The nine-county Bay Area may be becoming an anachronism. According to the Mercury News, the pursuit of affordable living has turned the Bay Area into a “vast, 21-county megaregion” where commuters are driving longer and longer hours, and commutes that start at 3 a.m. are becoming the norm for some.
The definition of "Bay Area suburbs" has been elastic ever since the last dot-com boom had elected officials as far away as Tracy, CA wooing tech workers and their allegedly solvent employers with the lure of more affordable living and working space. That sprawl has continued sprawling according to the Merc. Their latest long-read on the ever-further spread of Bay Area workers commuting to Central Valley housing is packed with interactive maps, animated imagery of hopelessly backed-up freeways, and firsthand tales of Bay Area workers fleeing far east for new homes “just an hour’s train ride away” from their workplaces.
But an hour is getting to be on the short side, according to many of commuters the Bay Area News Group profiled. One gentleman moved to San Joaquin County’s Lathrop, a quick 75-mile drive from San Francisco, and has to leave his house by 3 a.m. to beat the traffic.
“If he leaves after 4 a.m., the time he spends sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic more than doubles,” writes Bay Area News Group’s Erin Baldessari.
The report notes that the Central Valley has seen a 43% increase in workers who commute to Bay Area since 2010. Commuters from Merced County are sitting through commutes longer than 100 minutes each way. But the somewhat-closer San Joaquin County has become the most popular displacement place for Bay Area commuters, with nearly 60,000 making that trip both ways each day.
“Over the next five years, you’ll see a pivot point where this [area] makes a lot of sense to a lot of people,” San Joaquin Partnership executive director Mike Ammann tells Bay Area News Group, perhaps not contemplating how little sense it makes to drive four hours each way.
Sure, many of us have had long commutes, and we’ve learned it makes sense to take some sort of train or subway where you can get work done, cut down on emissions, and leave the driving to someone else. A proposed rail system called Valley Link would bring that special public transportation magic to Central Valley areas as far-flung as Stockton, connecting San Joaquin County to the Dublin Pleasanton BART station.
The only catch? It won’t be done until 2026 at the earliest — a year earlier than the expected completion of the Merced-to-Bakersfield high-speed rail, according to Gov. Newsom last week. That means that theoretically there would then be a multi-rail link between Bakersfield and San Francisco, starting in eight years.
There are up and downs to sprawling our Bay Area lives into places that are not the Bay Area, and some communities won’t be thrilled with the intrusion. But ‘maker spaces’ like HATCH Workshop in Stockton are popping up to change some cities’ fabric and general reputation.
“In San Francisco, at that time, we just felt like the first wave of gentrifiers, and it didn’t feel good,” furniture maker Jared Rusten told Bay Area News Group. “The thing that’s so exciting with downtown Stockton is that so much of it was just abandoned. There was nobody to displace. It’s like a blank canvas.”
We’ll probably hear more similar stories soon. The Oakland arts collective NIMBY is being displaced in favor of a well-funded marijuana grow, and longtime artist community Vulcan Studios is also up for sale and its tenants endangered.