February 28, 1992 - From the February, 1992 issue

Governor’s Office Offers Insights on Growth Management Proposals

Since last year, legislative pro­posals in Sacramento for growth management and regional gover­nance have been held in suspended animation, pending Governor Wilson’s announcement of his own proposals. Though the Governor’s proposals did not, as had been ex­pected, come in his January State of the State address, they should be an­nounced in the next few weeks. 

To give our readers a jump on what to expect from the Governor, The Planning Report interviewed Richard Sybert, the director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) and chairman of the Interagency Growth Management Council that is making the recom­mendations on which the Governor will base his proposals. 

With the Governor about to issue recommendations on growth man­agement for the State, what can you tell us about what those recommen­dations will be? 

As you know, the Governor set up an Interagency Growth Management Council a year ago. We’ve been working diligently and are very close to finalizing the recommendations to him. They are not yet finalized but I anticipate the Governor will be mak­ing his proposals very soon. 

Could you share with us, then, some of the key issues and thoughts of the Interagency Task Force, which will serve as the basis for the Governor’s own recommendations? 

I can tell you about the broad directions. The Governor himself has stated some of these, as the first Gov­ernor to address the American Plan­ning Association, in October. 

The Governor’s definition of growth management is broader and more comprehensive than the legisla­tive proposals pending in the Legisla­ture. First, he sees growth management as a vehicle to address long-term, integrated state planning generally. One of the major complaints we get from local governments is that they’re sometimes confronted with a bewil­dering array of conflicting, unclear State directives and mandates. In this office, we found in the State government over 40 long-term master plans, and not one was coordinated with any other. We’re looking for a way to address that, and to present clear state guidelines to local governments. 

Second, there will probably be some overhaul of local planning. The general plan is supposed to be the constitution for development. Some­times it actually is; sometimes it’s not. General plans are supposed to be current; sometimes they’re not. They’re compartmentalized into ele­ments and should be better integrated. That needs to be overhauled and streamlined. We’re also looking at greater coordination between neigh­boring jurisdictions. 

The Governor is interested in an approach focusing on incentives, not coercion. One problem, of course, is that we’re thin on the ground in terms of incentives these days because there’s not a lot of money around. 

A third major item is that we’ll look at Permit Streamlining and CEQA more generally. We’re looking at ways to make tiering of CEQA documents and EIR’s more meaning­ful and to streamline environmental reviews for infill and smaller projects. We’re looking at ways to improve the assessment of environmental impacts on a cumulative basis at the plan level. And we’re looking for ways to provide better certainty to both de­velopment and the environment by addressing issues of environmental impact up front, at the plan level, rather than through individual project review. 

Of course, all of this costs money, and this is one Governor who’s said he won’t issue new mandates on local governments without finding the funds to pay for them.

How will you propose to achieve greater coordination between re­gional, single-issue agencies? 

The Governor is adamant that he does not want a new layer of govern­ment, and by that he means one with taxing authority, general land-use au­thority, or operating authority. But he also sees a lot of existing, single subject, regional authorities. 

We’ve got regional air districts, water quality districts, regional plan­ning through the Councils of Gov­ernment (COG’s), regional transpor­tation planning, and, at the county level, solid waste planning, hazardous waste planning, and Congestion Management Planning. Yet there’s very little to coordinate or consoli­date these regional bodies. 

So we’re looking for ways to co­ordinate and provide some degree of consolidation through some revised form of COG or other regional plan­ning agency. That does not, I hasten to add, mean the existing COG’s (or their structures and procedures) are engraved in stone. The flip side of enhancing their responsibilities is that they need to be looked at again. 

How, specifically, would a COG such as SCAG here in Southern Califor­nia bring about the kind of consoli­dation and integration that you’d like to see, and how would that consolidation differ from other pro­posals, such as Willie Brown’s AB 3? 

First, I’m not so sure it would be SCAG in its present form. SCAG has a lot of baggage; some people aren’t too happy with it. Yet, at the same time, SCAG has tremendous planning expertise and they’re already there — the Governor wants to build on ex­isting structures. 

The Governor’s proposals will likely differ markedly from Willie Brown’s proposals in that, again, we’re not talking about taxing au­thority, land use authority, or general land use authority. We’re talking about reinforcing the role of regional planning, providing a coordinating mechanism regionally, and creating a forum. 

Beyond that, I was careful to say that the Governor’s proposals may provide for some degree of consoli­dation — you have to look at this incrementally. We’re very wary of creating a super-agency, or as the Governor has put it, “regionalism for regionalism’s sake.” 

It’s unclear to me, for example, where the air districts fit in. One point of view says regionalize them by con­solidating them with other regional bodies (that’s Bay Vision 2020 and Willie Brown’s bill). Then there are proposals that recentralize them in Sacramento because air quality is a state issue. There are other proposals which say do both, and others which say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” 

I’m not prepared to say where we’re going to come out, but some way has to be found to factor air quality impacts into land use plan­ning and I firmly believe land use planning has to be exercised by gen­eral government powers, not a single subject agency. 


You’ve mentioned the need for more specific state policies and goals. Are you contemplating an actual “state plan,” as states such as New Jersey and Florida have adopted? 

A state plan would be the inte­grating mechanism for all the state law we’ve got already — we’ve got the Clean Air Act, water quality re­quirements, fair share housing laws. We’re looking for a way to bring this all together. 

I’m a bit wary about the phrase “state plan” because that conjures up, to some, statewide zoning — the slate exercising local land use authority. We’re talking about a state plan that integrates existing state law, and that provides some guidelines for local governments as they exercise local land use authority.

What will be the Governor’s imple­mentation strategy for the recom­mendations? 

That’s a good question. Perhaps some of it could be implemented through an executive order. But I think for the most part these changes would have to be expressed in legisla­tion. 

So I think we’ll either see sepa­rate legislative initiatives or we’ll work closely with some of the legisla­tors now carrying legislation in this area — or, probably, both.

In bringing together the state’s di­verse interest groups, have you found new common ground between, for ex­ample, environmentalists and devel­opers and between localities and state government? 

There is common ground between some of them. There are some envi­ronmentalists on the fringe who, like King Canute, want to put the throne out on the mudflats and stop the tide, to block all development. There are some local officials, again on the fringe, who believe in unfettered home rule. And there are probably some developers on the fringe who believe in inalienable property rights — that they can do anything with their land. 

But there is substantial common ground among reasonable environ­mentalists and reasonable developers that as the state grows, we need more intelligent planning. We have got to change to accommodate changing re­alities. Once you’re on that important piece of common ground, there may be differences of opinion on how you pro­ceed, but there’s general consensus that the planning process can be im­proved substantially. 

Has that consensus reached the point where the Governor is now willing to expend the political capital necessary to make this happen during 1992? 

There’s no question the Governor is willing. He pioneered growth man­agement as Mayor of San Diego and as a legislator sponsored the legislation creating OPR. 

The real question is the Legislature: in light of reapportionment, Prop. 140, and the budget, it remains to be seen whether the Legislature is ready to deal constructively with anything. 

Will your recommendations address financial and infrastructure issues, as well? For example, are techniques such as Mello-Roos bonds the appropriate way to finance our infrastruc­ture needs in the state?

It’s fair to say there are a few tweaks necessary on infrastructure financing. We’re looking to beef up the state role in technical assistance in meeting infrastructure needs, and find some mechanism to assure that if local governments do avail them­selves of financing vehicles for in­frastructure, that infrastructure is efficiently used and meets growth management goals of sensible land use patterns.

Is OPR looking at the problems with obtaining financing for real estate? Is this something you want to address to send an economic sig­nal, or do you want to let the mar­ketplace run its course? 

I think we’re probably more in­clined toward the latter, as part of growth management. The commer­cial real estate business is always cyclical and commercial real estate is overbuilt throughout the country, not just in California. It will re­bound, and we’ll likely see leasing activity pick up by 1994. 

The Governor is very interested, beyond growth management, in pro­moting the economic vitality of the state. Another way his growth man­agement proposal is different from most of those in the legislature is its focus on economic viability. He has said to me that if we don’t have a prosperous economy, we won’t have any growth to manage. 

We’re trying to make both de­velopment and environmental pro­tection more certain as the state gets more crowded. It should be possible — they go hand in hand.


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