March 30, 1991 - From the March, 1991 issue

CCEEB Outlines Growth Management Strategy for State

As part of The Planning Report’s continuing attempt to cover the state role in growth management, we have below provided excerpts from California’s Urban Renaissance, a new report by the California Council for Environmental and Economic Balance (CCEEB), a coalition based in San Francisco of business, labor and public leaders.

Planning Policies for the 1990’s

To successfully support growth in the 1990’s, enhance the quality of life and conserve natural resources, our policies must encourage and facilitate a more compact and efficient urban form. These policies must be articulated at the state level and implemented by local governments and regional agencies. The state must be willing to authorize or approve the revenues to support the facilities, services and amenities to make these policies work.

There are four requirements for creating the type of compact communities that the public will embrace. First, they must be of high quality design assuring aesthetic value, public safety, environmental sensitivity, easy mobility and community ambience. Second, they must have adequately funded public facilities and services.

Third, their form, design and elements must create a sense of human scale and a feeling of community for the individual. Fourth, land uses and transportation must be integrated to achieve moderate to high density housing accessible to jobs, services and the natural environment. The integration must permit mobility without requiring use of the automobile for all purposes…

Policies which could encourage needed change should be supported. These might include:

1. Reduce regulatory obstacles and exactions and provide public facilities for development proposals which meet the required criteria in approved locations. Increase the use of the general plan for development decision making and reduce the use of project-by-project environmental and fiscal review.

2. Reform zoning laws to encourage higher density mixed-use development in urban areas and along transit corridors. Reduce parking and garage requirements for such developments to encourage transit and carpools.

3. Use the Environmental Goals and Policies Report process required by existing law to formulate state goals and policies for accommodating growth while conserving the environment and enhancing economic productivity. Statutorily mandate local consistency with state goals and policies and require state agencies to follow these policies in implementing their responsibilities.

4. Require stringent regulatory oversight and mitigations for proposed projects in sensitive environmental areas.

5. Enact tax and expenditure policies which encourage affordable homes (e.g. reducing exactions and fees on such homes, providing state subsidies to jurisdictions approving higher density multi-family housing, providing benefits and exaction relief to developers of higher density multi-family housing).

6. Enact pricing policies which help achieve more efficient use of the existing transportation system and natural resources. For example, increasing user fees, uniform parking charges, congestion pricing and similar pricing strategies for vehicular use would bring pricing more in line with true costs and encourage more efficient use of facilities, more efficient land use patterns and less impact on the natural environment.

7. Enact government fiscal policies which help achieve more efficient land use patterns. For example, sharing development fee revenues regionally based upon appropriate criteria, targeting state infrastructure and possibly other subventions to those local jurisdictions adhering to state policy and carrying out capital facilities plans would be important incentives for efficient land use.

8. Enact public services policies which encourage more efficient land use patterns. For example, providing enhanced social, recreational and cultural opportunities as well as high quality public safety services in higher density areas and encouraging public and private transit services would fa­cilitate acceptance of higher densi­ties.

9. Target more incentives to central cities in order to enhance job creation and neighborhood improvements which help attract families back into the central city.

10. Evaluate the current use, location and management practices of the 51 million acres of publicly owned lands to determine improved means of enhancing natural environment experiences for urban populations.

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Existing Decision Making

California’s growth decision making institutions, as they have evolved over the past two decades, do not seem capable of meeting the challenge of supporting the growth that will occur in the next decade. The experience of the 1980’s demonstrates that change is in order.

The institutional structure is dominated by the paramount importance given to local control. Yet local control often encourages narrow and dysfunctional policies which ignore consequences for the regions and the state as a whole. For example, local decisions to reduce housing opportunities may appear reasonable when viewed from the local perspective. Local fiscal problems are lessened, high exactions and fees improve services and facilities for existing voters, local traffic congestion improves and property values rise. On the other hand, such decisions increase regional traffic congestion, reduce housing opportunities for the low and moderate income, require housing over­crowding in central cities and older built-out suburbs, increase air pollution and result in inequitable service and facility disparities between newer high income communities and older communities.

Meanwhile, the state provides very little policy direction to local governments on critical issues of statewide importance. The most important role of the state — dispensing fiscal resources — does not reflect an overall policy concerning how growth should be supported.

On some issues of statewide importance, the state has established a patchwork of regional entities, which are not elected entities and are therefore not directly accountable to anyone. Regional air quality boards address air quality issues. Regional transportation agencies address transportation issues. Regional water quality boards address water issues. Councils of government are responsible for addressing regional housing needs. No entities exist for addressing regional fiscal issues or for resolving disputes between local governments. This framework fails to adequately address even high priority issues like air quality and transportation because policies often conflict with no means of balanced resolution other than costly litigation.

The inherent bias of the existing institutions is to say “no” to all development, except the highest cost, lowest density development. As the time required for approval lengthens, the number of potential “no’s” increases and the required exactions rise. Only the projects with the highest potential profit margin can succeed through the multiple hurdles in the marathon process leading to actual construction. Job creating businesses find it difficult or impossible to locate or expand in our urban areas in the face of regulatory excess. And the sheer number of governmental institutions from which approval is required, each with their established bureaucratic requirements, virtually assures that creative approaches to urban development will not emerge.

Our current institutional structure encourages institutional conflict, geographically narrow and short term priorities, high cost decision making, low density and leap frog design, and prescriptive rather than creative performance development criteria.

Institutional Decision-making for the 1990’s

The current system cannot be reformed with “tinkering.” It is the structure itself which prevents Cali­fornia from supporting growth, enhancing the quality of life for all and protecting the natural environment. Merely adding more regional government or new institutions at existing levels of government will not correct the flawed structure. Instead, we must restructure institutional decision making at the state, regional and local levels in a way that assures decisions will meet our goals of supporting growth, recognizing ethnic diversity, enhancing quality of life and protecting the environment.

The new structure must clearly establish: (1) Statewide growth policies; (2) Roles and responsibilities at each level; (3) Mechanism for resolution of jurisdictional conflicts; (4) Processes for monitoring decision making and adjusting to change and new information; (5) Authority and means to finance the required physical and social infrastructure and encourage affordable housing.

We offer the following structure for consideration:

State Government: The state should provide the legislative framework including state goals and policies for growth to guide other entities, funding mechanisms and tax incentives and disincentives to help achieve policies. The state should also monitor performance of other levels of government and recommend legislation to the Governor and Legislature to affect needed revisions.

Regional Institutions: Existing single purpose regional entities should be consolidated with clear state direction for the balancing of conflicting objectives. Improved accountability should be a component of any reorganization effort. Local governments should be given the authority to create comprehensive regional planning and infrastructure agencies. These agencies could develop regional plans that address growth policy issues crossing local jurisdiction boundaries and impacting the ability of the region to accommodate growth. They could establish guidelines and provide assistance for the preparation of local plans, adjudicate conflicts in plans among jurisdictions and monitor local planning, but would not be involved in the permitting of individual development projects. Regional agencies could plan, budget and construct public facilities of a regional scale, consistent with state growth policies and in consultation with state and local agencies. They could also assure regional equity in the provision of community infrastructure. For this purpose, they must have a source of revenue and capital financing authority.

Local Institutions: Local agencies should retain most land use decisions and project review responsibilities. Conformity to regional and state policies should be sought with fiscal incentives and disincentives rather than regulatory oversight. Development project review should be based on conformity with local plans reviewed by the regional agency. Reliance on CEQA or fiscal impact review should be reduced to project­level review while increased for plan­level review. Decisions to approve a major project deemed of regional sig­nificance could be appealed to the regional agency by any affected party. Most land use decisions would remain within the authority of local elected officials guided by the general plan. Capital facilities plans, consistent with regional and local plans, should be adopted and implemented by local governments.

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