Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Is housing a real problem?

Einstein opined that, “We cannot solve the problems we have created with the same thinking that created them.”
As residents spend hours in guided conversation with neighbors, planning specialists, and City employees, they are being encouraged to ‘think outside the box’ to solve the problem of growth and housing, The entire premise of YouPlanSanta Barbara is that we are running out of housing for those who should be able to live here.

“Whoa, Nelly..,” just who got to determined that there is a problem to actually solve?
We have busied ourselves generating recommendations for permutations on mass transit, downtown density, rapid rail and other urban ‘au currant’ idea, based on models, analyses, and projections, while being somewhat oblivious to a variety of failed social experiments within a few hours drive.
A 2006 posting to Reason.org, argued that Smart Growth is at the heart of the unaffordable living in Santa Barbara, where after 30 years of “strict environmental regulations and tough growth management laws…the city ranks among the least affordable in California, has virtually stagnant population growth in the city, is experiencing rapidly rising congestion, and is experiencing an exodus of businesses to more affordable areas.” The unafforability, they surmise, is the consequence of “policies that restricted housing supply and land development.”
That argument, of course, ignores the impact of changes in demand, brought about by a runaway housing bubble, whose burst has splattered even well-heeled Montecito.
“Whoa Nelly, I haven’t seen this many real estate sandwich boards, crowding every sidewalk and neighborhood intersection, since this economic run-up began.”
Another article declared that the Oregon Smart Growth and New Urbanist policies create housing that is less affordable. “Smart Growth is at its heart a movement that is asking Americans to change their behavior by giving up cars, backyards and single-family homes.”
Not surprisingly, most of those invested in this vision of a new America are either so young that backyards are irrelevant because ‘single’ hasn’t’ yet become ‘family,’ or are unable to afford a car to ‘give up’ even if they wanted to.
A few years back, ARCNews, an information page for architects, heralded SLEUTH, a digital growth model which looks at the impact of urbanization on global change. Such visualization, brought to us largely by UCSB’s Chair of the Department of Geology, Dr. Keith Clarke, used the assessors parcel maps to project impacts of unrestricted growth.
UCSB has also offered a planning course for over a quarter of a century. The course description begins, “Although the forces of natural systems are perceptually slow and change is subtle, with occasional abrupt events, humans are generally oblivious to the environment that supports them…Adaptation should not mean serious decline in quality of life, which is where planning enters stage right, as most issues confronting both the global environment and humanity can be connected in some way to the cumulative impacts associated with the use of land.”
While UCSB tackles ways to adapt the global environment to humanity’s needs, here at home, we struggle with less heady, but still impacting issues of housing and the meaning of sustainability for the population of our city.
If density brings people together, zoning is what separates them. Our ‘affordable unit’ experiment has failed in Santa Barbara, bringing a paltry number of price controlled dwellings at the cost of view obliterating, multi-million dollar (now un-sellable) condominiums. Those behemoths, which once ‘penciled out’ for everyone from planners to developers to Council, now sit empty in the current downturn.
But to the rescue comes the current Smart Growth envisionists, with even higher density, but at a lower price tag. “If any principle provides underpinning of Smart Growth, it’s density- multistory homes around rail stations, on bus corridors and at the heart of urbanized areas.”
“Whoa, Nelly...,” has anyone looked to our south recently? In 2007, the average speed of the widely used bus service had slowed to 11.7 miles per hour. My 18 year old cocker spaniel walks faster than that!
In the past year in Los Angeles, the planning department has approved over eight thousand units, all within 1500 feet of a transit stop to accommodate ‘new’ residents. Remaking the city on such a dramatic scale has residents of the “City too busy to hate,” spewing smoke, if not exhaust fumes, out of its ears.
“Buses, which will serve in many ways as the backbone of smart growth, are stuck in traffic along with everybody else,” writes David Zahniser in the LA Weekly. “Advocates of smart growth are making a second risky bet, arguing that once someone makes a home in a condo or a multistory apartment building, he or she will work nearby—reducing the number of cars on traffic-choked streets.”
The article got me to wondering if our local proponents of bringing the ‘new urbanization’ to our downtown areas and ‘traffic corridors’ actually live in anything vaguely resembling density housing.
Though our city council draws its home owning members from a variety of neighborhoods, such as the Westside, Downtown, and Mesa, the one renter among them lives in a single family dwelling along the hillside of the Riviera. I’m certain most of the planning committee members and Architectural Board of Review folks have also chosen the highly restricted R-1 zoning lifestyle.
To be fair, the smart growth and urban planning is ‘working,’ however, in the city of Pasedena (population 146,000) which has added 42 high density housing developments to its business district. But Pasedena doesn’t have the gorgraphic restriction so ocean and mountain, and it is sufficiently spread out to warrant rapid rail. Even there, the number of cars hasn’t decreased, as people dare to accept jobs outside of walking distance, or simply want transportation to use on weekends, when they are out looking at dream homes in the R-1 neighborhoods of Bungalow Heaven, Garfield Heights or the Historic Highlands.
The premise that we can build a city that will ‘accommodate’ all that might wish to live here, is defying Einstein’s theories. The YouPlan densification, masked as ‘Smart Growth,’ is being driven mostly by young workers at the lower end of the pay scale (though our government pay scales are incredibly generous,) and to some degree, by those representing the hourly laborers entering the job force from other cities or countries.
Before we rely on SLEUTH, or models of livability already failing in other cities, lets first do the most logical and politically suicidal task of all: let’s determine an accurate census count for the city of Santa Barbara, and an accurate dwelling assessment.
Only then, can we determine is ‘Smart Growth’ is an opportunity or an oxymoron.

Loretta Redd's column appears every Tuesday in the Daily Sound and every Wednesday online at thedailysound.com. You can e-mail her at Loretta@thedailysound.com


Son of Sam-antha said...


Sounds like Travis Armstrong in drag!

Adam said...

This is spot on. WE had years of complete denial followed by the last 7 years of utter greed. So instead of building apartments that house many people we built 2 million dollar condos with a single "affordable unit" hanging on.

The complete lack of foresight by developers (greed) and our politicians (hubris) has resulted in a city where wealthy retirees buy the SFR and Condos for their Summer's while the working class (practically everyone else) scrambles to make ends meet or drive in from afar.

This scenario was played our many times and studied even more. SB is doomed. In 20 years this town will be a giant mall of corporate stores and wealthy retirees with a scattering of hanger ons. Unless you make 300k + or inherit your home making SB your home town is practically impossible.

Joe Allegretti said...

I think Travis Armstrong in drag would be more attractive. You start to make sense in some columns, Loretta, and then you come out with one of these ridiculous diatribes yet again.

"The premise that we can build a city that will ‘accommodate’ all that might wish to live here..." Is THAT a premise that's really on the table, Loretta? Is it REALLY? Or are you exaggerating just a little to make good hay for a column?

Maybe you should have just written, "Let them eat cake," or the Santa Barbara version, which is essentially always, "I got mine, the rest of you can stuff it." Maybe you're the one who needs to get a degree in urban planning.

Anonymous said...

Loretta Redd knows NOTHING about any of this stuff. A lot of non-sequiters, no useful information. Quotes from the Reason Foundation - the most extreme right-wing thinkers on this stuff in the nation.

big fat fan of travis said...

With or without the quotes, Loretta Redd is making a good point here.

Developers have conned those who like to call themselves progressive into building high-density and ruining the character of our city. Plain and simple. We've got to put an end to it.

There is another good opinion piece in the Indy called something like "What's so smart about it?" -- check that out for a little more insight.

And of course, Travis Armstrong's relentless ribbing of developers is part of the reason the NP has been attacked. That attack is supported by local developers who muck around in SB politics. We need more Travises!!!!!

Gordo said...

Sustainability is not possible as long as there is growth. Even a small amount of growth eventually overwhelms the area. Remember that growth compounds just like interest. What are the drivers of growth? Birthrate and immigration. What is your congresswoman doing about immigration? She has a grade of 'F' accourding to Numbers USA.

Cmon Lois, if you can't help us at least don't hurt us.

Anonymous said...

Best article I ever read in my life!

Thanks for exposing "You Plan Densification" and smart growth for what it is: an Oxymoron.

Santa Monica's city planners sold their residents a bill of goods a few years ago when they promised if they would only densify their town with a bunch of high density smart growth mixed use tall buildings along transit corridors that it would reduce traffic congestion and reduce commuting. . Well they implemented smart growth and it significantly increased traffic congestion until now they have total gridlock at 4 p.m. and it increased commuting due to the new jobs in the commercial component of the big mixed use buildings. Studies have shown that the residents living in these monster "projects" next to transit corridors keep using their car. Yes they reduce their average miles from 12,000 to 10,000 per year, but the whole point is the new dense population growth significantly adds to the traffic trips.

We are too smart here in Santa Barbara to fall for that crap being dished out by the smart growth advocate. We know high density smart growth does not work as advertised and so we don't want it. Vote for lowering building heights. It's the best way to slow growth and preserve our cherished small town character and quality of life.
keep up your good work Loretta. We love you!