Monday, December 29, 2008

What the #$*! Does SCAG Know!?*

(Note: Discussion regarding SCAG has become important due to its ham fisted - and now failed - attempt to cram 138 high-density housing "units" into our little city. But there are important regional issues as well. In a December of 2006 article on his "From the Desert to the Sea ..." blog, journalist John Stodder (check out his new blog - Politics and Profits: The Meltdown)gleefully yanks apart SCAG's rather peevishly gloom and doom "State Of The Region" report. Though dated on the housing cost references, it is an excellent read. And because of its larger relevance to what's going in our city, we're reprinting most of it here.)

When the Southern California Association of Governments puts out its annual State of the Region report, it's usually a one-day story in the L.A.-area local media, and no story at all in Sacramento or Washington, D.C., where one could argue SCAG's findings are really aimed - at the custodians of the mythical treasure chests where money to build all the roads, commuter rail lines, housing and schools we need is supposed to come from.
SCAG's report would get even less attention if it weren't for the easy PR hook of a "report card." The report card itself is unpleasant reading as the headlines reflect: "Quality of Life is Dim," "State of Region Report is Bleak." "Traffic Negatively Affects Life in SoCal...Duh." The LA Times didn't bother with it, instead choosing to focus on how the Inland Empire used to be affordable, but not so much now ...

In other words, nothing SCAG does or says matters. If you've been around public affairs in LA long enough, you know that by now SCAG could phone in these reports from a shack in Wyoming. The numbers they crunch and package for public consumption are meant to spur action to change the region's negative trends, but they can't even stop history from repeating itself. Against "market forces and social forces," SCAG and the region-wide consensus of elected officials who all endorse its agenda are impotent.

The clue to SCAG's weakness? The report card, with all its C's and D's and F's, is a policy-wonk view that doesn't fit with what real people think. According to SCAG's own survey, more than half of Southern Californians think things are going "very well" or "somewhat well," while less than 10 percent think things are going very badly. Only about 20 percent of Southern Californians think transportation is the region's top problem - and the survey shows there is no consensus about what the top problem really is. Crime, environment, economic concerns, education and immigration are each named by about 10-15 percent of the region;s residents as the top problem.

SCAG, which is chartered as a regional planning entity, claims authority "to promote economic growth, personal well-being, and livable communities for all Southern Californians," but has few tools with which to fulfill its grandiose promise. This is why the agency is so relentless in telling us that traffic, the environment and affordable housing are bad and getting worse. Its leaders perpetually wait for a call from the people of Southern California to come to their rescue.

We've got myriad problems in Southern California, but the ones SCAG focuses on aren't especially unique. The environment is now perceived as a global issue. Where you stand on housing affordability depends on whether you are currently an owner or a renter. Most Southern California owners have an investment that appreciates faster than most other ventures.

Traffic congestion is part of living in an urban area; it improves only when the economy weakens, and no one wants that. People in Southern California figure that part of living and working includes traffic jams, crowded buses and trains, parking hassles, etc. They don't think it's much different in other cities, where you can also get stuck in traffic - and freeze your butt off in December. They don't think anyone has the answers to problems like this - least of all an obscure public agency that seems obsessed with telling them what they already know.


  1. I'd be even more interested in next years report card. Am I suppose to believe all the housing is rented to happy tenants in the area? Am I suppose to ignore the for rent signs and for sale signs that seem to be up for months on end? I realize that building things creates jobs, but is there truly a need? Have all the massive high raise buildings in downtown been rented or bought? I kept hearing, "everyone wants to live downtown, we need to build to satisfy the need." Whose everyone? Are people being turned away? The cost of everything went up, up, up. Then surprise, no one could afford the cost of these inflated prices. I don't understand why we are pricing ourselves out of our own market. Is that really the American way? I'm all for people making money, but should it be at the cost of someone else's hard earned retirement? And my final question Maundry...Should you sell a home to someone, who you know won't be able to make the mortgage? Hmm?

  2. Banks lending money to people who couldn't make the mortgage is how this country got into the economic crisis we're in today. Along with the rest of the world. And who knows, the way the real estate market is going we could very well hit our "low income housing allotment" by June.

    And if you want to see what would have become of whatever pile they'd have put up on the Skilled Nursing Center site had we let them, go check out "The Commons" in Monrovia. Yupped up row housing with condos going for the high six figures. Except nobody bought them. The developer is now trying to get folks in though renting.

  3. I walked by "The Commons" the other day. You could hear a pin drop it was so quiet.

  4. I'm sure the banks holding the paper on that wretched mess will be filing for a handout from the $700 billion (or is that $1 trillion) Federal investor relief fund. Which leads to this question: If we're paying out of our tax dollars for bad investments like "The Commons," shouldn't we be able to take ownership? After all, we are footing the bill.

  5. SMT writes:
    " SCAG could phone in these reports from a shack in Wyoming".
    Or a garage on Sturtevant and Canon Dr.LOL LOL LOL

  6. Dirt Problem Solving............
    pic at bottom of list of websites......
    Hey, SMT! Where did you find that picture?
    Damn that guy looks familiar.....I'm sure I've seen him at a table outside of Starbucks????

  7. The key comment is "SCAG is chartered as a regional planning entity . . " Planners are looking to accommodate growth. And search for utopia. Getting a bunch of government representatives to do that is a fool's errand.

    And though this blog is a good discussion of the limits of SCAG and its "purpose" I think it's been outdated by recent events in the economy. I can't see any kind of development while the bottom is out of the housing market. Since SCAG is not made up of real estate professionals who may lose their shirts in this economy, it may take them awhile to wake up to the reality that everybody else is stuck with--getting by and avoiding disaster.

  8. The very insightful roia writes:
    "Planners are looking to accommodate growth. And search for utopia. Getting a bunch of government representatives to do that is a fool's errand".
    Joe Mosca and John Buchanan......??????
    I hope you just read this.

  9. Eric, thank you for posting this old chestnut.

    From the perspective of 2009, I read it and laugh even more at SCAG's pompous claim to be able to "forecast" life in Southern California. Yeah, "affordable housing" is a BIG issue now, isn't it? And with regional unemployment rising quickly, those of us with jobs will suddenly find the freeways a joy, if we can avoid the cracks and potholes that government can't afford to fix anymore. Did SCAG forecast the near-certainty that California will go bankrupt, as will many cities and towns? Did they perceive the effect of lavish pension promises on government revenues? Did they even think there might be such a thing as the business cycle?

    The local psychic with a neon sign in her window would have been more accurate at a tiny fraction of the cost.

    Anyway...thanks again. I enjoy your blog.