Executive Director, Sacramento Area Council of Governments
by Pat McConahay
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.