The Colony of Slippermen

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The LA Weekly's David Zahnhiser reports on the way "smart growth" is being used as a code word for "hey, give my development project some public money."

Smart growth is not just being used to secure public support for mega-projects. It is also helping investment-fund managers to secure hundreds of millions of dollars in public-pension money — funds invested on behalf of retired California teachers, police officers, firefighters and thousands of other retired government workers.

One example:

The neighborhood is filled with one-story stucco boxes — 1950s tract houses built as real estate developers filled in stretches of the Northeast San Fernando Valley. With such suburban surroundings, it shouldn't come as a surprise that a vacant lot at 13500 Paxton is slated to become a strip mall. Beverly Hills–based Primestor Development plans a shopping center with a Lowe's Home Improvement Store — and plenty of parking for shoppers.

What makes the project surprising is that it is financed by the Southern California Smart Growth Fund, managed by a firm in El Segundo called Pacific Coast Capital Partners. On its Web site, the fund promises to invest in low-income neighborhoods while adhering to "smart-growth planning principles," like constructing high-density housing near public transit.

Yet the 200,000-square-foot shopping center planned for Paxton Street violates a whole range of smart-growth principles: It caters to the car, not the pedestrian; it has no housing; it has no transit connections to speak of.

Reason's Virginia Postrel was on top of this eight years ago, of course.

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  1. In Washington state, “Smart Growth” means stealing property from individual land owners (literally – King Country stole 60% of all rural land last year), while allowing mega-developments to violate any and all laws.

    Urban Planners like giant developments because they can be “planned” – meaning, the developers have enough money, along with the unions, to kick back sufficient funds to local party bosses.

    The whole thing is incredibly corrupt.

  2. Slow down, there, I want to make sure I follow this:

    A progressive government program that controls (directly or indirectly) billions of dollars in assets is being highjacked by well-connected developers?

    Who could have seen that coming?

  3. Excellent. Two Genesis references in one morning. I knew I came here for more than the articles.

  4. Wow, I don’t remember Postrel being that hysterical and dishonest.

    “force everyone to live in a thownhouse and take the train to work” Booga booga!

    You could read that entire piece, and never once come across the idea that the primary objective of smart growth is to loosen local regulations.

  5. When did “building high density housing near public transporation” cease to be known as smart business and became smart growth instead?

  6. The parallels to the raiding of the Teamster’s Pension Fund by the mob in the previous century are astounding.

  7. Weigel,

    I’m shocked! I’m shocked!

  8. I’m waiting for the “Dancing with the moonlit knight” reference.

  9. You could read that entire piece, and never once come across the idea that the primary objective of smart growth is to loosen local regulations.

    hehehe

    Joe made a funny.

  10. When did “building high density housing near public transporation” cease to be known as smart business and became smart growth instead?

    at about the time the government outlawed it…then discovered that they didn’t like the result then decided that a shift from local control to state control would work better….pretty much do anything but actually let the market work….and make a name for it that sounds good to the Marxist progressives…like “smart growth”.

  11. I am no expert on Smart Growth, and never will be, but what VP said about Austin sounds about right to me.

    I am waiting for the light rail to be built (which is already over budget, but whatever), and the mixed-use Mueller Development by my house to pass full judgement, or at least more informed judgement. But I can’t say anything about any other city or project.

  12. Oh, well, if joshua corning thinks that “Marxist progressives” like the idea, then it must be a lousy one.

    No need to actually, you know, understand anything about the issue and the proposed solution. Naaaaahhhhh…Al Gore! Marxists! Booga Booga!

  13. When did “building high density housing near public transporation” cease to be known as smart business

    About 1950.

  14. Wow, Postrel’s piece is awful — she’s basically defending one of the most onerous and restrictive types of regulation — Euclidean zoning.

    Smart growth is about providing development options where currently there are none by expanding the rights of landowners trying to respond to market demands and consumers looking for more housing choices.

    Judging from Postrel’s piece and the comments here, I think it’s safe to say that when it comes to development Libertarians are basically the same as all the suburban NIMBYs, both of whom support more restrictions on development markets than even the most ardent smart growther.

  15. Oh, well, if joshua corning thinks that “Marxist progressives” like the idea, then it must be a lousy one.

    So lets shift the responsibility of local planning to planners who don’t even live in the community…and everything will be fixed…and be sure not to let markets and individual property right rear their ugly heads.

    Brilliant!!

    God forbid I might know something about planning and development.

  16. the primary objective of smart growth is to loosen local regulations

    What? Are you freakin’ kidding me? You are the only voice I’ve heard (and have heard consistently, kudos to you) that rails on snob zoning (mind you, I don’t surround myself with urban planners). Every other item I’ve ever read about “Smart Growth” is all about allowing planners to tightly control every square inch of land they can get regulatory oversight over.

    Is there some sort of secret cabal of “Smart Growth” planners that doesn’t wish to make themselves known?

  17. Smart growth is about providing development options where currently there are none by expanding the rights of landowners trying to respond to market demands and consumers looking for more housing choices.

    All this talk about market demands and consumers doesn’t really square up with the massive government subsidies that “smart growth” apparently requires.

  18. Smart growth is about providing development options where currently there are none by expanding the rights of landowners trying to respond to market demands and consumers looking for more housing choices.

    Well I guess it might be progress if planners have to lie and say something is market oriented when it isn’t in order to sell it to the public.

    Before planners would just yell “Sprawl” and everyone would hand over their rights and money away.

  19. Uh oh, joe’s hung over again.

  20. All this talk about market demands and consumers doesn’t really square up with the massive government subsidies that “smart growth” apparently requires.

    Who says smart growth requires subsidies? The subsidies mentioned in story Weigel linked to are for smart growth projects in low-income communities. The key part of this equation is “low-income,” not smart growth.

    Smart growth actually costs local governments less than sprawl-type growth.

  21. Smart growth actually costs local governments less than sprawl-type growth.

    Then why are local tax rates so high in New York yet so low in small town America?

  22. As a libertarian I have no problem with Smart Growth, New Urbanism, public transport, or whatever, in general. Like all tastes and utilities no development model is objectively “better”.

    What is important is that people have access to the options they prefer the most, and the budget should reflect that. This is why these issues are, and should be local. Extremely local. Which is why I find it odd as a “federal issue”.

    But like all things its in the details, I don’t think that anyone can say that all suburbs are bad designs or that all Smart Growth communities are rip-offs.

    I certainly don’t trust the motives of any interest group, intellectual, or politician trying to push for any particular model all the time, and I think it is right to expose their ideologies for what they are.

    In short if people want to drive their cars, let them, and spend more on roads. If people want less sprawl let those communities have it, and spend the money on transport, or whatever. Not everywhere has to be the same.

  23. I’m curious about all these definitions of Smart Growth because I thought it was something completely different.

    I thought it was what happens when you tell people how to spend their money, what kinds of buildings they can build and where, and then they tell you to go screw yourself and put whatever development they want where there aren’t such regulations.

    This is why I think people thought it would be a good idea to let larger governments take over Smart Growth, because then that way we don’t have the phenomenon where people build just outside of an “urban growth boundary,” creating even more sprawl or whatever, because the boundary would then be all-encompassing for a given market.

  24. I thought it was a Mastodon reference. Silly me!

  25. You could read that entire piece, and never once come across the idea that the primary objective of smart growth is to loosen local regulations.

    joe, taking your word for what you say here, could you come out to California and talk some sense into the planners here who have apparently hijacked the term “smart growth”?

    Every other election cycle we get to vote against some hellish “smart growth” ballot measure that is nothing but protectionist planning designed to induce sprawl to the further and less politically organized suburbs.

  26. This is why I think people thought it would be a good idea to let larger governments take over Smart Growth, because then that way we don’t have the phenomenon where people build just outside of an “urban growth boundary,” creating even more sprawl or whatever, because the boundary would then be all-encompassing for a given market.

    No…the theory goes that locals who live in an area, given the power, will stop growth…they like that vacant lot next door being vacant. So if we can take the power to regulate from those self interested locals and give it to disinterested elites in state capitals or on the federal level then it will do away with locals telling other locals what to build or not to build.

    Mushed up in there is supposed to be a loosening on controls and more mixed use allowances…basically “We likes what was made from 1895-1945 so we will fiddle with the market until the only way for a developer to make money is for that to be built again”

    It does not take a genius to note that such tinkering by state capitals or on the federal level will not only be expensive but a complete and utter fucking disaster.

    If you really want to fix the problem of affordable house and get back to innovative development catered to how people want to live then let the free market work and give back property rights to the individuals who actually own the land and have an interest in improving the value of their land.

  27. A lot of the problems with urban development come from inconsistent policies. Obviously that’s something that’s going to happen as a result of political clout.

    I was reading about where some people in a city were upset about a deal a developer made to get a certain percentage of property taxes used to fund infrastructure for a high density, new urbanism development. While I can certainly understand objections to this, nobody was saying anything about the many developments five times further out where the city is paying to extend water, sewers, and roads long distances. The huge new urbanism development is just a much easier target for all the anti-growth people who were formerly “smart growth” people until “smart growth” became more of a reality.

  28. nobody was saying anything about the many developments five times further out where the city is paying to extend water, sewers, and roads long distances.

    You forgot power, and all are generally payed for by the developer. If you live in a locality that does not have developers pay for these thing then you must not live in the US.

    Of course these are not the only amenities…parks fire police schools etc the city does pay for and developers generally don’t…but also it should be noted that most new development has a higher porpety tax basis then older homes.

    Example: old home bought in 1980 for $80,000 and is currently taxed at $200,000. (the lower tax basis is due to laws found in many states the restrict the amount it can raise over a period of time…like no more then 10% per year sort of thing)

    new home built in 2006 sold for $400,000 is taxed at $400,000

    So as you can see new development not only quickly pays for itself and the impacts it has on urban amenities but begins to subsidize the amenities to older housing rather quickly.

  29. I think there is a very real difference between a city providing basic services (utilities, etc.) to its citizens, even when they live in new houses and the city will have to lay in new lines to serve them, and a city providing capital to a developer to fund an otherwise uneconomic project.

    But that’s just me.

  30. joshua,

    If you knew anything about planning and development, you wouldn’t mistake “small town America” with “sprawl.” Nor would you confuse “New York City” with “smart growth.”

    Nor would you attempt to do a fiscal analysis without looking at the demand side.

    Mike P,

    You seem to have confused “planners” with “politicians” and “developers.” Planners are the ones from whom the term “smart growth” has been hijacked, by politicians.

    RC Dean,

    “All this talk about market demands and consumers doesn’t really square up with the massive government subsidies that “smart growth” apparently requires.” When the entirety of your exposure to a movement comes from its critics, you’re going to end up with a skewed vision. Do you think it’s possible that Reason magazine chooses to draw your attention to projects that require subsidies, and ignores those that flourish on their own?

    Smart growth principles are being incorporated into subsidized development projects. If you have a problem with subsidized development projects, smart growth is not the proper target, no matter how eagerly its opponents cherrypick their cases in their efforts to discredit it.

  31. even when they live in new houses and the city will have to lay in new lines to serve them

    The only time the city would pay for this is when it is uneconomical…

    Where the fuck is this meme coming from.

    Developers pay for new roads, new sewer extensions, new water lines and new power lines every fucking second of every fucking day!

    Furthermore in most jurisdictions they also pay impact fees into existing infrastructure.

    This shit has been worked out a long long time ago.

  32. “No…the theory goes that locals who live in an area, given the power, will stop growth…they like that vacant lot next door being vacant. So if we can take the power to regulate from those self interested locals and give it to disinterested elites in state capitals or on the federal level then it will do away with locals telling other locals what to build or not to build.”

    Nice defense of NIMBY restrictions on property rights. We’re supposed to sympathize with people who regulate the use of other people’s land if they do so for “self interested” reasons, but heaven forbid anybody do so according to objective critea or the benefit of the public as a whole.

    “\’Mushed up in there is supposed to be a loosening on controls and more mixed use allowances…basically “We likes what was made from 1895-1945 so we will fiddle with the market until the only way for a developer to make money is for that to be built again”‘

    And there’s the intellectual failure of libertarian anti-smart-growth (dumb growth?) advocates: the smart growth criticism of the highly restrictive suburban zoning that created sprawl can lead to two different conclusions. 1. We need to regulate less. 2. We need to regulate better.

    An actual libertarian would sympathize with, or even argue on his own, the criticisms of sprawl zoning. He would point to the types of development that predominated in the pre-zoning era, which was produced in the absense of regulation, and compare them favorably with sprawl development built to conform to highly-restrictive regulation. Seen much of that from Reason magazine?

    A culture warrior or industry advocate posing as a libertarian, on the other hand, would look at the criticism of sprawl-induced development patterns and reject them out of hand. He would ignore the role of regulation and subsidy in producing those development patterns, and declare that it was the critics who were “Marxists,” or totalitarians, or whatever term can best be used to play on his audience’s sympathies. He would ignore the fact that a criticism of a regulatory regime and its outcomes leads most naturally to an argument to reduce regulation, and claim that such criticism can only be an expression of a desire to regulate more. And in describing the competing development patterns, he’d use loaded language, categorizing sprawl development in terms of freedom and individuality, and smart growth/neo-trad/New Urbanism and plain old cities in terms of repression, collectivism, and misery.

    Hi, joshua! Hi, Virginia!

  33. If you knew anything about planning and development, you wouldn’t mistake “small town America” with “sprawl.” Nor would you confuse “New York City” with “smart growth.”

    ah…so Seattle property taxes vs eastern Washington? Fuck man take your pick…generally high density urban areas pay less in property taxes then in suburban or small town areas…and if low density homes in small town America isn’t sprawl then what is it? Does low density have to be in proximity to high density in order for it to be classified as sprawl? Is it something only you can see and classify?

    Nor would you attempt to do a fiscal analysis without looking at the demand side.

    Demand for housing has gone up across the county Joe…yet increases in prices has been uneven…and in areas where euclidean zoning and UGA are most severe home prices have gone up the highest. There are plenty of states and communities that have seen unrepresented growth without skyrocketing price increases…it is only in areas where supply is constrained by planning that medium income earners have been priced out of the market.

  34. Nice defense of NIMBY restrictions on property rights. We’re supposed to sympathize with people who regulate the use of other people’s land if they do so for “self interested” reasons, but heaven forbid anybody do so according to objective critea or the benefit of the public as a whole.

    No defence of NIMBYism here joe…i agree it is a problem…it is where our solutions where we diverge…you say “there is a problem with local governemnt so lets make governemnt bigger” i say “there is a problem with local government, lest ristrict the power of governemtn” see the difference? I mean i only spelled it out clearly here:

    If you really want to fix the problem of affordable house and get back to innovative development catered to how people want to live then let the free market work and give back property rights to the individuals who actually own the land and have an interest in improving the value of their land.

    Why did you conveniently miss that point joe?

    He would point to the types of development that predominated in the pre-zoning era, which was produced in the absense of regulation, and compare them favorably with sprawl development built to conform to highly-restrictive regulation.

    Actually I got that comparison from smart growth advocates. Levin in his book Zoned out compares what was before and what was now.

    And in describing the competing development patterns, he’d use loaded language, categorizing sprawl development in terms of freedom and individuality, and smart growth/neo-trad/New Urbanism and plain old cities in terms of repression, collectivism, and misery.

    I would be on the industry participant side of this joe…i also am a libertarian…and as a developer i know i can make more money selling 8 lots per acre then i can 4 lots per acre…but I can’t make 4 lots per acre because of fucking planners and idiots like you who support their moronic views have made dividing an acre into 8 lots rather then 4 lots fucking illegal.

    Is smart growth and attempt by some (Levin) to deregulate and allow markets to work? You bet…has it been distorted beyond reason to even be in any way different then old school zoning and UGA planning…yup.

  35. but I can’t make 4 lots per acre because of fucking planners and idiots like you who support their moronic views have made dividing an acre into 8 lots rather then 4 lots fucking illegal.

    should be

    “…but i can’t make 8 lots per acre…”

    and i obviously had a problem closing out my italics…but i have faith you can figure out the quoted from the responses.

  36. Most of Seattle isn’t smart growth, either, joshua. Seeing as how it was built decades or a century ago, it doesn’t count as “growth” at all.

    The relevant comparison would be between a new smart growth project and a new sprawl project.

    “and if low density homes in small town America isn’t sprawl then what is it?” Most of “small town America” consists of towns with actual centers that combine residential and commercial uses, surrounded by rural areas with extremely low density development. Sometimes, in mining towns or mill towns, there are industrial uses involved in the medium-to-high density town- or neighborhood-centers. These areas are pedestrian-friendly (small roads and dense-and-varied uses mixed together) and have few, if any, giant parking lots – you know, like smart growth developments in new development areas.

    All your small town American are belong to us! Those towns were built smart. Late 20th century towns were built dumb.

    “Does low density have to be in proximity to high density in order for it to be classified as sprawl?”

    Let’s define terms here. Does “low density” in your usage mean single family homes on 1/3 acre, or are you talking about farm houses every mile or so?

    “Demand for housing has gone up across the county Joe”

    I guess I could have been clearer – I was refering to the “demand side” of the fiscal analysis, the cost of the services that different types of development create. Four bedroom houses on acre lots = lots of kids and lots of public infrastructure per household (think square feet of pavement, as one example).

  37. joshua,

    ‘you say “there is a problem with local governemnt so lets make governemnt bigger”‘

    Where? Was it when I wrote, “the idea that the primary objective of smart growth is to loosen local regulations?” Or perhaps when I wrote, “the smart growth criticism of the highly restrictive suburban zoning that created sprawl can lead to two different conclusions. 1. We need to regulate less. 2. We need to regulate better?”

    This is what I’m talking about – you see a criticism of sprawl and the policy that produced it, and assume (based entirely on whether the people making it appear to be your sort of people) that there is nothing to this criticism, that it is just a canard put forth to justify a power grab.

    “but I can’t make 4 lots per acre because of fucking planners and idiots like you who support their moronic views have made dividing an acre into 8 lots rather then 4 lots fucking illegal.” And there’s your problem – you assume that planners, as a whole, support restrictive sprawl zoning. As a matter of fact, the zoning regulations I got to write when I was a municipal planner scaled back restrictions on development significantly, and I can’t tell you how much grief I’ve gotten from City Councillors and the public for it. Surely, as a developer, you’ve noticed that the planners tend to be much more favorable to other-than-sprawl-style developments than the politicians, or the public.

  38. Actually, I daresay I’ve done more in my life to reduce the regulatory burden on residential and commercial development than anyone else reading this.

    And I’m a left-liberal, New Urbanist former government planner with a strong attachment to smart growth, who believes that the protection of community character and the shaping of development to enhance the common good is a proper function of government.

    So, nyah!!!

  39. the zoning regulations I got to write when I was a municipal planner scaled back restrictions on development significantly

    Why is it then that you back away so strongly when someone suggests that all zoning should be sh!tcanned?

    For the record, all zoning should be sh!tcanned. All of it. Planning should be a matter of telling people what infrastructure they need to provide if they want to tie into the public infrastructure, and how much it will cost them to do so. If they want to live off the grid, more power to ’em.

  40. Because there is such a phenomenon as “too much of a good thing.”

    We could get into what I would consider good vs. bad zoning, if you’re interested.

  41. Where? Was it when I wrote, “the idea that the primary objective of smart growth is to loosen local regulations?” Or perhaps when I wrote, “the smart growth criticism of the highly restrictive suburban zoning that created sprawl can lead to two different conclusions. 1. We need to regulate less. 2. We need to regulate better?”

    you had an unfinished sentence there…i filled it in.

    Here is how it reads in the real world of development and planning.

    the primary objective of smart growth is to loosen local regulations and to strengthen state and federal regulation

    In the state of Washington this has translated into a move to consolidate local hearing boards, take storm water regulations from counties, standardize health district regulations to be run at the state level, and a move to force density increases in UGA population calculations.

    The last one is deceptive…essentially you are taking the power to zone land from the local jurisdictions and placing that power in the hands of state regulators in the hope that they will change the zoning from low density to high density.

    I as a developer like higher densities cuz i can make more lots…but there is only a promise that they will increase densities and the ability to talk to local planners and local elected officials to effect change has been taken from my hands.

    As a libertarian i hate it cuz i know if you simply took away the power of the state to regulate land and development then densities would increase and home prices would go down.

    Looking at my state government it is “A canard put forth to justify a power grab.”

  42. joe & joshua,

    No one here really cares about your biographies.

  43. What’s the matter, French Marine, are our biographies insufficiently fictional for your tastes?

  44. oshit, joe just cut to the bone.

    i would argue that small towns ARE sprawl, in that often the old town center is a dilapidated mess of vacant lots and antique stores, with most consumer activity and new housing on the periphery in subdivisions with fancyful and stupid names like “the walrus at strawberry fields” or some other “the something at something something” naming convention.

  45. joe,

    I am suggesting that your discussion could be more fruitful sans the dick measuring.

  46. “the walrus at strawberry fields”

    Hehe..too funny. I live there myself so I’m getting a kick out of some of these replies.

    Don’t know why we need all this fancy urban planning. I just walk a mile or two in the irrigation ditch next to the highway and there I am at my favorite eatery: the Taco Bell at Wal Mart Plaza.

  47. No one here really cares about your biographies.

    Your just pissed cuz i don’t think a monkey needs an empirical frame work that sets itself apart from nature in order to rub two sticks together.

  48. OK, Grotius, no more dick waving. We’ve sniffed each other thoroughly at this point.

    joshua, I hear you on the regionalization issue. It’s a complex matter – some impacts and issues need to be considered in a regional framework.

    I like the system of the state imposing mandates on local/county government, and letting them figure out the best zoning regulations to meet them.

  49. joshua corning,

    You are absolutely right. 🙂

  50. “Your just pissed cuz i don’t think a monkey needs an empirical frame work that sets itself apart from nature in order to rub two sticks together.”

    Ooh, them’s fightin’ words! Slappy, grabby, let-me-take-off-my-glasse, hold-on-tight-to-the-other-guy-and-make-a-good-show-of-rocking-back-and-forth fightin’ words!

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