MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger and
Rep. Mark DeSaulnier.

MTC-ABAG | During his time on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission Mark DeSaulnier, then a Contra Costa County Supervisor, often butted heads with Steve Heminger, the executive director of the influential regional body.

Now a U.S. congressman, DeSaulnier told Politico this week, “Someone should be held accountable,” for the repeated failures and safety concerns over the Bay Bridge’s new eastern span. DeSaulnier added he will offer legislation in Congress to help with costly overruns and maintenance for the troubled span.

The article, however, does not surmise who DeSaulnier thinks should have their feet put to the fire over repeated design failures on the bridge, although he suggests Gov. Jerry Brown should take some responsibility. But, a good bet is he’s referring to his old nemesis, Heminger.

In the past, Heminger has been known to blatantly threaten to pull transportation funding and projects from cities and counties of Bay Area officials who oppose his positions at the MTC. This has reportedly occurred to DeSaulnier and other, according to a long-time MTC representative. It is also a method for Heminger to consolidate his power.

The timing of any criticism against the MTC would not be surprising since Heminger recently led an unpopular proposal to absorb 15 planners from the nine-county Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG). To facilitate the move, MTC, led by Heminger, threatened to withhold state and federal funding for the housing-centric regional body. And the animosity among ABAG members is still raw when it comes to the ill-fated, but ballsy, attempt by Heminger.

Numerous officials protested Heminger’s gambit, but it wasn’t until the Oakland City Council last month formally directed its MTC representative, Mayor Libby Schaaf, to vote against Heminger’s power grab that it was blocked from the requisite number of votes needed for passage. Schaaf, who earlier supported Heminger’s proposal, ultimately skipped the meeting.

Instead, MTC representatives voted to study over the next six months whether to merge entirely with ABAG, a strategy even opponents of Heminger’s initial proposal, seem to support.

But even as Heminger’s plan was headed to defeat at last month’s heavily-attended MTC meeting, he still exhibited the cocksure persona that has made him unpopular among Bay Area elected officials. At one point, he seemed to mock ABAG members with a poignant reference to Star Wars. “We’re like the Death Star,” said Heminger, “and ABAG is the rebel planet fighting for freedom.”