Thursday, June 6, 2002
Two bills encouraging "smart growth" land use policies recently cleared the state Senate and will soon make their way onto the Assembly floor. While both bills push the same ideas, only one pays municipalities to get smart.
SB 1521, authored by Shelia Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, would require the state Office of Planning and Research (OPR) to develop a statewide plan for land-use and growth by January 1, 2004. The plan would preserve open space and promote city-center growth-encouraging a mix of houses, apartments, office buildings and shops around existing infrastructure and close to public transit. It would reward cities and counties that follow such smart growth practices by giving them preference when applying for state competitive grants used for transportation, infrastructure, open space and economic development.
The bill passed the Senate on a 22-12 vote. It''s backed by Gov. Gray Davis. The Assembly committees on Local Government and Appropriations will vote on SB 1521 in the next couple of weeks before it''s heard on the Assembly floor.
Assemblyman Fred Keeley says he likes the idea in theory.
"I probably would support it, but first I need to see it in the form that I''m actually going to vote on," Keeley says, adding that he does support the concept of rewarding local governments for creating parks and building housing closer to jobs and mass transit.
"One of the controversial features [of SB 1521] is providing bonus point for state grants if communities adhere to the so-called smart-growth policies," Keeley says. "There''s a couple of ways to look at it. One is that the state shouldn''t punish local governments from a one-size-fits-all basis. And the other way to look at it is that the results of poor planning are very, very expensive for individual communities and the state.
"The concept of the state articulating some principals and values that are conditions of receiving state grants funds is not a bad idea per se."
Monterey City Manager Fred Meurer says the City of Monterey opposes the bill. Throughout the state, cities and counties, as well as developers and the real estate industry, have attacked the bill.
"This is the same state government that has managed to get itself $24-plus billion dollars in debt," Meurer says. "This is the same state government that has managed to get us into trouble with the power supply. And this is the same state government that can''t point to a whole lot of incentive-based development rules that have helped solve the housing problem.
"Local decisions ought to be made locally, not in Sacramento."
Senator Bruce McPherson, who voted against the measure in the Senate, agrees that it gives state government too much control over how and where cities and counties grow.
"But it''s not a ''no'' vote because we''re against the idea, it''s a ''no'' vote because we think there''s a better alternative," says McPherson''s spokesperson Adam Mendelsohn. "There is no one here who doubts the need for some sort of comprehensive growth plan for California. The question is really the approach. Senator McPherson opposed SB 1521 because he opposes the state government saying to local governments, ''either you do it our way or you won''t get any money.''"
In response to SB 1521, McPherson introduced SB 1808, a similar bill without any reward strings attached.
McPherson''s bill, which cleared the Senate on a 39-0 vote, requires OPR to produce an annual land-use report creating a state plan for growth, including environmentally friendly land-use policies, natural resource conservation and clean air and water policies.
Thirty years ago, Gov. Ronald Reagan signed a bill requiring the Office of Planning and Research to prepare a State Environmental Goals and Policy Report every four years. The last time OPR produced such a report was 1978.