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California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA)

New Appointee to California Transportation Commission: Executive Director of TransForm

3:42 PM PDT on March 23, 2021

Darnell Grisby, TransForm Executive Director and California Transportation Commissioner

Governor Newsom appointed the Executive Director of TransForm, Darnell Grisby, to the California Transportation Commission (CTC). The appointment is one more sign that the commission could be on a different path from the one it has followed for years.

At the same time, Newsom reappointed 97-year old Commissioner Joseph Tavaglione to his fifth four-year term. Tavaglione, a real estate developer and contractor, has been a mostly quiet presence on the commission over the past several years.

The CTC controls the purse strings for most transportation funding in California, making decisions about priorities in spending, allocating money to approved projects, and holding contractors and agencies accountable for following timelines. In the last few years its membership has been evolving from mostly representatives of groups that have a financial stake in transportation funding decisions - such as labor and developers - to include more representatives of people affected by the projects.

Governor Newsom's appointment of Grisby is in line with this shift towards broader representation on the Commission. It is also in line with the policy shift signaled by Newsom's Executive Orders on reducing fossil fuel use and aligning state funding with climate goals, as well as a general, gradual shift in state policy towards encouraging sustainable, environmentally friendly, and equitable transportation options. That shift was most recently signaled by the release of the state's Climate Action Plan for Transportation Infrastructure, or CAPTI, to guide "discretionary" transportation funding decisions towards more sustainable modes.

As Executive Director of TransForm, Grisby leads one of the foremost advocacy groups in California working to align land use and transportation planning with climate, sustainability, and equity goals. For years TransForm has collected data and developed programs to share information on issues like the connection between parking and greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, he brings almost a decade of experience working on transit policy at the national level as Director of Policy Development and Research at the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).

The national capital is "a challenging political environment," especially for people trying to do anything outside of its traditional way of doing things, he told Streetsblog. "I learned a lot from those nine years in Washington - about how public transit operates, what agencies need, and what their perspectives are, as well as about issues facing the rider public," he said. At the CTC he hopes to be able to "highlight the importance of transit, walking, and biking to creating a robust economy."

In a statement to TransForm supporters, Grisby spelled out the importance of transportation in helping rebuild the economy post-pandemic.

California’s transportation system helped us become one of the most robust and diverse economies on the planet. Now, with the strong adoption of efforts such as CAPTI, a plan to guide state transportation investments towards sustainable options, we can create a just recovery that ensures another generation of the California Dream. Improving mobility for historically underserved communities, especially in inland California, will produce economic and social benefits for everyone. Making our mobility system work for all users will be a source of power for Californians.

I have no illusions that this will be an easy endeavor, but I am absolutely certain it is a worthy and necessary one. I look forward to our work together.

For Grisby, "the key is to create a mobility network that works for all users." And that is done by centering people, rather than technology or purely economic outcomes. "If you center people, it is better because people will thrive, and then the economy will thrive as well," he said. This is in contrast to the economic philosophy that has been the rule over the last forty or so years that "was more extractive, and that utilized people as inputs."

"Change is on the way," he said. "It's underway - and people will increasingly feel it with time."

And it makes sense that this change would be led by California, which has always been a home for innovators, and dreamers. But, as Grisby pointed out, "We're also very fragile."

Guaranteeing that any shifts go in a positive direction - toward sustainability, equity, and environmental responsibility - "will require a combination of political deftness and a focus on results for the people, as well as data that shows our thinking works," he said. "It's a legacy I take seriously."

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