Urban Land Institute urges ‘smart growth’

By Jim Wasserman
Saturday October 05, 2002

SACRAMENTO — Saying California grows by one new person every minute, a major land developer association is recommending significant state government reforms to prevent California from becoming unlivable within 20 to 40 years. 

Amid projections of 58 million residents by 2040, the Urban Land Institute is calling for the state to encourage more “smart growth,” an emerging theory of land development to put more people in less urban space with more transit and less loss of farmland. 

“No state framework is in place to facilitate smart growth planning and development,” says the report, titled “Putting the Pieces Together.” 

The 28-page document follows two years of meetings between major California land developers, urban planners, environmentalists, social justice advocates and local politicians. The first-of-its-kind effort nationally by the ULI, financed by Bank of America and the James Irvine Foundation, occasionally featured sparring between opposing groups and some conclusions about developing California that eluded agreement. 

Among major recommendations of the ULI report: 

— Giving state grants to growth-besieged city planning divisions to draw up smart growth visions for their neighborhoods. 

— Giving priority for state infrastructure funding to cities that rebuild downtowns and older neighborhoods, develop near transit routes and mix stores, houses and offices to reduce traffic. 

— Providing cities special redevelopment-style powers to steer more public investment to neighborhoods next to transit lines. 

The report, produced with the aim of spurring eventual state legislation, also seeks easier environmental reviews of infill projects, clearer rules for redeveloping old industrial sites and turning schools in more usable neighborhood centers. 

Greenlaw “Fritz” Grupe, a builder who co-chaired the two-year effort as head of the Stockton-based Grupe Company, said the combination of ideas will steer growth into areas where it doesn’t exist now and “reduce commute necessity, decrease air pollution and reduce the need for more highways.” 

“We’re definitely trying to get the state leaders to consider all these ideas,” said Gary Binger, who directs the ULI’s California Smart Growth Initiative. The initiative began two years ago to explore new solutions to growth that has created a housing shortage while lengthening commutes and paving over 50,000 acres of farmland yearly. 

Other builders behind the report include Bruce Karatz, chief of Los Angeles-based KB Homes and Gary Cusumano, president of Valencia-based Newhall Land and Farming Co. 

While the study says California needs to concentrate more development in less space, it concludes the state is “moving in the opposite direction,” with most growth in “largely suburban counties characterized by low-density development — such as Merced, Fresno, Sacramento, San Bernardino and Riverside.” 

The ULI, considered the progressive wing of a conservative development industry, is launching similar efforts to affect state policies in South Carolina and Florida, said the Washington, D.C.-based institute’s Michael Horst. 

At Bank of America, environmental initiatives chief Candace Skarlatos, said, “Smart growth is important to us. The growth of our economy depends on the growth of our community.” In 1995, the bank sponsored a report, “Beyond Sprawl,” on the threat to California’s economy and quality of life from low-density growth patterns. 


On the Net:  

Read the report at www.smartgrowth-california.uli.org.