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Behind the Scenes


Marty Tuttle
Executive Director, Sacramento Area Council of Governments

Profile produced by Pat McConahay


Clogged highways and byways are more and more a normal part of life in the Sacramento region. One person people turn to to steer us toward transportation solutions is Marty Tuttle.

Tuttle, a fourth generation Yuba City native, is at the helm of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments. SACOG, as it's known, primarily coordinates transportation planning and funding for the entire Sacramento region. It's a six-county joint powers agency. Getting the counties to cooperate on regional growth issues, including transportation, is one of Tuttle's missions.

Cooperation wasn't always the case among SACOG members. Once considered a backwater organization, it had difficulty even attracting board members. Past SACOG Chair Tom Stallard said that all changed when Tuttle was hired as executive director in 1999.

Tom Stallard, Former SACOG Chair: "And we wanted somebody really new and different, and Marty ended up being that person. We've not been disappointed."

Board member Muriel Johnson says Tuttle's forward thinking has led SACOG to take on issues beyond transportation.

Muriel Johnson, SACOG Board Member: "But now we're looking at air quality more seriously. We're looking at new events in the future and a way to work regionally."

One of his major accomplishments was getting El Dorado and Placer Counties back to the regional planning table after pulling out 25 years ago. You could say that building bridges both literally and figuratively is part of Tuttle's life.

Tuttle spearheaded the Vallejo bridge project while managing the Solano Transportation Authority for three years. Prior to that, the U.C Davis economics graduate served as the top aide to former Assemblyman Tom Hannigan. Hannigan has nothing but praise for his energetic protégé.

Tom Hannigan, Former Assemblyman: "He had very high energy, very high energy. He had good organizational skills. You know, these are phrases, but he thinks outside the box."

Tuttle thinks SACOG has the potential to be the best regional planning agency in the country, citing its staff talent and the issues it must address. And SACOG certainly has the leadership in Marty Tuttle to do it.

How would you describe the mission of SACOG?

SACOG is the regional planning agency for the six counties -- the Sacramento region of Sacramento County, Yolo, Placer, El Dorado, and Yuba and Sutter -- and the key function is to be a forum for regional problem solving.

And one of your main focuses is transportation…

Transportation is the core business at SACOG. The federal transportation money flows to SACOG and goes out to the cities, counties, and transit agencies. And now 75% of the state money also flows through regional agencies like SACOG, and because of the amount of money that really is the core responsibility.

Why is it so key for an area like this to have counties cooperating on issues?

Well, I think the Sacramento region is just poised for greatness. The region has got great weather. It's got flat terrain, which makes it great for biking and walking, and there are these twenty-one major rivers and streams in the Sacramento region. It's an incredible place that has the challenge of how to address growth. If it does it right, the growth can actually benefit our quality of life and if it's done poorly it can really degrade. So, it's important for the cities and the counties to work well together and make sure that that growth does benefit us.

Why did you want to come work for SACOG?

Well, for me it was a great experience to come back full circle, because I grew up here in this region and I'm a fourth generation of the Sacramento region. I worked a lot in the Bay Area with a transportation agency there and it was an opportunity for me to come home and bring the skill set that I had learned back to my home, and I think that was an incredible opportunity.

One of your goals, as I understand it, is to connect the emerging job centers in Folsom, Rancho Cordova, etc. Why is that important?

Well, this region is emerging as an economic unit. The twenty-plus cities and the six counties really are an economic region and that is a new recognition, I think, that we are growing to the point where one city, one county are really dependent on each other. I mean what's good for Woodland is good for Wheatland in terms of continued prosperity. What we haven't had in the Sacramento region is any regional planning. Even though this agency existed, it really has not been a force in terms of getting cities and counties to work together. So, we need to work together and tie the job centers that emerging in South Placer, El Dorado, Folsom, Rancho Cordova with downtown Sacramento and make sure they are connected so that this region continues to move up. If they're not connected then we sort of kill the golden goose.

So why was this agency not working in that way? Like you say wasn't that its mission?

I think SACOG benefits from the change in federal and state law that sends more of the transportation money for local programming so that it can be distributed by the local board -- the regional board, which is made up of the cities and county representatives -- generally the county supervisor, mayor from the cities. It's an opportunity that I think is just emerging because there's a growing sense of camaraderie among these elected officials that we're all in this together. So it's not only just with elected officials, but I also think it's with business leaders, and even the media I think is beginning to recognize that this region has incredible potential if it works well together. We've had a couple major achievements in the last couple of years on regional efforts. For instance, Raley Field involved a city and two counties in order to finance it. The Capitol Corridor trains that move from Placer down to the Bay Area with stops in Sacramento and Davis are truly regional projects that have been successful. So if we can continue to take advantage of that momentum, I think we can do some other great things for the Sacramento region.

Speaking of the Capitol Corridor, that was one of your key accomplishments, as I understand it, when you were working with Tom Hannigan. Tell me about that.

Well, the Capitol Corridor was a great project to take from inception to completion. Then to see it now and move on and continue to be successful is very gratifying. It is truly a regional project. You could say that it's interregional: it connects both the Sacramento region and the Bay Area and provides an alternative to I-80. It's only going to continue to be successful. Anytime you drive anywhere to the Bay Area, you recognize the congestion you get in Fairfield and Vacaville. The Capitol Corridor trains are here to stay and I think they're going to be a great component.

You've been quoted as saying you wanted to "Make Sacramento a better place to live" through more coalition building. What do you mean by that?

Well, I think that given our weather, our geography, and the recreational opportunities that we have with the rivers, this can be a very unique place -- not just in California, but throughout the world. It's a great place to live. It has its challenges though; we have a major air quality challenge because we live in a basin that does not have a lot of opportunities to have the air move around. So air quality is a major challenge, but it's an issue; transportation, air quality, housing, open space recreation really involves more than just government. Government cannot solve these bigger issues alone. It does take a coalition with business and the public to solve these problems.

Could you tell us about the award you received from the American Lung Association?

SACOG got recognized by the American Lung Association for a program where we worked with the five air districts here in the Sacramento region to pull together funding to change out diesel engines in heavy duty trucks. That was really another major accomplishment, a milestone for regionalism by having the five air districts work well together along with the truck industry because it impacted both public and private sector trucks to get them to operate more efficiently and more cleanly.

How did you feel about getting that award?

Well, I thought it was very helpful in terms of acknowledging that greater things can occur if we work well together and my hope then is that it would provide more momentum for regional cooperation, and I think it has.

Also, SACOG was named "Transportation Organization of the Year." Can you tell us about that?

Well, SACOG has been very fortunate to attract some great staff and we're continuing to do that. We're trying to make this a great place to work with this mission of enhancing the quality of life in the Sacramento region. Our ability to attract some really outstanding staff I think is complementing the interest from the local elected officials into regional problem solving. So, as they turn to us as a forum for regional problem solving they have the ability to take advantage of some great staff, and the value that we can generate here at SACOG really provides a great value for the cities and the counties.

I understand that another one of your goals is to be able to better measure the success of the organization. What do you mean by that?

I think any organization needs to point to its successes in order to continue to attract funding both from the federal government, from the non-profit sector, and so on. You need to be able to point to tangible successes and I think that the cities and the counties here in this region, they are our customers. We need to be able to point to them the value of regional cooperation and be able to point to successes on fairly regular basis that we are making great strides and that it all kind of builds momentum for even bigger projects.

You spent thirteen years with Assemblyman Tom Hannigan. He was sort of your mentor; hat did you learn from him?

Well, Tom is a family man with incredible integrity. I picked that up and was able to see that at least five days a week, sometimes six days a week. Time in and time out in terms of being able to treat people with a lot of respect and get that in return and really be committed to doing the right thing. He was a great example.

Anything else that you learned from him…?

Oh, I think the commitment to telling it the way it is and addressing whatever the facts are -- and they may be brutal facts -- but just putting all the facts on the table and making a difficult decision. But one that has been thought through, that is the right thing to do despite any political consequences. I think that was a tremendous example.

I also understand that at one point when you got out of college you wanted to build bridges.

Right. As a kid, I played with the Tonka trucks in the backyard and it was always a goal of mine to build a bridge. I had the opportunity in Solano to be able to work on two bridge projects - to move them to construction. The bridge at Vallejo -- the Carquinas Bridge -- and then the Benicia /Martinez Bridge. We were able to kick start those projects and get them to construction and I felt like I had a role in that. So, it will be nice to see those two spans completed.

When I read that it seemed to me it was a metaphor for what you're doing here: you're building bridges between the county governments.

I think so. This is a great opportunity to be in -- a great region that is home and then be able to work with great elected officials and really talented staff and folks in the public that are interested in the bigger cause of the future of this region. It's just a great opportunity to have a role as a coalition builder and its sort of humbling to be able to see such great people work together because you can see the opportunity to achieve some great things.

What's the best part of the job?

I think it's working with folks who are committed to a great quality of life for Sacramento -- and then be able to selfishly take advantage of things like Raley Field, Capitol Corridor trains, see a better urban design of our region. Something I can live with for the rest of my life.

What's the most difficult part of the job?

Well, I think both the best and the worst is working with folks. Sometimes there are bad days. There are good days and there are bad days, and occasionally you'll see some rough days where people are tired and stressed out and probably not thinking as clearly as they should be. You see some downsides in personal behavior, which are not always the best.

What's the most important business lesson that you've learned over the years?

I think the most critical lesson is: do all you can to research an option to solve problems, but deal with the best data you can get. Pull together the best data because better data will make for better decisions. When you take that data, be able to look at it clearly and see what options you have. The key in this business is to get the expertise around you and spend it to get the best data possible, whether it be a transportation project or land uses. You need great data and I think that's probably the best lesson. The more information you have the better a decision will be.

Speaking personally, where do you see yourself going from here?

I'd love to be a farmer; someday I'd like to be a farmer. I'm in no hurry, but I love to grow nectarine trees. That's what I love to do is grow nectarine trees and have the ability to spend more time with my family would be something I'd love to do.

What about SACOG? Where are you taking SACOG or where do you see it going?

Well, I think SACOG has the potential to be the best regional planning agency in the country. We clearly have the staff talent here. We clearly have the issues to address. These are some big challenges. I think we have the willingness of elected officials to work well together. It's going to be a struggle, but I think we have all the components to really develop a regional planning agency that this region can be proud of, and what this region really deserves.

What alliances will be essential to your future success?

For our transportation program to be successful we need to link it to housing so that we have higher densities around our transit hubs so that transit buses and rail can pay for themselves. We need to link ourselves to land use decisions, and I think we're headed that way and the sooner we get there I think the air quality will benefit. We also need to look at recreation and tie that into transportation so that we're just not making transportation decisions in a vacuum -- that we recognize that it is linked to office development for housing, recreation, and it's all part of a bigger system.


The complete text of New Valley Episode 110 -- Movers & Shakers...


Presentation also made possible by a grant from
the Great Valley Center


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