Don’t Know What You’ve Got ‘til it’s Gone

Photo by Tim Rice Architectural Photography

One would think that moving to the Bay Area would afford great advantages for a mid-career urban planner/designer. What with all of the cutting edge parking management and parklets, there is so much to learn. After 10 months I’m beginning to understand the ins and outs of planning in California. Though there are things that I miss about Washington besides the rain. The one thing I never thought I would reminisce about; I find myself mentioning in even non-planner company, the Growth Management Act.

That delightful piece of state policy borne of the exponential growth of the 80’s and 90’s (and often blamed on Californians) is the one key legislation that is so obviously non-existent in the Golden State, that I find myself quoting it endlessly. While the recession has stemmed the tide of suburban growth, and California has in many places adopted smart growth policies and embraced new urbanism for what it’s worth.  The fact remains that most California policy and legislation does not have the teeth or the checks and balances of the Washington GMA. Though the State has recently worked to tie Green House Gas emissions to Vehicle Miles Traveled, it’s not strong enough to define a minimum density to limit suburban or exurban growth in a meaningful way. California continues to grapple with its love for the automobile- even while proposing to tear down freeways.  While the ex-urbs continue to expand and demand all of the public transit, freeways and other services that support urban areas. I try restrain myself from asking, “What about your urban growth boundary?”.
For all its idiosyncrasies, the GMA is a valuable tool for the urban planner and I for one, miss it greatly.

  • Nate Cormier

    welcome back darby! please give us a heads up on emerging policies, programs or projects you come across in SF or through the broader ARUP network.

  • chill

    Darby’s dream
    Ahh the planners paradise!
    No cars, bus and bikes only, multi family housing and all roads tolled…

    The restriction on growth thru the GMA has resulted in higher raw land costs and generally higher median home prices in Western Washington; just like in the Portland metro area. We have “central planning” from the Regional Council who has birthed Sound Transit—a horribly expensive system with poor deliverables to the taxpayers. The GMA caused immense expense and pain to areas like Lewis County–an area vaguely connected to most Seattle residents. There you can no longer sub divide your farm into less than 20 acre parcels… Your desire for more “planning” distorts the market causing stranded costs to society that most of us would prefer to avoid..

  • Michael F.

    I think its also worth mentioning that Wash. doesn’t have to deal with the burden of CA Prop. 13, which stems a lot of the needed re-development plans of existing urban areas in California to accommodate denser living conditions. I don’t know if its just a “love for the automobile” that pushes people to the outer-outer burbs (ex. commuting from Stockton/Livermore to San Jose/SF every day) than it is the only option for potential home buyers. Plus, even in those outer suburban areas, local jurisdictions are heavily reliant on sales tax revenues for municipalities, meaning more emphasis on building big box shopping areas rather than density focused urban growth.