesday’s meeting, does not specify the toll amount. The approval came with two amendments: that the Transportation Commission is required to consider toll discounts based on regional, rather than federal income levels. The second amendment requires the commission to update its guidelines for toll hearings.”

Wood said, “Prone to heavy traffic congestion and flooding, Highway 37 is scheduled to receive short- and long-term improvements whose costs will be passed along to motorists. The tolls are seen as a matching incentive to attract state and federal funds.”

“Overall, the project would be a benefit for those working or living in Marin and Sonoma. Two lanes in each direction rather than the single lane section would reduce travel time and allow transit options from Solano County to Marin,” Transportation Authority of Marin Executive Director Anne Richman has said.

“State and regional transportation officials are proposing the toll to help offset a $430 million price tag on the road widening of the road that overall runs 21 miles between Marin and Solano counties from U.S. Highway 101 to Interstate 80,” said Wood. “The road widening is expected to start in 2025 and finish two years later. The project to raise Highway 37 because of flooding caused by torrential rains and tidal surges will cost approximately $6 billion and take 10 to 20 years to complete, according to transportation officials. The highway was originally designed as a toll road when it was built nearly 100 years ago.”