"Smart Growth" Is Neither !

 

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                   Here is the Reality of Open Space in California:

  One of the more insidious movements 
  afoot in America is known as "smart 
  growth." As implemented, it isn't 
  smart, and it isn't growth.  Instead, it 
  is a socialist scheme for central 
  planning and control of people's lives 
 
  by elitists who think they know what's 
  best for everyone else.   
  
  ACCT has attended several local 
  "smart growth" events.  They were 
  highly 
orchestrated so as to arrive at 
  pre-conceived conclusions about how 
  best to manage people's lives.  

 

 
 
Californians reject the ideas which underlie "Smart Growth." See important study by the
  Public Policy Institute of California
.

  Read ACCT member Scott Wilson's account of one such meeting.

  See an interesting pictorial comparison of "Smart Growth" and the "Ideal Communist City."

  Read Steven Hayward's (Pacific Research Institute) exposť of the "Portland Model"

  Read Steven Hayward's March 22, 2003 National Review critique of "smart growth."

  See comprehensive additional discussions and summaries by the Thoreau Institute

  "What Causes Sprawl?" (National Center for Policy Analysis, "BACK" button to return)

  Even Berkeley has problems with "Smart Growth"

  See the Grand Jury's report on inappropriate use of Redevelopment Agency funds by the 
  Costa County's Board of Supervisors as it cooks up the Pleasant Hill transit village in 
  collaboration with its friends at BART.  (Click your browser's "BACK" button to return here.)

  Smart Growth Dream Will Give You Nightmares  (Again, click "BACK" button to return.)

  "Smart" Growth Can Spark Dumb Tax Policies -- John Wolfe  ("BACK" button to return)

  The American Dream Coalition website

  "Smart Growth" in Santa Cruz County:  a Generation of Manipulation

  Contra Costa Supervisors Demand that "Smart Growth" be part of Measure C Renewal, Nov. 2004

  Save El Sobrante site provides interesting and useful collection on "Smart Growth," "Redevelopment"

 

  
 
In Contra Costa County, the "smart growth" scheme is called "Shaping Our Future."

  Randal O'Toole, senior economist at Oregon's Thoreau Institute, has shown that central planning 
  designed to push rail-transit lifestyles winds up increasing population density, congestion, pollution, 
  and urban housing costs -- and diminishing mobility and the rights of homeowners.   At a meeting    
  held September 2003 in Lafayette, O'Toole identified "Shaping Our Future" as a gimmick designed 
  to destroy the American Dream.

  As in the totalitarian central-planning economies of the Twentieth Century, what O'Toole calls a
  "coalition of elites" is pushing the deceptive "smart-growth" movement.   O'Toole has exposed the 
  deceit, expense, and rank failure of one of America's oldest such central planning agencies,   
  Portland's Metro.   As O'Toole comments, "regional urban governments tend to restrict freedom 
  and local self determination. This is clearly visible in Portland, where Metro and related 
  agencies think nothing of passing rules that, among other things:

       L
Impose high-density developments on unwary neighborhoods of single-family homes;

       L
Drive up the price of single-family housing even as they make it nearly impossible for 
              some people to sell their homes;

       L
Forbid some farmers to build homes on their land even as they coerce other farmers 
             to subdivide their properties;
 
       L
Force employers to monitor and reduce the amount of driving done by their employees;

       L   Insist that retailers build tiny stores even as the national trend is to larger and larger stores;

       L
Demand that stores and other developments be designed in ways that developers have 
             proven, through hard experience, to be unmarketable."

  O'Toole says further:  "The idea that we could ride fast, convenient trains instead of sitting in traffic 
  is also appealing--although it turns out most people hope that everyone else will take the train so 
  they can drive without congestion.

  "New Urbanism's real strength, however, comes not from these myths but from several very real 
   interest groups that will benefit from increasing urban congestion. These include:

   
    L Central city officials eager to maintain the prominence of their cities over the suburbs;
   
    L Downtown interests hoping to reverse downtown "declines" relative to suburban "edge cities";
       L New Urban planners interested in trying their theories out on various cities;
       L Urban environmentalists opposed to more freeways and the automobile in general; and 
      
L   Engineering and construction firms looking for federal dollars to spend on urban projects.

   [Mr. O'Toole could have added highly paid "smart-growth" consultants to the list.] 

   "All but the last of these benefit from congestion.  And while construction firms would be just as 
   happy building highways as rail lines, they won't complain if New Urbanists promote congestion 
   so they can build gold-plated light-rail systems.

   "These groups have combined to dramatically shift the federal role in urban transportation. Even 
   in the Interstate highway era, that role was rather passive, being limited to doling out funds for
   projects designed primarily by state and local highway engineers. But with passage of the 
   Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) of 1991, the federal government is 
   now strongly promoting New Urbanism throughout the country.

   "ISTEA requires cities to use a long-term planning process that is easily captured by New 
   Urbanists. The law encourages cities to blow all their dollars on rail projects that no one will 
   use rather than build highways that will be used. In cities with air pollution problems, ISTEA 
   actually forbids the use of federal funds for expanding road capacities, even though congestion 
   is often the greatest cause of air pollution because slower cars pollute more."

   Lately, Portland has begun to dictate even the style of new homes, outlawing construction that 
   includes a garage out front -- what Metro's elitists derisively call "snout houses."

   The Proposed Contra Costa "Smart Growth" Compact

   Back in Contra Costa County, California:  The lead consultant for "Shaping Our Future" is Portland's 
   Fregonese-Calthorpe.  And the group's pollster is Portland's Davis, Hibbits & McCaig.  "Shaping Our 
   Future" and its collaborators have a website, and they have concocted a proposed compact they 
   hope to have signed by all of Contra Costa's 19 municipal jurisdictions.   The compact, part of a 
   "vision summary," includes these notions, among others: 

  M "...continued enhancement of additional open-space needs through entitlement or purchase" 
            [with whose money and with what protections from arbitrary seizures?]. 

  M "The County and local municipalities will assist in developing a 'one-stop shop' (e.g. 
           workforce development resource center) for economic and workforce development 
           information and referrals in the County."  

  M    "The County and local municipalities agree in principle to coordinate housing elements using 
           best available data of developable and redevelopable land....  [T]he data will be used to 
           monitor housing allocations in each jurisdiction.  It shall be the goal of each community to 
           strive towards an overall regional jobs and housing balance."

 M     "The County and local municipalities agree in principle to the importance of reinvestment  
           and infill development where it is most appropriate."

 M     "SOCIAL EQUITY -- The County and local municipalities agree in principle to develop 
           affordable housing in the most appropriate settings, and to mitigate the effects of 
           displacement that reinvestment can have on affordable communities."  

 M     "Additionally, the County and local municipalities agree to cooperate in creating a housing
           "trust fund" that can be used to focus investments in affordable housing in locations or 
           jurisdictions that most need assistance."

   Another Contra Costa "smart growth" consultant is "Strategic Economics," a Berkeley company. 
  Chuck Bernstein of Menlo Park wrote of the group in a Nov. 17, 1999 letter to the Palo Alto Almanac:  
  "I believe that one of the reasons the Smart Growth process failed is that the 'consulting' work was 
  a lie from the outset. Some of the more pessimistic members of our community sensed the problem
  from the beginning. Others, including myself, had to attend only one meeting run by the consultants 
  to realize that a steamroller was in motion, headed for a predetermined outcome. Indeed, the
  consultants were not consultants at all, but rather advocates.

  "The front page story of the November 2 San Jose Mercury News cites a study by the Silicon Valley
  Manufacturing Group recommending that communities "build houses on smaller lots and approve 
  larger apartment complexes." The author of the report is listed as Dena Belzer, principal of 
  Strategic Economics in Berkeley -- one of the key Smart Growth consultants.

  My point is obvious: you cannot get objective data from people who make a living serving the 
  housing industry and manufacturers seeking cheap labor. Menlo Park should never have hired 
  Dena Belzer given her bias. Worse, having hired her, the city should never have tried to pass her 
  off as an objective expert to residents who were in a position to recognize her biases. It was an 
  insult and embarrassment to everyone involved." 

  Mr. Bernstein is correct:  Dena Belzer is in fact an advocate.  Her slide show on "Challenges to 
  Transit-Oriented Development" (and how to overcome resistance) is available.   Belzer is part 
  of a Sept. 18-19 Pasadena conference on "Implementing Smart Growth and New Urbanism through   
  General Plans and Zoning Codes."  The focus of the conference is on overcoming "major roadblocks" 
  -- especially zoning codes that limit the number of dwellings in one space -- "which still stand in the 
  way when builders, developers and municipalities make plans to build sustainable
and pedestrian-  
  oriented places.  These elitists are upset that "Zoning codes mandate segregation of uses, vast 
  setbacks and overblown parking requirements--to name a few restrictions--resulting in a brutal, 
  placeless landscape that alienates residents and degrades our built environment."  They exult 
  over "examples of developments where conventional codes have been cracked with much success."
  

 


Let the "Chips" Fall Where They May
by Scott Wilson
(published in the Contra Costa Times, June 6, 2002)

          Having attended the "Shaping Our Future" workshop, I can tell you that it was as slick 
a PowerPoint sales pitch as Oracle gave Governor Davis. To an untrained eye it appeared 
that they wanted your opinion but in reality, they used every trick in Zig Ziglarís sales 
manual to encourage over 200 people to believe that they have the right to decide how 
other people should use their own property. 

          The 200 citizens consisted of many concerned homeowners but were primarily made up of Socialists in Green and Democrat clothing. They are selling:   no more cars, no more roads, no more single-family construction, and no more American Dream.

          The opening PowerPoint presentation by the opinion research firm of Davis, Hibbits & McCaig succeeded in "creating demand" by scaring the audience into believing that in 10 years 95% of our freeways will be gridlocked during rush hour if we donít make a plan because 225,000 more people are moving in. Their fancy "Computer Models" showed that to be a fact. But like all of us, they are running through life backwards guessing the future based on the past. Did their computer model predict the DotCom bubble burst, 9-11, another earthquake, the birth of telecommuting or maybe that we just donít want to develop high-density housing? No, but if they get you to answer the wrong question, it
doesnít matter what your answer is. 

         So that was our assignment as we broke into 25 different groups. Where do we put 
these 225,000 people and their accompanying jobs that are supposedly coming? We were 
given a table- sized map of Contra Costa County and several smaller reference maps for 
future funded & proposed infrastructure construction (that would take days of study to 
comprehend) and 3 envelopes full of differently colored one square inch stickers that they 
called "Chips."  Each color represented a different density level or activity such as Town, Village, Industrial, Shopping Center etc. 

          The first envelope represented a "Walking Community" and held approximately 20 high density Chips. The second represented a "Auto Community" and contained approx. 40 lower density Chips. The last was a Mixed Community containing 30 Chips. The group could only choose one envelope but had to put all the Chips in it on the big map where there was white space (indicating undeveloped) or over what we considered underdeveloped (read your house). It became instantly clear that even in the "Walking Community" envelope there were more Chips than white space on the map. 

          Our group settles on the Mixed Use envelope and spent the next thirty minutes discussing where to put the first Chip. Even without the rightful property owners, expert discussion about environmental impact, water availability, infrastructure, cost or who pays, this shows the difficulty and complexity of Central Planning, which is why it doesnít work. Our facilitator, fearing that we would not complete our assignment (planning the county's next 20 years in the allotted hour) suggested that we take turns putting Chips down and discuss them after they were all down.   

          After they were all down and we made a few group changes, we were told to draw in where we want more roads and transit. Among other improvements, our group sent Bart from Bay Point to Stockton. How long has Antioch been paying the BART tax without having service? Who are we kidding? 

          After about an hour they gave us 15 more minutes to finish up. It would not surprise me if half the Chips were placed on those 25 Maps in that last 15 minutes. Does this sound like thoughtful consideration of growth to you?

          We then regrouped as a whole and were entertained by several groups explaining their reasoning for their placement of their Chips. We were also told that all 25 maps would be entered into their "Computer Model" (more expert data) so that we would have an impact on future development and that is the scariest part of all. This is called "selling the sale" to a professional salesman. Most of the 200 citizens left feeling like they had done their civic duty. 

          I applaud those concerned citizens for attending but fear that they have been duped. Before we go down this Socialist road it would be wise to ask the citizens of Russia, North Korea, China, and Cuba what they have to say about Central Planning.

          The Forth Amendment to the US Constitution states; "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated, ..." In California, Redevelopment Districts have the right to use Eminent Domain to force you to sell your property to a for-profit developer. I live near a Bart station in a small cottage with yard for my dogs. My home was Chipped into a Village. Will yours be, too?

 

Smart Growth Lessons from Portland http://www.pacificresearch.org/pub/sab/enviro/portland.html 

Excerpted from Dr. Steven Haywardís luncheon response to remarks by John Charles 
(Cascade Policy Institute), at the Heartland Instituteís National Conference on Sprawl and Smart Growth, Chicago, April 26, 2000.

How can I "respond"? John Charles and I have spoken on panels together several times.  In fact, there is some risk that he and I will become known as the Oscar and Felix of the smart growth mashed-potato circuit. The trouble is, weíre in heated agreement about this subject, which makes a "response" difficult, unless the reply Joe Bast is looking for is of the kind found in the Call-and- Response sections of the Anglican prayer book.

I canít add anything original to Johnís policy analysis. Besides, there are severe limits to how much rigorous analysis can persuade those who are held in thrall of what William F. Buckley, Jr. once called "invincible ignorance." The intransigence of so many smart growth advocates in the face of facts and analysis that expose the problematic aspects and unacknowledged tradeoffs of smart growth reminds me of Friedrich Hegelís warning that when theory and facts disagree, so much the worse for the facts.

I think the time has come for a social analysis of the symbolism of Portland, because Portland may indeed represent the future of our cities, not just in its growth management policies, but in the social outlook that smart growth exemplifies.

John is, as I was once, a transplant to Portland, Oregon. I went there as an undergraduate to attend Lewis and Clark College. In those days houses were so cheap that when I heard the prices, I thought I might as well take a dozen. Nowadays, I live in northern California, which might well be regarded as Baja Oregon.

Lewis and Clark College has a close-in suburban location. You could get to downtown on foot in 15 minutes, or onto country lanes populated by farms or pastures in less than 10 minutes.  No more. The farm fields, pastures, and open space inside the urban growth boundary (UGB) are disappearing. And so part of the charm of neighborhoods is also disappearing. It is startling to visit Portland today and see what has become of the green fields and vistas along Boones Ferry Road, Taylorís Ferry Road, or from the heights of Terwilliger Boulevard.

Oregon has always had a gloomy countenance toward growth of any kind. There are signs at the California border: "Welcome to OregonóEnjoy Your Visit." Iíve now visited 49 of these 50 United States and Oregon is the only one Iíve seen that has border signs with an attitude. A once-popular bumper sticker said, "Donít Californicate Oregon." I retaliated with a homemade sticker that said, "Keep California Dis-Oregonized," which during the Jerry Brown years was quite easy to do.

Some years ago, a popular Henry Weinhardís beer commercial on TV showed someone trying to get through a border checkpoint into Oregon with a trunkful of Coors beer, which, the driver was told, is a misdemeanor in Oregon. So the guard starts filling out the form for a misdemeanor citation, and asks first, "Occupation?" "Iím a real estate developer." Immediately the trooper turns grim, says, "Thatís a felony here," and slaps the handcuffs on. The commercial was wildly popular.

Now, my serious point is this: At the heart of the moral defect of smart growth is a blindness to the bad motives which smart growth is accommodating and legitimizing, and which reveal themselves in a rank hypocrisyóperhaps the last moral failing that has not yet been transmogrified into an alternative lifestyle.

Consider, for example, the animus of Portland planners against big-box stores. All thinking people deplore big-box retailers these days; thatís why Wal-Mart and Costco are going broke a nd their parking lots are so empty all the time. Of course, the obvious disharmony between what the thinking class uniformly says about big-box stores and what you observe in the parking lots of these stores reminds me of the story of Adlai Stevenson in the election of 1956, when an enthusiastic supporter ran up to him and said, "Oh, Governor Stevenson, every thinking American is for you." "Yes," Stevenson replied, "but I need a majority." This kind of attitude toward the majority is why Stevenson neither received one, nor deserved one.

Portland planners advocated saving land for the next Intel that wanted to come to town; high-paying, high value-added jobs instead of low-paying, menial service and retail jobs.

Well, Intel did come calling.

But when the company recently worked out plans to invest $12 billion in a new facility there, the local government said, in effect, "Fineóbut just donít create too many jobs." The local county has decided to levy a "growth impact fee" of $1,000 per job if Intel creates more than 1,000 new jobs. County administrator Charles Cameron told the New York Times: "Weíre more concerned about retaining the economic strength we have rather than creating more." And the director of Oregonís state office of economic development said that "We arenít just interested in jobs, jobs, jobs."

An economic development director who is ambivalent about job creation is about as incongruous as a policeman ambivalent about catching criminals, or an evangelist indifferent to finding converts.

But that is where our affluence has brought us. Discouraging job growth will certainly preserve Portlandís quality of lifeófor those who already have a job. Are we so affluent and satisfied today that we can be indifferent to those without jobs or in menial jobs who aspire to move up?  In Portland the answer is apparently "yes."

I wrote this up in a commentary for the New York Times, explaining how it confirmed the thesis of Fred Hirschís 1976 book Social Limits to Growth, and how, if you brought back from the dead a New Deal liberal, smart growth and our attitudes toward "sprawl" would be incomprehensible and deeply disturbing. I wonít go through the Hirsch thesis right now; I do so at some length in the first chapter of 
A Guide to Smart Growth: Shattering Myths, Providing Solutions
(co-published by the Heritage Foundation and the Political Economy Research Center, 2000).

More interesting is the response the article generated. Since the piece appeared on the op-ed page of the New York Times and went out nationally on their wire, it got picked up in a lot of other big papers, including the Seattle Times, but not, significantly, the Portland Oregonian, which is a subscriber to the NYT wire services. It generated a lot of letters to the editor of the Times and other papers. None of them deigned to argue with my main point; rather, all of the responses had the character of the passage from one of Ring Lardnerís short stories that reads, "ĎShut up,í he explained." Weíve got a good thing going here, said the letters to the editor.  Donít mess it up by calling unpleasant social effects to our attention. Shut up, they explained.

Chris DeMuth, president of the American Enterprise Institute, has come up with the perfect description for this kind of policy:   This is government sprawl, or perhaps strip-mall socialism.

Wanting to preserve the character of your community is a fine and worthy sentiment. Of course, thatís all the majority of people in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama wanted to do in 1963 too.

The dirty little secret of Portland is that itís a very white place.

Remember what Bobby Kennedy said about Oregon in 1968? He lost the Oregon primary, the first time a Kennedy had ever lost a presidential primary. He blew into Portland thinking heíd do his Gary, Indiana schtick, and it bombed. Journalist Geoffrey Hodgson described the comical scene in his memoir of that campaign, An American Melodrama: Bobby sallying forth from the Benson Hotel every morning, with a huge media motorcade in tow, looking vainly for a familiar, eastern-style slum for a stand-up location. And he couldnít find one. Portland has down and out parts of town, but they donít look anything like Camden, Newark, or Detroit. They were, hence, unrecognizable to eastern politicians and eastern journalists alike. So thatís when Bobby chucked it all and went to the beach, and we got those famous pictures of him walking down the beach with his jacket thrown over his shoulder, looking "thoughtful." He was glum because he knew e was going to lose the primary. And after he did, in fact, lose, remember what he said? "I donít get Oregon; itís like one giant suburb."  He didnít mean it as a compliment. The suburbs for him were the home of Republicans and reaction.

This is what makes so ironic the commonplace view that Portland-style smart growth is chiefly a liberal enthusiasm, when, in fact, it is highly illiberal.

Smart growth Portland-style is simply a high church version of NIMBYism. And if you want a good example of just how high church it is, consider this news story:

February 18, 2000

Portland church ordered to limit attendance

By Joyce Howard Price, The Washington Times

"A 100-year-old United Methodist Church in Portland, Ore., has been ordered by a city official to limit attendance at its worship services and to shut down a meals program for the homeless and working poor it has been running for the past 16 years.

"Mrs. Elizabeth Normandís 30-page ruling ordered that the meals program be shut down. It also imposed an attendance limit of 70 worshippers at the church, which can hold up to 500 persons.

"Mrs. Normand has refused to say why she imposed [the attendance cap]. In several media interviews, she said her job was 'quasi-judicial,' and she was not required to explain decisions."

Now, I think this story deserves some comment. If someone is going to make an administrative decision, carrying the force of law, and reaching to the most fundamental rights of worship, not to mention property, then Ö then they sure better explain it.

In this case, the Portland city council, embarrassed by the deservedly bad publicity and wanting to save the taxpayers the expense of defending a lawsuit the city would surely lose, voted to overrule Mrs. Normand. They didnít take the appropriate and clearly necessary step of firing her, however, and so she remains in place with the power to perpetrate some other arrogant outrage against the community.

The context of this story is that the church is located in a working class neighborhood that has been gentrifying quickly, and no doubt some of the new yuppies in the neighborhood feared that some homeless person was going to damage their BMWs. And I have little doubt that many of them are the same folks who waxed indignant in the 1980s about the Reagan administrationís indifference to the homeless.

The late Ed Banfield provides sobriety on the subject from his still-unsurpassed book The Unheavenly City: "[I]t would be hard to give the well-off the space necessary to bring them back from the suburbs and still have room for the large number of the not well-off who would have to be accommodated." This is exactly the problem in Portland.

Jane Jacobs had the likes of Portlandís planners, like Mrs. Normand, in mind when she wrote in her classic book: "That such wonders may be accomplished, people who get marked with the plannersí hex signs are pushed about, expropriated, and uprooted much as if they were the subjects of a conquering power." Jacobs, I understand, is popular with planners in Portland, yet I suspect this passage isnít highlighted in any of the copies decorating the bookshelves in the regional government office suites.

And so all over the country people are touting the Portland model, which is having the effect of laundering and making respectable anti-growth attitudes. Weíre all from Oregon now.

Things need to be called by their proper names. "Illiberal" is one of the kinder names that can be applied. A Latino official of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in California remarked to me that he thinks smart growth really stands for "Send Mexicans Across the River Tomorrow." And there is some evidence that lower-income residents and minorities have been leaving Portland.  Whether or not smart growth is genuinely intelligent from certain policy perspectives, from a social point of view, Portland-style smart growth is certainly Ö clever. But if I worked for Portlandís regional government, Iíd have to take a shower when I got home every night.

 

The Brawl Over Sprawl
By Steven Hayward
Cover story in March 22nd, 2003 National Review
 
Vice President Al Gore thinks he's found his Big Issue for the 2000 campaign: suburban sprawl. Sprawl, the Vice President thinks, is a "threat" to our well being; we have to stop sprawl, he told the Brookings Institution in September, so that "our kids will see horses, cows and farms outside books and movies."
 
Gore is proposing that the Environmental Protection Agency promote "smart growth" by doling out billions to local communities that use planning to preserve open space and avoid the evils of traffic congestion, overcrowded schools, and functional but inelegant development forms such as strip malls. And the EPA has said it intends to use its existing authority under the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act to strongarm local governments into fighting sprawl. Beyond these seemingly modest first steps lies a grab bag of visionary planning ideas that has attracted a diverse coalition of environmentalists, urban planners, and good government reformers. The four hallmarks of smart growth are the setting of "urban growth boundaries" to constrain the amount of land available for development, higher density residential development, more mass transit (particularly rail transit), and much more aggressive long range urban planning.
 
Among the chattering classes it has become axiomatic that future development should be heavily regulated by enlightened planners. The usual gaggle of left-wing foundations, including Turner, MacArthur, Joyce, and Charles Stewart Mott, have formed the Funders Network on Sprawl, Smart Growth, and Livable Communities, and have already shoveled millions to smart growth advocacy groups. Beyond the argument that we have to stop sprawl to preserve farmland and open space lies the revival of central city urban renewal. People fleeing the city for the suburbs in search of better schools, lower crime, and quieter neighborhoods are blamed for sucking the life out of downtowns. Smart growth advocates say stopping the suburban exodus is key to saving central cities, which ignores the lessons of busing in the 1970s and the lessons of big cities recently turning themselves around by cutting crime and cleaning up.
 
If sprawl strikes you as the sort of issue that could worry only a fat and happy land, you're right. Gore is calculating that at a time of peace and prosperity, spending too much time in traffic is the sort of thing that still bugs voters. In fact, the politics of sprawl follows the economic cycle, rising to a crescendo when housing starts reach their peak late in booms and then disappearing during recessions. The last big controversy over urban growth started to peak at the end of the '80s boom, when states like California, Florida, and Washington adopted growth-control measures. The economy slid into recession shortly thereafter, and issue largely went away. What's new today is that the controversy over the proliferation of suburbs has spread beyond the fast-growing regions of the west and east coasts to the heartland. Crusades against sprawl are in full swing in St. Louis, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and other older metropolitan areas that 20 years ago went begging for growth of any kind. The November '98 election saw over 200 growth control measures sponsored mostly by environmentalists and planners on the ballot in 31 states. Voters approved three-quarters of them.
 

Sprawl Tales

 
But the threat of sprawl is vastly overblown. Indeed, there is an Alice-in-Wonderland quality to the whole campaign-literally. From chapter seven of Lewis Carroll's book: "The table was a large one, but the three were all crowded together at one corner of it. 'No room! No room!' they cried out, when they saw Alice coming. 'There's plenty of room!' said Alice indignantly, and she sat down in a large armchair at one end of the table." The anti-sprawl crusaders, too, are myopically focusing on small corners of the country.
 
There's plenty of room left. You'd never know it from listening to the planners, but developed land accounts for less than 5 percent of the total land area in the continental United States. The amount of land developed each year, according to U.S. Geological Survey figures, is 0.0006 percent. Since World War II, the amount of land set aside for wildlife, wilderness conservation, and national parks has grown twice as fast as urban areas. The amount of land set aside for these purposes is now three times as large as urbanized areas. And for all the rhetoric about "vanishing farmland," the amount of farmland isn't declining in any significant way. The amount of suburban development and farmland loss (which is driven more by falling farm commodity prices than development pressures) is actually lower than it was in the 1960s and 1970s.
 
Yet these facts have little to do with the politics of the issue. No one in a fast growing area is likely to be moved by aggregate land use statistics. If some of that .0006 percent of land development is taking place in your community, it's a big deal. A Republican trying to counteract Gore's appeal to the suburbs can't very well stand for "dumb growth" and unconstrained sprawl. Alas, the favorite solutions of free market policy wonks, such as peak hour road pricing, privatization of infrastructure, and zoning that respects property rights, are also unlikely to appeal to most voters. Between a candidate appealing to "livability" and your "quality of life" and a candidate talking about road pricing, who do you think will win the debate? In this respect Gore's anti-sprawl crusade can be seen as adapting a kind of conservative nostalgia to advance liberal ends.
 
Indeed, a number of Republicans, and even some conservatives, have embraced much of this agenda. New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman tried to raise gas taxes to purchase open spaces and, when that failed, successfully sponsored a bond issue for the purpose. Utah governor Mike Leavitt is a believer in smart growth, and Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge two years ago appointed a "21st Century Environment Commission" that has obsessed about sprawl. 

Plan Obsolescence

 
The real problem for conservatives is that, like a medieval heresy, there is just enough truth in the "smart growth" critique of contemporary urban life to make a direct attack on the Gore agenda difficult. Many American cities and suburbs are a mess. This was foreshadowed in Jane Jacobs's 1961 classic, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, an attack on the "urban renewal" being led by the planners of the day. (William F. Buckley, Jr., excerpted a chapter from Jacobs' book in the 1970 edition of American Conservative Thought in the Twentieth Century, though Jacobs is not a conservative.) Urban renewal in those days consisted of bulldozing entire neighborhoods so that they could be replaced with strictly separate land uses that were thought to be more "rational." The bigger the area "renewed," the bigger the disaster, the apotheosis being Brazilia in South America, which sprang full-blown from the mid of the best planners of the day, and which resulted in perhaps the most ugly and dysfunctional city in the world.
 
Jacobs' point was that truly livable cities evolve spontaneously, and that prescriptive planning stifles this process and upsets the urban order. She was especially critical of the proscriptions against mixed-use and high-density development that formed part of the conventional wisdom among planners at the time. Today's smart growth advocates hold Jacobs up as their guru because of her praise of density and mixed-use development, but totally miss her main point about the limitations of planning and the spontaneous nature of city life. Here we have the beginnings of a possibly effective counterattack on "smart growth": Why should we let the government and the planners that failed so badly at urban renewal try their hand at suburban renewal? 

The Quest for the Holy Rail

 
And the new plans work just as poorly as the old. People keep failing to fit the planners' mold. Light rail, which together with high density development is supposed to reduce congestion, has been a flop. In his Brookings speech in September, Gore incredibly claimed that the light rail system in Portland, Oregon (the Potemkin Village of the smart growth movement) was attracting 40 percent of daily commuters. The actual number is less than 4 percent on a good day; that Gore was completely credulous about this fantastic figure, and that no one caught this blooper, is telling. There is no rational reason why we should be looking to a 19th century technology for 21st century mobility needs. Future historians may well write off this mania as "the quest for the holy rail."
 
Nor does high-density development reduce congestion. The superficially appealing idea is that if we all live closer to where we work and shop, shorter car trips and mass transit will replace all those long car rides. But the real world doesn't work that way. Try this thought experiment. What happens at a cocktail party when a new wave of people shows up and the population density of the living room doubles? It is harder or easier to get to the bar and the cheese tray? Is it easier or harder to carry on conversation and move around the room? As urban population density rises, auto traffic congestion gets worse, not better, and commute times get longer, not shorter.
 
If density and proximity to transit cured congestion, then walkable, transit-rich New York City would have the best mobility and least congestion of any American city. In fact, while the average home-to-work commute in American cities is about 22 minutes, the average home-to-work commute for New Yorkers is 36 minutes, according to U.S. Census data, one-third longer than the average. No other city, not even Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, or Philadelphia, comes close. "Sprawling" low density cities like Phoenix and Albuquerque, meanwhile, have commute times below the national average. So why would anyone want to embrace a "solution" that will make the problem of congestion worse?
 
The answer is simple: To get us out of our cars. It is no exaggeration to say that for most smart growth advocates, the car is a rolling cigarette, General Motors is the moral equivalent of Philip Morris, and American Graffiti is a pornographic movie. In Earth in the Balance, Gore wrote that the internal combustion engine "is posing a mortal threat to the security of every nation that is more deadly than that of any military enemy we are ever likely to confront again." It is this animus toward the car that explains why the smart growth crowd is fixated with high density development. The planners want to increase congestion deliberately, to force us out of our cars and onto light rail. National Public Radio gave up the game when it noted in a report that "Portland's planners are embracing congestion; they want to create more of it." Portland's 40-year plan restricts road-building and envisions congestion tripling. The smart-growth coalition in Utah has produced a 25-year plan that predicts a 10 percent increase in congestion over what would otherwise be expected.
 
Here is where the planners' elitism and condescension is revealed. For behind their contempt for the car is contempt for the communities and ways of life it enables. Elite contempt for suburban life is an old liberal theme. Herbert Gans wrote his famous book The Levittowners 30 years ago to defend suburbanites from the charge that they were "an uneducated, gullible, petty 'mass' which rejects the culture that would make it fully human, the 'good government' that would create the better community, and the proper planning that would do away with the landscape-despoiling little 'boxes' in which they live."
 
Those attitudes persist to this day. They are present in a recent report of the Pennsylvania commission appointed by Gov. Ridge. Identifying urban sprawl as the single most important environmental problem for the Keystone state, the report declared, "We must find ways to prompt individual Pennsylvanians to explore their personal lifestyle choices-where they choose to live and work, how and how much they travel each day, how much energy they consume or save, and consider changes in those patterns that will not only improve the long-term quality of their lives but also contribute to a better quality of life for all citizens of the Commonwealth."
 
There you have it: commuting suburbanites are unreflective sheep, making unenlightened lifestyle choices because they lack the expert supervision that only their betters in government can provide. Gans couldn't have characterized the full repulsiveness of the elite condescension to the suburbs any better. And this gem came from a Republican administration.
 
Gore can be expected to be a lot more careful with his rhetoric about suburban life, and his remedies will be described in the most benign way. He knows that a direct attack on cars won't work, and that the imposition of urban growth boundaries and massive new government planning power can only proceed by stealth. (Watch for the new land conservation program to establish de facto urban growth boundaries by targeting key parcels of land on the urban periphery, and for the EPA to start looking over the shoulder of your local zoning board.) That's why smoking him out will require equal skill and finesse. But the openings are clearly there. Conservatives need to revive the populist language about centralized government and liberal elitism that worked well in the past. The same government that brought you urban renewal, conservatives should say, is likely to make an even worse mess of suburban renewal.
 
Steven Hayward is senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco.

"Urban Limit Line" Limbo

 

ACCT Chairman Ken Hambrick's commentary in the Contra Costa Times, April 10, 2005
Sierra Club's Mike Daley claims (Times, March 14) the "Public wants urban limit lines to stay." And how does he know this? He doesn't; he's just spouting the party line.

As Richard Hartmann (Times, March 20) aptly put it, Sierra Club represents a limited constituency, not the public in general. The truth: Most members of the public don't understand what an urban limit line is.

Housing costs are outrageous. More property taken out of the developable land inventory contributes heavily to increasing prices. The ULL does that, preventing cities from expanding and property owners outside the ULL from utilizing their land for its highest and best use.

Any ULL is unnecessary. Growth will come. The ULL can't stop it. What we need is intelligent management of that growth. Neither the so-called Smart Growth concept (pack people into rabbit warrens and increase congestion) nor a ULL is the way to do it.

Land-use planning under local control is the only intelligent way, without arbitrarily dictated rules and boundaries.

I'm sure Daley and his constituents have already gotten theirs, probably a single-family home. These so-called environmentalist want to keep our children and grandchildren from having the same thing. Shame on them.

Kenneth E. Hambrick


Thoughts on the ULL Scam

  1. It is a cosmetic attempt to stop growth. Growth will come, and no ULL will stop it.
  2. A ULL only compounds problems in intelligently handling this growth.
  3. ULL in effect "confiscates" private property, without compensation, by effectively preventing the owner from applying the best and highest use of it (housing, for example).
  4. Owners outside the ULL are forced to pay property taxes on land that cannot be economically utilized, like unprofitable agriculture (very little profitable farming can be done today in CCC.
  5. ULLs exacerbate the already high cost of housing by taking land out of the housing inventory.
  6. The majority of land available for additional housing exists in East County and a great portion of that lies outside the present ULL. So how is growth to be reasonably and intelligently handled while housing costs are kept from escalating even faster?
  7. The motivation of a ULL was never to "protect open space", nor should it be.
  8. The ULL is merely a device to force people to change the way they want to live to conform to the way the politicians and environmental extremists want them to live -- and in some cases, we believe, a device to allow politicians to provide development-privilege favors to their friends.
  9. The ULL proponents are trying to drive people into accepting the so-called Smart Growth principals and transit villages, not to drive people back into urban areas. We don't really have genuine urban areas in most of Contra Costa County.
  10. It's easy for people who are not impacted, like residents of Lafayette, Walnut Creek and Orinda to vote for a ULL because it doesn't put any constraints on them (The "I've got mine, too bad for you" syndrome).
  11. The ULL takes land use planning out of the hands of the local folks and puts it into the hands of county politicians. The county has repeatedly thumbed its nose at the cities on issue after issue.
  12. There is absolutely no reason to have a ULL at all. East County is being treated unfairly by the Board of Supervisors relative to the cities who "already have theirs."