Urban Development: Playing Twister With The California Environmental Quality Act

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When it comes to environmental issues, emotions often trump reasoned argument or sensible reform, especially in California. In Sacramento at our state capitol, real world impacts are abstracted into barbed soundbites. It’s the dialogue of the deaf as environmental advocates rally around our landmark California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) -- and economic interests decry it as “a job killer.” Perhaps the polarization can be put aside to ask about a specific example in the real world. Why does an old K-Mart sit vacant on Ventura’s busiest boulevard despite initial City approval for a Walmart store? All the thunder and lightning surrounding whether a Walmart belongs in Ventura is behind us. A vigorous and contentious debate (and a failed citizen initiative) have rendered the verdict that filling an empty discount retail space with a different discount retailer is a function of the market, not government regulation.  read more »

The Evolving Urban Form: Kolkata: 50 Mile City


More than a decade ago, the Sierra Club and I crossed keyboards over urban density. The Sierra Club had just posted a new "neighborhood consumption calculator," that gave visitors the opportunity to look at the purported impacts of various density levels. The Sierra Club designated 500 dwelling units per acre as "efficient urban." Independently, Randal O'Toole and I quickly were on the Internet pointing out the absurdity of such high density.  read more »

California's Deficit: The Jerry Brown and 'Think Long' Debate

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California has three major problems: persistent high unemployment, persistent deficits, and persistently volatile state revenues. Unfortunately, the only one of these that gets any attention is the persistent deficit. It is even more unfortunate that many of the proposals to reduce the deficits are likely to make all three of the problems worse over the long run.

Two major proposals to deal with the deficit will shape the coming debate. One is from the newly formed Think Long for California Committee; the other from the governor.  read more »

The Driving Decline: Not a "Sea Change"


The latest figures from the United States Department of Transportation indicate that driving volumes remain depressed. In the 12 months ended in September 2011, driving was 1.1 percent below the same  period five years ago. Since 2006, the year that employment peaked, driving has remained fairly steady, rising in two years (the peak was 2007) and falling in three years. At the same time, the population has grown by approximately four percent. As a result, the driving per household has fallen by approximately five percent.  read more »

Public Pensions: Reform, Repair, Reboot

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Ill-informed chatter continues to dominate the airwaves when it comes to California public pensions. It’s a big, complex and critical issue for government at all levels in the Golden State. What makes debate so distorted is that public pensions actually differ from agency to agency — and advocates on the issue often talk past each other. Pension critics often point to outrageous abuses as if they were typical. On the other hand, pension defenders often cite current averages that understate long-term costs. All this fuels the typical partisan gridlock that Californians lament yet seem powerless to change in our state.

Credit Governor Jerry Brown for trying to overcome the polarization.  read more »

California in 2011: Suburbs Up, Exurbs Down?


I had the fortune recently to stumble on the California Department of Finance’s estimates of population change in California during the period July 1, 2010 – July 1- 2011. This is distinct from the Federal census, which tried to establish the number of people in all localities as of April 1, 2010. These California statistics are for a short period of only one year; they are not as reliable, of course, as a real census.    read more »

California: Codes, Corruption And Consensus

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We Californians like collaboration. Before we do things here, we consult all of the “stakeholders.” We have hearings, studies, reviews, conferences, charrettes, neighborhood meetings, town halls, and who knows what else. Development in some California cities has become such a maze that some people make a fine living guiding developers through the process, helping them through the minefields and identifying the rings that need kissing.

Here’s an example. This is a (partial?) list of the groups who will have a say on any proposed project in my city, Ventura:  read more »

Durban, Reducing Emissions and the Dimensions of Sustainability


The Durban climate change conference has come to an end, with the nations of the world approving the "Durban Platform," (Note 1) an agreement to agree later on binding greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets by 2020.  read more »

Tilting at (Transit) Windmills in Nashville


As in other major metropolitan areas in the United States, Nashville public officials are concerned about traffic congestion and the time it takes to get around. There is good reason for this, given the research that demonstrates the strong association between improved economic productivity and shorter travel times to work.  read more »

The Evolving Urban Form: Quanzhou


Quanzhou? Quanzhou (pronounced "CHWEN-JOE"), despite its urban population that is approaching 5 million this urban area is so unfamiliar to Westerners and the rest of the world as to require an introduction. Quanzhou is a prefecture ("shi") in China's Fujian province. Fujian is just to the north of Guangdong, home of Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong's former province (before the British) and just to the south of Zhejiang, the large rich province at the south flank of the Yangtze Delta (which abuts Shanghai). Quanzhou is also adjacent to Xiamen, one of the original special economic zones established by the legendary reformer Deng Xiao Ping.  read more »