The Livermore Valley Chamber of Commerce Keynote speaker Micah Weinberg, Ph.D., who also spoke at a Chamber luncheon last year, addressed the State of the Economy, stressing the need for connectivity between California’s diverse regions.

The event was the third in a series of four Wine Country Luncheons. It took place July 25 at Garré Vineyard & Winery.

“The economy, from the perspective of the macro economic statistics, is largely where it has been for the last five or six years. Were I to show you those charts, I would have to come up with new jokes, or old jokes that you’d forgotten, but the underlying data would be more or less the same,” Weinberg said. “So I’m going to pivot this year, and talk a little bit about the statewide context that the regional economy here in the Tri-Valley, and in the Bay Area, is operating within.”

The pivot aligns with Weinberg’s new position as CEO of California Forward (CA Fwd), a non-profit organization founded in 2008 that advocates for shared prosperity across all of the state’s regions and for improved government performance and accountability. Formerly, Weinberg served as president of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, a leading think tank focused on critical economic and policy issues facing the San Francisco/Silicon Valley region. Weinberg has moved from focusing on Bay Area challenges, such as housing and transportation, to the state as a whole.

“California is growing more quickly than the rest of the United States,” Weinberg said. “But to put this into a statewide context, there’s a mismatch. The vast majority of job growth is happening in coastal California, and in the regions of the San Jose metropolitan area, the Tri-Valley, San Francisco and Oakland.

“Then the population growth is happening in inland California. So what does that mean for the Tri-Valley? Well, stay off the roads,” he continued, garnering knowing chuckles from the audience. “I’m going to be talking about this statewide issue of regions rising together and figuring out how to better align what’s going on in inland California and coastal California. There are few places where this is more of a consequential conversation than here in the Tri-Valley, which is at the crossroads of so many different regions.”

Weinberg said that the Tri-Valley is important in the Northern California megaregion – both at the heart of economic growth and in danger of becoming a thoroughfare.

“If we have a ton of job growth west of here, and a ton of population growth east of here – unless we get safe catapults or rocket packs, we are going to keep seeing transportation and housing challenges,” he stated. “Yet there is nothing received from God that says what the future is going to look like. We, through our collective actions of planning and community organizing, get to determine how much this area is going to be the heart of it all and a node for connecting so many different things, versus the sort of nightmarish scenario which ends up with this being the equivalent of flyover country for California.”

Weinberg spoke about Regions Rising Together, a new initiative that brings together diverse leaders in every region over the course of the next year, to voice ideas and build a comprehensive plan that lifts every part of California.

“We need to do a better job of having state policy be reflective of the realities on the ground of the different regions in California, rather than just driven by partisan and interest group politics in Sacramento,” Weinberg said. “This is very important to the Newsom administration, and is an effort we are working hand-in-hand on. To have a successful economy requires people to come together across different communities, across different sectors of the economy, and do the hard work over a long period of time to understand that one election isn’t going to make or break shared prosperity in the state of California or in the country.”

Weinberg answered questions from a handful of the 150 attendees at the luncheon.

“How do you look at the relationship between local influence on things like housing, and the state’s role in that, and how that drives the fundamentals of economic development?” asked one attendee.

“One of the things that the state really needs is a broader housing-production strategy that is more tailored to the broad variety of different communities that we have here in California,” Weinberg said. “Transit-oriented development is going to be a piece of the solution. The biggest thing that can impact what happens in terms of housing development over the course of the next two to three years is what happens with the economy.”

Another attendee asked, “What about tying the housing requirement to the amount of jobs that are being created? Why isn’t there a bigger push to force the places that are creating the jobs to create a commensurate amount of housing?”

“Part of the problem is we have a lot of fairly arbitrary jurisdictional boundaries in California. We can say this is one town, and on the other side of the line is another town, but the truth is we all basically live in the same local area,” Weinberg said. “There is a tremendous inequity where you have certain jurisdictions that are creating a tremendous amount of jobs and benefiting financially from that, and other jurisdictions that are creating a tremendous amount of housing and benefiting from that. Having a substantially better job-to-housing balance is a huge piece of the challenge.”

A third attendee asked, “When will there be a viable option for commuters?”

“When we insist that there is one,” Weinberg stated. “Transportation networks don’t build themselves; they require funding and reform. One of the challenges is our existing transportation networks are byzantine; there are 28 to 30 different transportation agencies in the Bay Area, and the cost of operating those transportation networks is ridiculously high. There is public skepticism that ‘If I pay another $10 billion or $100 billion, is that actually going to make a difference in the transportation options that are available to me? We need to do some substantial reform of our transportation agencies and infrastructure to give the people in our community the confidence that if they’re going to vote for yet another bond measure or some mega measure, it is actually going to genuinely have an impact on their quality of life. I think there is some justifiable skepticism in the Bay Area about whether that would be the case, and that skepticism needs to be overcome.”

Another attendee said, “You asked what you could do to help us, and we’d really love your help in completing the funding for Valley Link, because that’s a big issue here. If you can help us with that, that would be awesome.”

The Valley Link project will connect Northern San Joaquin County communities to the Tri-Valley and Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) with frequent, fast rail service via the route of the historic Transcontinental Railroad right-of-way through the Altamont Pass.

“We’re going to be linking, one way or the other,” Weinberg said. “When and how – I can’t tell you for sure, but it is in the process of happening. We’re going to need substantially better transportation connectivity options.”

The fourth 2019 Wine Country Luncheon, featuring Congressman Eric Swalwell, will take place on Thursday, August 22, at Concannon Vineyard. Tickets are $55 for Chamber members, and $65 for “not yet” members.

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