Saturday, July 30, 2011

Laurie Barlow: Acronym Minefield Provides Cover For Sacramento's Regional Control

As we in Sierra Madre struggle with the implications of SB 375 and what they mean to the future of our town through the General Plan Update process, it is good to know that we're not alone in this struggle. Laurie Barlow, who publishes the groundbreaking Greensward Civitas blog, has written extensively on the topic. When this article first appeared - which deals with the consequences of SB 375 to the General Plan process - it generated considerable interest all across the state. Originally published in 2010 when Pasadena was undergoing its General Plan Update process, we are reposting Laurie's article in its entirety, along with the original reader comments. And while it does deal with Pasadena, the issues are largely the same ones that we are now facing here.

The General Plan community participation process that Pasadena is currently undergoing for revision of the housing element is affected by some new ground rules signed into law in recent years. Legislation passed in Sacramento, AB 32 and SB 375, is based upon the concept that regional coordination of transportation and its related housing densities is necessary to combat the pollution and energy consumption generated by urban sprawl, which has been the primary engine of California development and GDP production since the postwar era. It recognizes that sprawl is unsustainable, particularly since the counties aren't able to maintain the infrastructure in rural and outlying areas. Hence the strategy of this legislation, which is to assign the majority of growth and development to urban areas, using "transportation" as the rationale for higher densities. This "fair share" housing allocation plan will focus new development in Transit Priority Areas and near employment centers within the transportation network, and give regional planning priority over local control.

It shifts the old process of General Plans which cities used to plan for future growth, as the City of Santa Barbara noted in its March 2008 letter of objection to its SCAG Board of Directors (Southern California Association of Governments.) The problem was that the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) created a requirement for housing that was nearly 150% of the city's existing General Plan capacity. That is because the method of calculating the housing requirements has been revised to substantially increase the necessary housing using a growth forecast method developed by the State called the Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS). This is outlined on the State's Housing and Community Development website, which develops this number in consultation with SCAG.

The SCS mandates that local governments must complete housing elements within 18 months after receiving their housing allocation and states that local governments have three years to complete rezoning of sites to be consistent with the designations in the housing element. It also determines that a court can compel local governments to complete the rezoning if the statutory deadline is not met; if the rezoning is not completed, there are new restrictions on its power to deny or condition affordable housing projects. It's rather draconian in that respect; a BIA profit-driven strategy, not one that accommodates actual needs in the communities or the infrastructure capacity available, such as power, water and sewer capacities that were previously a critical factor in the city General Plans. In effect, it disconnects these General Plan elements and creates further development issues in that commercial development is generally not capped because of the revenue it creates, yet it generates traffic issues and demands more power, water, and additional housing support. All this without identifying the concurrent balance of local resources required to support this growth.

The inability of local entities to support this growth is deleted from the planning process via SB 375, which provides the development community with the tools at the regional level to build out beyond all resources in order to produce profit as well as create the fiscal assets which can then be sold by Wall Street in its continuing saga of selling toxic assets. Communities are now captive to the Federal mandate created by the large banks to provide more investment product on the global market to keep the U.S. dollar and Federal Deficit funding at target levels.

Let's step back a moment and look at the State's overall picture. California's economy is all about construction, driven by real estate development. There's large investment leverage on about 25% of a $1.85 trillion economy. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, California is responsible for 13% of the United States' gross domestic product (GDP). This means that our ground-zero 2008 implosion of the housing and mortgage markets have left a very large hole that the building industry is seeking to fill with development that is able to attract financing from the government and the private sector due to its legislated existence, backed by whatever credibility is left of Sacramento Fiscal Bond sales, federal funding and debt payment structures. It uses the vehicle of transportation and infrastructure repair and expansion to tie development requirements in order to obtain this funding. Whether the market is actually there (during record unemployment) for this housing is left to the "Field of Dreams."

Since the state's cash flow has been decimated by the Prop 13 loss in property tax revenues, local development revenue and taxes have taken a front seat in City revenue streams. Cities rely more and more on development and developer fees to provide basic services, and so are essentially railroaded into constant development in order to pay the bills. This is why California is in this predicament today. Unfortunately, the State's strategy for more density and development doesn't solve the problem, and reduces the quality of life for its residents, while depleting remaining resources. This disconnect of development versus resource consumption is a far bigger problem than the transit and pollution issues this legislation is supposed to solve. Water conservation is a non-issue, despite legislation authored by Sheila Kuehl in the State Senate (SB 221) signed into law in Oct 2001 to keep the practice of "paper water" over-allocation which has grown to eight times the amount of actual available water supplies.

Cities that have tried to fight these RHNA allocations in court, such as Irvine's lawsuit against SCAG allocations, have not found the courts to be supportive. The Fourth Appellate District recently held that courts have no jurisdiction to review the propriety of a municipality's RHNA allocation. To cite attorney Katherine Hart: The Court of Appeals reasoned that RHNA statutes reflect a clear intent to vest HCD and respective COGs with the authority to set the RHNA allocation for each local government ... The nature and scope of a General Plan's housing element and the length and intricacy of the process created to determine a municipality's RHNA allocation reflects a clear intent on the part of the Legislature to render this process immune from judicial intervention."

So the local communities and cities do not have much recourse with respect to the impact of the RHNA numbers on their General Plans. While in theory there is a process to contest the SCS projections early in the process, which triggers a regional reallocation if a community is successful in rebutting a particular growth projection, it isn't going to happen under SCAG because all the communities would then reject these projections. The only recourse would appear to be to challenge the basis of the growth numbers themselves, which are based upon a thesis prepared by USC's Population Dynamics Research Group. This group has been retained by Sacramento to generate these projections based upon historic data and some interesting assumptions. They deny the Federal Census Bureau's contention that there has been a strong outflow of people from California during the past decade, but the state Department of Finance's demographic unit disputes that position, and the conflict presumably will be resolved by the 2010 census (this from the Sacramento Bee.)

As it stands right now, the impact of this on Pasadena's General Plan remains to be seen, but it is critical during the public participation process that residents insist that the growth impacts be accounted for in the update process for Land Use, Mobility and Open Space/Conservation. It is important that the integrity of all the General Plan elements is maintained; it must be fiscally responsible, and especially, environmentally sound. If the impact of traffic and growth is not in alignment with the stated goals of reducing Pasadena's carbon footprint (and that includes all impacts on the environment), then it is open for renegotiation. That is supposedly the basis of SB 375 and the transit and redevelopment funding that is attached to it.


  1. Since Sacramento can't get cities to assist in their lobbyist rewards programs voluntarily (or through the toys in the attic efforts of BS artists like Joe Mosca) they've now taken away everything from the cities and are going to force development on us at gunpoint. Great article that lays it out clearly. The secret is out.

  2. SB375 is an evil plan to take control of Calif.
    Take away local control of our towns.

  3. WTF, does the RHNA with their SCS think that they can railroad cities PDQ? GMAFB, they FUBAR everything and this SB375 seems SOP to those SOBs.

  4. It is a partnership between large corporate interests and a central government that wants to be all powerful.

    Think Mussolini's Italy. Except with an Austrian in charge.

  5. Wasn't there an Austrian in charge of Italy? Of course, that was a little later in the story.

  6. It's bad enough these SOB's want to bankrupt California, now they want to take control of our sovereign cities and built every inch of Sierra Madre, lot line to lot line, and the WILL use eminent domain, that's a given.
    Save the town, Sierra Madre, support candidates that will support our liberties, not just be lobbyists for Sacramento, like Mosca.
    MaryAnn MacGillivray and Don Watts are fighting SCAG for us. They are fighting for our homes!
    Anyone who casts a vote for Joe Mosca is supporting the crooks in Sacramento.
    Remember this when you vote.

  7. SM dodged a bullet - so farJanuary 7, 2010 at 11:00 AM

    Laurie Barlow is a life-saver. I sure hope our city staff reads this article Sir Eric.

  8. Somebody should forward it to all the city hall email addrersses...

  9. Let's get the info out to EVERYONEJanuary 7, 2010 at 11:10 AM

    How do we print this out and put it on the door steps of every resident of Sierra Madre? It is not just our City Council, it is everyone in the State.Really, so few people get to read the Tattler.

  10. 11:10, all we need is the money to do it...

  11. 11:13 -- and legs. We need people who like exercise, walking, sunshine, and barking dogs,

  12. If everyone who feels strongly about the Tattler and SB375 printed 25 copies and handed them out to their neighbors that would be a start! If you read the Tattler, you have access! Don't want to confront your neighbors? Put today's Tattler in an envelope and mail to 10 people with a request for each person to mail to another 10. You can't invest in a sheet of paper, a #10 envelope and a first class stamp? But you have a computer? Use your head!

  13. Sounds to me like we are witnessing the governmental effort to eviscerate General Plans.

  14. 11:34, maybe it is more like bringing the truth about how weak General Plans really are are out into the open.
    Ask the wildlife about how well the Sierra Madre General Plan protected their habitat.

  15. Sacramento wants to control all city planning centrally using SCAG as its enforcement arm. That way they can sell the crown jewels to the highest bidding lobbyists. Usually the BIA and CAR. That is how corrupt this state has become. And we are feeling the effects of this ugly mess directly.

  16. I think mussolini would be highly offended by that comparison.

  17. One thing that confuses me here. Why would builders want to build even more condominiums when the existing ones don't sell? Who is going to buy the things?

  18. That's the question, 4:04.
    How are the Monrovia Commons doing?

  19. From what I can see Monrovia Commons remain less than full. Also the developer ended up having to rent them. and even then some are still empty. ASnd the mixed use shops remain pretty much unused. maybe people could store rakes in them or something. They look like they might be part of a basement.

  20. If we're going to find out about occupancy rates, how about that cardboard structure by the 210 and the Gold Line?

  21. Hey, we don't have to look so far from home.
    How do you think the sales at One Carter and Stonehouse are going?
    Not condos, yeah, but McMansions - still part of the problem.

  22. Sierra Madrean, where's your civic spirit? The rich need homes too, and what could be a lovelier place to build a dream home? Even though Ex-City Manager John Gillison said the property tax from those homes would be negligible, not enough to help us at all really, surely the new home owners will improve the vibe of our little town.True the actual house pads might be a bit small, a bit scrunched together, but just think - maybe one day the deer will come back, and they can be shot from the second story windows.

  23. I don't know about One Carter McMansions, but the lots seem to be sitting there. Wouldn't that area be better suited to growing grapes? Might make a passing fair winery up there. Sierra madre Winery, the home of San Gabriel Red.

  24. I would like to know where the developers go after they make these places that ruin areas.
    Where do the developers of the Monrovia Commons live?
    Where do the developers of One Carter and Stonehouse live?
    Where do those people end up with their big wallets and anesthetized consciences?

  25. I think some move to places where people like themselves are not allowed to build. Maybe Taos, or Sedona. Some place where the town would be safe from themselves. Others just go where there's a golf course and a good bar.

  26. They might be living some place nice for a while, but there is justice in the grand scheme of things. Wouldn't want their karma.

  27. Good memory skillsJanuary 7, 2010 at 5:37 PM

    One of the justifications that Developer Service Chief Christenson gave for the rape 'n scrape of the hillsides was "to provide housing."

  28. The ant colony at the 210 and Sierra Madre Villa is called The Stuart, and the website says:
    "The Stuart is a truly singular apartment community, melding the historic design of The Stuart Company Building with 21st-century design, living and convenience."
    Funny, no mention of the freeway exhaust right outside your door, or the paper thin walls that let you hear the roar of the traffic.
    Surprisingly, there are vacancies, so hurry on down.

  29. I've been to The Stuart, and they have signs all over the place asking people to renew their leases. Apparently once their time is up residents flee as quickly as their legs will take them.

    So much for the joys of "Transit Oriented Development."

  30. All those "ant colonies" will be "section 8" drug/gang ghettos sooner than later.
    That will happen in Pasadena and Monrovia.
    The government will fund it.
    Sierra Madre had better fight, because they will do this here. You can count on it.
    Defeat Sacramento Joe Mosca.

  31. I hope I'm being too cynical, but the General Plan of Pasadena doesn't seem to have done them any good, and the General Plan of Sierra Madre is NOT what stopped the Downtown Specific Plan. In fact, the DSP had amendments to the General Plan in it, in order to 'facilitate' and 'stimulate' a 'healthy economic climate' or some such rubbish. Help me out with the right verbiage PinnocioJoe.
    The point is, what good are the General Plans?

  32. Hi Bubba, General Plans are only as good as the City Councils that stand up for the interpretations of their Planning Commissions and Design Review Committees.


    It's the folks in the power seat, as always. It benefits them tremendously to make certain decisions. Why do you think folks spend MILLIONS OF DOLLARS to get elected?

    The system is about as corrupt as it can get with special interests now. When you have decisions influenced by financial and good-old-boy connections, we're back to the Banana Republic form of government.

  33. So someone explain: if the DSP was put into place, can another CC and Mayor, like turncoat JOE undo it? How long do the General Plans stay in effect?

    Very confusing.

  34. GP can be changed 4 times a year.

  35. Yes, the General Plans are subject to interpretations and Council politics. Usually they're updated only every 5 years, as required by the state because of the cost to go through the process (public hearings, staff time, etc.) So it's a slow process, which is good to avoid legislative whiplash. Can't avoid corruption, unfortunately.

  36. Where people live and how they get from there to work, to school, to shopping is always going to be an urban/suburban planners nightmare. Take a look at the desert communities rape and scrape of the land to find cheap housing when gas was cheap and folks thought they were finding better communities to raise their children, look at the skies and see the spew of the communting internal combustion mega horses and ask how do we solve these problems? What about the inner cities was so bad? Abandoning it dosen't fix it. Look at the feral cities of the rust belt. We have made a royal mess of it all the way around.

  37. Nothing wrong with salvaging the inner cities. The difference here is that people are being ordered by the state to change their lifestyles or face consequences. If you want people to live in the urban core, give them a reason to do so. And for God's sake, don't go trying to make Sierra Madre a part of it.

  38. Laurie Barlow sounds as lucid today as she did on January 7th. The Tattler is lucky to have her as a friend.

    Thank you, Laurie.

  39. Curious,when one digs very deep,one finds the Banker elite!Money is ,indeed,the root of all evil.

  40. The bankrupt Federal and State governments are selling off America's assets. Including small picturesque California foothill cities.

  41. 8:59, right you are, but it's not money that is the root of all evil; it's the love of money.
    And I always wonder, what are the avaricious going to buy to make up for their lack of a soul?

  42. The Emperor's New SerapeJuly 30, 2011 at 9:24 AM

    It's troubling to see that in all this talk of preserving the environment, and a way of life, no one cares (dares) to mention the negative environmental and societal effects of ILLEGAL immigration and over-population.

    Of course, these are just human beings that need food, clothing, and shelter. So, the politically correct answer is to lower your quality of life to improve the quality of theirs. That's the extent of the planning process.

    And it's good for the building industry. Laws were meant to be broken so that new laws could be written to capitalize on the failure to enforce old laws that get in the developer's way.

  43. Emperor - I've been reading about a new phenomenon called reverse immigration. The economy is so lousy that many of those here illegally have decided it isn't worth the bother and have begun to return home. Of course, after Boehner and Obama get done destroying what is left of the American economy, we might very well want to follow them.

  44. My analysis of SB 375 was done to help communities fight back against a regressive "solution" being imposed by Sacramento on its residents and small businesses. The link to the pdf file above explains the economics that result from debt-based policies at the private and public level that attemp to generate positive GDP measurements worldwide as well as at the state level. Basically, debt was generated in order to build out a bunch of housing that was not needed, which propped up a toxic fiscal and environmental bubble. Not only that, but the infrastructure underneath it was allowed to deteriorate as government abandoned its responsibilities for pricing in the necessary maintenance funds, and simply offloaded it to the communities and residents.

    SB 375 was kind of a California State panic reaction to the slowing economy, which in California has been grounded in generating money through the building and development sector since the Gold Rush days. The railroads were built to jump start development in California and extract its resources (mining, agriculture, etc.) and in the post-war era, it was industry and more housing. Federal dollars developed the highway infrastructure tied to military infrastructure development which was never about the residents aside from the suburban housing expansion that added to GDP. So business and industry grew as a result of land use and development.

    None of this considered future costs or environmental impact, so when CEQA (a resident-based pushback) began to impede unchecked development and pollution, it became a target for removal. So this legislation was decked out in a green salesman's suit and peddled to the legislature, and SB 375 was passed under the color of reducing transportation emissions (even though building activities generate a far bigger climate impact).

    The sad part of this whole picture is that a desperate attempt to recreate the conditions of half a century ago is not only impossible but utterly destructive to California's future. Worldwide it has been shown that creating debt to force profits to prop up GDP only results in a disastrous overbuild and deterioration of infrastructure and natural resources. The jobs created in this fashion are illusory because they attract and train people for an economy that doesn't really exist any more. The bill for it all just keeps getting bigger and bigger, as does the environmental destruction and increasing dumping of carbon into the biosphere.

    California must recreate its economic engine around activities that shrink the building and infrastructure development to a manageable scale and brings emissions to zero. This isn't a popular position, and it also means fewer people creating more results using technology and effective processes. The old way is bodies and buildings, the new way is technology and information, with communication strategies put to best use. That would restore a value system that isn't about frantic business expansion, but about being more effective with the things people actually need. So a new vision is needed, not a bigger sledgehammer.

    Laurie Barlow

  45. End of the road is gettin' closerJuly 30, 2011 at 11:50 AM

    Thank you for your informative report, Laurie.
    We are so very fortunate to have you contributing to the Tattler.

    I love your term "kick the can down the road".
    Exactly what is happening with our entire economy.
    Bernacke and the gang of "banksters" aided by the politicians.....continue to "kick the can down the road" until....we finally run out of road!
    Have you been up to Sacramento, Laurie?
    Seems like the State Senate and Assembly needs to listen to your wisdom, as there is obviously so little "wisdom" available up there.

  46. Greetings! Very helpful advice in this particular post! It's the little changes
    which will make the largest changes. Thanks for sharing!


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