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

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.”


  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.”

Enough of the Climate Doomerism!

Another challenge is the feeling some people have that all is lost.  We’ve past the point of no return and we are doomed.  That kind of thinking makes people less likely to make change and to avoid taking the steps that will help address climate change.  In We May Not Stop The Climate Crisis. That Doesn’t Mean We Shouldn’t Try, by Brian Kateman (Link) the author says we have more reason for hope now and we need to dispel the doomsayers. Kateman says, “If your personal anxiety about the climate has softened a bit in recent times, you’re not alone. After decades of increasingly alarming reporting on climate change and the environment, fatalistic headlines are beginning to give way to ones that express a different kind of feeling, one that many of us haven’t felt in a long time: hope.”

“The recent shift in the media narrative has been shaped by two ongoing conversations,” says Kateman. “First, scientists and reporters are trying to fine-tune a message that most accurately represents the evidence. Second, some reporters are wondering about the impact of their message on public attitudes towards change. Luckily, it seems to me that the most realistic interpretation of the evidence and the optimal message to motivate change are one and the same: We can make a difference, but there’s a significant chance that we won’t.”

He says, “To observe the shifting media narrative, take last month’s report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for example: Some outlets reported on it in the usual, panic-stricken way; The Guardian, for example, titled its article, ‘Scientists deliver ‘final warning’ on climate crisis: act now or it’s too late.’ But Time Magazine took a more positive tone: ‘The New U.N. Climate Report Has Arrived. Resist the Urge to Despair.’ The author describes his own newfound hope. “’Like many scientists,’ he writes, ‘was disheartened for decades, but today’s report makes me feel more inspired than ever.’”

“Indeed, there’s been a rising tide of ‘climate optimism’ as journalists attempt to walk back some of the most alarmist warnings from recent decades” says Kateman. “In an opinion piece for CNN, Fermilab scientist Don Lincoln relays the success story of how ‘humanity and all life on Earth dodged a bullet’ by phasing out chlorofluorocarbons and other ozone-depleting substances with the UN’s Montreal Protocol passed in 1987.”

“As a result of the Montreal Protocol, Lincoln reports, the ozone layer is now ‘on track to recover in the coming decades.’ This, he says, offers hope that society may be able to intervene in some of the other causes of climate change. More recently, Reuters published an op-ed by strategists Johan Falk and Owen Gaffney of the Exponential Roadmap Initiative. They describe the latest report from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — the same one The Guardian called a ‘final warning’ — as ‘remarkably positive’ because it indicates that it’s still technically possible for global society to stabilize the rise in climate at 1.5oC, despite the caveat that governments are ‘way, way off target’ in their efforts to meet this goal. Writing for Vox’s ‘Against Doomerism’ project, Hannah Ritchie carefully advocates for a certain kind of climate optimism, one that leads to action rather than complacency,” says Kateman.

“’Climate optimism’ is a notable shift, and it may be a sensible response to the wave of climate ‘doomerism’ we’ve been experiencing in recent years,” says Kateman. “As environmental journalist Elizabeth Kolbert pointed out in an extensive feature for New York Magazine late last year, ‘a diet of bad news leads to paralysis, which yields yet more bad news.’ She’s not wrong; many self-identified climate doomers lament that activism feels futile in the face of certain catastrophe. If we truly don’t believe there’s anything we can do, either as individuals or collectively, we’re unlikely to try.”

Kateman warns, “Of course, optimism carries its own set of risks. By this point it’s clear that denying global warming altogether, or even downplaying its severity, has only allowed the problem to grow. Meanwhile, we’ve seen climate denying politicians elected to the highest offices as planet-threatening human activities continue to expand. An overly positive outlook, just like an overly negative one, could halt our progress.”

“In addition to reducing our much-needed sense of urgency, an over-optimistic view could lead us to make some pretty dangerous gambles, all because we gravely misunderstood the odds. In addition to avoiding both over-optimistic complacency and over-pessimistic defeatism, we need to be realistic. Accurately understanding the most likely future of our planet is essential for both institutional and individual decision-making. Should we, as Elon Musk believes, have lots of children to avoid a purported ‘underpopulation crisis?’ It seems to me that this hinges on whether there will be a planet for them and others to comfortably live on in fifty years.”

Kateman points out, “Unwarranted, unqualified optimism feels like a form of toxic positivity. Scary feelings are met with empty assurances, rather than addressing the problem directly. In my work, I often speak to food and environmental advocates who feel like they’re surrounded by cheerleaders while the world literally burns around them. They’re told to keep a positive outlook, sometimes by the very same governments that are actively making choices that endanger the planet. This unrelenting feel-goodism denies reality and undermines the importance and urgency of their work. Unrealistic positivity about the state of the climate, as some have pointed out, is essentially a form of gaslighting.”

“The fight against climate change isn’t an all-or-nothing battle. There are at least some ways we can make meaningful changes that positively affect the lives of humans and other animals,” says Kateman. “Some progress is always better than none, and if we can delay or reduce coming disasters, we absolutely should. We can’t give up, but we don’t need to kid ourselves into believing we’ve already won. Few activists have ever proclaimed that their respective causes—racism, sexism, and so on—would ever completely resolve. But even problems that initially seem overwhelming and insurmountable may be able to be managed until better solutions emerge.”

Kateman ends with this observation. “An estimated 3,664,292 babies were born in the U.S. in 2021 alone. We owe it to them to do everything in our power to keep the planet comfortably habitable for the duration of their natural lives, at the very least. Humans and many other species may eventually go extinct as a result of industrial activity. But that’s no excuse not to do everything we can to make life a little more livable for future generations. No matter what happens, we will be glad that we tried.”

One of the most congested Bay Area highways is set to see huge changes — and a toll

In an article titled, “One of the most congested Bay Area highways is set to see huge changes — and a toll,” written by Jessica Flores. She says, “Drivers on Highway 37, the narrow and chronically congested commuter route through fragile North Bay wetlands, could see grinding rush-hour trips between I-80 in Solano County and Highway 101 in Marin County cut at least in half by a project that will widen a key stretch within just a few years.

But the plan includes adding a toll along the expanded part of the 21-mile-long highway to help cover the $430 million price tag — a detail that prompted anger and concern this week from residents who say those who will bear the brunt are those who can least afford it.

The project would expand the 7-mile, two-lane stretch of Highway 37 between Mare Island in Solano County and Sears Point in Sonoma County to four lanes, with one toll lane and one toll-free carpool lane planned in each direction.

The project is in the final design and permitting phase, with construction expected to begin in 2025, officials said. The California Department of Transportation and the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission are applying to the California Transportation Commission to operate electronic toll stations at each end of the 7-mile stretch.

At a public meeting Monday in Vallejo hosted by the CTC, agency officials said the toll will help pay not only for construction, but for improvements that will address sea level rise and congestion concerns.

Highway 37 is among the most vulnerable major roadways in the Bay Area, with Caltrans predicting portions of it could be “completely inundated” by 2050. Storms in recent years have periodically flooded the highway, forcing weeks-long closures.

But many residents at the meeting, which was also streamed over Zoom, said the toll would be an additional financial burden for people who travel from Vallejo to Marin and Sonoma counties, where there are higher-paying jobs. The median household income in Vallejo is $78,243, according to census data, compared with $108,000 in Novato at the western terminus of the highway.

According to transportation officials, of the 40,000-plus trips made daily on Highway 37, 40% are by low-income individuals and 28% are by people of color.

“This will create hardship on the people who commute” on top of high gas prices, gas taxes and other expenses, a speaker said during the meeting. “It’s the responsibility of government — federal, local, state — to provide for our roads (and) not put it on the backs of the commuters who are already paying a lot.”

Officials say the project will benefit all commuters by reducing congestion and travel times, increasing access to jobs and boosting the economy in the Mare Island area.

According to the CTC, the project would cut commute times dramatically: The eastbound evening commute would shrink from 100 minutes to 26 minutes, and westbound morning commute times from 60 to 30 minutes.

New bus transit options would be offered from Vallejo to San Rafael, and low-income households would be offered toll discounts, planners say. They add that trail connections and improvements along the highway would benefit the public.

The toll program, expected to generate $100 million to help cover the project’s cost, is being managed by the Bay Area Infrastructure Financing Authority, an arm of the MTC.

“Tolling does help finance the infrastructure investments that we’re making today,” said Andrew Fremier, executive director of MTC, during the meeting. “It will be used … to match with state and federal grants that we need to complete this particular important project.”

A specific toll rate has not been revealed yet, but Fremier said it would be consistent with toll bridges in the Bay Area, most of which cost $7 to cross.

Officials said toll collection would not begin until the new lanes and a bus service between Vallejo and Marin County are added and the low-income toll discount program is in place.

Public comments from the meeting Monday will be included in staff recommendations that the CTC will consider in May when it meets to discuss and vote on the toll application, said Paul Golaszewski, the agency’s deputy director of legislation and finance.

Drafting of the Highway 37 project got under way in 2020, and the environmental impact process has been completed, with Caltrans signing off on the impact report in February, according to John Goodwin, assistant communication director for the MTC and Bay Area Toll Authority.  After design and permitting are completed, construction is expected to start in 2025 and wrap up in in 2027, documents show.

The project will also replace the existing bridge over Tolay Creek near Sears Point with a much longer bridge that helps restore the San Pablo Baylands by increasing water flow into and out of the creek channel, according to agency documents. Work will also be done to stop deterioration of the area known as Strip Marsh East near Mare Island.

Caltrans is looking at a much larger project as the longer-term answer to traffic congestion, rising waters and bayland restoration: an elevated four-lane causeway along the existing path of Highway 37.

Such a project, which could take two decades or more and cost at least $6 billion, would also include a bicycle and pedestrian path and make provisions to eventually add SMART commuter rail services, Goodwin told The Chronicle.

“Tolling almost certainly would be part of any kind of funding package for this long-term transformation and almost certainly would include tolling the entire route from Novato to the I-80 interchange in Vallejo,” Goodwin said.

At the meeting Monday, a few people expressed support for the toll plan in the current project.

“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 underwater,” said Cynthia Murray, CEO of North Bay Leadership Council, a group that represents employers.”

America — The Build-Nothing Country?

America’s has a growing inability to build almost anything according to Noah Smith in The Build-Nothing Country (Link).  Smith says, “what’s frustrating me is America’s seeming inability to build the things it needs to build in order to prosper and flourish in the 21st century. From housing to transit to solar power to transmission lines to semiconductor fabs, the U.S. has little trouble marshalling the financial and physical capital to create what it needs, but ends up stymied by entrenched local interests who exploit a thicket of veto points to preserve the built environment of the 1970s.”

Smith says, “Stasis has become America’s spoils system, and it can’t go on.” He cites the abuses of the California Environmental Quality Act in California that is being used to thwart new housing construction as example of the desire to limit development. Smith says, “Meanwhile, across the USA, housing is just not getting built. The recent runup in prices motivated a lot of developers to pull out their checkbooks, but they barely managed to raise housing starts to their pre-2008 levels, and now things are heading back to stasis as prices cool off.”

And Smith shares that this kind of short thinking is spreading throughout the U.S. to impede all kinds of development including green energy, transit, advanced manufacturing and more.  He makes the point that “Last August the nation celebrated the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which allocated $400 billion to building green energy in the U.S. But as with housing and transit, allocating money doesn’t necessarily mean anything actually gets built.”

“Even in semiconductors, the ultra-high-tech industry where the U.S. and its allies must maintain leadership in order to maintain their edge over China, the U.S. can’t seem to build much. TSMC, the Taiwanese company that recently agreed to build a big plant in Arizona, is running into major cost issues.”

Smith says, “For decades, I’ve heard progressives bemoan America’s unwillingness to spend money on things like transit and green energy. But now America is spending all the money, and things still aren’t getting built, because of the country’s broken system of permitting, land use, and development.”

“This is such an important point that it bears repeating,” says Smith. “Money is not physical stuff. Just because you earmark $5 billion for a subway or $2 billion for a solar farm in some Excel spreadsheet somewhere doesn’t mean a physical train or power plant has actually been created. If permitting holds up the process for years, then you still haven’t built a damn thing. And if eventually construction does begin, but the cost balloons to absurd levels, that means that a pitifully inadequate amount of actual physical transit, or housing, or solar will be created, despite that huge flood of dollar signs in your spreadsheet.”

Driving home that point, Smith says, “For decades now, Americans have told ourselves that we’re the richest nation on Earth, and that as long as we had the political will to write big checks, we could do anything we wanted. But that was never really true, was it? The inflation that followed the pandemic should have been a wake-up call — we had all this excess cash, and we started spending it on physical goods, and mostly what happened was just that the price of the physical goods went up. And so R.I.P. to all that cash. From meaningless numbers on a spreadsheet you came, and to meaningless numbers on a spreadsheet you shall return.”

“What matters is not how big America’s spreadsheet numbers are, but how much physical stuff we get. And yet as a society we’ve decided to award people with stasis instead of stuff. In many dysfunctional societies, the government’s guarantee of economic inclusion comes in the form of a specific physical good — usually, cheap fuel. In the United States, the in-kind subsidy we provide our people is the option to keep their world from changing.”

And here’s an interesting observation by Smith: “If you’re one of the roughly 2/3 of Americans who owns a home, you can raise your wealth — at least on paper — by going to local government meetings and arguing to restrict the local housing supply. But perhaps just as importantly, you can preserve the built environment around you in exactly the form you’re used to. You can keep your streets quiet and uncrowded. You can preserve your open space, your big lawn, and your scenic views. You can keep your neighborhood free of any poor people who might live in nearby apartments or ride a train to your area. You have the option to keep your area free of anything you don’t want, for any reason.”

“This is a form of subsidy from the government to the people of America. It seems like a costless subsidy, because it doesn’t involve writing checks to people. But the costs are real, and Americans pay the costs. They pay them in the higher tax bills that citizens pay to fund infrastructure. They pay them in the increased prices businesses have to charge to make up for higher land costs. They pay them in higher rents. They pay those costs in more expensive electricity and increased carbon emissions. They pay them in the lower wages that workers earn because their cities can’t build sufficient housing near to the areas of greatest economic opportunity. They pay them in lower productivity because cities can’t grow big enough. They pay those costs in lost wages and incomes from disinvestment, when companies decide that America’s obstacles to land development make it a bad country to build a factory in. And eventually they pay the cost of a weak country that doesn’t have the economic strength to stand up to rivals like China.”

Smith says, “Physical stasis seems cheap, but it’s an incredibly expensive way to subsidize the lifestyles of Americans. And it seems that whenever our real incomes flatlined, as they did in the 70s and again in 1999-2015, we increased this stasis subsidy to compensate, making it even harder to build anything — a booby prize for an electorate mired in stagnation, which ended up exacerbating that very stagnation. The 70s were when the embrace of stasis began, but the 2010s are when it reached its apotheosis.”

“This ill-advised path has now come to its inevitable end,” cautions Smith. “We no longer have the luxury of giving our people a shadow subsidy by freezing their neighborhoods and cities in amber. Spiraling housing costs in any city with real economic opportunity, a floundering energy transition, and the inexorable migration of manufacturing to more development-friendly countries have become so severe that we must dispense with our collective illusion that America will always look like it looked in 1975. Slashing the thicket of red tape that prevent development, and subordinating local interests to the needs of the nation itself, are no longer idle dreams — they are immediate necessities. If we insist on continuing to be the Build-Nothing Country, our once-mighty middle class will sink into a genteel poverty, and someone else will build the future on the bones of our civilization.”

We hope that we will come together to support the new housing, green energy, infrastructure and advanced manufacturing our country needs and maximize the investment of our tax dollars in these projects to produce tangible results beyond a wider spread sheet.