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No president in more than 40 years has been better positioned to reshape American urban policy than Barack Obama. But the new president faces three challenges in dealing with urban policy.
Supporters and opponents alike are touting SB 375 as the most significant land use reform bill in recent California history. When he signed it in September, Gov. Schwarzenegger called it the biggest bill since the California Environmental Quality Act 38 as approved years ago. Meanwhile, the hilariously over-the-top Orange County Register has called the bill “one of the most authoritarian, far-reaching and elitist bills that has ever made it to the governor’s desk.” In fact, it is neither.
Barack Obama and John McCain are both selling themselves to the American people as reformers. And neither was raised in a conventional American city or suburb. So you’d think that they would have unconventional ideas about how to deal with growth, planning, and development issues.
The state and federal governments are throwing a lot of “new money” at the housing market in hopes of stabilizing prices and bailing out subprime mortgage borrowers. For California alone, the total looks to be several hundred million dollars – at least – in the next year alone. But is that anywhere near enough to make a dent in the problem?
The state has gone into the infill and transit-oriented development business for the first time. But it is hard to say whether the state government’s newfound interest will reshape California.
Using money from Proposition 1C, adopted by the voters in 2006, the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) recently awarded almost $500 million in infill infrastructure grants and transit-oriented development (TOD) grants. No, it’s probably not enough to alter the state’s growth patterns. But it is enough to get some projects off the ground that otherwise might have languished in the real estate downturn.
Are the exurbs dead?
You’d think so, based on all the publicity about plummeting home prices in California – and the rapidly increasing price of gasoline. In the short run, it is probably true that we’ll see big housing price drops in the exurbs and construction will stop almost completely.
What’s the next big thing?
The last big thing was housing, and it’s over. So what’s next?
We may be in a real estate slump, but as California communities and planners begin mapping out their futures, it is not too early to start thinking about what the next big thing will be in the world of real estate development.
Almost 30 years ago, an ambitious young developer named Rob Maguire created an audacious proposal for the greatest development project never built in downtown Los Angeles. Responding to a request from the Community Redevelopment Agency for a development plan atop Bunker Hill, Maguire put together a magnificent team – including most of the leading architects and planners of the day – and proposed combining a reconstruction of Bunker Hill’s historic urban fabric with a few tall office towers.
The project was never built, but it wasn’t long before Maguire set the tone for big-time development in L.A.
I hate to be repetitious, but sometimes in the column-writing business it’s inevitable.
Eighteen months ago, I wrote that the debate over Proposition 90 came down to two unfortunately simpleminded campaign slogans – “protect our homes” or “taxpayer trap.” The latter won, but not by much. So now we’ve got Proposition 98 on the June ballot – a watered-down and slightly sideways version of Proposition 90. And for good measure we’ve got Proposition 99 – a countermeasure put forth by local government organizations that would restrict eminent domain, but only in the case of owner-occupied single-family homes.
The feds influence planning and development in California only indirectly. Environmental regulation such as the Endangered Species Act and the way money is spent, especially on transportation, help shape the landscape.
It has been a long time since that influence has changed. But in the next 12 months, two federal bills are likely to chart the federal course for the next decade or longer.