The Daily News of Los Angeles
June 20, 2002 Thursday, Valley Edition



BYLINE: Shirley Svorny, Local View

AT a time when it appears people want more local control - witness the secession movements in the San Fernando Valley, Hollywood and Harbor areas of Los Angeles - the California Senate has passed legislation that would tighten the state's control over local planning.

Senate Bill 1521 (which passed the state Senate and is now being reviewed by the Assembly Committee on Local Government) would reward cities that adopt a state model for planning and development. Cities that comply with the state model would be given priority in the allocation of state infrastructure and development grants. This legislation shares the vision of urban planners who want us to live on top of one another in compact and efficient, walkable, mixed-use developments - with affordable housing - built around transport hubs. Stepford communities.

This is the worst kind of legislation. The presumption is that state planners, removed from local conditions, should guide local developers and city governments in making decisions about land use, development, open space and population growth.

Under this legislation, the Governor's Office of Planning and Research would serve as the state's "comprehensive planning agency in the formulation ... of ...goals and policies for land use, population growth, ... urban expansion, development, open space, resource preservation and utilization ..."

This is a utopian view, that a state agency can effectively and appropriately guide communities to put local resources to their best use.

The OPR is not up to the challenging, dynamic, multidimensional task of guiding growth in this state. No state agency is; these are local issues. State oversight should make any community nervous, imposing an arbitrary conformity on local development across the state.

Proponents of "smart growth" initiatives, such as those incorporated in SB 1521, are so naive as to think they can limit development and create affordable housing at the same time.

The predictable result of limited development, coupled with set-asides for affordable housing, is a tighter housing market with higher rents and housing prices for all, the exception being those households lucky enough to be selected to live in one of the subsidized units.

Another logic-defying presumption of the guidelines for developing zoning ordinances is that you can increase density without a concomitant increase in traffic congestion. The premise that people will take public transit or live in mixed-use communities, alleviating the need to commute, has been proved wrong time and time again.

Opponents of growth have demeaned the obvious solution to congestion - which is building out - by calling it "sprawl." They have taken it upon themselves to decide what is the best use of land in the state and how residents across the state shall live. Agriculture trumps housing, even if the land no longer has as high a value in agriculture as it has in residential use.

For years, environmentalists and urban planners have envisioned a world in which people live densely and close to their jobs. No matter that we aren't crazy about the idea.

Under the proposed legislation, the state will have leverage to blackmail cities into adopting ill-conceived plans that will make life worse, not better, in cities all over California.

EDITOR-NOTE: Shirley Svorny is a professor of economics at California State University, Northridge.