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May 12, 2023

It’s a great week to be a Californian. The May Revise is out today (more on that below if you want a primer on that budget process):

  • The little bullet train that could
  • Fewer immigrants are making SF their home – and why that’s really bad
  • Why business may be steering the ship away from California ports


The pandemic and its attendant social, economic and civic disruptions has been characterized as a “great accelerant” for all manner of lifestyle choices, consumer behaviors and business decisions. Downstream of the pandemic itself, the unprecedented explosion of remote work has been blamed for a range of cascading problems that now ripple through our urban centers.

But when it comes to the post-pandemic reality of urban transit agencies, there’s more to the story. Sometimes what’s needed is a cold, hard look in the mirror.

So goes the story of Bay Area Rapid Transit, the subject of a just-published public survey conducted by the Bay Area Council. Spoiler alert: there’s a reason BART ridership is hovering around 40% of pre-pandemic levels, and it isn’t remote work.

BART riders and others who have stopped using the system or reduced their use dramatically say they would return in significant numbers if crime, safety and cleanliness issues are addressed. The numbers are startling: 78% said they would ride BART more often if it was significantly cleaner and safer. 46% say they have witnessed crime on BART, and 18% say they personally have been a victim of crime on BART. It all adds up to a 49% unfavorable rating for the transit agency, putting it in a distant last place behind its regional peers SF MUNI, AC Transit and Caltrain.

Cleanliness. Efficiency. Safety. It’s not rocket science folks; these are the absolute, common-sense basics. Our transit agencies and officials at all levels of government would do well to remember that.

Read more and access the full questionnaire

🤫 Everything you should know

- Fresno is celebrating the completion of a stretch of California's elusive bullet train. This 32-mile stretch of rail will eventually carry “electric-powered trains up and over Highway 99, Cedar and North avenues at speeds of up to 220 mph.” This is a big win, except it will likely be another 10 or so years before a train takes its first passengers along that rail. Why has this notorious project taken so long to complete? A big reason is CEQA. The state tried to get a CEQA exemption for the project in 2017 (pretty much the only way you can build big infrastructure projects in the state) but a judicial ruling in a very complicated lawsuit dashed any hopes of expeditiously completing this important transportation project. So, the project drags on, as groups like “Friends of Eel River” – but clearly not friends of carbon-neutral transportation – get to sue and block progress. The completion of Fresno’s stretch of the bullet train is cause for celebration, until you realize it will be collecting dust until the rest of the project is completed. - Fresno Bee

- Immigrants are saying “no thanks” to making San Francisco their new home. “From 2011 to 2020, an annual average of about 5,500 immigrants moved to S.F….those numbers plummeted to 1,500 per year from 2020 to 2022, during the height of the pandemic, with many of the immigrants who came in the last decade leaving the city.” Immigrants play a vital role in the workforce and with the dip in folks coming to San Francisco, that’s bad for the economy. We’d venture to say the astronomical housing prices are a major reason folks new to the U.S. decide to settle elsewhere. - San Francisco Chronicle

- It’s California versus the world when it comes to ports, but our competitiveness is on shaky ground. Our 12 ports process approximately 40% of all containerized imports and 30% of all exports in the U.S. Thanks to our long coastline and access to Asia, California punches above its weight. But recently, as California ports have faltered, either because of work stoppages due to labor disputes or backed up shipments that take weeks to chip away at, other regions and countries have benefitted and apparently our reputation is waning .“Burned by pandemic-era bottlenecks, businesses are placing more of a premium on reliability.” If we can’t get the job done, the business will go elsewhere and the fear is they’ll never return to California. - Bloomberg

❄️ Snowballing

We just can’t stop gushing over California’s precipitation and snowpack. The latest wonder is a satellite image of the Sierra Nevadas featuring our abundance of snow. Now we brace ourselves for the great melt and the unintended consequences of all that moisture (flooding).

🏛️ Civics Lesson: Happy May Revise

Cracks knuckles Today, the Governor unveiled his May Revise. While we are still knee deep in reviewing changes to the budget, in the meantime we can explain what the heck the May Revise actually is.

The process for creating the state’ budget takes an entire year. The initial budget was unveiled  in January (and was much smaller than last year’s which meant cuts to many programs).

The May Revise represents the second draft of the budget and happens four months or so after the first version is released. This version takes into account the changes in revenue and expenditure estimates that have occurred since the initial January proposal and it reflects notes from lots of people and organizations who want the budget to include their priorities.

Here’s the state’s process and timeline of producing and finalizing the budget:

🛑 See ya later AB 1000

Our effort to protect jobs and expand California’s middle class, we opposed AB 1000, legislation that would have made it nearly impossible for warehouses and even big box stores like Target, to operate in the state. Masquerading as an environmental bill, AB 1000 would have made it harder for warehouse workers to access their jobs while increasing travel time (and emissions) for fleet trucks. We’re happy it’s in the waste bin of 2023 legislative history.

🏠 It’s clear who wants growth

“Texas builds housing at three times the rate of California.” That’s the tweet. And it’s depressing. We can change that reality with good policy and CEQA modernization.

Image of scientists climbing a Sequoia treet.