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Riverside, San Bernardino County, CA November 2, 2004 Election
Smart Voter

WISE GROWTH: Our Most Important Inland Empire Challenge

By Marjorie Musser "Margie" Mikels

Candidate for State Senator; District 31

This information is provided by the candidate
Dramatic population explosion, unbridled real estate development, traffic congestion, poor air quality, loss of open space and clean water shortages plague the Inland Empire and unless curtailed will destroy our quality of life. Stop give-aways to developers; make development pay its own way.
Issues that concern all Americans and Californians also impact the residents of San Bernardino and Riverside counties. The federal budget deficits and war economy result in slashing funds for transportation, infrastructure, social services, education, health care, arts, and the welfare of all of our citizens. Jobs are lost to "fast track free trade" as corporations take their manufacturing out of the country in a race for low wages, and many jobs formerly performed by human beings are taken over by techology. Private prisons are the fastest growing industry, and in the post 9-11 climate significant losses of personal liberty impinge on everyone. Notwithstanding the importance of all of these issues, the issue most directly affecting our quality of life in the Inland Empire is the issue of rampant, unchecked, run-away development.

San Bernardino/Riverside counties are among the fastest growing in the nation. Our cities and counties are drowning in red ink, as the state tries to balance its budget on the backs of local government. This trend started when former Governor Pete Wilson appropriated property taxes back around 1993, and continues today with the revocation of the so-called "car tax" by Governor Schwarzenegger. These tax thefts of funds previously allocated for cities and counties, have left local governments reeling. To "back-fill" those gaping holes, the new state administration is slashing health, education and welfare for the people, and burdening our children with huge debt.

The budget restraints cause cities and counties to crave commercial development for the sales tax revenues they bring in. But developers refuse to build commercial facilities unless they are first allowed to build so many "rooftops", i.e., residential development.

So in this part of the state, open space is being gobbled up at break-neck speed, with houses everywhere, resulting in strains on our water supplies and infrastructure.

Already built-out cities, like Upland, are allowing developers to build right over our primary percolation grounds whereby our groundwater aquifers are replenished. This results in less recharge to the groundwater basin, less water in the wells and creates the necessity of importing water from the State Water Project or Metropolitan Water District. That water costs a lot more than local supplies from our mountains, and the price of water has been increased as much as 80% in some areas in the last year alone. That coupled with the pollution of the water by perchlorate and trichloralethylene (from federal government weapons and rocket manufacturers) creates the need for massive amounts of water for dilution ("dilution is the solution to pollution") and one may readily see that water quality and quantity have become a severe challenge in this area.

Rampant growth also creates the necessity of new power plants (which use much water and pollute the air). The air quality is further diminished by the horrendous traffic congestion, as public transportation has lagged far behind development.

Because of the economic strains, local officials increasingly see development as the panacea of their financial woes. Further, wealthy developers disproportionately fund the campaigns of cooperative, pro-growth officials. Thus, the developers weld tremendous power.

In days past, cities and counties required developers to bear the costs of the infrastructure, services and parks their development caused. But now, developers induce government to pass the infrastructure costs necessitated by development on to the taxpayers and ratepayers. This is frequently done through redevelopment agencies, but also through the use of assessment districts, and other mechanisms.

There are many examples of this in the 31st district. For instance, Senator Jim Brulte (the current senator from this district who is terming out) notwithstanding the state's budget woes, recently found $10 million of state money to give to a development called "The Colonies" to help fund the Colonies' flood control improvements. The flood control improvements were necessary because this residential and commercial development is being built in "the wash", covered by the county's flood control easement and the prime water recharge area for the entire valley.

The city is paying millions of dollars more for road and traffic improvements, and taxpayers will be burdened with increases in fire and police protection. The developers initially bought the land for $16 million, were immediately paid $18 million by Cal-Trans for a right-of-way, and are now demanding $25 million from the county for flood control improvements. The developers successfully sued to obtain a court order saying the County of San Bernardino "abandoned" its flood control easement. But now they just filed another suit asking the court to award them $200 million more from the taxpayers of San Bernardino county, for alleged damage from flooding. Even without these extra give-aways from the taxpayers, these developers planned to net over $400 million profit on the project. The city is shifting many of the developer's costs onto existing residents of the city in order to obtain the promise of future sales tax revenues.

We must stop development in flood plains. Why should developers build where it is unsafe, get the taxpayers to pay for improvements necessary because it is unsafe, and then get the taxpayers to pay for damage later because it was unsafe at the outset? Why should developers make millions of dollars for stealing our groundwater? Why should developers have that much power over local government?

We must free local government of developer control. We must legislate guaranteed local government funding that does not rely on massive amounts of new development. We must require development to pay its own way. We must require all developments over a certain size to install solar, wind, or other alternative power generation. We must prohibit new development unless water supply is certain for at least fifty years in the future. We must require that the developers and new home buyers pay the added cost of importing water, instead of passing those huge expenses of buying more state water project and Colorado River water on to the existing ratepayers. Water systems in new development must be designed to recycle so that landscaping is irrigated with reclaimed water. And urban sprawl must be discouraged.

Landuse laws must be redesigned to encourage clustering of housing and higher density along public transportation routes. Laws must be enacted that facilitate imposition of development mitigation fees to handle infrastructure costs and maintenance. Some of this can be accomplished by amendments to the development codes and health and safety codes as well as changes to statutes regulating municipal finance.

Our mountain areas, afflicted with fire, floods, and poor escape routes, must have development restrictions imposed for the health and safety of the population. Lake Arrowhead water levels have dropped over 20 feet in recent years simultaneously with tunneling through the mountain for the "inland feeder project". The lowered water table has put tremendous strain on the trees, leaving them susceptible to the bark beetle infestation--and more susceptible to fire, and flood. Southern California is dependent on the mountains for both our water supply and air quality. The federal administration's "healthy forest" plan could result in "thinning" of 90% of our trees, unless we prohibit logging in preserve areas and apply brakes to the present development trends.

Riverside has already started to impose development mitigation fees on new development and it has brought in tremendous new funds to help with roads and infrastructure demands. Southern California Association of Governments predicts that such a fee if imposed in San Bernardino County could generate as much as $1.6 billion per year. However, pro-growth officials reliant on development money to fund their campaigns will never force development to pay its own way. Instead, they use their positions of power to direct the funds of the people to their friends.

If elected, I will work closely with grassroots organizations and community groups in the mountain areas to enact legislation to protect sensitive water sheds and trees needed to sustain the water we drink and the air we breathe. I will protect our forests, which foster the health and safety of our families and contribute to everyone's quality of life.

As to Inland Empire groundwater basins polluted with perchlorate, the federal government and its defense contractors must be held to pay the costs for cleanup of waters it polluted. I will fight to assure that those costs not be borne by our rate and tax payers.

I will never be controlled by developers and special interest groups who want to get pay-offs from government at the expense of the citizens. I will work for WISE GROWTH, growth that sustains our natural resources and quality of life, and growth that pays its own way.

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