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The fastest growing city in California

Jack Balshaw 12/26/01

By a vote of 96% in favor, California cities have endorsed the resolution that all future building above that needed to replace burned down or otherwise destroyed churches should be directed to the Mythical city of Elsewhere. Elsewhere is located in Mythical County, known for its vast expanse of open space, clean air, free flowing traffic, affordable housing, living wage jobs, no endangered species, and a notoriously tolerant population. For some strange reason, it also has the state's most efficient, effective and beloved transit system. The vehicles, solar powered, are designed to operate on either roadways or, if any are built, abandoned railroad tracks.

A small citizen action group is reported to have been started in Mythical County to protest this near unanimous selection of their county as the focus of growth. The protests are muted for now but show signs of becoming more vocal. If the county's open space is used for development, "undesirable" industries may possibly pollute the air and could conceivably create traffic problems, and new residents might consider demanding even more affordable housing and jobs at better than living wages. This is unacceptable to many Elsewhereians.

In their first effort to stem this tide of growth, the group has petitioned the federal government to declare the native residents of Mythical County an endangered species. If they succeed in this, all the cities and counties which have opted for growth Elsewhere would have to revert back to their traditional tactic of pushing growth off onto adjacent cities or counties. This often causes confusion and strained relationships.

Those living in the second area often don't greet the preservation of open space in one area by diverting growth to their area positively. Additionally, it appears that this method has no positive affect on the NET open space in the world, but merely preserves more in one area and causes there to be less in another area. Other negative aspects of growth are similarly merely shifted from one place to another. The generic term for this is NIMBY awareness.

A NIMBY (not-in-my-back-yard) proponent usually professes to have very high concern and standards for preserving QUALITY OF LIFE. Somehow or other this QOL interest only extends to the jurisdictional limits of the NIMBY's community. Preservation of QOL in other communities is considered the responsibility of NIMBYs in those communities.

All this is in the long honored tradition of what I call "leaf blower management". This method of management consists of moving all problems (leaves) away from where you live to the area of a neighboring community or county and then declaring, "We have solved our problem". Of course, the problem has only been moved into another jurisdiction for their NIMBYs to "leaf blow" somewhere else, commonly known as Elsewhere.

Enough fun at the expense of NIMBYs. This is serious. Recent articles in the Press Democrat about Association of Bay Area Governments forecasts of job and population growth in Sonoma County over the next 25 years is the basis for this column. Over past decades these ABAG projections of population and jobs have consistently been closer than internal county projections. We need to pay attention to professional, non-biased forecasts.

To give some substance to the limits of growth management, Portland Oregon, the poster city for urban growth boundaries, sprawl management, smart planning, regional government, transit, etc., has grown from a population of 368,000 in 1980 to 529,000 in 2000. This represents a 43 % growth in 20 years. How can we believe we will be immune if the most planned region in the country experiences this level of growth?

The current method used to forecast population growth in Sonoma County and its cities is to assemble an assortment of interested citizens and develop a consensus of their "wished-for" future population. Unfortunately, as most activists are anti-growth, this results in unrealistically low forecasts.

Planning based on these low forecasts results in underbuilding the necessary infrastructure with the further result of future problems and cries of, "We told you we were growing too fast". It's about time our professional planners developed the backbone to tell the policy makers, " These are our professional forecasts, if you want something else, make it up on your own." Fat chance of that ever happening.

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