The San Luis Obispo Council of Governments (SLOCOG) carries out the metropolitan planning organization (MPO) responsibilities in the San Luis Obispo region, consisting of the County of San Luis Obispo. This organization existed as a transportation planning body to comply with state regulations prior to the areas urbanized area designation. The urbanized population in San Luis Obispo was 50,305 as of the 1990 Census. The most recent Census showed an increase in population to 53,498. The Census-defined urbanized area includes the central city of San Luis Obispo and portions of the county of the same name. The SLOCOG planning area, however, covers the entire county.
Steps to Designation
SLOCOG had been in existence since 1968 when the federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) designated it as the region's recipient of federal housing funds. In 1972, the state added the regional transportation planning agency (RTPA) functions to SLOCOG. RTPAs are mandated by California state law and charged with the preparation of regional transportation plans and transportation improvement programs. California law had also been revised twice in the early 1990s so that RTPAs could better conform with the Intermodal Surface Transportation and Efficiency Act (ISTEA). There are 43 RTPAs in the state, 18 of which are also federally recognized MPOs. According to SLOCOGs director, this similarity in mission and history of RTPA and MPO responsibilities being borne by the same agency made SLOCOGs assumption of federal transportation planning duties a logical extension. Since SLOCOG already had a functioning transportation planning program, the additional federal transportation planning dollars were sufficient to fully fund the added responsibilities of an MPO at no additional cost to member jurisdictions.
Once the SLOCOG Board expressed an interest in taking on the MPO role, the majority of the effort spent preceding official designation as an MPO was on working with SLOCOGs eight member governments to change the organizations joint powers agreement (JPA) to assume the MPO designation and responsibilities. The JPA was the document outlining the terms of the members voluntary relationship to and support for SLOCOG. After the SLOCOG board had approved changes to the JPA, it was circulated to each city council and county board of supervisors for formal ratification. After the JPA was approved by all member jurisdictions, it was forwarded to Caltrans along with a resolution and memorandum of understanding signed by Caltrans and SLOCOG. Caltrans then forwarded the package of documentation to the cabinet level state agency, the Housing, Business and Transportation Agency (in which the Caltrans agency is housed) for formal designation on behalf of the governor. This occurred on July 1, 1992, roughly nine months after the first contact between Caltrans and SLOCOG.
ISSUES AND CHALLENGES
Housing and Staffing the MPO
A couple of years after formation, SLOCOG moved out of the county offices and into their own space. Caltrans described the motivation for doing so as half political, half survival. The president of the SLOCOG board at the time had explained to the SLOCOG director that she was uncomfortable having the county sign the staffs checks. She was interested in moving in a direction that would provide SLOCOG with the additional independence that its own space could provide. In addition to the presidents concerns, staff had internal fears about SLOCOGs future within the county government. As a result of the recession in the early 1990s, the countys revenues had declined, and the planning department was viewed as being overstaffed. SLOCOGs director learned that layoffs would be based on seniority and most of the recently hired transportation planners that assumed MPO responsibilities would likely be laid off and replaced with more senior land use planners from the planning department. Desiring to maintain its professional transportation planning staff, SLOCOG began the process that culminated in independence from the county in 1995. SLOCOG secured its own budget and benefits in addition to moving into their own office space. Although the process was logistically difficult, the director sites it as having been a positive move.
Transit Operator Involvement
Within a couple of years of the MPO designation, four of the small transit operators in the county consolidated to form San Luis Obispo Regional Transit Authority (SLORTA). The MPO director views the formation of SLORTA as a major success. Although the consolidation of the four systems into SLORTA was not directly related to the formation of the MPO, the SLORTA board features the same membership as that of SLOCOG (but with its own staff). As a result, the MPO director explained that transit is very well represented on the SLOCOG boardinstead of one or two transit representatives, we have twelve serving with two hats.
Since SLOCOG meets federal standards there is no emissions budget that the MPO must monitor through a regional model. Historically SLOCOG has developed city or subregional models, but has not developed a countywide model. The City of San Luis Obispo has its own central-area model which SLOCOG has employed and the county had also provided the MPO with a subregional model covering the southern portion of the planning area. Both models have been merged by SLOCOG to create a large subregional traffic model. Both respondents agreed that this joining of products has not been the best way to build a model. GIS work has also been done on a piecemeal basis, with each of the cities doing their own mapping. SLOCOG has recently received a statewide grant, however, that provides funds to develop a comprehensive GIS system in coordination with the seven cities, the county, Caltrans and California Polyltechnic University.
Note: Two officials involved in the assumption of MPO responsibilities by SLOCOG were contacted for this study. These officials were the SLOCOG Director, and an official from Caltrans.
Source: San Luis Obispo Council of Governments website: www.slocog.org