Wednesday, February 17, 2010

High Density Development Actually Increases Global Warming?

One of the supreme reasons Sacramento wants to push high density development into places like Sierra Madre is that doing so will somehow help bring an end to Global Warming. The notion being that if you somehow get people out of their single family homes and into stacked boxes they will somehow magically give up their automobiles and fall in love with riding Metro buses.

This grand idea is at the heart of SB 375. In an October 1, 2008 notice on his Office of the Governor website, Arnold Schwarzenegger (described there as "The People's Governor") supplied the following rationale for his signing this rather controversial piece of legislation into law:

Senate Bill 375 by incoming Senator Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg would be the nation's first law to control greenhouse gas emissions by curbing sprawl. SB 375 provides emissions-reducing goals for which regions can plan, integrates disjointed planning activities, and provides incentives for local governments and developers to follow new conscientiously-planned growth patterns. SB 375 enhances the Air Resources Board's (ARB) ability to reach AB 32 goals ... Just as the railroad transformed California, and decades later our freeway system did the same, SB 375 will be responsible for reshaping the face of California's communities into more sustainable, walkable communities, with alternative transportation options and increased quality of life.

The comfort level of many for massive social engineering schemes aside, what this single bill seeks to accomplish is a draconian reworking of how people in California live, get to work, and spend their leisure time. The purpose is to force the abandonment of what has been described for the last 60 or so years as the "California lifestyle." No longer will you be encouraged to pursue your private home in the sun, rather the state's insistence will be that you head back into the urban core and start walking. It's good for you.

Now what this would mean for Sierra Madre is state enforced mandates proclaiming that we accommodate a lot more housing development because we actually are a lot closer to the urban core than say, the sprawling Inland Empire. Plus our proximity to such futuristic and exciting transportation modes as the Gold Line means that our development denouement will be in the Transit Oriented Development (TOD) style, which is strikingly similar to what we voted down when we passed Measure V here back in 2007. Something that SB 375 could easily overrule should we not get our backs up and fight for it.

Arnold's explanations continue:

It will also mean a higher quality of life. SB 375 provides incentives for creating attractive, walkable, sustainable communities and revitalizing existing ones. It will also encourage the development of more attractive transportation options. By doing so, this law will promote healthy lifestyles and reduce traffic congestion so Californians can spend less time on the road.

Now I'm not sure that the fellow who ran for governor riding around in Hummers smoking cigars is quite the guy to be lecturing us on how we need to walk to work because it is healthy for us. But that was a couple of image changes ago for Arnold, and perhaps it would be churlish of us to bring that sort of thing back up?

The acceptance of this concept that high density "transportation corridor" development will somehow reduce greenhouse gases and save the world from Global Warming has attracted quite a few devotees in this state. Particularly amongst the developers, planners and construction outfits that will make mad money leveling existing low density communities such as ours and replacing them with condominium complexes as far as the eye can see. Which some of the more skeptical among us insist was really the point all along. But will this actually achieve its goal? After tearing down half of the western end of the San Gabriel Valley will we actually find ourselves walking on sunshine in the new green utopia? Or merely living in cramped quarters.

On the Green advocacy website there is an interesting new piece entitled "Resisting Dickensian Gloom." This article cites several new Australian studies that refute the whole notion that we can build our way out of Global Warming. Australia, which bought into the high density dream early on and now has vast swaths of the stuff, apparently now has cause for a little bit of buyer's remorse. Here is a part of what this article has to say:

Greenhouse gas emissions: Advocates of high-density policies (often termed "Smart Growth" but also under other descriptions and euphemisms such as "urban consolidation," "compact development," "growth management," and "urban renewal") maintain these policies save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A comprehensive study of per capita emissions in Australia based on household consumption of all products and services appears in the Australian Conservation Foundation's Consumption Atlas. Unexpectedly, this analysis shows that greenhouse gas emissions of those living in high-density areas are greater than for those living in low-density areas. An analysis of the data shows that the average carbon dioxide equivalent emission of the high-density core areas of Australian cities is 27.9 tons per person whereas that for the low-density outer areas is 17.5 tons per person. As mentioned in the Demographia Survey introduction, food and goods purchase account for most of the emissions and this amounts to more for wealthier inner-city dwellers.

Surprisingly, transport emissions amount to very little (only 10.5%), household electricity and heating fuel being about twice as much at 20.0%. It should also be noted that the emissions from household dwelling construction and renovations at 11.8% are greater than emissions for transport. It is clear that transport, so heavily emphasized by Smart Growth advocates, is responsible for only a small fraction of household emissions.

The article goes on to cite a few more studies, all of which come to the conclusion that packing people into urban core development might not be as "green" a thing as advocates such as noted ecologist Arnold Schwarzenegger have claimed. Which means that low density communities such as Sierra Madre might very well be the greenest possible solution after all. And that Sacramento, along with SCAG and 40% of our current City Council here (they're the ones that talk a lot), should really go find some other way to save the world.

Hopefully one that might actually work.


  1. Talk about that Orwellian Inversion thing. If these Sacramento guys were to tell the truth sometime it would probably be by mistake.

  2. The two Sacramento lobbyists on our current city council Joe Mosca and John Buchanan should go to work for Algore.

    Let's get rid of Mosca.

    Crawford, Watts and Alcorn to keep the Sierra
    Madre we all moved here for, or in some cases what our parents and grandparents moved here for.
    These people just don't realize that the vast majority here in town, want Sierra Madre to remain a SMALL-DENTISITY town, we like it that way, that's why we don't live in Pasadena, Arcadia or Monrovia!

  3. Correction (before the spelling police check in)
    Make that SMALL-DENSITY
    Time for coffee, have a great day everyone.

  4. Small dentistry is what I need. Joe Mosca is just a lobbyist for
    this junk. I can't for the life of me think what he actually gets
    out of it, either. Does he think that he'll get a big time job in
    some Sacramento bureaucracy if he fools this town into going
    for this nonsense? How did things get this bad in California?

  5. Good article today, Sir Eric Maundry.

    If everyone in California read this blog, they would run Arnold out of the State along with 75% of the state legislature.

    Thanks for exposing these politicians who only work for the money and/or power they steal from us taxpayers.

    It's tax time, everyone.....let's get madder than Hell and let these bums know we aren't going to take it any longer. It all ends soon, greedy politicians.
    Your power trips on our dime aren't going to work anymore!

  6. Only in Sacramento could they cook up something as crazy as this "condos will save the world" meme. I'm not sure the "peoples governor" actually talks to many of those people he claims to care about.

  7. Arnold doesn't need to walk. He's a gym rat. If you've never seen the documentary Pumping Iron, it's worth a look. His charisma and dedication win over everyone. It's how he got elected, despite his obvious ignorance about his own personal responsibilities to a healthy environment. Who knows what corrupted him so badly in office. Maybe just simple-mindedness.

    And knock off the national political references 7:16. Takes the focus off the importance of our local fight.

  8. Great reporting Sir Eric.
    Thanks a lot for the facts. Hope they won't be discarded as too inconvenient right away!

  9. Let's hear it for birth control! There'd be no need for high density condos if folks limited the size of their families. Reduce the size of the population in 20 years! Make room for green grass and sand lots - raise the quality of life for everyone!

  10. Give people government low income housing and what is the first thing the lucky tenants will do? Take all that money they've saved and buy a car! Government is nutso.

  11. If you want high density condos and traffic, move to West Pasadena. We won't miss you.

  12. ZPG, how's that working out?
    The "industrialized" nations are getting that message, the "industrializing nations are not.I've heard one prediction that England and France will be transformed in 75 years, no longer Western European.

  13. This philosophy comes from Eurocentric planning concepts post WW2. After the great destuction of towns and citys in Europe, and the Soviet Union, Architectural Planners were planning huge urban housing blocks to replace the Architecture that symbolized the "old" world, which was reputiated.
    This philosophy was to create an Utopian vision, large high rise apartment blocks surrounded by urban parkland, with an efficient transportation grid.
    You can see it's influence in Soviet style urban planning, Scandinavian countries, Spain, and also New York City. The key visionary in New York, Robert Moses, tore down vast blocks of old communities, to build this vision.
    Unfortunately, it created these no-man's lands of nameless, characterless, settings, rife with crime, and care-lessness that alienated many people. They became cages to house the population where people ended up hiding from the dangers outside of their apartments at night.
    This "Great Planning" idea seems to be stubbornly holding on in California, One need only look at infamous projects like Bedford Styvson(SP?), to see what an astoundingly stupid idea this is.
    Your choices in this are pretty simple, vote for development interests of Moran, Mosca, and Walsh, to stay on the development, central planning course, and a Regional Government, or vote for Crawford, Alcorn, and Watts to fight for local control, and local self determination where you will still have a voice.

  14. 9:23!

    What a great post!!!!!!!

    You make the comment:
    "You can see it's influence in Soviet style urban planning,...."

    Isn't it ironic we have the head of SCAG, a former Soviet urban planner?

    This is just CRAZY!

  15. 9:23 - you know where the head of SCAG, Hasan Ikhrata, got his career start? He was a planner in the Soviet Union. Graduate of Leningrad University. Could you have picked a more perfect person to enforce SB 375?

  16. What side of his mouth is Arnold speaking out of when he talks to us about a "higher-quality of life"? He is the owner of a 14,500 sq. ft., 10-bath mansion, countless cars, he is a total hypocrite.

  17. Don't forget his private jet that he commutes to Suckramento in.

  18. One rule for them, another rule for us.

  19. What oh what do the proponents of SB375 say when confronted with this information?
    What can possibly be a defense for this shameful co-opting of the desire for a healthier life and a healthier planet?
    There really may be special places in hell for hypocrites - or let's just say, there's some steep learning curves ahead when you ignore the common good in pursuit of satisfying your own greed.

  20. It's great that the report comes from Australia. They have certainly had their battles there. Anyone remember the member of Parliament, or whatever they call their legislative house, who said that there was "no environment" in the ocean, so there was no need to get upset about drilling, or some other environment-gutting activity? "There's no environment there."
    Pretty funny youtube.

  21. Sacramento sure has its funny ways. When they want to save the environment, they gut CEQA and build condos. Kind of like a Doctor who, in order to save a patient's life, pushes him out a 6th story window.

  22. There is another 710 Tunnel meeting tonight in L.A. It is to "analyze soil, subsurface, and geotechnical conditions that might be encountered if a tunnel is considered..."

    The process, you know?

  23. "...conditions that might be encountered."
    That's going to be a tiring night for the hired experts. They'll have to say "It's safe" a million different ways.

  24. These things get taken one step at a time. There is a whole checklist that slowly gets worked through, with the last step being the public and their opinions. At which time the powers that be will say, "Well, we've gone though the entire process, so how can you stop it now?"

  25. This is terrible for the people who live close to the openings of the tunnel.Remember, the tunnel builders themselves said that the cancer, emphysema, and other bad illness rates increase at those points.

    More of the thoughtless problem solving so common in California these days. Instead of focusing on light rail to move goods and ease congestion, we have this destructive and risky choice.

    Good example 12:12. Doctor saves patient from death by pushing him to a different kind of death.

  26. 12:01, that clip is a satirical interview put together by Calrke & Dawes - a couple of funny Aussies. It IS a great youtube, called The Front Fell off - and it is unfortunately often taken as real, because politicians the world over have made such fools of themselves.

  27. "low density communities such as Sierra Madre might very well be the greenest possible solution after all:
    And communities like ours work because they are small enough for people to feel connected in the community, one way or the other.

  28. In the end it is all about money. As soon as a politician tells you that what he is doing is going to save the world from whatever, it's really about money.

  29. Has it always been like that do you think?
    I am actually patriotic and love this country.
    It drives me crazy that Americans are so unmotivated to vote.
    Keep 'em at a certain level of comfort and they'll just be "not into the political thing."
    Maybe 50% of us are just too spoiled.
    We shold have all our senior classes in high school have field trips to the poorest places in the world.
    That'd be good for citizenship!

  30. Great idea 2:20. Send all the teens to India for 2 weeks, and you bet they'll be aware of their rights and duties as Americans.

  31. I think a lot of people think that the way things are is now how they will always be, and that there is nothing that they have to do to keep it that way. And everything that they see and read tells them that is exactly how it is, so they relax and do the one thing that they are supposed to do. Which is shop.

  32. 2:20.. no it hasn't always been like "that" in this country. The media has got a hold on the psyche of America, it's ALWAYS about the money in this country, what do you think the business of America is? spreading democracy? civil rights? human rights? the environment?, no, no and no! The business of America is Business, plain and simple. Also, to the poster at 8:30 that said, "And knock off the national political references 7:16. Takes the focus off the importance of our local fight." 7:16 was referring to those far off distant lands such Arcadia, Monrovia, Pasadena and yes what happens in those cities does affect Sierra Madre.

  33. Well, curbing sprawl is not a bad thing, but building huge densities right on top of it is insane. Which is why bureaucrats need "diktats" to impose social order and conformity around insane ideas, such as the concept that density decreases CO2 emissions. More consumption, more CO2. Period.

    The only real answer is to go back into dense urban areas that have degenerated and build large projects that have "zero footprint" and net energy (supply power/water). You need that kind of scale to pull it off, and that belongs in large city centers where it will make the most difference.

  34. Laurie,
    soon as we win this upcoming election in Sierra Madre, I would like to help you and the rest of the patriots working to free us from Sacramento.
    It's people like you who will save California!

    Thank you for sharing your information with us.

  35. Settle down 2:47.
    7:16 also mentioned algore...and unless it's new, he doesn't live in the SG Valley...

  36. The new political Party. "POYIGM" "PIS_ on You, I Got Mine or Getting Mine" The Platform: Bribe, Buy, Lie, Threaten, Corrupt, Payoff, Plants, Cheat, Seduce, and Steal. Life is a Hummer out there.

  37. Sierra Madre already has it's connection to the Gold Line and passes through town everyday, virtually empty. Put in in 2004 by the reigning city council Stockley,Torres etc.It's on the city's website. This transit connection is also a requirement for the lower income units that were part of the Downtown Specifc plan. Most of the lower income units (140 to be exact) were suppose to accomodate the downtown build-out and accomodate those units to not have to sell less expensive low income units. The Childs property on East Montecito (our industrial area) ws the prospective site for the 140 units. It is still for sale.
    The gateway coach (Goldline connection) info is on the City website. See copy of info below:

    Gateway Coach Express - The Gold Line Shuttle

    WEEKDAYS 7 A.M. TO 8 A.M. AND 5 P.M. TO 6 P.M.
    The Gold Line Shuttle's schedule accommodates peak commuter hours and takes approximately 30 minutes to complete. Commuting to the MTA's Sierra Madre Villa Gold Line Station is easy and convenient.

    Gateway Coach Loops
    The Sierra Madre transit program connects to the MTA's Gold Line by stopping at the Sierra Madre Villa Gold Line Station in East Pasadena.

    -->> Transit Brochure with stop times for Round-A-Bout and Commuter Loop, 7:00 am to 6:34 pm.

  38. Ahh! The Shenanigan Shuttle. Think of it as the DSP ghost bus.

  39. I was actually going to take the DSP Ghostmobile one day, but had to leave at 8:30 a.m., or wait twice as long in the delightful mid-roaring freeway stop at Sierra Madre Villa, and needed to return at 6:30 p.m. That is so often the problem with public transportation in So Cal - bad scheduling. If the ghostmobile really wanted business? Run from 6:30 to 9:30 in the a.m., and 4-7 in the p.m.

  40. Californians will never give up their cars.
    That's the bottom line.
    How many of you would give up your car to use public transportation?
    I woudn't.

  41. Old K, I would if the damn things ran in a way so you could catch one in a reasonable amount of time with reasonable walks between locations. So far it ain't possible here.

  42. seems to work for thousands of other folks every day...

  43. SM dodged a bullet - so farFebruary 17, 2010 at 7:12 PM

    140 units on the Childs' property on Montecito?
    31-51 East Montecito is listed as only 10,500 square feet.
    Is that 140 in addition to the 55 at the SNF and the 72 at Howies?

  44. No, I think I heard it would be 55-72 at Howies and then another 140 minus the 31-51 on East Montecito plus an additional 10,500 sqft onto the soccer field at Alverno, but no bun warmers, the SNF will be turned into a Rusanack mercedes dealership and the terminus for the 710 tunnel is going to be at Marys...let's roll!!!!!

  45. I agree with Old Kentucky, It is such a crazy and out of the world on PLANET CUCKOO idea that Angelenos will give up their cars.

    YOU GOTTA BE CRAZY????!!!!!!!!

    Los Angeles is a car culture. Joe, John, Aaaarnold, gimme your car and go take public transportation. Have a good time and take the car keys around from all of your cronies. When you do that then maybe we can all do as you do not do as you say........

    Plus, since we are otta moolah, who's gonna pay for this............ah, no NOT OBAMA, he was neva into this train, Explain this one.....Plus, folks are leaving the state, so no one wants to live here anymore......hmmmmm

  46. I wanna live here, I wanna die here, this is still paradise!

  47. This is how bad things are in California. People are leaving for ... Utah.

    Think about it.

  48. What's wrong with Utah?

  49. Obviously nothing. That's why people are moving there.

  50. When I lived in Seattle (UW Husky and all that) I didn't need a car. They had a bus system that did it all. No light rail. Dedicated bus lanes into downtown to special dropoffs into downtown shopping areas. Lines running to all the major districts right out of the U District. The portion of all bus routes that ran along the waterfront were free, you just had to jump off by Pioneer square if you wanted to ride back and forth to places.

    Maybe it was just because it was a college town, but the colleges I've been to in California forced you into a car. The infrastructure was too spread out, seems to be the issue. This is what light rail (or old red cars!) are made for. We just don't have a compact urban form as you guys stated above, and light rail connectors to existing dense exurban centers is about the best we can do. No way to turn the clock back on urban form, despite the politician's efforts to wish it otherwise. Particularly when they allow things to happen like the Green line not connecting to LAX because of the bus/taxi driver's unions. Car culture is too embedded in people's revenue streams and business models at this point.

  51. You know what the real problem is here, right? The idea of getting people out of their cars isn't really all that horrible. And getting people to ride public transportation isn't such a bad thing, either. There are some good points in all that. But what is very bad here is that the use of these reasonably decent goals as a justification to radically redevelop cities like the ones here in the San Gabriel Valley. That is the real problem. Good causes were used to justify something terrible.

  52. Grew up in El Monte in a family with one car. Mom took the bus to LA to work the night shift as a private duty nurse at Queen of the Angels or Good Samaritan hospitals. Dad drove her a few blocks to the bus stop and picked her up 10 hours later. So, I had a parent at home at night when I was asleep and a parent at work on the night shift. Dad was self-employed and could use the car during the day. While mom slept, I was at school and dad also work out of the garage. I walked to school. Our little house sat on a big lot that now has an additional four units. Life was different then. The neghbors had horses. It will never be that way again. The freeways tore El Monte into three parts. If you want to look for the beginning of the end in So Cal, look to the building of the freeways and the end of the Red Car.

  53. I did a post on the history of the way LA grew up around the red line which was put in to develop real estate (some things never change). That was the original LA urban form. Then the Federal Highway program came in post-war and basically "busted" the form and generated tremendous sprawl. In the 50 years since, it's been nothing but freeways, rail consolidation and big-box retail invading communities because now it's possible for people to drive for miles to save a buck. All the corporate retail models for sales are based upon auto access radii, whether big-box, McDonalds or Starbucks, hence the feedback cycle of highways generating traffic which generates growing retail centers that create more traffic demand, etc. etc.

    You'll notice that the light rail system being developed now is generally right on top of the old red car backbone...not an accident. That's how the exurban cities got going and developed dense centers. Also made good use of the abandoned rail corridors, another evolutionary step in regional development.

  54. I'm the managing editor of, the site that ran the op-ed "Resisting Dickensian Gloom." First, we are not a "Green advocacy site", and our name was spelled wrong above. The opinion piece was by Tony Recsei of a group called "Save Our Suburbs" in Australia. We have a policy of running op-eds from people on all sides of the land use spectrum.

    Second, it is highly important to note that Mr. Recsei's facts apply only to Australia. In California, the reverse is true, and smart growth policies are backed up with a great deal of data. But the most persuasive data in my mind are the demographics- our state is growing, and we need more options for our younger people and seniors to live in. The infrastructure cost for low density development is also very high, and is crippling small towns like Vallejo, that had to file for bankruptcy. has a large database full of studies that show that increasing density around transit cores and in inner city neighborhoods is beneficial to all, regardless of greenhouse gas emissions.

    No one is being forced to "live in a box" or in "Dickensian gloom". We have developed suburban-style, low density housing for the last 50 years. Adding some alternatives for those who prefer high-density living would create synergies of efficiency across the region.

    I would relish the opportunity to go into further detail on this site to refute the application of Mr. Rescei's conclusions on this blog.

    Respectfully, Tim Halbur

  55. Tim - Fixed the error. But how can you say the state is growing when the opposite is obviously true? Many have now speculated that we will actually lose a Congressional seat once the current census is finished. Jobs and skilled workers are leaving California at a great clip right now. I would also disagree with your assertion that the state of California is taking a hands off approach to "smart growth." The CARB/SB 375 recommendations will result in RHNA numbers that will be quite a lot for a town like this one to deal with. Hard luck with Vallejo, but Sierra Madre is running a surplus. And where do you see all the water necessary to sustain all that new housing coming from? Or the increased electricity production, perhaps the biggest greenhouse gas producer of all? How does that figure in to your equations? The ones I have seen are really quite different in that regard.

    And there are scientific facts that apply in Australia, but not California? Is that a latitude thing? Is the Earth flatter there?

  56. The most recent (Jan 2010) State population estimates ( do not show a population decline.

  57. California Could Lose A House Seat After 2010 Census - article draws on an LA Times report.

    (First time in Golden State history.)

  58. I would like to hear more about "those who prefer high-density living."
    And I couldn't get the Jan 2010 population estimates link to work. If it came from the state, is there something else that can be given?

  59. None of those figures mean anything. The 2010 census will tell the story. But I can tell you one thing, all those government projections of mass migrations to california turned out to be bunk.

  60. They're switching their argument to the birth rate, especially of the Hispanic populations (Is it ok to use "hispanic"? Must keep up) At least that was what Karen $50 big ones Warner intimated during the housing element talks.

    Still want to hear from the folks who "prefer high-density living."

  61. Doesn't matter who migrates or births babies, they still can't afford the housing in Sierra Madre, let alone San Marino - whoops, er - "Mayberry".

  62. The thing I like best about high density living is that I don't need a TV to catch the soaps. I listen to my neighbors lives unfold through the walls.

  63. Happens in South Pasadena, too. Hate the toilets in the morning.

  64. I just received the mailer from John Crawford regarding seven story condo projects in Sierra Madre. All I can say is, "Wow." Amazing that people actually think there is an ounce of truth behind this ridiculous and absurd exaggerations. What a waste of money it was to send these out? How dumb do think the residents of Sierra Madre are?

    It is people like this and their "no-growth under any cicumstances" ideals that are to blame for the boarded up building accross from city hall. If you like vacant buildings I recommend Detroit. I hear it's great this time of year.

    Instead of blocking change and common sense ideas, we should work together to promote responsible growth and development that increases tax revenue and creates a downtown that we can be proud of while upholding our unique historical values.

    A vote for John Crawford is a vote for vacant buildings in the heart of downtown.

    A vote for John Crawford is a vote for economic stagnation.

    I am for preserving the integrity of Sierra Madre while encouraging smart and responsible development.

    Please do your part and make sure John Crawford is not elected.

  65. Why do the dirts hate our downtown so much? I think it is rather pretty. Certainly a lot better than what's become of places like Glendale and Pasadena with all those big condo zombie buildings nobody has been able to sell. And as far as the Skilled Nursing Facility, won't our new blight law take care of that?

  66. G'day chaps from Down Under.The Orwellian reference mentioned on this site is not just a fiction.

    Our New South Wales State(Capital Sydney) Assistant Planning Minister announced in 2004 that she was now going to use new definitions for Low Rise/Low Density and High Rise/High Density.Town houses,villas and dual occupancies were now to be called low density,along with single detached housing.High rise/high density was now to be called medium rise/medium density.
    The actual heights of the the high rise to be now called medium density were not specified.

    Low density is,BY DEFINITION,single detached housing.Medium density is,BY DEFINITION,town houses,villas and dual occupancies.The Assistant Minister,no doubt under the influence of the NSW Planning Dept, seemed to think it was 1984,not 2004.The English language was to be changed in classic NewSpeak, as in the George Orwell novel "1984".

    Fortunately,nothing became of this insidious plan and the Assistant Minister lost the Planning portfolio after the next election.