July 30, 1991 - From the July, 1991 issue

State Moves Toward Growth Management Legislation

For Southern Californians waiting either eagerly or nervously for statewide action on growth management, here’s the latest: the Sacramento track to growth management has split into three and all three tracks should converge during the first months of 1992. Kenneth Bernstein, Editor of The Planning Report, reports back on these three tracks of the Legislature, the Governor, and Sacremento State.

On Track 1 — The Legislature

The most-closely watched proposal from the Legislature has been AB 3, from Assembly Speaker Willie Brown Jr. Like Brown’s AB 4242 from last session, AB 3 would create regional development and infrastructure agencies in seven regions around the state, agencies with powers over matters such as land use, transportation, and air quality.

This year’s bill has added a State Growth Management Commission to review the plans of state and regional agencies for consistency with a state plan. Recognizing such efforts as Bay Vision 2020 and Los Angeles’ 2000 Partnership, AB 3 also allows a new framework for regions to develop their own growth management programs, without state intervention.

If AB 3 takes the “institutional” approach to growth management, Assemblyman Sam Farr’s AB 76 favors the “state planning” approach. It would establish a Secretary of Planning who would head a state planning agency, replacing the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR). The agency would prepare a comprehensive state planning report, and all jurisdictions would be required to file a report each year detailing their compliance with the state plan.

The two Senate bills take a more measured approach to growth management. Senator Marian Bergeson’s AB 434 creates incentives for voluntary regional cooperation and allows voluntary regional fiscal authorities to share tax monies to pay for regional-scale public works. Senator Robert Presley’s SB 929 would reorganize existing Councils of Government and create a California Conservation and Development Commission, similar to the California Coastal Commission, to achieve growth management goals. It would also allow the creation of subregional planning entities to resolve planning disputes between neighboring jurisdictions.

In recent weeks, growth management advocates have engaged in what has been termed the “park and lock” strategy: sending bills to the opposite house and locking them down for the near future. After the Senate sent its two bills on to the Assembly during June, the Assembly responded on July 3rd by passing its two growth management measures. Speaker Brown’s AB 3 received approval, however, only after Brown agreed to amend his bill to assure that it would not become effective until approved by all Boards of Supervisors in counties affected by the bill and by three-fourths of the City Councils from affected cities.

“There are striking similarities between these bills,” says Peter Detwiler, a consultant with the Senate’s Local Government Committee. “All of the bills employ carrots as well as sticks. All rely on urban limit lines and development boundaries. All of them are neither pro-growth nor anti-growth.”

In relying on urban limit lines, these bills take their cue from other growth management efforts around the country, most notably Oregon’s, passed in the 1970’s. Oregon’s program seek to concentrate growth in urban areas such as Portland through a process of permit expediting, while limiting growth in other areas of the state.

According to Tod Kaufman, Willow Brown’s growth management specialist in the Assembly Office of Research, joint hearings of the Assembly and Senate Local Government Committees will be held in the fall.

On Track 2 — The Governor

These “parked” bills, however, are unlikely to be “unlocked” entirely until Governor Pete Wilson tips his hand on growth management.

Last January, Governor Wilson created a new Interagency Council on Growth Management, to be headed by Richard Sybert, a Los Angeles lawyer who is director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research. The Council, composed of the heads of state departments whose subject areas include land use decisions, is charged with soliciting views from all portions of California society and then making growth management recommendations to the Governor by the end of 1991.

The Council has kicked off a series of thirteen public hearings throughout the state this summer, soliciting views on the best way for California to manage and shape its growth. The day-long Los Angeles meeting on July 29th featured testimony from a variety of local elected officials, agency directors, and interest groups. The Council has also sent a survey on growth management issues to 3,000 key policymakers and opinion leaders in the state.

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Although Assembly hearings may progress this fall, final action on a growth management bill will not likely occur before the Council wraps up its work. “Nothing will happen without the Governor being part of the process,” says Sybert.

“We’re not a blue ribbon committee that will release its report to the public,” explains Sybert. “We’re the Governor’s animal, the Governor’s process. Anything you hear about our work will come from the Governor’s own statements.” And Governor Wilson is expected to make those statements on growth management in his 1992 State of the State address.

On Track 3 — Sacramento State

The contentious issues in forging a growth management agreement remain staggering. A final growth management program will have to resolve the State’s role in growth management, the makeup of regional bodies, the appropriateness of market-based solutions, the “fiscalization of land use,” the interrelationship between growth management and affordable housing, the creation of urban limit lines, the treatment of agricultural lands, and the mechanisms for conformance by localities. 

And forging an agreement is more challenging in huge, diverse California than in states such as Oregon or Florida that have already passed state growth management laws.

To help move this process, the Assembly and Senate, through their offices of Research, have turned to California State University at Sacramento. Sac State’s Center for California Studies, which has a long relationship with the state government, was asked to pull together a Growth Management Consensus Project, under the direction of Susan Sherry.

Over 30 groups have come to Sac State’s negotiating table, including representatives from local governments, regional governments, business and development interests, environmental groups, low-income housing groups, civil rights organizations, and labor and farm organizations.

From January through June, 12 days of negotiations were held among these parties. “We didn’t come to a consensus on all issues, but we did identify serious proposals and discuss them,” says Sherry. According to Sherry, one point of early consensus was that “the state, through some state legislation, has to take proactive leadership, to make a difference.”

If the roundtable produces some sort of agreement, most Sacramento observers believe it will stick in the Legislature. The trick is to reach that agreement. This summer, the project has reached a crossroads, with participants taking ideas to their constituencies followed by a progress report from the project that will be issued August 15th. And the project may not continue. “The project may have done what it needed to do, it may have fulfilled its mission,” says Sherry. “Our group has to figure out if it wants to take the next step. If we want to make a recommendation, the group has to come to grips with how we do that.”

“The Sac State process represents a laboratory experiment in decision-making,” says OPR’s Sybert. “It seems they’ve agreed to agree on the easy issues and they may agree to disagree on the hard ones.”

For some resolution of those “hard ones,” we may have to wait until next year.

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© 2022 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.