Posted on Fri, Aug. 18, 2006

'Smart growth' is not that smart after all

ONE OF THE major reasons for our expensive housing market is the "smart growth" agenda touted by special interest coalitions such as the Bay Area Council, the building industry, environmental activists and affordable housing advocates.

It started back in 1990 when the voters of Contra Costa County approved a measure placed on the ballot by the Contra Costa County Supervisors, which established that 65 percent of the land in the county be preserved for parks, open space, agriculture, wetlands and other non-urban use, leaving only 35 percent for urban use.

The urban limit line, which was later unilaterally modified twice by the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, will once again appear on the 2006 ballot. Although the November 2006 ULL ballot measure needs only a simple majority to pass, the Board of Supervisors set an 80-percent requirement (four out of five supervisors) for any changes in the line that are more than 30 acres. (Ironically, both Supervisors John Gioia and Mark DeSaulnier complain about the two-thirds' vote required for tax measures under Prop. 13 and want it lowered to 55 percent.)

Shortly after first adopting an urban limit line, the Board of Supervisors embraced the $750,000 "Shaping Our Future" Principles of Agreement plan, which conformed to "smart growth" policies purported to be the solution to urban sprawl, highway congestion, air pollution, blight and social inequity.

The agreement, which would have undermined local control, laid out the principles by which the county and local municipalities were to guide land use and transportation planning, e.g. protection of open space, reduction of traffic congestion in key areas by identification of areas appropriate for reinvestment and infill development, and creation of a housing "trust fund" for affordable housing in areas that could accommodate higher density housing and offer easy access to transit. That meant cities like Clayton could "buy their way out" of building affordable housing.

Antioch, whose voters adopted their own ULL were -- and still are -- awaiting a BART extension, which is now only permitted if connected to a "transit village." Meanwhile, the Association of Bay Area Governments recently mandated Antioch to build a disproportionate number of low-income housing units.

The old adage "what goes around comes around" must have some validity (at least in politics) because ABAG, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Bay Area Air Quality Control District have now come up with a regional plan titled "Focusing Our Vision," which is VERY similar to "Shaping our Future" except it would apply to ALL cities and counties in the Bay Area. The plan would require local jurisdictions to adopt "smart growth" policies covering housing, economic activity, transportation and infrastructure, environment and social equity.

While no one can dispute the desirability of coordinating land use and transportation, the current strategies do exactly the opposite because the demand side isn't addressed. Surveys show that people want to live in single-family homes -- not high-density housing. They also show that they still prefer their cars despite the deplorable condition of state highways neglected for years by bureaucrats who signed on to the anti-automobile dogma, choosing to sink millions into highly subsidized transit services or rail lines that continue to fail to attract sufficient ridership.

What's happening, folks, is that "smart growth" proponents are trying to impose their policies on us whether we like them -- and despite knowing that residents of Portland, Ore., once held up as a shining example of the "smart growth" movement, recently rebelled against the "vision," and the whole system is imploding.

Barbara Zivica is a longtime resident of Antioch and a local government watchdog. You can e-mail her at The opinions in this column are those solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the newspaper.