Judy Corbett is executive director of the Local Government Commission, a nonprofit organization whose members include elected officials, and city and county staff members. The commission provides forums and technical assistance to assist local agencies in a variety of subject areas. In 1991, the commission, working with architects and planners, produced the Ahwahnee Principles for community and regional planning. The Ahwahnee Principles provide an alternative to what the authors see as decades of unnecessarily segregated land uses, inefficient development patterns, lack of public gathering spaces, and over-dependence on the automobile. Following adoption of the Ahwahnee Principles, the commission formed the Center for Livable Communities, which assists local public officials with land use and transportation planning.
CP&DR What are your priorities for the year?
Corbett: The livable communities concept remains high on the agenda. The major type of development is still sprawl and big boxes and strip development. There are still many obstacles to having resource-efficient development.
The other issue is energy. … There is just enormous potential at the local level to address these issues.
CP&DR: What sort of things can local governments do regarding the energy situation?
Corbett: Everything from mobilizing building departments to require more energy-efficient buildings, solar panels, and photovoltaic systems where appropriate. Planners should be requiring narrower streets with trees, which lower the ambient air temperature by up to 10 degrees. We need to retrofit buildings. A welfare-to-work program to insulate homes gets at the social equity aspects of this.
CP&DR: What is happening at the state Capitol these days that you are working on?
Corbett: We're right in the middle of the energy stuff and we see so much potential for local government to address this stuff. We created something called the Community Energy Authority in 1983, and a lot of our members are interested in that again.
They are in such a crisis mode [at the Capitol] that nobody really has time to sit back and think about what they are doing. They ask us for advice, but they needed it yesterday.
We are working on a program with the California State Association of Counties and the League of California Cities and school districts to get photovoltaic cells on rooftops of public buildings. … We just need the funds to put together the package.
CP&DR: Getting back to "livable communities." You mentioned that there are many obstacles. What are they and what can you do about them?
Corbett: It is primarily local government that is standing in the way, even though they like the ideas in theory. Their ordinances require streets that are too wide and densities that are too low.
Most developers want to speed through the process as quickly as possible and the minute they propose something different and they meet any resistance, they revert to the old way of doing things — and there you go, back to square one.
There is still this tremendous resistance to neighborhood parks, pocket parks, which is amazing. You need them for a stronger sense of community, yet a lot of cities feel like it's better to just provide one large park.
CP&DR: How do you get past the obstacles?
Corbett: We're working right now with a group in Fresno called the Growth Alternatives Alliance that produced the "Landscape of Choice." We're working with that group to scout around the country, find ordinances and policies that have already been enacted that encourage livable communities. We are giving our members sample ordinances that are working elsewhere.
CP&DR: Fresno has a reputation for low-density, suburban sprawl. Why would a group like the Growth Alternatives Alliance exist in Fresno?
Corbett: The Packard Foundation was willing to fund it, number one. And number two, there is this incredible coalition where you have got the building industry and the environmentalists working together. That's a pretty rare situation. And they have done the groundwork of getting the policies of the Landscape of Choice already adopted.
It's amazing that it's happening in Fresno because in the earlier years I went down there and gave so many talks on livable communities, and I didn't think anyone heard me. And, voila, they rise to the top of the heap in terms of actually moving ahead on this stuff.
CP&DR: You returned to the Ahwahnee Hotel in March for the 10th anniversary of the Ahwahnee Principles. What was that like?
Corbett: What we did was collect a lot of information from all of the people who had been there 10 years earlier, and see all of the accomplishments we have made. Many people who are in positions to influence local and state policy were there.
CP&DR: Have you made progress?
Corbett: No question about it. It's pretty amazing. We've gone further than we ever thought we would.
Ten years ago, you only spent money on things that were "essential." You didn't spend money on improving your community. We had a woman there from Placerville who said she hadn't had any successes. Then she showed us pictures of all they have done with their parks and their restroom in downtown. It was all just beautifully done.
It feels like we have rolled the ball up the hill. … We have convinced the banks that it is feasible. I think there is more acceptance in communities of mixed-use development. Older people and younger people are asking for this type of development. There really needs to be a market for it.
CP&DR: Where do you think we're gonna be in another 10 years?
Corbett: I think we're going to make so much progress in the next 10 years. That's my optimistic side. Every day, I see a new constituency getting on board with this concept. And the newest constituency that is just suddenly beginning to pop up and embrace this is the health community because our land use patterns have induced an unhealthy lifestyle, and this is just spreading across the country. … Planners can influence public health as much as doctors. They can affect air pollution, water pollution, the obesity rate that we are seeing in kids, who have to be driven everywhere.
CP&DR: Is there one town you go to where you think, this is the way it ought to be done?
Corbett: Well, I've been involved in the City of Davis's politics for ages. It's one of the best communities in the Valley. There are greenbelts throughout the city. Strip development has not been allowed, and the densities are high enough. It's a wonderful place to live.
If I were to choose one city in Southern California, it would be Pasadena. They have done everything so well.
CP&DR Managing Editor Paul Shigley interviewed Judy Corbett at her office in Sacramento.
Ontario City Manager Greg Devereaux speaks with CP&DR about local government fiscal challenges and the prospects for development in the near term. He also discusses the Regional Targets Advisory Committee, a panel to which he was recently appointed that is charged with an early phase of SB 375 implementation. >>read more
Dave Brown of Calabasas is this year's recipient of the American Planning Association's leadership award for a planning advocate. A member of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy advisory committee since 1985 and a Calabasas planning commissioner since 1992, Brown has been involved in land use and natural resources issues in the area since the 1970s. He received the award in part for his "overlooked but instrumental" role in creating the 153,000-acre Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. For 45 years he has been a history professor at Los Angeles Valley College, where he still teaches two classes. Brown spoke with CP&DR Editor Paul Shigley in April.
Elisa Barbour, of the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) in San Francisco, recently published a comprehensive study on regional planning, "Metropolitan Growth Planning in California, 1900-2000."
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Cliff Graves is special advisor to the chancellor at University of California, Merced. Graves has overseen many aspects of planning the Merced campus, which is the University of California's first new campus since the mid-1960s. He spoke with CP&DR Managing Editor Paul Shigley in mid-December.
Stuart Meck is a senior research fellow for the American Planning Association (APA). For seven years, he spearheaded the APA’s "Growing Smart" project. That effort concluded earlier this year with the release of a 1,400-page legislative guidebook and user manual, which are intended to help states replace model planning acts. >>read more
Dawn Serpa is president of The Surland Companies, a private, 13-year-old residential and commercial developer that builds 100 to 200 houses per year. It is currently building Redbridge in Tracy, a 450-home project that mixes an array of housing sizes and styles in one subdivision, and plans to build Tracy's first mixed-use urban village.
Unlike some developers, Serpa does not fear the "smart growth" movement. She even complains that many local regulations prevent traditional neighborhood developments. CP&
Charles Buki is the director of the Neighborhood Reinvestment Training Institute in Washington, D.C. The institute was created by Congress in 1978 to revitalize older, distressed communities through a network of local nonprofits. Buki is a former Loeb Fellow in advanced environmental studies at Harvard University. He has written and lectured widely on neighborhood revitalization and neighborhood dynamics, their interrelationship with the environment and implications for social equity.
Expanding the capacity of the nation's aviation system has quickly risen toward the top of the Bush administration's transportation priorities. Both Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and Federal Aviation Administration chief Jane Garvey have spoken about the need to build more runways during the next decade, and they have suggested that speeding federal environmental reviews is one way to hurry along construction.
New conflict-of-interest rules promulgated by the Fair Political Practices Commission went into effect in February, and many changes affect public officials who make land use decisions. The rule changes come at a time when land use scandals appear to be at a new peak, with one staff planner pleading guilty to soliciting bribes and the planning director in another city facing a trial on bribery charges (see sidebar).
Redevelopment of closed military bases in the City of Alameda is moving forward thanks to the settlement of a lawsuit filed by affordable housing advocates and environmentalists. The settlement clears the way for a 600-unit housing development and a 1.3-million-square-foot business park at the former U.S. Navy Fleet Industrial Supply Center. Meanwhile, the city is in the process of choosing a master developer for about one-third the 2,600-acre former Alameda Naval Air Station.