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About this blog: I grew up in Los Angeles and moved to the area in 1963 when I started graduate school at Stanford. Nancy and I were married in 1977 and we lived for nearly 30 years in the Duveneck school area. Our children went to Paly. We moved ...  (More)

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The Four E's--Part One

Uploaded: Jul 13, 2015
The Four E's—Part One

Some of my work involves the evaluation of large public projects such as air quality and emission reduction policies, transportation investments and land use policies. The agencies that do the evaluations usually include information on the 4E's—Economy, Environment, Equity and Efficiency. I believe in them. But believing that we need to balance four priorities pushes one away from extreme or one priority only solutions that many people believe strongly are the right way to go. This blog is about some of these examples and potential conflicts.

So, for example, the California Air Resources Board (ARB), in charge of state policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, conducts analysis on the impacts of these policies on the overall Economy (I help with reviewing these analyses) and on emission reductions and other environmental impacts (Environment). But the ARB also considers the impact of policies on various groups (Equity) and commits resources from the cap and trade revenues to reduce environmental impacts and help low income residents and communities. And in developing emission reduction alternatives the ARB looks at the Efficiency of policies in relation to costs.

Similarly the South Coast Air Quality Management District develops and evaluates air quality regulations in Southern California. Under law, they are required to conduct an analysis of the impact of these policies on the overall economy, on individual industries, groups of residents and on communities. They have a social equity stakeholder group. Also by law they are required to rank alternatives in terms of cost effectiveness.

Regional land use and transportation agencies like ABAG/MTC and their Southern California counterpart SCAG evaluate the impact of their policies on the overall economy, on the environment, on groups and communities and, especially for transportation investments, look at the cost effectiveness of alternatives. They, too, have a social equity stakeholder group.

In this work the agencies deal with advocates who work 24/7 for their cause, whether it be global warming, concern for low income residents and communities or their industry. I have friends who do the same.

These different perspectives can bring conflict. The Governor has a strong commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and a deep concern about global climate change. But his policies take the economy, equity and effectiveness into account. He has a strong commitment to help low income residents and communities. But his priorities also include a strong economy and concern for impacts on the state budget. He is trying to develop additional funds for subsidized housing (and has allocated cap and trade funds for this purpose) but also understands that our housing shortage and affordability crisis affects the economy and many residents who have incomes well above the poverty level.

In this series I am going to explore how these four priorities—Economy, Environment, Equity and Efficiency appear to me in state and local policy choices.

I will start with a few personal statements. I support the efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality. But, because I care about efficiency (which also includes impacts on taxpayers), I have not so far been convinced that the High Speed Rail project makes sense or that Bus Rapid Transit on El Camino makes sense. I would like to reduce auto use but for me it must make economic sense including counting environmental impacts.

The TMA committee in Palo Alto is examining policies to reduce single occupancy travel into downtown and at the last meeting, they seem to take both economic effectiveness and equity into account. We shall see what they come up with but I came away optimistic. And I hope they start with a pilot project to see whether we can induce commuters to avoid single occupancy driving and parking demand before committing large sums of money or raising expectations.

Similarly, I hope Palo Alto can develop a high level of service shuttle system but I have no idea whether the ridership is there. I would try a pilot program. My concern with high speed rail ore El Camino BRT, on the other hand, was that in the absence of strong evidence, very large sums are committed or proposed.

On the other hand sometimes multiple priorities are aligned but old ways of thinking get in the way, at least in my perspective. Part 2 will make the case that a strong economy is better in most respects than a weak economy and that because businesses face a challenge in recruiting talent, that they have become leaders in advocating for investments in transportation and a clean environment and for policies that expand the supply and affordability of housing. So, while my clients are public agencies and I defend most environmental regulations against attacks by industry groups, I do not think businesses are inherently or usually evil or greedy. Rather I view them as partners with whom the public sector should respect even as they bargain hard for reasonable public benefits associated with private investments that create some adverse impacts.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by IRVIN DAWID, a resident of another community,
on Jul 14, 2015 at 10:16 am

I got stuck at TMA Committee????

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Jul 14, 2015 at 10:34 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

Irvin, here is a description of the effort and committee.

[Web Link TMA descroption]

Also yesterday in a new recognition of multiple priorities I read that the Pope said his emphasis on helping the poor did not mean he overlooked the struggles of many non poor residents and promised to pay more attention to middle class challenges while continuing to emphasize the Church's teaching about poverty.

[Web Link Pope's statement]

Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jul 14, 2015 at 5:01 pm

"I hope they start with a pilot project to see whether we can induce commuters to avoid single occupancy driving and parking demand before committing large sums of money or raising expectations."

An old pol's advice: Never do a pilot if you are promoting an agenda. If it fails, the agenda is toast for the duration of the community's collective memory.

Posted by IRVIN DAWID, a resident of another community,
on Jul 15, 2015 at 4:22 pm

According to the website, Web Link , "Palo Alto?s Transportation Management Association is tasked with the challenge of reducing Palo Alto?s SOV (single-occupant-vehicle) traffic by 30 percent over a three year period, by developing, managing and marketing transportation programs."

#1 goal should be to eliminate "free parking" (it's not really free - a better term is unpriced) in city lots and downtown streets. My understanding is that Menlo Park is "experimenting" (for lack of a better word) with paid parking according to the Downtown Menlo Park Parking Study
Web Link

Redwood City, San Mateo, Burlingame, So. S.F., Daly City all charge for parking. How can you manage parking effectively if you don't price it? And managing parking is key to reducing traffic congestion.Plus, it's necessary for downtown businesses as more spaces become available.

Posted by Michael, a resident of University South,
on Jul 15, 2015 at 5:13 pm

" #1 goal should be to eliminate "free parking" "

That just further burdens the workers who need to drive without addressing the base problem: excessive jobs concentration.

We need a program to set and actually enforce office building occupation density.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Jul 15, 2015 at 5:45 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

The downtown parking challenge is a great example of where the four E's can offer different perspectives.

The economy comes in from the perspective of not letting parking hinder the economic growth of the city. Reducing single occupancy vehicle traffic brings the environment in by reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Pricing parking is favored by most economists on efficiency grounds. Free parking can give poor incentives for reducing auto use and can exacerbate congestion and time delays.

And there are several equity issues. Free neighborhood parking can harm residents. Costly parking pricing can be a challenge for low wage workers. Some workers may need to drive more than others for various reasons.

I felt positive about the TMA meetings I have attended because these multiple priorities are being discussed with a view to finding good solutions.

Posted by Justin, a resident of Mountain View,
on Jul 15, 2015 at 10:06 pm

Great post. It's hard to get people to consider policy based on rational expectations instead of emotion. For example, some transit advocates may label you as part of the pro-car lobby for not supporting every transit project, no matter the cost-effectiveness. On the other hand, people will not let go of their free public parking no matter the demand for a scarce resource.

Posted by Marie, a resident of Midtown,
on Jul 15, 2015 at 11:09 pm

Marie is a registered user.

Many years ago, Palo Alto had parking meters downtown and charged for parking. When Stanford Shopping Center was developed, downtown was devastated. One way to make downtown's retail more competitive was to remove the parking meters in order to allow downtown retail to compete with Stanford.

Those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it. When Stanford Shopping Center starts charging for parking, then Palo Alto can consider charging retail shoppers for parking. Otherwise, downtown retail will become even more uncompetitive.

Posted by Chris, a resident of University South,
on Jul 16, 2015 at 11:31 am

You pay for parking at Stanford in the prices you pay to shop there.
If you think otherwise, you are fooling yourself.
Charging for parking will reduce the amount that the downtown district will have to come up with to provide
adequate parking.

Or are you one of the people who wants to stick ALL the taxpayers of Palo Alto with the parking bills for a the smaller number of people who INSIST on driving downtown?

Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jul 16, 2015 at 12:01 pm

More advice from an old pol:

Another well begun thread has gone into the weeds, fixating on a perticular tree and ignoring the forest. (I have a large book of recipes for mixing metaphors, but now I also digress.)

Social engineering is an art. Groups are much like ropes. You get much more predictable results when you lead than when you push.

Playing with parking fees is pushing on a rope. The outcome will certainly not be the single simple intended result. Humans are very ingenious at solving life's little problems to their own advantage.

So, how about some leadership?

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