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Planning Really Has Evolved

The very first edition of CP&DR that I oversaw from start to finish contained a story on the front page with the headline, "Smart Growth Hits The Agenda Of California And National Leaders." That's right, I've been editor of CP&DR since the concept of "smart growth" was new.

The story was the March 1999 edition of CP&DR. The February 15, 2010, edition is my last as editor. It's time for me to move along.

As I started reflecting on my 11 years with CP&DR, I assumed that not much had changed in the world of land use planning and development. A quick look through my first issue with CP&DR both proves and disproves my assumption.

The March 1999 smart growth story does not make much of an attempt to define the term "smart growth" other than to say it is the opposite of sprawl. Eleven years later, I couldn't define smart growth if my life depended on it, but I know when I see it! The story quoted true believers and environmentalists saying the time had come for smart growth, as well as a libertarian academic and a building industry representative, both of whom warned against embracing smart growth. The story further noted that the administration (headed at the time by Gray Davis you remember him) was "hanging back" on the issue. In other words, much of the story would sound exactly the same today.

Other stories in that March 1999 edition concerned litigation over an El Dorado County general plan update, a proposed minor league baseball stadium in West Sacramento, a proposal for the Los Angeles City Council to take direct control of the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), and a state Supreme Court ruling that expanded the scope of the anti-SLAPP law. Since then, El Dorado County has adopted a general plan that was upheld by voters, and the county's growth wars have eased; West Sacramento's Raley Field has become the comfortable home of the Rivercats; the CRA has been through at least four different executive directors, but it remains separate from the Los Angeles City Council; and the broad reach of the anti-SLAPP law has become accepted as a given. Indeed, many things have indeed changed, or at least evolved, since 1999.

Unquestionably, planning practices have changed. Although the smart growth story might sound similar today, the overall acceptance of high-density, mixed-use, walkable development near transit (something like "smart growth") has increased dramatically since 1999. Back then, such projects were limited to big cities and a very small handful of suburbs who embraced something called new urbanism. Now, seemingly every city wants such projects, and plenty of developers are willing to build them.

The term "fiscalization of land use" was only coming into vogue 11 years ago, although it had been around since the 1980s. Today, it's widely accepted that local governments make many land use decisions based primarily on fiscal ramifications. It is pointless for elected officials, local government administrators and even planners to try to hide this fact. They are simply working within a system they did not design.

In 1999, the only planners who knew anything about "global warming" were the few who read wonky scientific journals. Today, even entry-level planners weigh the climate change impact of projects all the time.

Which takes me to the California Environmental Quality Act. Eleven years ago, the statute was driving the planning process. For better or worse, the preeminence of CEQA has not changed at all at least not yet.

I leave CP&DR to the extremely capable Josh Stephens. I'll keep a hand in CP&DR, largely as a copyeditor and blogger. Thanks to all who have assisted me over the years, and thanks always for reading.


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