December 16, 2003 - From the December, 2003 issue

CCRL's Nick Bollman Assesses AB 857 Impact on Planning

Last year, Governor Gray Davis signed into law AB 857 (Wiggins/Sher), establishing planning priorities and processes for more streamlined planning. The new law will have a dramatic impact on the development of infrastructure in the state, as well as promoting a smart growth approach to development. TPR is pleased to present this interview with Nick Bollman, President and CEO of the California Center for Regional Leadership, on the promise of AB 857.


Nick Bollman

Nick, in the September issue of The Planning Report, former California APA President Jeff Lambert addressed smart growth and the significant regional planning reforms initiated by the passage of AB 857. As the founding president of the California Center for Regional Leadership, could you expand on the policy significance of AB 857 and the status of its implementation?

I've had the privilege over the last 10 years or so to be involved in growth and planning issue across the state, first at the Hewlett Foundation and at the Irvine Foundation, and now at the California Center for Regional Leadership. It's my judgment that AB 857 is the culmination and the capstone of a growing movement toward better planning and investment in California. AB 857 really captures the best ideas of a movement that has grown very strong across the public and private sectors, and at the ground level, whether in rural, metropolitan, or heavily urban areas.

Importantly, AB 857 brings the state government in as a full partner in support of better planning and investment. AB 857 sets out three land-use goals for the state as a whole: infill development and equitable development in our cities; protection of open space, farmland and habitat outside our cities; and more efficient use of the land wherever development occurs. On the latter goal, clearly we will need to do greenfield development in California to accommodate our population growth. But if we're going to do that, let's do it in a way that efficiently uses the land, so we don't gobble up more land than we need to accommodate our population growth. AB 857, properly implemented, will bring the state in as a partner to local government, regional agencies and the private and nonprofit sectors in advancing smart growth planning and investment.

Some critics would argue that that's a rather Pollyanna-ish reading of what's happening in the state vis-a-vis planning. How do you respond to such critics?

On the contrary, over the past few years we have seen great innovation in land use practice on the ground around the state, but the state government, with some exceptions, has been lagging behind in its own policies and practices. AB 857 is a pragmatic response to a statewide movement. As I said, I've had a chance to observe and be a little involved in this over the years, and this legislation didn't come out of a think tank or somebody's late-night musings. This legislation is not leading, but is responsive to a movement across the state. The large developers in California are beginning to see that there are opportunities in infill development. We're working with many of these developers to see if we can't help to remove some of the barriers to infill development, such as inappropriate aspects of the CEQA system and brownfield regulations. Better planning and design is making greater density more attractive for consumers, and therefore for developers. At long last transportation planners and land use planners are collaborating, and across regions as well as within single jurisdictions. The leaders in the private sector, as well as the public sector, are supportive of the AB 857 goals-the legislation just brings the state agencies in as full partners in achieving them.

Part of the promise of AB 857 is the requirement for state infrastructure agencies to accommodate state planning priorities. Again, is this a realistic expectation, i.e. that Caltrans and other state agencies will work outside of their rather well-built silos and will coordinate their project planning? What is realistic re collaboration?

This legislation certainly does require a changed culture within state agencies. On the other hand, over the past few years we've begun to see a changing culture. For example, there's been a memorandum of understanding among the Resources Agency, CalTrans and Housing and Community Development to synchronize and integrate their long-term functional plans. So there are some voluntary moves in this direction within state agencies already. What AB 857 requires is that the Department of Finance-which will review capital expenditure plans, operating budgets, and functional plans on an annual basis-holds agencies accountable for whether they are meeting the goals of the law. Properly implemented, with thoughtful leadership at the top and real commitment by middle management, we think this can work.

But let's be clear: implementation is a shared responsibility. We've been taking state officials out into the regions of California over the last year both to familiarize regional and local leaders with the new legislation and also to provide the officials with an opportunity to see that they've got partners-local governments, regional agencies, the development community, environmentalists, and others. That will make it easier for state agencies to change their ways.

What is the current capacity of financially strapped local jurisdictions to be collaborative partners regarding planning? A number of TPR interviewees over the years have commented on the absence of any meaningful city and regional planning in most local jurisdictions. Can you speak to the capacity of local government to partner in this enterprise you're describing?

Let me answer that in two ways. First of all, studies have shown that since Prop. 13 in 1978, the city service that has been cut more than any other-–except libraries–-is planning departments. We need to have a better capacity, both in our local governments and in our regional agencies. And, we need to see a new approach to planning that is more integrative and collaborative, and we're seeing a lot of that happening across the state.

But even beyond the institutional and professional capacity, there needs to be fiscal capacity. Our fiscal structure in California doesn't provide adequate revenues to local governments to deliver the services needed by additional development. For most communities, providing an adequate supply of workforce housing is a loss leader. Local governments generally don't receive enough property tax to support that kind of development-so they chase sales tax instead. In order to implement fully AB 857, we need to change the fiscal signals so that there are incentives for local government to produce better planned communities and more housing, particularly in the places where we most need it.

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Let's go back to state government and the Schwarzenegger administration. You have a number of trusted admirers now in the administration: Sunne McPeak, Terry Tamminen, Kim Belshe, Mike Chrisman and others. What does that portend for what you've been describing here as the potential for AB 857?

For folks who have not read the environmental action plan issued by the Schwarzenegger campaign, I would recommend it to them. As Terry Tamminen said in last month's Metro Investment Report, this issue paper really stands as the blueprint for how the administration will carry forward across a whole range of environmental issues. What you will see in that paper is that land use becomes a very important issue. The Governor talks about the importance of better planning and better investment, protecting open space and farmland. That paper actually embraces the concepts that are in AB 857. The fact that he's brought into the administration people who have been leading this movement locally suggests that not only will there be continuity with the commitment of the Legislature and the administration to these land use goals and effective implementation of AB 857, but they may take it to a new level.

One aspect of this that hasn't been emphasized, but is particularly salient to the new administration, is that because of fiscal scarcity and the state budget deficit crisis, we must look at every state expenditure very carefully to make sure that we're spending money efficiently and effectively. There's no one who would argue that we have been very good at spending, particularly our capital outlay dollars, in a way that produces optimal planning and investment outcomes. Therefore, AB 857 is not only an environmental instrument, but it's also an instrument for more efficient use of government resources. That will resonate very well with the Governor and people across the administration, and across the state.

Nick, this discussion of smart growth and infrastructure investment and planning has always been a hot topic among policy wonks, but less of a subject of discussion on MTV or local television news. How do you get a large audience invested in this conversation?

First of all, the fact that the Governor and his team are committed to better planning and investment, and the fact that the Governor is going to be a very highly visible personality means that we're going to get more visibility for these issues. Now, how do people understand these issues? Consider the young family that either can't afford to buy a house or a condominium-because we aren't producing enough housing to enable them to buy it at a reasonable price-or, they have to buy a house two hours from their place of work, forcing a commute that reduces family and community time. So, we've got to translate what are policy wonk issues into real quality of life issues, particularly for young families in California.

Moreover, when young families think beyond their immediate quality of life and look at their long-term future in California, they can be helped to understand that better planning and investment for quality of life in our communities is an economic issue. If we expect to continue to compete in the global marketplace, we're going to have to attract or retain businesses that are high-productivity businesses-which rely on knowledge workers. And those businesses are not going to expand or locate in communities that are declining, they are going to locate in communities-wherever in the world they find them-which provide the quality of life that their employees expect. So it's not just about the immediate future and the quality of life in our communities, but our long-term prosperity and the ability of young families to stay in California are at stake.

Before we end this interview, could you, as the founding director and president of the California Center for Regional Leadership, address both your and CCRL's future plans?

CCRL is in a very strong position. Our programs have been strong, we have lots of partners, we have a great board of directors, and the need for CCRL to continue to do its work has never been greater. I'm happy that the board has asked me to continue to stay on the board, and I'll be continuing to provide strategic advice and guidance to the board and staff.

I'm going to spend about half of my time in California and half of my time in Florida. I'm planning to do some more writing and reflection. I'm at a point in my career when I want to step back and think about what I've been doing to see if I can't be more thoughtful about that work. I'm not walking away from it, but I'm trying to do it in a different way. And I can do so relatively guilt-free because there is now a set of partners in the new administration and a strength and maturity in the regional civic organizations with whom we work across the state, as well as our other collaborating partners. There's never been a greater need or opportunity for CCRL to make a difference, and I believe that it will.

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