March 27, 2000 - From the March, 2000 issue

California Planning Roundtable: What Impact Will Growth Have On Livability

California's land-use decision-making is disjointed at best and counterproductive at worst. Reasons range from governance structures to regional turf wars, and few have taken a long-term, systematic look to separate fact from perception--and then suggest concrete reform. But the California Planning Roundtable's new report, Planning At The Edge Of The Millennium, is the result of a two-year effort to do exactly that. TPR is pleased to present this excerpt.

Even in the electronic age, place matters. It could be argued that place matters even more in California from its coastline, mountain ranges, agricultural valleys to its vibrant urban centers.

The Golden State in the 21st Century will experience a second gold rush of affluence and pressure on the environment and land. California's expanding economic prosperity is dependent on sustaining the very place-centered assets-quality educational institutions, open space, clear air, clean and adequate water, working transportation systems, housing choices, sufficient parks, libraries, airports and marine ports-that attract investment.

The California Planning Round-table studied these questions and the work of many others-from Central Valley farmers to the new urbanists-on the projected impact of the State's growth over the next forty years. The Roundtable has determined that without changing outdated assumptions and outmoded systems, California's gold won't just be tarnished, it may vanish.

This report is a call to reform California's system for statewide land use decision making. The Roundtable believes it is not an impossible task-but a critical one if we are to shape growth and sustain a high quality environment. Honest dialogue is necessary to come to agreement on what issues and decisions are truly local in scope and which are regional and statewide.

The Truth About Planning In California

In its two-year study of California's efforts to manage its growth, the California Planning Roundtable identified eight truths concerning the manner by which planning in the nation's most populous state has evolved.

• California planning is both more collaborative and more adversarial than in the past. Specific interests compete to dominate discussions of the State's future; the larger public is not at the table.

• California's diversity and magnitude of its demographic change informs all facets of its future.

• There is a recurrent sense of change and uncertainty in California's planning process, and in its supporting institutions.

• A digital world has arrived which will transform California planning.

• California's social and government institutions have yet to catch up with the effects of globalization on society, the economy and our communities.

• California's governments have not kept pace with its citizens' demands for greater performance, accountability, equity and quality.

• Californians are increasingly conscious of the relationship that exists between the environment, community, the economy and how best to sustain them all.

• Forward-looking, empirical planning has been abandoned and replaced with crisis-driven decision making and task oriented solutions.

A Future Built On Shared Values

Throughout the past 20 years, the focus of California's leadership has been referenced upon the past. Phrases such as "returning to the days when California's education system was a model for the nation" have been common. [But] the future won't and can't look like the past.

If California leaders listen carefully, they will hear a new and gathering agreement around shared values . [P]ublic opinion focus groups reflect a common public desire for:

• Safe neighborhoods

• Good schools

• Protection of green space

• Jobs

• Clean and adequate water

• Clean air

• Affordable housing

• Common sense infrastructure finance

• Quality public services

Far from the old "tax and spend" approach, Californians now insist on government accountability. A central issue among voters for fiscal and governance reform is improving the quality of services . [That] requires a process that is visible and understandable. Many communities are already implementing systems of outcome management as part of the regular community dialogue about the budget and services. Public information on the progress, as well as new changes to improve service quality and efficiency, will be critical .

Where We Are Now: Conditions and Trends

Jobs and Economic Development

Californians are working more, not less, at every economic level . The San Francisco economic region is ranked as the richest of the 99 metropolitan economic units in the country; Santa Clara County is fourth. Yet four of the bottom 10 cities are also in California: Bakersfield, Fresno, Riverside-San Bernardino, and Stockton-Lodi. This growing disparity in income growth between Central, Southern and Northern California challenges the goal of a balanced distribution of well-paying jobs that support local economies. Without forethought, California could become a balkanized state of haves, have-a-little and have-nots.

Land Use and Sprawl

Sprawl hasn't paid its way. Fees on new housing have only incrementally covered the costs for new [services]. Infrastructure and public services serving spread-out, low-density development are more expensive to deliver . Considerable housing and retail growth in the last twenty years have consumed substantial agricultural land, significant environmental resources and precious open space. Between 1970 and 1980, the population of the metropolitan Los Angeles area grew by 46 percent while developing 200 percent more land.

The end to this phenomenon is not in sight and the solutions are becoming more complex. The cumulative statewide effects of a decade of local government growth control measures and voter initiatives are hard to interpret. [T]here are considerable growth controls in most cities and counties at the urban line primarily focused on residence development, but most communities are pro-growth on commercial development. Recent growth control initiatives discourage infill development, reflecting the public's opposition to higher densities.

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Resource Protection

Federal and State wildlife agencies list more than 1,000 plant and animal species as rare, endangered, or threatened, significantly impacting land use and development decisions. While the public ranks "green space" in the top lifestyle amenities, there has been little effort by the State to identify lands that must be conserved and managed in perpetuity to ensure the

survival of California's biological diversity.

Necessary improvements in resource protection should begin with problem solving at the ecosystem scale, creating wildlife corridors which preserve and connect critical habitat lands in a meaningful way rather than the current species by species approach.

Housing

The State needs 4.3 million more housing units by 2020. In 1998, California produced more than 125,700 new housing units to meet an actual need of between 220-250,000 new units.

Housing prices have steadily outpaced Californians' income. Only one in five households can afford a typical home.

The federal government has also dramatically cut back housing programs that used to help local governments accommodate new growth.

Changing Demographics

Change is the engine of opportunity. California is poised to double its 1990 population to an estimated 58.7 million by 2040. This population will include expansion in the older age group (45-59) as "baby boomers" age. Astute capitalists will be quick to identify emerging markets. Those who plan wisely in the public sector will be able to address long standing community needs as change occurs.

Environmental Sustainability

As one of the foremost laboratories for sustainable technology, California is in a unique position to develop land development practices based on environmental carrying capacities, and highest and best use values. Institutions like the Center for Regenerative Studies at Cal Poly Pomona and UC Santa Barbara specialize in emerging technologies that support sustainable development. Currently, information is not adequately distributed to local, regional and private sector organizations about sustainable development technologies.

Infrastructure and Finance

Surveys confirm the voters' belief that the State is approaching "a point of no return" with respect to the management of infrastructure needs. Voters' key priorities include:

• Building K-12 public schools, and public colleges and universities.

• Expanding water storage facilities.

• Constructing more transportation capacity.

The California Business Roundtable estimates that California needs to spend $90 billion over the next decade [on] infrastructure . Spending on public infrastructure has declined by 75 percent in relative terms since the 1960s. The massive costs of the repairs and new construction have stymied quick action in the Legislature.

Cultural Heritage

Rapid growth in California's urban areas has overshadowed efforts to preserve the remaining buildings and sites of the State's history, culture and pre-culture. Preservation of landmarks, points of historic or cultural interest and heritage landscapes is an essential quality of life issue.

What We Can Do: Creating a Statewide Planning Strategy

The California Planning Roundtable recommendations are:

1.) Get The Vision Thing: Core values for Californians' housing decisions-neighborhood safety, good schools, affordable housing and open space-must drive California's statewide planning strategy. The process must broaden the debate from the list of usual suspects that populates land use discussions in California. The statewide planning process should set goals, provide policy statements and establish time frames to guide land use making decisions, and encourage cooperation regionally among local governments.

2.) Growth Without A Statewide Perspective Is Myopic: [L]ocal communities must be able to see beyond protection for their own square mile. California needs to adopt statewide principles for growth . Citizens and decision makers need one centralized, electronic clearinghouse for credible, unfiltered, accessible and understandable data to assess the resources necessary to support projected growth. The State can also encourage consistent thinking by modeling the kinds of decisions that can be replicated regionally.

It won't be easy but urban boundaries can be strengthened. Farmlands and natural areas can be preserved by establishing a statewide policy setting the criteria and conditions for urban expansion. Higher densities do not have to mean ugly infill development.

3.) Produce The Silver Bullet On Infrastructure Financing: Recent elections have shown that Californians are willing to accept reasonable burdens when it can be clearly shown there is both a need and a clear plan for infrastructure funding. To affect growth, not just accommodate it, local agencies must be allowed to issue bonds for new infrastructure with a majority vote . [But] we need long range strategies that rely on good planning, smart investment and accountability for performance.

State leadership is needed to identify funding priorities, distribute funds equitably and develop performance measures that assist in refining and guiding the allocation of resources. Incentives should be created for those communities that develop regional plans for transportation, open space, habitat, air and water quality, and for financing older, underutilized areas.

4.) Show Me The Money-Sensible State And Local Finance: The tangled mess of state and local finance has become a serious obstacle to California's ability to accommodate the State's growth. Californians find it impossible to understand how their public services are financed and who should be held responsible for results. [W]e must provide local governments with diverse and reliable sources of revenues and build in accountability for results. The tax system needs to be restructured to reduce the reliance on local sales tax generation and protect local revenues from diversions to the State. Local governments also should be protected from [unfunded State] mandates. In return, local governments should develop performance measures to make the quality of services more transparent to local citizens and to enable more innovative approaches to the delivery of services.

5.) We're All In This Together: All levels of government must build community level support for good planning decisions, through the dissemination of data and information, accessible in plain language . There is a need to establish a more collaborative means to resolve differences in the planning process that does not rely on the over-burdened court system . As a first step, California planning laws should be simplified and amended to build in more flexibility to accommodate regional collaboration and problem-solving with nonprofit community organizations.

6.) Environmental Justice For All: Bringing more fairness to decisions affecting the locations of employment, housing and undesirable land uses will expedite greater participation in prosperity. Land use planning that limits job growth produces equity impacts frequently affecting the young, newly-arrived and poor-disproportionately hurting minority ethnic groups.

Decisions limiting housing choices also serve to curb upward mobility. Strategies to reverse these impacts on disempowered communities include providing a better means to locate unpopular facilities, reversing the environmental degradation of inner cities by recycling brownfields, and building a sustainable economic base .

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© 2019 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.