Playing With Politics

A Blog on Law, Politics, Planning, Development, and Other Vices

Posts Tagged ‘NIMBY’

Planning Confidential: The Moral Imperative to Build

Posted by Roobs on December 17, 2013

LA City Planning Density Types

Many planners and developers simply don’t like NIMBYs.  NIMBYs, or “Not In My Back Yard” is a term given to individuals and groups who can be counted on to sue, delay, and otherwise obstruct any new community plan or development proposal.  Developers are accused of being downright evil.  Planners are accused of corruption and being in the pocket of said-evil developers.  While there are numerous reasons why a planning policy that favors density and transit, and the developers who build them, are a good thing, there is one reason we, including myself, seem often reluctant to engage in.  And that is the moral imperative argument.

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Planning Confidential: What They Don’t Teach in School Can Hurt You

Posted by Roobs on May 27, 2013


I originally wanted to go to law school but I changed my mind during my junior year at Berkeley.  I chose to go into urban planning instead, since it fit in more with my personal and professional interests.  My two years in UCLA’s urban planning program were fun, educational (obviously), and stressful.  I got to study really great topics in planning and even design a neighborhood around a potential high-speed rail station in Burbank (neat!)  But now that I am a year removed from graduation; I look back and think that there are things that planning school just doesn’t do well in preparing future planners.  I  believe there are a few things we can change to fix that.

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Planning Confidential: 4 Reasons SimCity is Better Than You

Posted by Roobs on May 8, 2013


SimCity.  Possibly the most popular computer game among urban planners.  You get to put roads where you want them.  Transit where you want it.  Build a high-rise, high-density core, and there’s not a NIMBY in site.  Or at least none that you can’t simply bulldoze out of the way.  Yes, every urban planner loves SimCity.  Except for the ones that don’t.

It was about a year ago or so when I first read a planning-related article about the popular city simulation game.  The article was more of an attack on the game being perceived as a “urban planning” simulation, citing how it is not at all realistic to what planners do and potential graduate students in planning should avoid it (if I could find it I would add the link, but I can’t).  My response: of course it’s not realistic.  It’s a computer game!  But here’s why SimCity is better at planning than the haters.

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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. 

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Understanding Berkeley’s Measure R

Posted by Roobs on October 27, 2010

Measure R is about environmentalism but it is also about understanding how planning and development work to improve communities

Residents in the City of Berkeley will be asked this November to vote on the direction of their Downtown… again.  Like most issues in Berkeley, this measure is the subject of some controversy.

The fight between environmentalists and their opponents over how to plan the development of Downtown Berkeley has gone on for years, with affordable housing and the height of future buildings being two subjects of contention.

On one side, supporters of Measure R include environmental groups like the Sierra Club and The League of Conservation Voters, 7 of the 9 City Council members, as well as organized labor and a range of planners and economists, including former Labor Secretary to the Clinton Administration, Robert Reich. Supporters argue that Measure R is the greenest direction for Downtown Berkeley and that by increasing Downtown’s density, it will help achieve Berkeley’s Climate Action plan passed last year.

On the other side you have the opposition–which includes two council members, The Berkeley Daily Planet—a local news website, and the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, argue that Measure R is too vague and doesn’t go far enough to ensure affordable housing.  They also protest the increased height limits.

To understand why Measure R is on the ballot, you need only know that this measure repeats a part of the Downtown Plan the Berkeley City Council had approved last year. This plan was later rescinded after Councilmen Jesse Arreguin and Kriss Worthington–the only council members who voted no on the original plan–led a controversial, though successful, signature gathering campaign to place the council’s decision on the ballot.  As a result, the City Council scrapped the original plan and are  now tasked to create a new one.   It comes as no surprise that both Arreguin and Worthington are the only two council members opposing Measure R and actively seeking its defeat this November.

In the end, whether Measure R is good or bad comes down to density, environmentalism and an understanding of how planning and development works.

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NIMBY Say What?

Posted by Roobs on September 10, 2010

Just the other day at the website: Next American City, Yonah Freemark, an Urban Leaders Fellow, sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation, wrote a column talking about one of my favorite subjects: The East Bay Bus Rapid Transit project.  As readers will have figured out, I am very much in favor of this project and have written two posts about the issue: Why Berkeley is Wrong on BRT and Why Councilman Arreguin is Wrong on BRT

I take issue with Freemark’s columns, specifically his most recent entitled “Opposition to a Bus Rapid Transit System is More than Just NIMBYism“.  The biggest and most frustrating part is that many of the arguments against BRT in the East Bay are either false or based off false assumptions that do nothing to further legitimate debate.

In his three part column (currently at two),  Freemark quotes former Berkeley Willard Neighborhood Association president, Vince Casalaina and both seem to suggest their biggest concern is with greenhouse gases.

“If you’re going to put a quarter of a billion dollars into it,” he said, “It better do something about greenhouse gases.” Casalaina points out that the diesel bus line could actually reduce ridership on the mostly parallel BART rail line, which is electrically powered and therefore arguably cleaner.”

The part about this criticism I never truly understood is that, in the same breadth that many critics of BRT use to say that they care about the amount of greenhouse gas emissions, they also say the one thing they are most afraid of losing is “driving lanes”, the ability to drive your car and park when going to the stores they are trying to protect.

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Why Councilman Arreguin is Wrong on BRT

Posted by Roobs on June 18, 2010

This is a follow up to my previous post “Why Berkeley is Wrong on BRT

Councilman Arreguin collecting signatures against Berkeley's Downtown Development Plan. Yea, we fought on that one too.

Somewhere along the line, you would think that the constant barrage of facts and studies would prove some point.  Whether you are for or against something, the general train of thought is that the “correct” argument is the argument that has the most support (data, literature, etc) behind it.  Bus Rapid Transit is a positive thing for the neighborhoods and cities it serves.  There are numerous examples of BRT all around the country and the world.  BRT is nothing new and has been around for decades.  So you would think when Berkeley was asked to consider studying the construction of a fully tricked out BRT system they would take to heart all these examples and past literature and data to make an informed decision.  But Berkeley has its own rules and so does Berkeley City Counciman Jesse Arreguin.

Not since John Kerry’s infamous flip-flop during the 2004 presidential campaign against George W. Bush have we seen an example of moving back and forth on the same issue as we see with Councilman Arreguin on BRT in Berkeley.  Except in this case, Councilman Arreguin first didnt vote for anything, then indicated he would vote for it before finally voting against it.

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