Bay Area business leaders consider 'city-state' model

SAN JOSE, Calif.

If you were to split off the Bay Area from the rest of California, it would be the world's 13th largest economy. No one is suggesting independence from California, but some people are suggesting the consolidation of cities, counties, and agencies like fire departments to create a regional powerhouse.

As you drive around the Bay Area, it's often difficult to know when you've crossed from one city to another. There are 101 municipalities in the nine Bay Area counties. Technology futurist Paul Saffo is part of a growing movement calling for the Bay area to recognize itself as a city-state, the nine Bay Area counties, maybe even more, operating as one.

"So it's big enough to have global impact but it's small enough that everybody knows where they belong in the region and we have a strong regional identity. We need to step up to a new rule," Saffo said.

Transit agencies, police and fire departments, and governance would be consolidated to save money and to be more efficient. Some cities, such as Sunnyvale and Los Gatos, have already taken steps in that direction. "It's not about hard boundaries, it's about cooperation. And, we need to reach out and cooperate more with Santa Cruz County, San Joaquin County, and beyond," Saffo said

Would this make sense to business leaders and politicians?

"For business, you could see a reduced layer of red tape. Businesses would know where to go to solve their issues. They wouldn't have to go to multiple agencies," said San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber President Matthew MaHood.

But the strongest opposition might come from residents who want local officials to be held accountable to voters. "If 43 cities turn into one city, how local is that? And how many officials are there?" asks Linda Spangler of Los Gatos. "No, no, not a good thing."

No one thinks this will happen overnight, but some people are suggesting the city-state could be created in small steps like, for example, when the city manager or fire chief retires. The idea was brought up Friday morning at the State of the Valley Conference and is sure to spark a lot of debate.

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