Friday, October 22, 2010

The Californian Labyrinth

While preparing for my book tour in Chicago and presentation to the Village of Park Forest, I was again struck with these incredible facts: this village of 3000 plus acres and over 6000 housing units, schools, parks, and seminal commercial center was planned between June 1946 and the first homes occupied in late fall 1948, two years and five months. By 1952, six years after the first meeting, over 20,000 residents called the village home. The world did not end, the forests and wetlands were protected, existing roads were expanded, and a new community was built that provided homes for the jobs that were created in Chicago.

As the economy revives and the opportunities for growth return (California continues to grow regardless of the politically charged demographic numbers), we are not prepared to efficiently and proactively build for the future. This state cannot repair an important bridge let alone plan for the millions of future residents waiting in schools and colleges for new homes and facilities to raise their families. I am involved in communities that are now into their fifth and sixth years of bureaucratic involvement and approvals. Clients discuss, with great hope and trepidation, which economic cycle will they face when they finally receive approvals, finish with the lawsuits, and are blessed by some future housing czar.

All real estate is local – except in our state. Currently the State of California has over 520 caucuses, commissions, associations, departments, divisions, boards, bureaus, agencies, networks, councils, courts, and authorities as well as universities, and the senate and assembly. Within each of these there are innumerable programs and sub-committees. Without expanding or stretching the imagination at least 75 of these agencies have a direct involvement with housing and development within the state. Some have almost veto-like control through the morass of approvals. For your entertainment listed below are these agencies, be advised: each has a director, staff, programs, and attendant consultants in the private side (you can skip it unless you need to take a nap).

California Air Resources Board (CARB) ** California Architects Board ** California Arts Council ** California Attorney General ** California Bay Conservation and Development Commission ** California Bay-Delta Authority ** California Bay-Delta Office ** California Biodiversity Council ** California Board for Geologists and Geophysicists ** California Board for Professional Engineers and Land Surveyors ** California Building Standards Commission ** California Bureau of Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation** California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency ** California Coastal Commission ** California Coastal Conservancy ** California Cultural Resources Division** California Delta Protection Commission ** California Department of Community Services and Development ** California Department of Conservation ** California Department of Fair Employment and Housing ** California Department of Housing and Community Development ** California Department of Public Health ** California Department of Real Estate ** California Department of Toxic Substances Control ** California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) ** California Department of Water Resources ** California Division of Codes and Standards ** California Division of Engineering ** California Division of Housing Policy Development ** California Division of Land and Right of Way ** California Division of Land Resource Protection ** California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) ** California Division of Planning and Local Assistance ** California Division of the State Architect ** California Electricity Oversight Board ** California Energy Commission ** California Environment and Natural Resources Agency ** California Environmental Protection Agency (Cal/EPA) ** California Environmental Resources Evaluation System (CERES) ** California Fish and Game Commission ** California Floodplain Management ** California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research ** California Grant and Enterprise Zone Programs HCD Loan ** California High-Speed Rail Authority ** California History and Culture Agency ** California Housing Finance Agency ** California Indoor Air Quality Program ** California Industrial Development Financing Advisory Commission ** California Integrated Waste Management Board ** California Land Use Planning Information Network (LUPIN) ** California Lands Commission ** California Landscape Architects Technical Committee ** California Office of Historic Preservation ** California Park and Recreation Commission ** California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) ** California Real Estate Services Division ** California Regional Water Quality Control Boards ** California Registered Veterinary Technician Committee ** California San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission ** California San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy ** California San Joaquin River Conservancy ** California Seismic Safety Commission ** California State Assembly ** California State Lands Commission ** California State Park and Recreation Commission ** California Tahoe Conservancy ** California Transportation Commission ** California Water Resources Control Board ** California Wetlands Information System ** California Wildlife and Habitat Data Analysis Branch ** California Wildlife Conservation Board ** California Wildlife Programs Branch

Without a doubt some of these are necessary for the future of the state and well managed growth. Some continue to meddle and offer ordinances, controls and “guidelines” that contribute nothing to the efficient course of development in the state. The market does as good a job of determining the quality of a project more than a staffer in some small cubicle in Sacramento.

On top of all these state agencies are the numerous and, many times, contradictory county and city departments and agencies. There are 58 counties and 478 incorporated cities in the state. Each has their own planning department (there are almost as many different names for this particular agency as there are cities, i.e. Department of Development Services, Department of Building and Planning, etc.). And in many of the larger cities affordable housing agencies, transportation agencies, fair housing agencies, park and recreation commissions and who knows what else. Each has put their finger into the pie. By the way did you know there is NOT an approved and required list of land use categories in the state, there is not even a Chinese menu of options. So a horse in one city CAN be called a camel in another. There are hundreds and hundreds of definitions of multi-family housing alone.

And on the federal level, let’s not go there but oh let’s name a few: FHA, HUD, FEMA, Fish and Wildlife, and the most notorious - Corps of Engineers. The Labyrinth of Crete and the corridors of Sacramento have much in common.

While I am no Don Quixote and do not wish to challenge windmills, there must be a better way to move this process forward. There are state mandated timeframes for approvals that even my clients don’t understand – and the cities ignore unless sued. The development community wants to play nice and they bring their own bats and balls (and buckets of cash for fees). The governmental agencies make up the rules as they go along and keep the scoreboard.

I will try and throw out some ideas over the next few weeks and see if there is some possible way through these tunnels and maybe find the Minotaur.

Stay Tuned . . . .

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