The Upside to Sprawl.
These are the sounds-of prosperity and its discontents. State Treasurer Phil Angelides cites a single fact to explain both. Since 1995, for every nine new jobs created in the Bay Area, exactly one new housing unit has been built. Look at these numbers one way and you see boom times. Look at them another way and you see rising housing prices, congestion and sprawl.
"The growth problems that were always assumed to be a Southern California phenomenon have come to define the Bay Area," says Angelides. "We face the challenge of sprawl in a way no other state does."
But Angelides, a Democrat who got rich as a developer, also sees an up side: In grappling with sprawl, California could resume its place as a national trendsetter and innovator. "If we can change direction here," he says in an interview, "it will ripple out."
Say the words "sprawl" and "smart growth," and some respond with (1) yawns or (2) an attack on upper-middle-class suburbanites for whining about the fruits of prosperity.
Angelides disagrees, as do many voters in many places. He's using his office to link three issues he thinks matter to California's future: the decline in public investment, the growing gap between California's rich and poor, and sprawl. He made his case this summer in a report called "Smart Investments." It could be one of those obscure government documents that breaks into sunlight and influences the debate nationwide.
The investment argument is the most familiar: "The postwar generation of Californians looked ahead and made investments that strengthened this state for decades," the report declares. "The State invested in public projects--from a great university system to a state-of-the-art transportation network--that were the foundation for private sector economic expansion." Angelides notes that the commitment to investment was bipartisan, involving Republican Governors Earl Warren and Goodwin Knight as well as Democrat Pat Brown.
Democrats have soiled the word "investment" by overusing it to justify every conceivable form of public spending. In fact, many forms of government spending are investments. As Angelides argues, government should be "making a set of investments in the public fabric that will sustain the economic and social fabric over time."
But Angelides isn't trying to recreate Big Government, 1950s or 1960s style. The next set of investments, his report says, "should be designed to meet the vastly changing needs of the next 50 years--and not merely replicate the types of facilities built to serve Californians for the last 50 years."
Angelides thinks the state should use its investment money to leverage projects that could both curb sprawl and help lower-income Californians. One way he'd do that is by rebuilding inner cities and declining near suburbs, but with an emphasis on the practical: Public investments in housing, schools and parks should be linked to private investments in retail facilities and other businesses.
Contrary to the view that large inequalities of wealth and income create the incentives that produce economic growth, Angelides worries that the divide between rich and poor is an impediment to prosperity. By 1996, according to his report, the gap in California was "greater than in all but four states," and a danger to everyone's well-being. "A two-tiered California threatens the state's long-term economic success by limiting the quality of our work force, increasing the fiscal burden on the state and local governments to provide social services, and discouraging private sector investment."
Fortunately for Angelides, he influences where many public dollars flow because of the treasurer's role in state pension funds and bank deposits, the distribution of tax credits and the allocation of tax-exempt bonds to private projects. His next battle is to convince Governor Gray Davis, a fellow Democrat, to join him in pushing for smart growth criteria in dispensing the $475 million in the state's infrastructure bank.
But Angelides' ideas might also be usefully pondered outside California. "This was meant to be a shot across the bow," he says, "to focus the debate on where we ought to go and what the challenges are, and not just on whether we should spend more money."
Interesting questions, especially at the end of this year's miserable budget fight in Washington..
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|Title Annotation:||urban sprawl in the San Francisco Bay Area|
|Author:||Dionne, E.J. Jr.|
|Publication:||Nation's Cities Weekly|
|Article Type:||Brief Article|
|Date:||Nov 22, 1999|
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