PPIC's Elisa Barbour
Elisa Barbour is a research associate at the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) in San Francisco. She recently published a comprehensive study on regional planning, "Metropolitan Growth Planning in California, 1900-2000."
In her study, Barbour says that California has tried to create stronger metropolitan planning institutions for 100 years. She calls the most recent surge of regionalism the "third wave," after the establishment of home rule, and the rise of single-purpose agencies. Barbour sees promise in the third wave reforms, but she notes that longstanding political obstacles remain (see CP&DR, March 2002, August 2001). Her study is available on the PPIC website, www.ppic.org.
Barbour spoke with CP&DR Managing Editor Paul Shigley in February.
CP&DR: Why is now the time to study regional planning and growth management?
BARBOUR: I think momentum has been building for a couple of reasons. One of them is global economic conditions, which highlights the importance of regional economic health. Today we are facing continuing growth pressures in the face of limits — fiscal and environmental limits. That has changed the equation from past decades, when resources were more plentiful.
CP&DR: How big a factor is housing affordability in building momentum for regional planning?
BARBOUR: The housing affordability crisis has played a very interesting role. On the one hand, housing policy has not been a strong venue for improving regional planning coordination. Even today, as the state government looks for means to strengthen housing mandates and incentives, most proposals are geared toward local jurisdictions, rather than toward strengthening regional institutions.
On the other hand, the housing affordability crisis has opened up a logjam in policy debates. Because of the housing crisis, the state government has scrutinized local land use policy, and its regional consequences, much more carefully than it has in many decades. But local governments resisted efforts by the state to impose new housing mandates. Instead, they wanted to widen the discussion to include their own concerns about fiscal stability and discretion, and about other state policies affecting land use that may conflict with housing goals.
What I'm suggesting is that a much broader discussion has opened up, because of the housing affordability crisis, to include the whole set of incentives and regulatory mandates. … Business leaders have all suggested that housing affordability is a major issue with their own competitive situation and an important factor in the quality of life for their employees. What it has done is bring the elements of land use policy to the table.
CP&DR: You use this great term, "vertical regionalism." What exactly is that?
BARBOUR: After World War II, we adopted two main approaches to strengthening regional planning in California, and vertical regionalism was one of them. I'm speaking of the state and federally dominated regional planning in policy areas like transportation and environmental planning — policy areas that are inherently regional in scope, that required massive investments beyond the ability of local governments to muster, or intrusive regulation across local jurisdictions. The regional agencies that were established were generally organized along narrow, single-purpose functional lines. Their policies and programs were generally not coordinated with one another, and did not form part of a broader state growth policy framework.
The other half is what I call horizontal regionalism. This refers to the institutions such as LAFCOs, councils of government and metropolitan planning organizations. These were established to incorporate local governments, and their land use authority, into regional planning more explicitly. These institutions tend to be organized like federations among independent governments, which implies that joint measures that affect local land use usually can be adopted only on a consensus basis.
The most effective approach to regional planning should combine the three elements, and those are regional focus, policy integration and accountability. Many of our regional plans have been able to accomplish one or two of these goals, but rarely have we been able to see all three. … I think that's what the current reform wave is attempting to do — address a more comprehensive approach across policy areas, and to do so by aligning existing programs so that they can achieve the accountability.
CP&DR: We all know about competition for land uses among local governments. You talk about competition between the state and local governments. Could you explain what is at work there?
BARBOUR: I decided that conflict is a better word. What I'm talking about is the ERAF [Education Revenue Augmentation Fund] shift that started in the early ‘90s that drove a wedge between the state and local governments regarding planning policy. I think this issue is the one where local governments have taken a stand and that local governments will not concede to new, more restrictive planning mandates unless their needs are addressed. For its part, the state government has not seen fit to renegotiate the relationship.
What this indicates is that fiscal constraint is serving as a double-edged sword for regionalism. On the one hand, it has drawn attention to the need for regional cooperation to promote efficiency in public expenditure. But on the other hand, it exacerbates the conflict between local governments, and between local governments and the state.
And this is why I think the housing crisis is so critical. It has cracked the nut open and forced the state to reconsider local land use policies, which, as local governments are quick to point out, are connected to fiscal policies and the framework in which local governments operate.
CP&DR: You talk about aligning state programs and policies with outcomes of collaborative regional processes. Does that mean regional decisions should drive state programs and policies? Who gets to decide?
BARBOUR: Yes, regional needs should inform state programs and policies. But the second question — who gets to decide? — is complicated. In other words, who should assign regional needs?
Many of our most pressing planning problems are regional, from water supply to air pollution to transportation investment needs. Even housing problems are regional in scope, and quite different across metropolitan areas.
Policies developed from the bottom up by local governments have often lacked accountability and regional focus. But policies implemented from the top down by the state or federal government have also been rendered ineffective sometimes because they were too narrowly conceived or they lacked local support.
The history of regional planning in the state suggests that clear policy objectives are needed for collaborative models to succeed, and in many cases, these objectives have been imposed externally. For example, regional planning experiments like the NCCP [Natural Communities Conservation Plan], Cal-Fed and the RCIP [Riverside County Integrated Project] relied on the existence of clear environmental mandates to help provide a focus for planning.
Political and economic realities in the state make an authoritative top-down micromanagement approach unlikely, and a one-size-fits-all approach difficult to imagine. So local participation and flexibility is critical. … If the state leverages existing resources — incentives like priority funding for housing or regulatory streamlining — then you might have a way to approach regional planning that avoids the major pitfalls of the past, when new mandates were rejected as too interventionist, but there was not the money for major incentives.
CP&DR: Clearly, you think there is need for more collaborative, regional approaches to planning. How would you convince state lawmakers of this? City council members? Average voters?
BARBOUR: I think we're seeing an increased acceptance at the local level … In many cases, it's become clear that if they want to retain control, that may mean trading a measure of autonomy just because so many of their planning problems cross borders.
Voters also recognize that planning problems cross local boundaries. Voters have long indicated that they are willing to support multi-jurisdictional planning for such things as transportation and utilities.
CP&DR: How about the state lawmakers? What would you tell them?
BARBOUR: Lawmakers are also moving towards more concerted, coordinated state investment planning through measures such as AB 857, the new five-year capital investment planning requirement, and ACA 11. The projected level of need for new investment is so mind-boggling that more strategic planning and efficient investment have become more critical. … By aligning state programs and policies with the outcomes of a collaborative regional process, the state might avoid those pitfalls by promoting coordination through the promise of mutual gains.