Friday, July 9, 2010

What is "Vision California?"

“Vision California is an unprecedented effort to explore the critical role of land use and transportation investments in meeting the environmental and fiscal challenges facing the Golden State over the coming decades.”

Hyperbole aside, this begins the online marketing package (see: ) and precedes, by a few months, the speech made by Peter Calthorpe at the 18th Congress for the New Urbanism in Atlanta. This plan, Vision California, was finally released on June 23, 2010 and is the state’s first major planning document in almost 30 years. Funded by the California High Speed Rail Authority (who knew they wanted to redesign California – I thought they were just a fancy railroad!) and in partnership with the California Strategic Growth Council (not one developer or builder in the board), this document and the powers behind it, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, “takes direct aim at today’s development politics in California, where cities and regions for decades insisted on having the autonomy to develop their own growth initiatives.” Well, golly gee-whiz, and I thought that most communities were just responding to the needs and desires of their residents.

This is the latest effort, paid for by you and me, to nibble, nick, and cut away bits and pieces of every community’s right to plan for themselves. This newest idea follows (in the large, soon to be felt, boot on the neck of Californians), AB 32 (Global Warming Act), SB 375 (land use controls) and mandates by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), and State Water Resources Control Board (and many other regulations at both state and federal levels). Mind you fellow Californians, the published idea is to promote how Sacramento can produce state-wide scenarios to illustrate linkages (to be managed by selected elites) between land use and affordability, farmland preservation, infrastructure, energy and water consumption, economic development, energy independence, energy efficiency, decreased driving time, improved air quality, promotion of sustainable lifestyles, production green jobs, land use and transportation investment, greenhouse gas reduction, reducing carbon emissions, increased production of apple pies, protect mothers (all types due to diversity), and increase the number of chickens in every pot (free range organic). By the way, how is that budget issue going, governor, senators and assemblymen?

It is easy to throw barbs at reports as overreaching as this type of initiative. At least 2.5 million was spent on this process and document (called modest by some and as best as can be determined) by the California High-Speed Rail Authority – why it is needed I am not sure.

The state of California does indeed face dramatic challenges in the coming years, with growth rates that may bring over 25 million new residents to the state by 2050 and an expected total of 60 million Californians, (over 30 million in Southern California alone) and yes it is critical that communities face up to the realities of densification and expansion. But they do not need to have a Board in Sacramento dictate to them on how to respond to these challenges and to create “Models” that must be followed. Most communities can barely manage their zoning ordinances.
Over the next few weeks I will try to pull together the thoughts of a few urban futurists who are looking at this issue, not with jaundiced political eyes, but with a level of common sense and reflection. In all cases remember the maxim of Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises, “The market is supreme.”

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