Urban Planning


End Enterprise Zone Abuse: Support Gov. Brown's Good Jobs Proposal

By Steve Smith

You've probably seen the stories by now: Enterprise zone tax breaks, which are supposed to provide incentives for good jobs, are instead going to strip clubs and low-wage mega corporations like Walmart.

The current enterprise zone program is shrouded in secrecy, with virtually no accountability or transparency. Study after study shows the program is a massive failure, wasting $750 million a year without doing much of anything to create new jobs.

Twenty-Five Ideas for Mayor Garcetti

Peter DreierBy Peter Dreier

Eric Garcetti has enormous potential to be one of L.A.'s great mayors. He is young (just 42), full of energy, experienced in politics and government, passionate about L.A., brimming with policy ideas, compassionate toward the disadvantaged and a great communicator and explainer. I saw many of these traits up-close when I co-taught a course with him at Occidental College in 2000, and have watched him blossom as he joined the City Council and served as its president.

Now he faces the daunting challenges of running America's second-biggest, and most diverse, city.

California Enterprise Zones: Just a "Big-Business Tax Grab"?

By Gary Cohn

John Thomas and Hans Burkhardt have a lot in common. For more than 17 years each man had a good paying union job, with health and pension benefits, near San Francisco Bay. Thomas worked as a warehouseman for VWR International, a medical supply company with a warehouse in Brisbane, south of Candlestick Park. Burkhardt also worked as a warehouseman, for BlueLinx, a building products company with a facility across the bay in Newark.

The similarities don't end there. Both Thomas and Burkhardt are now collecting unemployment, having lost their $22-an-hour jobs after their employers moved to take advantage of California's enterprise zone plan, a controversial state program that is supposed to create jobs.

FEMA Plans Clear-Cutting 85,000 Berkeley and Oakland Trees

By Randy Shaw

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is moving to chop down 22,000 trees in Berkeley's historic Strawberry and Claremont Canyons and over 60,000 more in Oakland. This destructive plan is rapidly moving forward with little publicity, and FEMA cleverly scheduled its three public meetings for mid and late May while UC Berkeley students were in finals or gone for the summer.

Major CEQA Reform Stalled, But Steinberg Promises Changes

By Robert Cruickshank

In the wake of Senator Michael Rubio's surprise resignation in February, major reforms to the California Environmental Quality Act appear to be stalled:

Joel Fox, chairman of the Small Business Action Committee, said, "The stars were in line, but have been knocked out of alignment."

But Rubio may have seen the writing on the wall as far back as last fall, when his last-minute effort at taking on CEQA was quashed by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, who insisted that any fixes to the premier environmental law wouldn't happen in the dark of night under the Capitol dome.

High Speed Rail: Relief for California's "Mega-Commuters"

By Robert Cruickshank

New data from the US Census Bureau has found that Northern California has the largest proportion of "mega-commuters" in the country - defined as morning commutes of at least 50 miles and 90 minutes. The numbers aren't huge - 2% of workers in the Bay Area core are mega-commuters - but it is a clear sign that something is not working in Northern California.

Darrell Steinberg to Unveil CEQA Reform Bill

By Robert Cruickshank

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said Thursday that he intends to propose a bill today that would reform the California Environmental Quality Act.

The proposal is co-authored by Senator Michael Rubio, but it has also been shaped by the blue-green alliance of unions and environmentalists who have joined forces to oppose bad reform:

"There will be an outline of a bill with detail intent," Steinberg said in an interview with The Chronicle editorial board Thursday. Or, as his press secretary Rhys Williams explained, what comes out Friday "will signal the intent of where the law wants to go."

What Would Ideal CEQA Reform Look Like?

By Robert Cruickshank

There's been a lot of discussion in recent weeks about various proposals to reform the California Environmental Quality Act. But the most interesting proposals are those that have been around the longest.

I first delved into CEQA back in 2009 when covering an article that argued CEQA could be the biggest obstacle to California high speed rail. At the time, I touted a 2006 study by the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association - SPUR - titled Fixing the California Environmental Quality Act. SPUR's approach was to follow the successful model of Oregon, where for over 40 years sprawl has been effectively if not totally limited in favor of light rail and infill development. SPUR's goal was to promote greater urban density through smart, holistic planning processes. CEQA is primarily designed as a tool to block bad projects but does nothing to encourage good projects, which is what we need.

CEQA Reform Battle Lines Getting Drawn

By Robert Cruickshank

The California Legislature is currently in a special session dealing with state implications of federal health care reform, but once the regular 2013-14 session resumes, proposals to reform the California Environmental Quality Act will quickly become a top issue.

As I argued last week, there are three main groups when it comes to CEQA reform:

  1. Businesses and developers who chafe at the added time and cost created by CEQA. Some of these folks want to build environmentally friendly stuff and just want a law that works more easily, but others want to gut it with loopholes.
  2. Transit and sustainability advocates who are fed up with CEQA's unnecessary delays, costs, and its empowering of NIMBYs - but who also generally support the law's original goals and want to see it fixed rather than undermined. I consider myself part of this camp.
  3. Conservationists and slow-growth or anti-growth folks who think CEQA works just fine as it is now.

Not every individual or group neatly fits into one of those groups, but it's a workable classification.

How Economists Routinely Get It Wrong on High Speed Rail

By Robert Cruickshank

The main purpose of any transportation project is to help people get to where they want to go. Cost should be a subsidiary factor in the planning of any transportation project. Unfortunately, in the 30 years since right-wing ideology became politically ascendant, keeping costs down so that rich people didn't have to pay higher taxes started taking precedence over building effective transportation projects. This may have been tenable as long as oil prices remained low. But once prices began rising again, it was clear that building electric passenger trains was a top priority for modern societies.