I enjoyed the description someone posted here about SCAG recently. That they're a bit like the crazy aunt your parents forced you to be nice to when you were a kid. Because if you weren't, well, there was certain to be some unpleasant consequences. And that is how small cities like ours have to treat the Southern California Association of Governments. Like that crazy aunt. Because if you offend her, she'll go snitch us out to Sacramento. And then terrible things will happen. Like we'll lose our grants for that new generation of trash cans everybody is excited about. Or something.
And there couldn't be a better example of the Crazy Aunt Theory in action than a letter the City of Sierra Madre recently sent out to SCAG regarding our Regional Transportation Plan / Sustainable Cities Strategy numbers. If you have a life and are not familiar with this bizarre process, what it means is we had to cook up some predictions for Auntie SCAG on how many jobs and houses will be here in the year 2020. And then in 2035 as well. No discernible reason for this absurd exercise, SCAG just likes everyone to believe it can predict the future. Think of it as bureaucratic entrails reading, with the magical results being the juju that gives SCAG its swagger with Sacramento. A place where they're nutty enough to believe in this sort of thing.
So anyway, we're going to reproduce portions of this letter here for your edification and, hopefully, amusement. While it gently breaks the news to SCAG that we're not buying into their overcooked version of our remote future, it also takes pains to make sure they are not in any way offended. You know, like the author thinks he is addressing someone who has lost a couple of paddles on their way down the great rapids of life.
So here it is. Have a nice time.
Dear Xx Xxxxxx Xxx,
Thank you for the opportunity to provide input on the Population, Households, and Employment forecasts for the City of Sierra Madre ("City"), which will be used as a starting point for the 2012 Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) and the Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS) required per SB 375. The City appreciates your seeking of our local input to ensure accurate growth forecasts and distribution as it relates locally and regionally.
In summary, the City finds that the Population forecasts of 11,099 by 2020 (increase of 32), and 11,116 by 2035 (increase of 17), appears accurate. However, the Household and Employment forecasts as provided by SCAG are grossly over-projected, and do not reflect the actual, recent local historic data and the local employment characteristics and trends in Sierra Madre. Per the City's analysis for Households, the City used actual household unit (net) increases per year, using building permit data of the last six years, as a basis for projecting future numbers. For Employment, the City inventoried all current businesses by type and size (average number of employees), and developed a list of potential future projects in the City which would generate new jobs, as a basis for projecting future numbers. The City respectfully submits these adjusted numbers:
2020 Households ... 4,904 ... (increase of 72 from 2008)
2035 Households ... 5,039 ... (increase of 135 from 2020)
2020 Employment ... 3,462 ... (increase of 82 from 2008)
2035 Employment ... 3,549 ... (increase of 87 from 2020)
The Development Services staff, in consultation with the City Council, closely studied the forecasts as provided by SCAG, and we find that the City's analysis presents a far more accurate representation, based on true, actual data.
Now as anybody who has been following this exercise in fanciful future population and jobs soothsaying will tell you, SCAG could very well turn around and claim that since we said it, it must not only be true, but that we'll now have to start planning for the leveling of several city blocks to make space for the 72 (or 135) "units" it will take to locate these nonexistent new households. Or they could very well reject our made up numbers altogether and demand we accept their made up numbers. Which are certainly much larger, and will require far more bulldozers to accommodate.
Auntie SCAG is like that, you know. She can be wildly unpredictable, and at times terribly unfair.
Now we're going to skip over much of the "Households Forecast" and go straight to the red meat of the thing.
The City finds that SCAG's projected increase of 140 households by the year 2020 is extremely high considering that Sierra Madre is predominantly urbanized with low-density residential and small-scale commercial uses. There are a very limited number of undeveloped properties in the City, mostly located in the Hillside Management Zone area, with significant topographical constraints that would physically and financially hinder new development. In addition, the combination of high costs of raw land and restrictions on allowable density further constrains production of the number of units that would be required to support SCAG's household projections.
You know the real reason why SCAG desires 140 "units," don't you? They want us to allow for the building of some 4 (or is that 3) story condo complexes. SCAG knows we don't have the land to spread all those "units" out, so 140 would effectively force us to build up. The dirty secret is that's exactly what the building trades folks want, and SCAG, as a compromised appendage of lobbyist run Sacramento, is only doing what it is being told to do. Something that could, should it be forced through, drag this City down to the planning level of Pasadena. And if you were a developer, wouldn't you want to build big old condo complexes rather than single family houses? At $500K a pop, condo profits are far higher because you get to sell so many more of them.
And SCAG's Employment Forecast for Sierra Madre also gets gently criticized in the following passage of our letter:
The City used alternate methodology that utilizes the actual employment characteristics in the City. According to business license information obtained from ReferenceUSA, the City concluded that the majority of businesses in Sierra Madre each employ between 1 and 4 employees, based on a count of 217 out of a total of 320 businesses, which translates into 70% of the jobs in the City. The remaining 30% includes already established larger employers comprised of public and private schools, and government agencies such as the US Postal Service and City Hall offices. This data reflects that local, community-serving retail and small-scale professional and service businesses characterize Sierra Madre. regional-size retail/commercial uses or corporate-size businesses, which typically result in large numbers of jobs, have not historically been attracted to Sierra Madre. Further, the small-scale character and limited density of the City's downtown district does not lend itself to larger employers.
Which is a nice way of saying that we're predominantly a pizza and latte' based economy, with most breadwinners having to travel elsewhere to make the kind of money it takes to live here. All of which makes SCAG's employment projections for both 2020 and 2035 seem rather daft.
So that is pretty much it. The first consequence of the disastrous SB 375 (aka, "The Destroy California Cities Act") process we'll be going through these next few years. And you do know that SCAG (which is basically Sacramento's messenger boy) can pretty much ignore our input if it so chooses. And since our debt-ridden state capitol, through such new laws, has pretty much nationalized the planning powers that used to be the heart and soul of cities like ours, maybe all we have left us is to write cautious letters.
Welcome to a world where the planning rights of California's cities no longer exist. Who knows, maybe their next step is to just assign Sector Numbers and do away with the notion of independent local government altogether.