SAN JOSE — Hundreds of business and political leaders gathered in San Jose to consider the advantages of merging the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley into a single region, sharing everything from city dumps to water treatment plants as communities sprawl across borders.
Leaders attending the State of the Valley conference Friday noted that Bay Area residents, businesses and local governments face the same challenges, from gridlock and earthquakes to steep housing prices and climate change.
They said the region, which amounts to the world's 13th-largest economy, should continue to boom if they coordinate their planning and consider merging transit systems, police and fire services and even city governments.
Technology forecaster Paul Saffo told conference participants that sharing everything from landfills to police helicopters could make the entire area more efficient, save money and help businesses remain competitive.
"Powerful regions are the new basic unit of governments in the 21st century," said Saffo, pointing to Singapore and Hong Kong. "City states are the powerful nexus of power, commerce, culture and identity."
Stretching from the rolling vineyards in north Sonoma County to the sprawling estates of southern Santa Clara County, the Bay Area has 6.9 billion residents living in 101 cities, centered in the tech-rich Silicon Valley and San Francisco.
One simple start would be to get the 27 separate transit systems that residents currently navigate to look and feel like one, with the same paint, fares and a merged schedule, said Egon Terplan, a regional planning director at the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association.
He said the Bay area should look to examples like Washington, D.C., for inspiration on putting jobs near transit. And he said Portland and Minneapolis have managed to coordinate neighboring governments and services.
The conference follows the release of a 2013 Index of Silicon Valley this week which found the region is leading the country out of the recession with 92,000 new jobs last year. And the report found those jobs are well paid, high-tech positions: a San Jose high school graduate earns 60 percent more than a college graduate in Flint, Mich., the report said.
The index and the conference were sponsored by Joint Venture Silicon Valley Network and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, both nonprofits associated with the region's businesses and governments.