Regionalism is growing like crabgrass. It quietly removes ballot-box control by citizens. It makes it impossible for citizens to correct abuse, greed, or plain stupidity by recalling those in charge. Yet, when we ask folks whether they are aware of growing regionalism, their response is usually either “No” or “What’s regionalism?” These responses are completely understandable, since regionalism is sold to the public as innovative ideas that will benefit us all, while the downsides are not part of the conversation.
In an effort to bring more awareness to regionalism’s downsides, we offer this article, based mostly on the work of Trish Cypher, a Bay Area activist and author of several research publications on government structures:
Background: Regional “governments” – better described as regional “governance” - are created by forming joint powers agreements among jurisdictions such as cities and counties. The concept of joint powers between jurisdictions has existed since the 1920’s, and has produced beneficial results such as fire management, water management, and bridge construction. However, the vast expansion of these powers, especially in California, has produced downsides that should be of concern to all of us.
Downside #1: Once formed, regional governance is immune from voters’ powers of recall, petition, initiative, or referendum. Nothing can be done if voters detect lack of representation, illegal actions, or bad decisions.
Downside #2: Taxation without representation was the battle cry of this Republic. Yet regional governance has the authority to tax without any input from voters or any say at the ballot box. Cities need to go to voters for any increase in financing; regional governance does not. Thanks to incremental financing preset in regional governance, increased tax revenues derived from increased property values are automatically sucked up. Regional governance can sell bonds at will, without voter approval.

Downside #3: Regional governance requires “public input,” and meetings galore are called for this purpose. However, there is no requirement for any response to public input! Regional governance hears you and comfortably ignores you – or tweaks the plans just a tad when convenient.
Downside #4: Government by unelected bureaucrats not by elected officials. The response that elected officials originally create regional governance, and therefore, regional governance does not constitute government by bureaucrats is a stretch. Once created, regional governance is on its own, operating without any influence from voters or elected officials.
Downside #5: Stealth enabling legislation. Independently, each enabling legislation sounds beneficial to the average voter. California Assembly Bill 32 promised to limit greenhouse gases. Senate Bill 375 promised “sustainable communities” in order to enable the promises of AB 32. San Francisco’s Housing Trust promised “affordable housing” to fulfill the “equity” requirements of SB 375. California Senate Bill 1 (still working its way through challenges in the California legislature) promise money to fund all the previous promises. Locally in the Bay Area, all this legislation has enabled the biggest regional governance we have experienced so far: Plan Bay Area.
The expansion of regional governance threatens government by elected officials and rules promulgated by voters at the ballot box. Regional governance seeks to control all aspects of our lives, such as housing, the economy, transportation, and land use. We especially call your attention to enabling legislation SB1 and its draconian changes in land use and eminent domain.
So, is it all hopeless? Are we done for? Not if the average citizen takes action in demanding that their elected representatives vote against forthcoming enabling legislation, and repeal the existing ones.
(1) Governments Working Together: A Citizen’s Guide to Joint Powers Agreements, by Trish Cypher and Colin Grinnell.

(2) Democracy, Plan Bay Area and Sustainable Development, by Trish Cypher.