By on August 29, 2008

Less of this? (courtesy"Crucifies" may be a bit harsh. Or maybe it isn't. It's hard to tell. The New York Times article detailing the Golden State's new real estate development legislation waits until the eighth paragraph to chart the changes, and even then, it's not entirely clear how it works. "The bill yokes three regulatory and permit processes. One focuses on regional planning: how land use should be split among industry, agriculture, homes, open space and commercial centers. Another governs where roads and bridges are built. A third sets out housing needs and responsibilities… Under the pending measure, the three regulatory and permit processes must be synchronized to meet new goals, set by the state’s Air Resources Board, to reduce heat-trapping gases. Seventeen regional planning groups from across the state will submit their land-use, transportation and housing plans to the board. If the board rules that a plan will fall short of its emissions targets, then an alternative blueprint for meeting the goals must be developed. Once state approval is granted, or an alternative plan submitted, billions of dollars in state and federal transportation subsidies can be awarded. The law would allow the money to be distributed even if an alternative plan fails to pass muster." In English. "The goal is to encourage housing near current development and to reduce commutes to work." Or… "clustered communities," a new stick, the same old carrots and LOTS more red tape. 

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28 Comments on “CA’s Anti-Sprawl Bill Crucifies Cars...”

  • avatar

    Good luck to LA, sprawl is its middle name. It would probably be in Nevada already if it weren't for the mountains.

  • avatar

    So what should they do? The current system that allows builders to encourage people to live further and further away is not working well–infrastructure costs that the government (us) will bear at some point, pollution, pressure on gas prices, even adding paved surfaces so that flooding increases are some of the consequences.

    If you keep doing the same thing over and over, you’ll get the same results. SOMETHING different needs to happen.

    I’d like to see some calculation of the true long term costs of development, and then impose that on the developers/buyers. If people really want to live 50 miles from their job (in the country-HA-as soon as you move there it’s not “country” any more), let them bear the burden rather than the rest of us.

  • avatar

    I’m confused about what makes this anti-car. I love my car, but hate having to use it to do stupid things like buy a pint of milk, because my city thinks it’s a good idea to have houses in one place, and stores in another.

    Meanwhile exurbs of cities like Dallas that grew 200% in the late 90s early 00s are now getting eviscerated by the mortgage crunch, leaving those towns to pay the bills. Sorry, there’s more to life than driving 60 minutes to work.

  • avatar

    If people really want to live 50 miles from their job (in the country-HA-as soon as you move there it’s not country any more), let them bear the burden rather than the rest of us.

    They already do. It’s increased commute time and money spent on gas. Note what happened recently around SF Bay Area to some of the more distant outlying developments. They’re standing half empty, and the prices plummeted. It’s a self-regulating system. Do we need a legislation for that?

  • avatar

    “If you keep doing the same thing over and over, you’ll get the same results. SOMETHING different needs to happen.”

    that’s not entirely true. keep banging your head against the wall and your headache will get worse and worse until you pass out.

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    Crucifies cars? Um, if you are going to use such an inflammatory term then how about providing specific evidence above and beyond a vague complaint about red tape? For example, the rules were apparently inspired by Portland, Oregon’s long-standing approach. Are you going to seriously argue that this city has crucified the car? If so, let’s see a fact-based analysis rather than bumper sticker sloganeering.

  • avatar


    Why not? It’s like anyone believes in the free market, anyways.

    This is just another bit of socialism from Russia Lite. The government should not be in the business of telling people where they can or can’t build nor how to build their own house. All of these committees are putting a stranglehold on Americans.

  • avatar

    Sprawl in calf…I don’t believe it!

    They don’t really have a problem right now.
    Home prices are plummeting.
    Foreclosesure are on every street.
    Home tax is at 1.2 percent of purchase price…an in some places even more added!.
    Imagine a yearly 1.2 percent of the sell price to your annual tax?
    You buy a house for 800K (a b’ginner house in LA), and end up with an annual tax of 10 GRAND every year!!
    Now that will slow down sales and growth better than anything they can do.

  • avatar

    CarShark :

    What do you mean the government shouldn’t tell (the) people what and where and how to build?
    Where do you live?
    Its called zone laws.
    The government (we, the people, community) don’t want a business high rise in a small, bedroom neighborhood.
    Nobody wants a chicken farm next to a school…etc, etc.
    In Europe, for instance, they prevented this same problem by NOT allowing development away from the cities at all.
    Farm land MUST STAY farmland.
    I don’t mind government, its just controlled gov we demand.

  • avatar

    Car Shark,

    It’s not socialism – please go look it up.

    What they are proposing is a plan to keep the same congestion from happening and trying to prevent more pollution at the same time – not a bad goal if you ask me. And once again, that isn’t socialism.

    California is grid locked on most of its highways – it was poor planning that lead to that in the first place.

  • avatar

    This bill has nothing to do with cars. If it goes forward, it’ll be easier to enjoy cars in the future in CA. TTAC should celebrate this development, not condemn it.

    The government should not be in the business of telling people where they can or can’t build nor how to build their own house

    You must not live in a place with earthquakes or hurricanes. We’re talking about California here — without building codes, earthquakes would routinely devastate the state. Market demand cannot protect against builders maximizing profit. Building inspectors can protect against shortsightedness, but only if building codes exist.

  • avatar

    CarShark, that’s very typical right-wing misunderstanding (or misrepresentation) of zoning issues. The government(s) currently allow single-family sprawl stuff to be built almost anywhere; but if you want to build a nice block of apartments, good luck getting that done. Or if you want to put offices on top of a shop, better have a magnifying glass to find the part of town you can do THAT in.

    We outlawed urban development in 99.99999% of the land in this country when zoning was first done around WWII. The only “mandates” the government ever made was: Thou Shalt Sprawl.

  • avatar

    faster_than_rabbit :

    I “think” TTAC was trying to explain how after all the new red tape, even if there eventually isn’t any compliance… the gift money, the subsidies still flow.
    Its all for newspapers.
    Read the last words…

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    All this odd religion!

    “Crucifies cars”; “the anti-car Jihad” — what’s next? Will we be reading car reviews that compare the ghost in the machine to the Holy Ghost?

    Not wanting to criticize another man’s theology, but the image of a a car nailed to the Cross is to me at the same time funny/bizarre and blasphemous. Did the author intend it to be so?

  • avatar
    Ralph SS

    What L.A. needs is more people.

  • avatar

    Wow — you can really get crucified by going for a bit of alliteration these days…

  • avatar

    In 1960 the population of California was about 15 million. By 1990 it had nearly doubled, to 29 million. In 2000 it was 35 million. by now it’s probably beyond 40 million. The major culprit in last 30 years or so, and the only culprit in the last 20 is mass immigration. (In the ’90s there was a net flight of native US citizens from the state.) Laws to discourage illegal immigrants and an end to sanctuary cities would help California, but legal immigration to the US is ~1 million per year, and children born to immigrants doubles that. Californians and others who want to stop this nonsense–call your representatives and senators. The main # for Capitol Hill is 202-224-3121. Also, join, a group that alerts members by email when crucial legislation is being debated, and makes it easy to fax your representatives. An excellent book on the subject: The New Case Against Immigration, by Mark Krikorian.

  • avatar

    As a Californian, my main problem with these types of laws/arrangements is that they are designed for L.A. and not for the rest of the state.

    Do we have congestion? Yes, it’s rampant in the L.A. Basin, and pretty bad in San Jose, the Peninsula, the East Bay and in parts of Sacramento. However, these areas are not all of California. We still have large expanses of land outside these areas where there isn’t much traffic, and while almost all of the towns have been affected by (some people’s definition of) ‘sprawl’, growing a 1500 person town to 2000 people hardly qualifies. There are a lot of those in California too.

    This is a perfect example of having state law where localized law would be better. Don’t like the sprawl in your county? Make a law. Heck, lobby for state funding for all I care. But don’t tell me that just because 10,000,000 people in Southern California live by a certain standard, I must need to as well (in a town of 30,000 where traffic is rarely an issue).

    “That really grinds my gears!”

  • avatar

    I have yet to see anyone address the real issue behind sprawl – housing prices. No one can afford to live (safely) in the area they work in, so they move to the only places they can afford – 20 miles outside the city.

    Until this changes, the traffic and the sprawl will only get worse and worse.

    The big cities are the best examples – How is any recent grad, newly wed, etc going to afford a $900,000 home? They can’t – there’s no way. My fiancee and I are making a combined income of $100k – not too shabby, but the median home price in DC is $450k. So… it’s sprawl or rent (or move to North Dakota, or something, and honestly, no thanks).

  • avatar

    The big cities are the best examples – How is any recent grad, newly wed, etc going to afford a $900,000 home? They can’t – there’s no way.
    And maybe they shouldn’t?

    If you look to Europe, the solution is going to be twofold:
    * Public transit that isn’t crap
    * A readjustment of the American Dream no more 5000sq.ft. mansions by default. You’ll see more renting and more condominium (“flat”) sales.

    The problem is that, outside of likes of New York or Montreal (and, well, all of Europe and Japan), high-density urban housing is a euphemism for “ghetto”. This attitude has to change: it used to be entirely acceptable for a well-to-do family to own a downtown flat; it’s only since the postwar boom that we’ve been enamoured with the ranch home suburb.

    And yes, the car has enabled this. But it’s not the only factor: more development means more property tax revenue, and what city government is going to turn that down?

  • avatar

    As many of you can guess, I normally would have a dozen ways to point out this as idiocy. But, in this case, it may have a really good benefit – protecting California property values from further slides (pun intended).

    What I think they are missing though is that it may promote building when a permit can be had due to a “use or lose it” fear. Land owners may start some serious fights over these plans trying to protect their rights.

    When I lived in California, there was a family that had owned lots of acreage in the Bay Area for decades. All the land around their ranch had been developed, so they decided to develop their land as well. The world conspired to stop the development of their land because it would ruin everyone’s view, add too much more traffic, and be bad for the environment. I don’t know if this miscarriage of justice was ever resolved, but I know that all land owners got the message.

    The unknown of government fiat is not good for land values. OTOH, constricting land use does protect values of homes and commercial property already built.

  • avatar

    I’ve done a fair bit of reading in the last year about sprawl, growth, urban planning and the so-called New Urbanism movement. While I applaud California’s intent, it certainly seems like an overly-bureaucratic and expensive way to achieve the goal of promoting mixed-use development and a reduction of sprawl.

    One of the most interesting proposals I have read for reducing sprawl was to actually get rid of zoning bylaws altogether. The contention was that we created the problem with the invention of zoning, by pigeon-holing land use. The proposal would see zoning scrapped in favour of design standards. In other words, build whatever you want, but the design must conform to certain standards. The goal would be to focus more on neighbourhood design and less on the specific uses. The theory is that the market will naturally drive a mixed-use model that will serve the local residents. This may be a bit pie-in-the-sky, but interesting food for thought.

    I could write an essay on the subject, but I have neither the time nor the inclination at the moment. But suffice it to say that I find the typical suburban sprawl wasteland to be a soul-destroying place, and I’m all for getting rid of it.

  • avatar

    CarShark : In Houston, a friend’s tuner shop was across the street from a nice 5000 sq ft mansion. This benefited a lot of people, such as businesses who install double-pane glass and soundproofing, for when the shop does dyno runs late into the night. See? The free market model works.

    I visited Dallas recently and witnessed “free market” city planning. Developers bought land during the 80s oil boom and built whatever they wanted, wherever they could. Apartments, single family homes, high rise office buildings all in one place. Streets that dead end 10 feet from a perpendicular main road. Strip malls and shopping centers inaccessible from the homes and apartments that border it, so instead of walking across the street from your home or apartment under the shadow of a 20 floor office building, you drive half a mile around the block instead of walking across the street.

    I appreciate some sort of control over how a city develops, but it’s difficult to put a finger on the best approach. It often seems like “build first, figure it out later”, as is the case in Indio, where they were constantly tearing up roads to drop in sewer lines for new homes, instead of running the infrastructure in first and planning parks, schools and businesses around the homes.

  • avatar

    Dallas has zoning within the city limits.

    I believe that most areas around the city are likewise zoned. Usually though, the developers own the boards. As far as I know, the usual Dallas area development works like this:

    Start a ways off the freeway, put in golf course and really large homes on large lots while making it look like that’s all will ever be built on all the land all the way to the freeway using the models and brochures. Second section gets changed to slightler smaller homes on slightly smaller lots. Continue until you get to the freeway lots that are office or retail backed up immediately by apartments.

    What I don’t get is who is so stupid as to buy the MacMansions way off the road that will never appreciate like similar valued homes in nice neighborhoods.

  • avatar

    California’s hyperactive legislature would profit by first reading Robert Bruegmann’s “Sprawl: A Compact History.” It likely would be surprised to learn such things as —
    — “the shift of population from the center of Paris to the suburbs has been greater than that in Chicago.”
    — “there is little evidence that suburban sprawl is accelerating and considerable evidence that the opposite is occurring.”
    — “many American urban areas [are] now becoming more, rather than less, dense. Chief among these is Los Angeles, which is today the densest urban area in America and at least as dense as many urban areas in Europe.”
    — “Portland [Oregon] is the country’s largest experiment with a kind of regulatory system that has been used extensively in Europe since World War II but rarely in the United States on any scale. It can probably work in the United States only in places that have a coveted geographic location, extraordinary natural environment, or a set of large employers that can’t easily relocate.”

    From the description on the book’s back cover: “Robert Bruegmann calls [sprawl] a logical consequence of economic growth and the democratization of society, with benefits that urban planners have failed to recognize. … Bruegmann demonstrates that sprawl is neither recent nor particularly American, but as old as cities themselves. Nor is it the disaster claimed by many contemporary observers. Although sprawl … has undoubtedly produced problems … it has also provided millions of people with the kinds of mobility, privacy, and choices that were once the prerogatives of the rich and powerful.”

    Ah well, it is an American trait to “hurry up and do something” even if neither the problem nor the remedy is well understood.

  • avatar

    The big cities are the best examples – How is any recent grad, newly wed, etc going to afford a $900,000 home? They can’t – there’s no way. My fiancee and I are making a combined income of $100k – not too shabby, but the median home price in DC is $450k. So… it’s sprawl or rent (or move to North Dakota, or something, and honestly, no thanks).

    A better way is to not look at 900k homes. If the median price in the area is 450k, then that means there a PLENTY of places under that. A $100k income should get someone into a $450k home anyway, assuming that person does not have much other debt and is able to save up or borrow for a down payment. The problem is too many people that are recent graduates or newlyweds have a sense of entitlement regarding what they should be able to afford or insist on buying an expensive car BEFORE thinking about debt to income ratios and what that will do to their qualification to purchase a home. 10 years ago I made quite a bit less than the above example and was comfortably able to afford a $250k 3BR/2BTH townhouse – 35 miles outside of SF (my work) in a decent neighborhood. The same place sells for $475k today. So I took BART to work for 2 years instead of being stuck in traffic, then sold the place when we could afford something larger and closer. It was much better than paying rent.

    The other option is to look for work near whereever home is. No need for most professions to be in the middle of a large city, the suburbs and outlying areas usually have employment opportunities nearby unless someone is really out in the sticks.

    The real problem with traffic is that too many people that live in place A work in place B and the people that live in place B work in place A. 2 years ago I moved yet again – went from a 46 mile commute to a 1.8 mile commute. I will never live far from work again, but if I had to do it all over again, I would not change a thing. Starting out is all about sucking it up and doing whatever works, it makes the eventual payoff that much more rewarding. (purely IMO, of course)

  • avatar

    Areitu: “In Houston, a friend’s tuner shop was across the street from a nice 5000 sq ft mansion. This benefited a lot of people, such as businesses who install double-pane glass and soundproofing, for when the shop does dyno runs late into the night. See? The free market model works.”

    What does “free market” have to do with creating or abating a public nuisance?

    Houston is notable for eschewing the typical urban reliance on land-use zoning. Instead, it has the ubiquitous practice of placing use restrictions in deeds. That seems to have accomplished what zoning is intended to do; studies show little difference between Houston and other cities in land use patterns.

    We’re given no other information about the tuner shop and the hapless occupants of the mansion across the street. But assuming the tuner shop is not in violation of a deed restriction, I’d advise the homeowner to check the city’s noise control ordinance.

  • avatar
    Matthew Potena

    ppellico, I live in the Peoples’ Republic of New Jersey, where our zoning laws make Soviet Russia look like a Milton Friedman paradise. I should know, because I am a land use attorney. While I can agree in principle that good planning can help, it has devolved into a tool by the government and neighbors to stop anything and everything. Also, rezoning anyone’s property to a use, or a design standard such as 2 acre lots when it was once 1 acre lots, is an unconstitutional taking of that property owner’s property. As for your comment about an $800K house having property taxes of $10,000 per year, my parents just sold their house for $390K and their annual property taxes are $10,000!
    People, the government is NOT the answer!

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