The real estate, environmental and policy communities are continuing their push to redirect growth in a "smarter" fashion. Yet throughout those deliberations, one group has been seeminlgy absent from the dialogue-Republican Electeds. However, there is hope for the Grand ‘Ol Party with the recent news that Orange County Republican Asm.'s Daucher, Harman have joined Sen. McPherson in the Smart Growth Caucus. TPR was pleased to speak with the two Assemblymembers re: the pros and cons of the caucus and the prospect for the Smart Growth agenda this legislative session.
The Planning Report has carried articles and interviews about land use, regionalism and what some people call "Smart Growth" for almost 15 years. What's interesting is that these issues haven't really received bi-partisan support. What are the issues that you're grappling with in your Districts that led you to join Assemblywoman Pat Wiggins' Smart Growth Caucus?
When I was a Councilmember, the number one issue was always traffic and its relation to quality of life. Quality of life-along with traffic, overcrowding and air and water quality-is extremely valuable in my district. If I'm going to be able to address those needs and try to positively impact the quality of life of my constituents, being a member of the Smart Growth Caucus seems like a positive thing.
I came to the Legislature after serving on the Orange County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) and the Huntington Beach City Council. That experience gave me considerable expertise and familiarity with the impediments to positively dealing with growth.
So I have a bit of a background in the growth realm and with the projected population growth throughout the state, growing smarter has become a definite interest for me.
Let's talk about that projected growth. The census data just came out and Orange County is projected to absorb 1,000,000 more residents and employees and another 300,000 housing units over the next 20 years. How do you see it playing out? How does it play out for your constituency and the issues that you care about?
If people in Orange County could wave a magic wand they'd undoubtedly say, "No more growth."
But what I explain to them is that growth is about our children and whether they are going to be able to afford to purchase a house and enjoy the same quality of life that we do. If you frame it in that context, it changes the situation's dynamics substantially.
I'm convinced that we need new, creative and smarter ways of solving the growth problem-we simply can't build our way out of this one anymore.
California has so many problems it's almost unbelievable. Housing and transportation are both primary however. And finding some way to link our live and work environments is a very smart thing to do from a planning standpoint. Where are we going to put 13 million people in the next 20 years? And then, where are we going to put the 12 million that will follow them?
We should be thinking and planning for the future now. We need to assist local governments in that planning and provide incentives so that we can help provide shelter and transportation to our state's population.
Lynn, when Speaker Hertzberg appointed his Regionalism Commission six months ago, part of the briefing materials included a 1961 report on metropolitan problems for Pat Brown which stated that the state was 14 million people on its way to 30 by the end of the century and local government had little capacity to manage that growth. Do you think things have changed since 1961? Have they gotten worse? And does local government have the capacity to manage and cope with the growth that's coming?
Local government is struggling at the moment. Not because they can't make decisions, but because they don't have the necessary resources to implement decisions responsibly.
I recently introduced a bill that would change the way local governments are funded and increased the amount of property tax dollars a city receives from an average of 12-percent to 35-percent. This would give cities the ability to make land use decisions based on community need and not sales-tax revenue.
And by increasing the property tax allocation given to cities, they will be able to increase the number of housing projects and have the funding necessary to deal with the ancillary issues that residential development brings to a community-infrastructure, policing, fire, etc.
I think there are tools local governments need that they simply don't have. There are certainly a number of passionate and capable people on city councils throughout California who care about their communities-we just need to give them more tools.
You speak of tools. The Governor has the Commission on the 21st Century, the State Treasurer has a similar group, the Speaker has appointed a Commission on Regionalism and everyone is watching REGC in San Diego to see whether linking land use and transportation is on the right track. Is it a dearth of ideas or are the politics getting in the way of a "real" solution?
Well, there's always a struggle politically. Politics always play an important role. But if we take time to listen to our constituents, they're telling us exactly what they need. And if we don't address those needs, we'll see many more slow- or no-growth initiatives on the ballot. And they-almost definitely-will not deal with focusing growth and possible densification as much as if the politicians just faced the problems and worked together.
What's the resistance to focusing growth and density? The Brea model seemed to work splendidly, why isn't there a stampede to follow that model in the rest of Orange County?
I don't know that there's resistance. But that project took a tremendous toll on our community-in terms of redevelopment dollars. But again talking about tools, I would point to Brea and say this is one of the few tools that a City Council still has for economic growth.
But many local governments seem reluctant to embark on those kinds of endeavors just because of the struggles that are involved. We just have to get more successful models out there so that others will undertake that huge initiative.
In the January issue of The Planning Report, Senator Joseph Dunn, the Senate's Chair of Housing, stated in regard to the need of a bipartisan approach to smarter growth, "While bipartisanship initially depends on how smart growth is defined, it will ultimately come down to traditionally Republican suburban areas realizing the size and scope of this issue. In that sense it will become more about political survivability of Republican representatives in those areas, than smart growth issues in general." What's your reaction to the Senator's statement?
I think that many people believe that the Smart Growth Caucus is a "No Growth Caucus." And that's just not the case. The Smart Growth Caucus members are, quite properly, attempting to focus on long-range planning.
The esoteric nature of Smart Growth's definition is what I believe leads many to say that the Smart Growth Caucus has no place for Republicans. Smart Growth does not mean "No Growth." I'm not in favor of no growth policies, that's not why I'm there. We have to grow, our economy and continue to have a high quality of life-the well-being of California depends it. That's what the Smart Growth Caucus is working towards and that's why I'm here, to create a balance between economic prosperity and quality of life issues.
Your comments make eminent sense and I wonder how they went over in Orange County where The Register called you a "RINO" (Republican In Name Only) because of your involvement in the Smart Growth Caucus. What can win them over?
It might take awhile, but I think people are going to come around. The people who tell me they're upset about traffic, or that it now takes 30 minutes to go 10 blocks are voicing universally accepted concerns. Whatever your party affiliation-Republican, Democrat, whatever-everyone notices these problems.
We have to let people know that there are ways we can deal with this and things that can be done that don't involve curtailing growth, that are pro-business and will continue to help our vibrant economy.
There's been an unfair assumption made that you can't have both continued growth and increased quality of life. That's simply untrue. All we have to do is find balance.
The editorial demonstrates a simple lack of understanding by the Orange County Register of what the Smart Growth Caucus is attempting to do. It is not a no growth caucus. It has nothing to do with that. It's long-range planning. And it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that with the current population projections we must figure out where these people are going to live. Where are they going to work? How are we going to move commerce from one part of this state to another? And where is our water going to come from?
These are all enormous problems that need to be dealt with and there are smart ways to do that. That's where the Smart Growth concept comes from.
There are a number of bills being entertained in the Legislature about fiscal change and housing, they mostly tie density and housing to fiscal incentives as a long-term cure for the state's growth and housing ills. Is the approach the Legislature is taking regarding incentivizing local government to take charge of these problems the way you think it should go?
It's one approach. I'm not sure it's the only approach. There may be other methods, but right now I think that's the way to do it. It's kind of holding the carrot in front of the horse to get them to move in the right direction, the "smart" direction.
We have to close by asking, despite these aforementioned bills tying land use and fiscal incentives, can the legislature focus on the issues we've been talking about at the same time it deals with the energy crisis? Is there room for a larger agenda this session?
What I'm learning in Sacramento is if people don't understand something they vote no. It's safer for the Legislature to vote no rather than take a lot of time trying to understand a particular concept, especially right now. We simply don't have the time to explain the concerns of the Smart Growth Caucus to the masses, it's not a luxury we have at the moment. So advancing a Smart Growth platform is going to be very difficult this year.