Charles Buki is the director of the Neighborhood Reinvestment Training Institute in Washington, D.C. The institute was created by Congress in 1978 to revitalize older, distressed communities through a network of local nonprofits. Buki is a former Loeb Fellow in advanced environmental studies at Harvard University. He has written and lectured widely on neighborhood revitalization and neighborhood dynamics, their interrelationship with the environment and implications for social equity.
In May, Buki spoke during the Great Valley Center's annual conference about material wealth and cultural poverty. He defined "material wealth" as the ability to make choices, and "cultural poverty" as the opposite. Thus, the growth of wealthy suburban areas cannot occur without inner city problems. Buki said the tenor of a place is best measured by studying who moves in, and who moves out.
Buki was sharply critical of development patterns in the Central Valley. Decrying the sameness of development across the United States, Buki urged people to show respect for the land and climate.
CP&DR: During your presentation, you used the term "coast to coast placelessness." What do you mean?
Buki: It's virtually impossible to find unique qualities anywhere you go that are not replicated elsewhere. As you sit here in this Radisson [Hotel] and look out at the lake, it's impossible to tell if you're in Sacramento or Denver or Dallas. In fact, I could drive all the way into Sacramento and never know that I'm in Sacramento and not in Denver.
CP&DR: Why has this happened?
Buki: It's economically efficient in the short run. Do you know what Applebee's is? Or Benigan's? They are restaurants that are all designed with the same footprint … because they want an economy of scale.
Your burger is 79 cents because the McDonalds cost $179,000 to build, rather than $279,000 it would cost to design and build a unique building that would be much nicer.
The conundrum is, is it worth the price? Would you be willing to pay $6 for a sandwich at Subway, instead of $5? Economics tells us the answer is probably not.
CP&DR: How do we get beyond this approach?
Buki: You have to be able to convince people that long-term prosperity has a different paradigm than short-term economic gain.
Most folks in that audience [at the Great Valley Center conference] probably agreed with what I had to say. But they are still going to eat at McDonalds in the next week. You have to live your values. If you eat steak, you have to understand that there are consequences. I choose to eat steak and I understand the effects of that decision. You might have a 22-year-old in Davis who is a vegetarian, but he still wears leather shoes.
We have to require people to change how they live to reflect their values.
CP&DR: You said you flew over the Valley in a small plane. What struck you about what you saw?
Buki: There is a mistake that is being made. Your asset is land, but you are trading it for townhouses and subdivisions. You have a "servants quarters" mentality, providing houses for people with jobs in the Bay Area. If you are going to lose farmland, you should lose it to a use of better and higher value.
CP&DR: You mean trade farmland for economic development?
Buki: Right. There is a very limited value in townhouses.
CP&DR: What choices do Valley leaders need to make?
Buki: You have to have planning. It's obvious you have no planning.
CP&DR: Is that a problem elsewhere in the country, too?
Buki: Almost every place in the country is making the same mistakes.
CP&DR: These are strong sentiments. I'm sure you give talks elsewhere. What are people's reactions?
Buki: Planners and designers usually react badly to what I have to say. Most planners and designers believe you can plan your way out of problems. They don't recognize the costs that are associated with that approach. They want to be all-important and all-manipulating.
CP&DR: Who is your most receptive audience?
Buki: Residents. People wear different hats — fireman, police officer, employee. It's when they wear their hat as a family member that they are most receptive.
Realtors make money on housing developments. But when they take off their realtor hat and put on their family hat, they find that everything they are doing conflicts with their values as family members.
It's a longer lecture, and it pushes people more. I sensed this audience was not ready to be pushed that far.
CP&DR: What does the Valley need most?
Buki: Make the Valley competitive. Make it be able to compete for investments. Right now, it's a very weak economy.
The Valley essentially attracts pawn shops, so it doesn't recycle its capital. The Valley needs to attract a different type of investor, which it won't do until it diversifies its economy from strictly ag, to ag plus technology. That means farmers will have to give up some of their land. But they are already giving it up to housing developments. They need to give it up for higher economic value.
Managing Editor Paul Shigley interview Charles Buki during the Great Valley Center's annual conference in Sacramento.
Ontario City Manager Greg Devereaux speaks with CP&DR about local government fiscal challenges and the prospects for development in the near term. He also discusses the Regional Targets Advisory Committee, a panel to which he was recently appointed that is charged with an early phase of SB 375 implementation. >>read more
Dave Brown of Calabasas is this year's recipient of the American Planning Association's leadership award for a planning advocate. A member of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy advisory committee since 1985 and a Calabasas planning commissioner since 1992, Brown has been involved in land use and natural resources issues in the area since the 1970s. He received the award in part for his "overlooked but instrumental" role in creating the 153,000-acre Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. For 45 years he has been a history professor at Los Angeles Valley College, where he still teaches two classes. Brown spoke with CP&DR Editor Paul Shigley in April.
Elisa Barbour, of the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) in San Francisco, recently published a comprehensive study on regional planning, "Metropolitan Growth Planning in California, 1900-2000."
In her study, Barbour says that California has tried to create stronger metropolitan planning institutions for 100 years. She calls the most recent surge of regionalism the "third wave," after the establishment of home rule, and the rise of single-purpose agencies.
Cliff Graves is special advisor to the chancellor at University of California, Merced. Graves has overseen many aspects of planning the Merced campus, which is the University of California's first new campus since the mid-1960s. He spoke with CP&DR Managing Editor Paul Shigley in mid-December.
Stuart Meck is a senior research fellow for the American Planning Association (APA). For seven years, he spearheaded the APA’s "Growing Smart" project. That effort concluded earlier this year with the release of a 1,400-page legislative guidebook and user manual, which are intended to help states replace model planning acts. >>read more
Dawn Serpa is president of The Surland Companies, a private, 13-year-old residential and commercial developer that builds 100 to 200 houses per year. It is currently building Redbridge in Tracy, a 450-home project that mixes an array of housing sizes and styles in one subdivision, and plans to build Tracy's first mixed-use urban village.
Unlike some developers, Serpa does not fear the "smart growth" movement. She even complains that many local regulations prevent traditional neighborhood developments. CP&
Long considered a poor stepchild in Orange County, Santa Ana is working to turn around its image. The city is pressing forward with downtown redevelopment efforts, and the midtown Civic Center continues to cement its position as a center of government. The city recently landed the first Mexico Trade Center, beating out Los Angeles and San Diego for the office. And business leaders have undertaken a "branding" campaign that they hope to convert into a major marketing effort.
A new method of awarding state funding for school construction projects under Proposition 1A appears to be favoring urban districts at the expense of suburban and rural districts. The change has satisfied, for now, a number of ethnic and anti-poverty groups that had sued over an earlier state funding method. However, the change has angered many school districts, about 110 of which have sued the State Allocation Board.
Judy Corbett is executive director of the Local Government Commission, a nonprofit organization whose members include elected officials, and city and county staff members. The commission provides forums and technical assistance to assist local agencies in a variety of subject areas. In 1991, the commission, working with architects and planners, produced the Ahwahnee Principles for community and regional planning. The Ahwahnee Principles provide an alternative to what the authors see as decades of
After serving six years in the state Assembly, Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) was elected last November to the State Senate seat previously held by Tom Haden. Earlier this year, she was named Chairwoman of the Senate Natural Resources and Wildlife Committee. Although much of her work in the Assembly centered on social issues, Kuehl did serve on committees concerned with land use and was a director of the California Coastal Conservancy. Before coming to the Legislature, Kuehl was a law prof
Steven Nissen became acting director of the Governor's Office of Planning and Research in April 2000 and the appointment has since become permanent. Besides advising the governor and carrying out his interests, OPR provides assistance to local government on land use planning issues. The office is responsible for preparing CEQA Guidelines and General Plan Guidelines, and it operates the state clearinghouse for environmental impact reports.
Besides his role at OPR, Nissen serves as a governor's s...