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Marin, Sonoma County, CA June 6, 2006 Election
Smart Voter

Roots of Change: Sustainable Statewide Planning

By John Alden

Candidate for Member of the State Assembly; District 6; Democratic Party

This information is provided by the candidate
Over ten million new Californians are expected to swell our population in the next 15 years. As a former Planning Commissioner, I understand the vital importance of creating a strong statewide planning structure to make sure that California doesn't just become bigger, it becomes better. With this sustainable growth plan, we will improve air quality, preserve open space, and reduce traffic.
Even if we refuse to build the schools, create the parks, and pay for the necessary mass transit infrastructure - they will still come.

Over ten million new Californians are expected to swell our population in the next 15 years, clogging our roads, crowding our schools and, unless we act right now, degrading our quality of life and our environment.

Looking forward, the challenge we face as Californians is the same obstacle we have been unable to surmount in the past - creating a strong statewide planning structure to make sure that California doesn't just become bigger, it becomes better.

That's why, as a Democratic candidate for state Assembly, one of my highest priorities is to change the laws in Sacramento to create a comprehensive statewide sustainable land planning process, to replace the decentralized, often chaotic, planning currently in place.

While to some, statewide planning might seem technical, a thoughtful planning process is key to solving many of our most pressing problems, including our environmental challenges, transit woes and failing schools. The more we build big-box retail, suburban subdivisions, and highways, the more we eat up our agricultural lands, destroy our open space, increase greenhouse gas emissions, and force Californians to spend more time commuting and less time with their families.

As a former planning commissioner myself, I understand that our current laws are giving local governments powerful incentives to create the sprawl that is so detrimental to both our environment and our quality of life. Since the passage of Proposition 13, our state tax structure discourages local governments from building housing, particularly the kind of dense and affordable housing that puts people close to jobs. What most local governments are forced to pursue instead is sales tax-generating retail, particularly the big-box retail, that creates the revenue the tax-starved local governments so desperately need. Most counties tacitly discourage housing; because all but the most expensive housing does not generate enough tax revenue to pay for itself.

This has created a dynamic in which new affordable housing is driven to the far extremes. In Southern California, the "Inland Empire" desert area is now the fastest growing region in the state. Here in Northern California, once rural communities like Tracy and Stockton are being paved over by housing refugees from the Bay Area, who clog our roads, pollute our air and waste precious resources as they commute many hours to their jobs in urban areas.

We can turn this around - but it is going to take strong leadership in Sacramento to make it a reality. We must create a statewide growth plan that requires new growth be part of an overall plan, not just a chaotic and uncoordinated local planning process driven more by tax revenues than a thoughtful approach to building the sustainable society we need.

There is a statewide model for exactly this type of bold action. A generation ago, the Governor of Oregon saw his beloved state falling victim to unplanned growth and suburban sprawl. His name was Tom McCall and he was one of the last of a breed of Republican environmentalists, from a lineage that can be traced back all the way to President Teddy Roosevelt.

McCall brought together the leaders of his state, and in a dramatic year of give and take, they forged the "Oregon Growth Plan" that, in the minds of many Oregonians, literally saved the state from what I hate to tell you, they call "Californiaization." The plan created a series of Urban Growth Boundaries that steered new growth into existing communities, where such growth could be served by mass transit, rather than super highways. Because jobs were close to housing, commute times were cut and the environment was spared. Instead of sprawl, Oregon promoted compact and livable communities surrounded by green space and agriculture.

We need that kind of inspirational vision right now in California, before it is too late.

I will fight to pass legislation that will require a California Growth Plan mandating infill, promoting mass transit, penalizing sprawl and supporting sustainable agriculture.

The basic elements of this plan will be: Urban growth boundaries New incentives for local governments to create affordable, infill housing Major new investments in regional and urban mass transportation A development fee sufficient to provide for the increased costs associated with new schools, roads and parks Open space and greening funds to make sure our cities are livable Natural habitat protection New protections on agricultural land

The enemies of such a plan are powerful and well-funded. We can look to Oregon again as a warning of just how powerful they can be. Last year the law that helped preserve open space in the state was overturned by a coalition of special interests, developers and private property rights conservatives.

We must face the hard truth, like it or not, our state is still growing fast. That's why we need pioneering new laws that will let all of us participate in the planning of a better California, not just the developers and not just the local governments who have incentives for poor planning.

As your next representative in the state Assembly, I will make smart planning one of my top priorities because it is the only way we can preserve open space, protect agriculture, prevent sprawl and promote the kind of California we still want to call home 20 years from now.

To read all of my Roots of Change essays please visit

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