California's Central Valley, the most important part of the state's giant agriculture industry, will have three times as many residents in 2040 as it does now, according to demographers. The conflict between population growth and farming is driving many planning efforts, some of which are including urban growth boundaries as a means of protecting agriculture.
The growth-boundary concept is not new in the Central Valley. Tulare County and its largest cities have had urban growth boundaries for 20 years, and Yolo, Sutter and Butte counties have perimeter control lines intended to protect farmland. Sacramento, Fresno, Merced and Kings counties have expansion lines of sorts, although they seek to direct urban growth, not contain it.
Now, the idea is spreading:
• In Stanislaus County, ballot measures creating urban growth lines in the county and in nine cities appear headed for the November election.
• In Fresno, a coalition of farm, building and business interests is urging city leaders to adopt the Tulare model as part of the Fresno general plan.
• In Bakersfield, an urban limit is likely to be considered during the city's general plan update.
• In Redding, a new general plan is likely to include limit lines to encourage infill.
"I think you will hear more about that [urban growth boundaries] in the Central Valley," said Erik Vink, California policy director for the American Farmland Trust. "We're always picking up on these trends from elsewhere. The Bay Area has kind of been the laboratory for this type of land-use idea."
Contra Costa County has had a voter-approved urban limit line since 1990, although slow-growth advocates would like to tighten it.
More than two years ago, Stanislaus County growth-control advocates began working on urban limit line initiatives for the county and its nine cities. The proposed Future Options on Development (FOOD) initiatives would have urban limit lines coincide with existing general plan boundaries for the cities and with community plan boundaries for about two dozen unincorporated areas, explained Denny Jackman, president of the group called Growth Orderly, Affordable, Livable (GOAL). The intent is to stabilize the farmland base and protect the environment and open space.
The boundaries would establish "a budget on land" that could be developed, Jackman said. "Instead of looking inside out, they [developers] would have to stand at the boundary and look within." Initiative backers are strongly considering language that would allow changes in the urban limit lines only by a vote of the electorate, he added.
Organizers of GOAL have presented the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors and most city councils with the proposed initiative language in hopes that the elected officials will place the measures on local ballots. Thus far, no elected body has agreed to put the FOOD initiatives to a vote. But Jackman is confident GOAL can acquire enough signatures to qualify the initiatives for the November 2000 election. Many people equate problems such as long commutes and crime with "the runaway kind of growth we have going on," he said.
In Fresno, urban growth boundaries received a boost from the Growth Alternatives Alliance, a diverse group that includes the American Farmland Trust, the California Farm Bureau, the Building Industry Association of San Joaquin Valley, and the Fresno Business Council. The Alliance, which last year produced the Landscape of Choice report that called for moderate growth reforms, has recommended establishing an urban growth boundary for Fresno. The boundary would be expandable as the city hits certain population and buildout thresholds. The first boundary, at about the existing sphere of influence, could accommodate up to 650,000 people, said Greg Kirkpatrick, of the AFT's Fresno office. The ascending boundaries would accommodate another 150,000 people each, up to 1.1 million.
"It's a testament to how unified our consensus is as to where growth should be directed in Fresno, and that is to the northeast and the foothills," Kirkpatrick said. "Our recommendations include firm growth boundaries that preclude growth into prime agricultural areas in southeast and southwest Fresno."
The idea is young in Fresno, but it could receive a favorable reception at what has been a pro-growth City Council. In December, Mayor Jim Patterson advocated keeping the next 20 years of growth within the current sphere of influence because, he said, Fresno (population 415,000) could grow to 700,000 within that sphere. While farming advocates were pleased with Patterson's suggestion, even the AFT's Kirkpatrick questioned Patterson's assumptions because so little market demand exists for infill projects, especially in the depressed downtown.
The Growth Alternatives Alliance proposal is based on existing policy in Tulare County, where the county and its cities have had growth boundaries for two decades. When certain thresholds are met, the elected bodies may expand the boundaries to the next pre-established limit, said Steve Brandt, Visalia senior planner.
Visalia, the county's largest city, has three boundaries that roughly correspond to projections for 2000, 2010 and 2020, he said. That city has reached the first population threshold of 98,700, but not the buildout minimum of 70% for residential land and 80% for commercial property, he said.
Visalia leaders advocate concentric growth around the core of the city, Brandt said. The urban growth boundary protects agricultural land for as long as possible. The boundary, which is incorporated in the general plan land-use element, also serves as a basis for other documents, such as the sewer master plan, Brandt said.
The growth boundaries work well in part because of inter-governmental cooperation, Brandt added. The county has designated land with 20-acre minimum lot sizes around Visalia. "Luckily for us, Tulare County is very big about preserving agricultural land," he said.
Growth Alternatives Alliance members recognize that cooperation is important because a neighboring jurisdiction with open arms for developers would ruin the whole point of a growth boundary. The Alliance recently helped organize the first meeting of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors, the Fresno City Council and the Clovis City Council. However, the meeting rapidly fell apart as officials got bogged down in a revenue-sharing debate.
The lack of regional cooperation has also been an issue in Kern County, where the county and the City of Bakersfield at times have competed to entice developers. Still, the advantages and disadvantages of growth boundaries are likely to be discussed during Bakersfield's general plan update, which is getting started, said Bakersfield Development Services Director Jack Hardesty. Such boundaries fell out of favor during the 1980s when the county had a growth line that was too easily amended.
"They didn't hold the line, literally," he said. But, he added, "it will come back as a proposal from the Smart Growth Coalition, I'm sure. They are coming out as a fairly strong voice."
The Coalition, which successfully lobbied for reestablishment of a planning commission in Kern County, "supports any policies that will get us to our goals," Executive Director Pauline Larwood said. The seven-year-old organization advocates infill, redevelopment, compact design, and protection of the farming, oil and defense industries. Larwood said the Coalition has urged the Planning Commission to consider Tulare County's system because "it appears to have resulted in more contiguous development."
Interestingly, it might be agriculture that forces creation of some type of boundary in Kern County. Recent proposals for giant dairies southwest of Bakersfield met with strong resistance from homeowners, causing Supervisor Ken Peterson to propose designating a greenbelt around Bakersfield to separate residential and agricultural uses.
At the north end of the Central Valley, in Redding, the revised general plan will probably contain "primary and secondary growth areas," according to Senior Planner Kent Manual. The primary growth area will roughly correspond to the city limits of Redding (population 79,000), which already cover 59 square miles. Large tracts of land for residential and commercial development remain available. Plus, there is some consensus for slowing the spread of ranchettes on the city's east and northwest sides because those three- to ten-acre spreads use land inefficiently and preclude future planning options, he said.
Whether growth boundaries will be the tool of choice or not, it is clear that experts and, to a lesser extent, the general public are talking about land-use choices in the Central Valley. That is the good news, said Carol Whiteside, president of the Modesto-based Great Valley Center, because accommodating the projected trebling of population during the next 40 years and preserving agriculture will take strong planning.
"There's a growing awareness of the valley. People are starting to pick up on the issues," she said. "From my point of view, we're still early enough to make some of these decisions."
Denny Jackman, Growth Orderly, Affordable Livable, (209) 526-5821.
Greg Kirkpatrick, American Farmland Trust, (559) 627-3708.
Pauline Larwood, Smart Growth Coalition, (661) 363-0218.
Jack Hardesty, Bakersfield Development Services Department, (661) 326-3733.
Carol Whiteside, Great Valley Center, (209) 522-5103.
Kent Manual, Redding Planning Department, (530) 225-4029.
California voters could overhaul the state and local tax system, as well as the state budgeting process, in November. Ballot initiatives that would constrict state and local government funding, and, conversely, dramatically increase state and local government revenues are in circulation for signatures.
Many California cities and counties are wrestling with flood waters these days, but, perhaps more importantly, they are also wrestling with revised flood risk maps issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The new maps have raised the consternation of local government officials, homeowners and developers in numerous locales, and in a few places the new maps are forcing reconsideration of growth plans.
It's an exaggeration to say that 2010 will be the year in which nobody builds anything. But it might not be much of a stretch.
The consensus found in numerous prognostications from economists, academics and analysts is that a "normal" level of development activity is still two to four years away. In the meantime, as Chuck DiRocco, director of real estate research at PricewaterhouseCoopers summed up, "Now is not the time to develop."
Many people in the planning and development community are saying good riddance to 2009. It was a year marked by extreme financial distress for government agencies and private industry. If 2008 was a year to "do more with less," then 2009 was a year to "do less with even less" -- a year simply to hunker down and try to endure.
The package of water legislation approved by state lawmakers and signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger earlier this month may be the most ambitious attempt yet to address the troubled Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. However, the legislation angers and worries many interests in and around the Delta, including local government leaders concerned about their ability to approve development.
Formation of new cities, building-height limits in Santa Barbara and Ventura, and a developer-written specific plan for a vacant industrial site near Ukiah are among the land use proposals up for a vote in the November 3 municipal elections. At least 21 measures with land use implications are on the ballot in 12 different California jurisdictions.
A committee of experts appointed by the California Air Resources Board should come up with a list of best management practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions produced by new development by January 2010. The practices, combined with estimates of future transportation demand, should provide the basis for the board to establish regional targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions later in 2010, according to the advisory committee.
State lawmakers wrapped up the first year of their two-year session without taking action on numerous bills regarding land use planning, development and natural resources. But some of the legislation could receive consideration before the end of the month because lawmakers are likely to return for special sessions called by Gov. Schwarzenegger.
The Legislature passed bills that would require fire safety to be a larger factor in land use planning, allow farmworker housing to be built on agricultural land and give local government the authority to limit the conversion of mobile home parks to resident-owned condominiums. Schwarzenegger has until October 11 to sign or veto the bills.
Two bills that would require greater consideration of fire safety in land use planning appear likely to reach the governor's desk before the Legislature recesses its regular session on September 11. Moreover, a late move to link the fire planning bills to disaster relief legislation could increase the chances that Gov. Schwarzenegger will actually sign the bills.
Gov. Schwarzenegger's unilateral decision to eliminate payments to counties that offer Williamson Act tax breaks to owners of agricultural land has raised doubts about the future of the state's largest farmland-preservation program. Many representatives of the affected counties have said they would like to remain in the program. But the end of state subventions that help offset lost property tax revenue is causing many counties to re-evaluate their participation.
State lawmakers say that water and the Bay Delta should be the Legislature's top priorities until it recesses on September 11. Democratic lawmakers have introduced a five-bill package that they insist provides a framework for moving forward with the co-equal goals of Delta ecosystem restoration and increased water supply reliability. Republican lawmakers, however, said the package leans too heavily toward environmental considerations at the expense of water reliability.
By shifting $1.7 billion from redevelopment agencies to state programs and schools, the state budget signed this week by Gov. Schwarzenegger could halt numerous redevelopment projects for years to come, according to the agencies and housing proponents. The tax increment shift could also mean the end for some redevelopment agencies.