Remembering John F. Foran, "Father of MTC"

MTC staff and commissioners past and present are mourning the loss of John F. Foran, the former California legislator known as the “Father of MTC,” whose legacy lives on through the agency he created. He died last Thursday in his San Francisco home at the age of 84, after battling cancer.

A San Francisco native and graduate of the University of San Francisco Law School, Foran was elected to the State Assembly in 1962. He served 11 years in that position, and as many years in the State Senate. He was the first legislator to serve as chairman of the Transportation Committee in both the California Assembly and Senate.

A prolific legislator, Foran authored numerous bills that tremendously improved the state’s transportation system, including Assembly Bill 363, which gave birth to MTC in 1970.

“He was a leader in recognizing significant issues and in creating institutions that could handle it,” said MTC Director of Legislation and Public Affairs Randy Rentschler.

Foran was an early champion of regionalism, and was adept at finding creative solutions to chaos. He designed MTC to tackle the region’s often disorganized and competitive transportation network, and to lay the foundation for future public transit development in a rapidly growing region. Taking shape just as the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system was coming online, MTC was positioned to make the most of the new regional rail system by fostering and integrating feeder transit lines. Under Foran’s vision, a highway-centric view of transportation gave way to a more balanced and environmentally sound approach to moving people in the Bay Area.

“There were always plenty of advocates for state and local governments, but the regional agenda was a bit of an orphan until John Foran and some of his contemporaries like former California legislators Jack Knox and Gene McAteer came along,” said MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger. “John was MTC’s founding father, and he was immensely proud of the agency that he created.”

Foran was also responsible for the bill that permitted MTC to use bridge toll revenues to improve transit systems in the bridge corridors, and for a gas tax that generated $2-3 billion for state and local roads in the 1980s. He authored the Pure Air Act in 1968, which was later adapted by Congress as the Federal Clean Air Act. He is also to thank for the expansion of the Golden Gate Bridge District’s mission to include bus and ferry service.

Foran later worked as a lobbyist for MTC, and employees at the agency recall feeling his guidance even after he retired in 2004. He was a confident advisor, and a supportive friend and colleague. “John had a strong backbone, and he was tenacious, and these qualities also helped to make him a good legislator,” Heminger said.

“He was our George Washington,” Rentschler said. “And he was a deeply decent person — modest and bipartisan.”

His fairness and friendliness garnered him allies throughout the Legislature, said former MTC Executive Director Larry Dahms, who first got to know Foran when Dahms worked at the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

“He was a Democrat — he made no bones about that — but crossing the aisle was not a major exception in his case,” Dahms said. “He was able to cultivate support among Democrats and Republicans. He was a quiet man who knew his subject, and if he had a reasonable proposition to offer, he generally got support.“

In 1986 MTC created the John Francis Foran Legislative Award, which is given annually to a legislator who positively influences transportation policy. Around the same time, state officials named a stretch of Interstate 280 in San Francisco in honor of Foran.

“For those of us who work at MTC, the best course we can set for ourselves is to live up to the outstanding legislative legacy that John has left to the citizens of the Bay Area and the state of California,” Heminger said.

Foran was active through the end of his life. And his love of transportation had no borders: Recently, he traveled with his wife Connie across Russia on the Trans-SiberianRailway. He is survived by his wife, four children and four grandchildren.