Playing With Politics

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Archive for the ‘Economic Development’ Category

Planner’s take on Senate Bill 1

Posted by Roobs on September 24, 2013

Legislation could create successor agencies to redevelopment focus on transit-oriented and walkable communities.

Legislation could create successor agencies to redevelopment, focusing on transit-oriented and walkable communities.

 In 2011, Governor Jerry Brown snuffed out California’s plethora of community redevelopment agencies (CRA), much to the lament of cities and their city planners everywhere.  The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board recently wrote that city’s lament their loss primarily out of self-interest; stating that the structure of CRAs allowed them to self finance – giving lots of money back to the city.  Planners, on the other hand, lamented their fall for a more practical planning reason:  Redevelopment agencies were one of the great tools planners could use to assemble land in a manner that made development more feasible with tax-increment financing.  So when California State Senator, Derrel Steinberg proposed SB 1 to create CRA’s successor agencies, tentatively known as Sustainable Community Investment Authorities (SCIA), planners took note.  It was the first time we had heard of a serious attempt to restore one of the great planning tools we had lost.  But how well can it work?

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Trading Places: Dodgers to DTLA, NFL to Chavez Ravine

Posted by Roobs on August 19, 2013

Dodger Stadium

The process build a new NFL stadium in Downtown Los Angeles, as well as draft an NFL team to fill it, has hit more than a few hurdles in the last few years.  But one thing that has fascinated me, both as a baseball fan and as an urban planner, about a new NFL stadium in LA is the choice of location.  Why would you want an NFL stadium in Downtown LA?  With new owners, the Dodgers are spending hundreds of millions on new payroll and upgrades to Dodger Stadium.  But perhaps they should consider a move to a brand new facility in Downtown and leave Chavez Ravine for a future football franchise.

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Greuel, Garcetti, and Skyscrapers

Posted by Roobs on February 14, 2013


The other day, someone asked me what is a “skyscraper”.  Really.  I mean, they knew conceptually what a skyscraper was (or is), but they asked me for a definition of a skyscraper since I’m an urban planner.  Who cares, you ask?  Well, this all stems from the current battle for short hairs that is the LA mayoral race.  What exactly is a skyscraper and is Eric Garcetti even really responsible for Hollywood’s turn-around?

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Roads Aren’t Free [Updated]

Posted by Roobs on November 29, 2011

It’s high time we explore the dubious nature of how exactly we pay to both construct and maintain our beloved highways and their true costs.

[Updated: Following the release of the draft 2012 Business Plan for the California High-Speed Rail project, I have come back to this post to update the numbers.  The overall argument is still the same and very valid.]

Critics tend to fancy themselves experts in all things sociological and economic when it comes to high-speed rail in California.  They argue the technology will not work –people won’t ride it – and/or that it is simply too expensive of a project to undertake during this time of economic contraction and we simply shouldn’t build it to save the money.  However, as I pointed out in a recent post, the cost of NOT building the California High-Speed Rail Project has never been zero.  In fact, it would cost  $100 billion $170 billion to build new highways and air travel facilities to meet future transportation demand as opposed to the $45-$60 billion $98 billion for HSR.  Even with this fact critics point out that it’s also the operating costs, not just capital costs that make HSR too expensive to build.  But while critics spend their time attacking the cost and financing of HSR, they neglect to check the financing of their favorite alternative to HSR: roads.  It’s high time we explore the dubious nature of how exactly we pay to both construct and maintain our beloved roads and highways and their true costs.

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$45 billion or $100 billion. Which is cheaper?

Posted by Roobs on August 26, 2011

The cost to NOT build the California High-Speed Rail project has never been zero.

Critics of California’s High-Speed Rail project usually have their eyes fixed on one part of the project – the bottom line.  The most common line of attack against the project is its cost, estimated around $45 – $60 billion (depending on who you ask).  They call it a “boondogle” because they say it is just far to expensive for the state to undertake.  As a post in the California High-Speed Rail Blog points out, critics’ arguments rest on one assumption: That we are to spend $45-$60 billion on HSR or we don’t build it and spend $0.   This, of course, is not true.

From CAHSR Blog:

This claim has always been utterly false. The cost of doing nothing is not zero. Californians are going to have to get around their state somehow, and as population grows and gas prices rise, the cost does too. The cost of expanding freeways and airports to meet the travel demand HSR will meet is estimated at $100 billion. Compared to that, HSR is a bargain.

Anyone who goes shopping can tell you that if you can buy the same thing for a cheaper price, then you do it.  Californians will need to travel around our state whether we build HSR or not.  To suggest that we can do so for nothing is not only false but utterly irresponsible on the part of officials and critics.  Over the next 25 years, California’s population will increase from 38 million residents today to 50 million by 2035, a lot of that growth will happen in the Central Valley.  The fact of the matter is that we are going to build something, either more freeway and airport capacity or HSR in order to meet the transportation demand that will come. High-speed rail is and always has been the cheaper alternative to expanding freeways and airports.

From CA HSR Authority, numbers derived from submitted 2004 EIR:

Statewide, over the next two decades, California’s HST System would alleviate the need to spend more than $100 billion1 to build 3,000 miles of new freeway, 5 airport runways, and 90 departure gates to meet the transportation needs of a growing population. In fact, the San Joaquin Valley is projected to grow at a rate higher than any other region in California. Three counties—Merced, Madera, and Fresno—are projected to grow by 68% by 2035.

So when critics are saying we can’t afford to spend up to $60 billion on HSR, what they are really saying is we can obviously afford to spend $100 billion on more freeways, airport terminals and runways and other costly and less efficient modes of transportation.  In other words, critics would rather Californians pay more than pay less.  Does that make any sense?  No. No it doesn’t.  High-speed rail is a cheaper, more efficient and environmentally friendly means to meet the transportation demands of Californians now and in the future.

Check out the rest of the post at California High-Speed Rail Blog.

Roobs is a masters student at UCLA in the Department of Urban & Regional Planning with concentrations in Transportation Planning & Policy and Urban Design & Development. He has a BA in Legal Studies and Sociology from UC Berkeley. Roobs is a former Waterfront Commissioner for the City of Berkeley and former paralegal for a law firm specializing in real estate development. 

Posted in Economic Development, Politics, Urban Planning | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

How City Beautiful Can Help: The Psychology of Recovery

Posted by Roobs on August 23, 2011

Washington DC was the first US city to use City Beautiful concepts when redesigning its Mall

Washington gets a lot of flack lately for reasons both justified and not.  But one complaint many are jumping on is President Obama’s specific jobs plan, or lack thereof.  Obama is now scheduled to give a speech near Labor Day on what he plans to do about jobs and reducing the deficit, presumably in response to the increasingly loud crys from Democrats and Republicans for him to do so.  The real question is what is he going to propose?  We are getting a better picture on what the President is planning: extending the payroll tax credit and extending unemployment benefits. There is also talk of some infrastructure component to the plan as well.  The infrastructure component is where I want to focus this post.

President Obama has shown many that he’s more of a lover, not a fighter.  Despite coming from Chicago politics, he has not been eager to pick a fight with austerity driven members of the GOP and Tea Party.  Instead, he deals and comes back with very watered down plans that don’t do much to help our ailing economy, and in many ways hurts his own political clout and re-election bid.   Obama should take a look at some of the principles of the City Beautiful Movement of the early 20th century to help see why a big push to fund infrastructure, like roads, rail, bridges and buildings, can prove extremely beneficial to not only the economy but to people’s perception of where we are as a nation.

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Missing the Forest Because of the Trees: Gentrification

Posted by Roobs on August 6, 2011

Gentrification is sometimes thought of as a third-rail topic – touch it you die.  Gentrification has become so controversial that the mere mention of it can elicit strong and passionate debate. Proponents of gentrification say it improves neighborhoods: by improving the physical environment of a neighborhood, gentrification also improves the quality of life for residents, new and old.  Critics, however, see gentrification as a tool by wealthy developers and urban professionals to displace an undesirable bloc of the population – usually minorities.  But in all the kerfuffle of debate, many are unwilling to look at the real causes of the problems they see.  Studies are showing that gentrification doesn’t actually do all that critics have long accused it of.  Additionally, critics of gentrification often are calling for it, just leaving out the name.

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Posted in Economic Development, Politics, Race & Identity, Urban Planning | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »


Posted by Roobs on July 15, 2011

CNN reported on the state of California back on June 27th.  The report was somber, claiming that California’s ills are the cause of some basic woes, such as the housing crisis and the loss of jobs and our infamously difficult to run state legislature.  It does, nevertheless, do a poor job at actually analyzing what is actually causing many of California’s ills.  Enter a new blog called “CiviLogica”.  The inaugural post of this new blog takes on CNN’s report and identifies how they got it wrong.  But the post also does an excellent job of reviewing the underlying issues that face our great state.  Here is a quick clip from the post but I definitely recommend you link over and read the full post for yourself.

Recounting the net loss of California residents to other states, the article next considers the very real and ongoing crisis of California’s middle class. It rightly places some blame on the cost of housing, but punts on the question of why housing costs so much in the first place. What the article fails to explore is how the high cost of California housing is in large part a product of downzoning, NIMBYism, tax policy, and sprawl-type models of development. California’s most economically successful urban centers have been rendered unable to keep pace with their commensurate housing demand because of low-density zoning and the unremitting difficulty of building infill housing. In addition, by increasing the relative attractiveness of sales taxes as a revenue stream, Prop 13 has discouraged residential development for over 30 years. Meanwhile, sprawl has lead to increased land, infrastructure, and service costs, thus contributing to both higher housing costs and the loss of California’s farm and wild-lands. In apparent ignorance of this obvious cause, the piece mourns the loss of Orange County’s orchards to drab, monotonous housing tracts, but then fails to consider the alternatives. It bemoans long, smoggy commutes, but doesn’t pause to wonder why so many people have to drive or what can be done about it. This avoidance of deeper issues is something of a pattern.

Visit the site: CiviLogica

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