So Much for Setting Limits

On June 2, just one month after introducing groundbreaking legislation on suburban sprawl, State Assemblyperson Pat Wiggins (D, Santa Rosa) bowed to pressure from builders and realtors by gutting her own bill.
Assembly Bill 1268, which would have required cities and counties to establish boundaries to urban development, met fierce resistance from the California Building Industry Association, the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Association of Realtors, and other groups. With such “stiff opposition,” said the Sierra Club’s Bill Allayaud, “we don’t have a lot of hope in the California legislature. This legislature doesn’t feel like it can grapple with urban growth.”
Wiggins requested the amendment that reduced her bill to a single sentence: “This bill would declare the intent of the Legislature to enact legislation that would address the issues of growth zones and housing.” The revised bill has passed through the state appropriations committee.
Builders and other groups have long objected to limits on city expansion. Urban growth boundaries (UGBs) “are a problem in practice,” says Richard Lyons, a lobbyist for the California Building Industry Association. “[They] are arbitrarily…drawn to be as restrictive and tight…as they can possibly get to keep growth out.”
Critics point to Portland, Oregon, as an example of a UGB gone bad. According to a 1998 article in Professional Builder, land prices in Portland increased 300 percent during the late ’90s, vaulting the city from one of the most affordable to one of the least. “There’s very little land available inside the urban core,” said Rudy Kadlub. “Any good developable site has long since been developed.” In Boulder, Colorado, a 35-year-old UGB limited residential development but not commercial.
But over 20 Bay Area cities, including San Jose, Santa Rosa, Palo Alto, and Novato, have already established UGBs which, says the Greenbelt Alliance’s Dan Fahey, have “successfully focused growth and limited sprawl.” Advocates know there’s still work to be done. Says Allayaud, who coauthored the bill, “Outside the boundary, rural stuff will prevail. But inside that boundary, we need to do a better job at densification, getting more housing built where services already exist.”
In the past, proposed UGBs have foundered on concerns that they would prove an obstacle to low-income housing. Limiting development within a boundary, critics argue, decreases the supply of land and causes higher housing costs. Wiggins’ original bill addressed affordable housing: about 20 percent of residential units built within UGBs would be affordable to low- and very-low income households. “The inclusionary program actually increases the supply of affordable housing,” said Dan Flynn from Wiggins’ office.
Wiggins and her supporters hope to reintroduce some of the original bill sometime next year. “It appears we’re dead in the water this year, but we’re not going away,” says Allayaud.
For another view of Portland’s UGB and more on sprawl, see <a href=></a>

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