A few years ago, a field representative for Pacific Gas & Electric told me a startling story about how the now-bankrupt electric utility was treated by one of the county governments in his district. The county had approved a major residential subdivision in PG&E's service area that required PG&E to build an adjacent substation to provide the subdivision with electricity. But when PG&E went to the county to get approval for the substation, the county required the company to widen the adjacent arterial, build a sidewalk, and pay a traffic mitigation fee of something like $800,000. PG&E squawked. The company said that it was building infrastructure to support a project the county itself had approved and that the substation would generate one additional trip a week — the PG&E employee who would check on the substation's operations. But the county refused to back off. To the county, PG&E was not providing infrastructure; it was just another developer. That story came to mind recently for two reasons. The first is the simple fact that the electricity crisis has reminded everyone in California — for the first time in several years — that you cannot simply take the infrastructure associated with urban growth for granted. And the second is that a lot of people in Sacramento are now beginning to draw analogies between the crisis in electricity generation and the state's five-year-old effort to link land-use permits to the adequacy of water supplies. The common issue in each case is whether or not our state has enough infrastructure and urban services — whatever they are — to actually accommodate all the new urban growth we're getting. But the underlying problem is really about something different. All private, urban development must obtain permits from a land-use regulatory agency, which in California is usually a city or a county. But all growth also requires a wide variety of urban services, including roads, sewers, streetlights, schools, parks, police and fire protection, water, and electricity. Part of the point of land-use regulation, of course, is to ensure that urban growth will not be approved unless the urban services it requires are available. There's just one catch: Not all urban service providers are created equal. Some services required by urban development are provided by private companies, some are provided by single-function agencies, and some, such as electricity, are usually provided by private companies. Public Education is always provided by a single-purpose district. Water and sewer services are frequently provided by single-purpose special districts as well. And some services – such as roads as well as police and fire protection – are most frequently provided by the general-purpose local governments, i.e., cities and counties. It is the cities and counties, of course, that also get to issue land-use permits. So is it any wonder that the services which cities and counties must provide themselves are the ones that get the most attention in the permit approval process? In fact, there's a pretty clear pecking order as to which service providers get listened to when permits are processed. Cities and counties listen to themselves first. Then they listen to special districts, such as school districts and water districts — but not usually voluntarily. Cities and counties often wait until they are forced by lawsuit or by a state law to pay attention. And the last people cities and counties listen to are the private companies that provide services, such as the electric utility companies. Water has been the biggest battleground in the urban services war during the past few years. In 1995, the state passed SB 901, a bill that required analysis of water supply as part of the environmental review for large development projects. SB 901 was watered down in the approval process and often seems to require little more than consultation with water purveyors, which are accustomed to routinely issuing "will-serve" letters for new developments. A recent survey by Randele Kanouse – Sacramento lobbyist for the East Bay Municipal Utility District and the chief crusader for the SB 901 process – concluded that the law has not been strongly implemented. In fact, he argues, SB 910 requires considerably more than a will-serve letter, which he calls "a sham a hoax and a fraud." The law also requires real, identified sources of water and various assessments of what would happen in a drought. Kanouse's verdict: All but two of the 119 projects subject to SB 901 since 1996 "failed to do a thorough assessment of what happens to existing water customers during extended drought." Kanouse is using his survey to bolster the chances of SB 221, a bill by Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) that would strengthen the tie between land use and water by requiring water supplies be committed as part of project approval under the Subdivision Map Act. Kuehl's bill stalled last session, but may have a better shot at passing this year. Kanouse likes to focus on water, but the truth of the matter is that California school districts have been fighting the same battle for more than 15 years. In the wake of Proposition 13 it was very clear that they could not raise enough tax money to build all the new schools required in the state. So they began leaning on cities and counties to consider school adequacy in the project approval process. After years of contentious negotiation, the result is a deal in which developers, local school districts, and the state are all expected to come up with part of the money – and if they don't, it is possible to turn down projects. And in the wake of the electricity crisis, an increasing number of people have been wondering how California can routinely approve urban development that increases demand for electricity without considering energy in the permit approval process. You can see the pattern here. In times of crisis, organizations that must provide one specific urban service start to lean on the state to require that provision of the service be more seriously considered in the project approval process. And in response, the cities and counties that hold the permitting power resist the idea that they should take anybody else's concerns into account. But are cities and counties really so short-sighted that they don't care about services to their own residents if they don't provide them? If roads were provided by a separate road agency, would cities and counties really approve projects without worrying about whether the roads will be built? Well, yes. In fact, they already do that with regard to the state highway network operated by Caltrans. That agency is constantly complaining that local governments fail to consider the impact of their projects on state highways. The truth of the matter is that it makes no sense for one urban service provider to get the land-use permitting power while the others are shut out and must push their way in the door. It would make far more sense to separate land-use regulation entirely from service provision, and then require the regulators to consider provision of all urban services when making decisions. That is not going to happen at this late date in California, of course; cities and counties — and developers — have too much to lose. But if the state is going to force cities and counties to examine the question of urban services, it should consider a comprehensive approach. Water, schools, electricity — who knows what the next crisis in urban infrastructure is going to be? Lobbyists for single-purpose agencies should recognize that they have something in common, whether they work for East Bay MUD, a school district, or PG&E. And if cities and counties are going to have the power to approve projects, they ought to have the responsibility to ensure that all the services required by urban development can really be provided.