In yesterday's Orange County Register there is a Mark Landsbaum opinion piece called "The Temptations of Jerry Brown." He discusses the Governor Elect's obsession with centrally controlled land use as a way of curbing greenhouse gas producing automobile travel while also promoting the use of mass transportation, among other things. The notion that Sacramento's lawmakers, who can't balance a budget or say no to a lobbyist, are going to somehow save the world from global warming by promoting condo and boutique bus station construction does invite skepticism. It's a bit like saying car thieves are going to save us from traffic congestion, or arsonists will rescue the San Gabriel Valley from having too much combustible shrubbery.
Brown is extremely likely to feel justified in even more aggressively pursuing his obsession with things green. Principle among these temptations will be the urge to bring the full weight of his administration to bear in accelerating enforcement of the state's Global Warming Solutions Act, also known as Assembly Bill 32.
In his present job as Attorney General, Brown used the courts and threat of legal action to coerce local governments and private businesses to knuckle under to AB32's Draconian mandates, ostensibly to save the world from California's carbon emissions. In the wake of his substantial election victory, bolstered by voters' even more substantial rejection of Prop 23, which would have delayed AB32's implementation, Brown will be greatly tempted to accelerate more administrative control over local government's planning and businesses' collective carbon footprints in order to reduce carbon emissions to 1990's level by 2020.
Nowhere has Moonbeam II's "send in the troops" mentality on the issue of state control over local land use been more evident than in the case of the City of Pleasanton. Like Sierra Madre with Measure V, the good citizens of Pleasanton voted in Measure GG as a way of preserving their city. This measure, created in 1996, put in place a housing cap of 29,000 to keep the place from being built into just another generic California freeway exit. That people should want their picturesque town to remain in its current livable state being somewhat anathema to the Uber-Planners of Sacramento.
And according to an article cited on Planetizen (which is not a site exactly devoted to the dreams of small cities hoping to control their own planning destinies) Attorney General Jerry Brown wasn't going to stand for it. That Jerry was mixing his "sprawls" and "housing elements" metaphors didn't seem to matter.
Jerry Brown Sues Suburb Over Housing Element: In April 27, AG Jerry Brown joined an environmental law suit against fast-growing San Bernardino County because its general plan didn't take into account the greenhouse gas emissions that result from sprawl development. Now he has taken on the other side of the same coin - going after Pleasanton, a city of high job growth that is deliberately restricting its housing growth with 1996 Measure GG that prevents it from having a certified "housing element" (a state-required element in a city or county general plan).
"Urbanists" believe in the green superiority of high density inner-city living despite the fact that most of this country's ripest greenhouse gas "hot spots" are big cities. An urbanist website called the Transbay Blog goes into some depth on the Pleasanton situation. And in the process sheds considerable light on the thinking behind Brown's legal blitzkrieg. In particular the part linking housing development to greenhouse gas related concerns.
What continues to be interesting here is Jerry Brown's consistent emphasis on climate change. In this case, Pleasanton's General Plan just straight-up violates state housing requirements, and the City's housing cap could be invalidated on that basis alone. Indeed, in his formal challenge of the housing cap, Brown focuses on the state's Planning and Zoning Law to make the case.
In supplementary materials, however, Brown has embraced a policy discussion that goes beyond simply pointing out the literal legal problem. In his January 2009 comments on the General Plan DEIR, he criticized the City for not adequately considering climate change impacts of the Plan. This is an environmental issue, not a housing issue. More recently, Brown explicitly tied the housing cap to its effect on travel patterns and air quality - adding his voice to the chorus chanting about how focused growth and smart land use are a critical component of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Pretty much knocks the whole argument into a cocked hat, y'know? The notion here being that because affordable housing in Pleasanton is hard to come by, many people have to commute long distances to get to jobs there. The solution, in the central planner think embraced by the likes of Jerry Brown, would be to wedge in some high density infill redevelopment so that commuters won't have to drive their cars so far. Thus furthering the somewhat absurd notion that cramming people into high density housing projects will somehow save the world from global warming. Which anyone familiar with highly densified and greenhouse gas rich cities like New York and Los Angeles (I've lived in both) can tell you is fairly ridiculous.
In case you are not yet aware, Pleasanton now owes close to $2 million in legal fees from fighting the state. Standing up to Sacramento and its vast - though mostly borrowed - resources does not come without a risk.
There are those cynics among us who believe that both AB 32 and SB 375 have much more to do with enabling development and realty companies to build in desirable locations such as Sierra Madre and Pleasanton than actually saving the planet. And that the whole thing smacks of being little more than a very typical Sacramento payoff to some especially favored lobbyists. The rest of us being just a marketing problem.
It will be interesting to see if the Gang of Four will try and use Jerry Brown's approach to repeal Measure V in Sierra Madre. Could restricting building height and density downtown have the effect of restricting "transit oriented development" here, thereby denying those who commute far distances from affordable living closer to their jobs at the urban core? I'm certain none of the G4 would have any problem with bringing in the full power of the state to upend the slow growth aspirations of the people of Sierra Madre. A prospect that I suspect would have some of them positively giddy with purpose and anticipation.
But perhaps all is not lost?
One thing that I have always found to be very Californian is voters wishing for wonderful things to happen on the one hand, while ruthlessly voting down any possible funding for them on the other. It seems to happen a lot.
We can see this regional peccadillo in last week's election results for Props 23 and 26. On the one hand the voters proclaimed their support for perceived greenness by overwhelmingly voting down Prop 23, while at the same time making it very difficult to enact the fee and tax hikes necessary for AB 32 to happen by passing Prop 26. Being a concerned and caring person apparently should never come with any real costs or sacrifices attached.
On the San Francisco Chronicle's SFGATE.com site, the 23 vs. 26 dynamic at work here is carefully laid out. For diehard NIMBYs such as myself (though I much prefer the acronym St. Foomt myself) this is all extremely heartening news.
Prop 23 celebrations turn to fears over Prop 26 - Has the popping of Champagne corks been premature? We're referring to the defeat of Proposition 23, which has been hailed as the game-winning home run for California's climate change law.
But celebrations have turned to fears about the impact of what some have called its "evil twin" - Prop 26, which passed Tuesday. That's the initiative relabeling environmental mitigation and other fees as taxes, requiring the virtually impossible to get two-thirds vote, thus starving state and local treasuries even further.
"In effect that will stop (AB32, the climate change law) with this," said Scott Hauge, president of Small Business California, who supports the law, "along with many of us in the business community." Hauge was referring to San Ramon's Chevron Corp. (which was "neutral" on Prop 23) and the California Chamber of Commerce, both of which poured millions of dollars into Prop 26."
So can it be, as I'm sure some of the more conspiratorial folks on yonder side of the rainbow are saying, that those big bad oil companies tricked them? By focusing all of their attention on Prop 23 and those sinister Texas oil guys, were the anti-Prop 23 people behaving just as predicted? Were they made fools of? Can it be that California's very own oil corporations like Chevron were actually placing their hopes on Prop 26 all the while? And knew that Prop 23 was just a decoy designed to send the posse off in the wrong direction?
If so, it was quite an ingenuous ploy. Those oil fellows must be laughing loud and long.