A couple of weeks ago, the satirical newspaper The Onion reported that the City of San Francisco was looking to relocate because its current location had become too expensive. Funny though this was, I expected the follow-up story to focus on the economic development incentive package being put together to keep San Francisco where it is.
A week or so later, Gabriel Metcalfe – head of the respected San Francisco urban planning organization SPUR – published a provocative piece in CityLab blaming the city’s affordability crisis on progressive politics – especially progressive politics of the no-growth kind. Progressive San Francisco, he argued, “had a fatal, Shakespearean flaw that would prove to be its undoing: It decided early on to be against new buildings. It decided that new development, with the exception of publicly subsidized affordable housing, was not welcome.”
All up and down California – especially in the expensive coastal enclaves around San Francisco and Los Angeles – community activists have been lately decrying how the rising cost of housing is making it impossible for normal people with normal incomes to live in these towns. Yet, as Metcalf points out, most of the time these same community activists are arguing that the trend toward high housing cost must be countered with... less housing construction. Or at least less market-rate housing construction.
In recent weeks, we’ve seen a lot of moves that suggest it may be time to change the way California funds transportation, including the following:
- Board of Equalization Member George Runner has been touting a 21% cut in the gas tax as part of the “fuel tax swap” formula from a few years ago.
- A committee headed by former San Diego City Councilmember Jim Madaffer is looking at how to implement a mileage tax as an alternative to the gas tax.
- Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins has proposed a $52 annual fee on most drivers as a way to raise almost $2 billion for road repairs.
So, one of the biggest questions in planning and development today – in California and elsewhere – is what accounts for the Millenials’ preferences for urban living and less driving. Is it generational? Or a lousy economy?
“I think our answer is yes,” says Brian Taylor, an urban planning professor at UCLA and head of the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies there.
The Governor’s Office of Planning & Research is a month late in issuing its final recommendation on whether to replace “level of service” as the measurement of significant transportation impacts in transit priority areas under the California Environmental Quality Act. But there’s not much mystery: OPR has sent clear signals that it is going to propose replacing LOS with vehicle miles traveled, or VMT.
When Jerry Brown first proposed killing redevelopment -- back in January 2011, when he released his first budget -- he said he would replace it with some other economic development tool. After Brown succeeded -- when he released his second budget, in January 2012, just days after the Supreme Court killed redevelopment – his tune changed, ever so slightly. He said he would consider bringing redevelopment back if it didn't affect the state's general fund.
Anecdotally, the answer is clearly yes. But it’s a little hard to say based on the data that’s available. The Great Inversion is the title a new book by Alan Ehrenhalt, the longtime editor of Governing magazine and author of several insightful books about cities. (Disclosure: Ehrenhalt was my editor at Governing for 20 years.)
Now that the California state budget is mostly out of the way, it’s time to see what – if anything – the state will do this year to plug the redevelopment gap.
And as redevelopment bills move forward, it’s pretty much shaping up like this: The legislature is likely to pass something. The question is whether Gov. Jerry Brown will sign anything.
Against all odds, redevelopment isn’t quite history yet in California. Some projects continue. Most cities are engaged in a long wind-down process that is consuming considerable time and attention. And the state legislature is considering a variety of options to revive redevelopment, or at least get it back on life support.
For now, redevelopment in California is dead. But that hasn’t eliminated the need for public policy to support urban revitalization. Indeed, Gov. Jerry Brown still supports aggressive policies in this vein – for example, implementing the SB 375 regional planning law passed in 2008 as part of the climate change effort, and streamlining environmental review for infill projects.
This month – October 10, to be exact – marks the 100th anniversary of initiative and referendum in California. It’s hard to imagine that Gov. Hiram Johnson, the godfather of the constitutional amendment, could have imagined all the different ways that the initiative process would be used – especially by the moneyed interests that were his target in 1911. But it’s equally hard to imagine that Johnson could have foreseen the way the initiative and referendum process would transform planning and development in California.