Tuesday, August 5, 2008

LA musings

OK time to do a little catching up. The bar exam is finally over, hopefully I passed and a job is soon to follow. But enough about my troubles. Today I’d like to share an example of poor growth planning that was in the LA Times on Monday, Aug. 4. What makes people think they can stop or slow growth by just telling it to stop is beyond me. This kind of ham-fisted approach to growth never works and always has unexpected and adverse consequences. Here’s what the Times had to say:

November is shaping up to be a pivotal month for cities grappling with growth and traffic … "These [initiatives] are examples of people frustrated with the consequences and trade-offs forced by economic prosperity," said Randall Crane, a professor at UCLA's School of Public Affairs … The constant search for revenue, prosperity and jobs -- in other words, growth -- explains in large part why Southern California looks the way it does: sprawly, congested and polluted (if you’re familiar with Prop. 13, this should make sense to you. I don’t want to spend time on that here but if you’re curious, check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Proposition_13_(1978) or http://www.caltax.org/research/prop13/prop13.htm) … Ballot measures intended to control or manage growth typically encounter stiff opposition from the building industry and chambers of commerce. Even when measures succeed, Pincetl said, they are "virtually futile" given the region's multiple jurisdictions and varying needs. Communities "can't control what's going on next door," she said … But community activists are determined to have a voice in matters that they say affect their quality of life … "Developers and their friends at City Hall want you to believe that runaway commercial development is good for our city," the measure's backers say in their arguments for the measure. "Big developers make huge profits in our city, while residents get stuck with -- and pay for -- the huge traffic mess they create" … Opponents -- including an odd-bedfellows alliance of businesses, developers, renters' rights advocates, environmentalists, preservationists and the school board president -- kicked off a campaign against the initiative at a rally Wednesday. They say it would limit the city's ability to collect revenue for schools, fire and police departments and other social services and to promote mixed-use projects and transit-oriented development with housing and shopping … The measure would limit new development of offices, hotels and stores to 75,000 square feet a year, about half the current rate. The Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City, the group behind the measure, said schools, hospitals, low-income housing and other vital community-serving projects would be exempt … Although the measure's supporters invoke traffic as their key motivator, the initiative does not directly propose solutions to existing traffic problems. Rather, it aims to curb future commercial development that proponents say would exacerbate conditions on the city's already congested streets … Jeffrey Tumlin, a transportation consultant to the city, said many of the streets are filled to capacity at peak periods. At the city's eastern edge, freeway ramps have become bottlenecks … For four years, Santa Monica has studied its land use and traffic circulation as part of revamping its general plan, as required by state law every 20 years. In the last year, the city has held more than two dozen workshops and hearings to review proposals and get input from the public … On Thursday, the City Council endorsed the plan that emerged from the public process. It calls for "no net new trips" -- in other words, no increases in traffic … The council agreed that most future development should be concentrated around transit centers … Tumlin, the transportation consultant, said neither the ballot measure nor the city's land use and traffic plan could solve the traffic problem on its own … "To address traffic congestion," he said, "we have to do a lot of things and all at once. . . . The important thing is to put any new development where people can get around without a car."

As the quote at the end of the story indicates, managing growth is a complicated business, not amenable to quick and easy solutions. And especially not measures intended to shut it down completely. I know there are many people in Tucson who wish the city would remain the way they remember it always, but the simple fact is – a stagnant city is a dying city. There must be some growth to maintain a vibrant, livable community – but too much growth (what we often see here) can result in a vibrant, unlivable community. Not to mention local governments heavily reliant on growth for tax revenues, that have to deal with cyclical fiscal crises whenever growth slows down. Here in Tucson we often express a desire to not become another LA (or even Phoenix for that matter), but its important that we try to learn from what LA does wrong - and right - if we really want a better future for our community.

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