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View From Lodi, CA: Lodi, CA. Phil Angelides Is Wrong—"Smart Growth" Can`t Save The California Idyll
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August 25, 2006, 05:00 AM
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I am one of a vanishing breed—a native Californian raised in Los Angeles back when it was only a town.

In the mid-1950s, California`s population hovered around 10 million people. The old family album has pictures of my parents, my sisters and me sitting on Santa Monica beach with only a few scattered people milling around.

Some of my earliest childhood recollections include the Sunday drive from our West Los Angeles home into the San Fernando Valley to visit my grandfather`s ranch.

The traffic-free trip took us through orange groves until we pulled up at Granddad`s isolated ranch—long ago paved over.

Don`t remind me that my memories are a half a century old. And I`m all too aware that time—and development—march on.

Last week, I congratulated Lodi Mayor Susan Hitchcock for arguing on for a growth moratorium so that our town could realistically assess its needs.

Sadly but predictably, the City Council defeated Hitchcock`s proposal, 3-2.

And in its August 19 editorial, Moratorium Fails but Citizens Deserve Clear Answers on the Cost of Development, the Lodi News-Sentinel declared that: "We do not, in fact, need a 45-day moratorium on development."

And the editorial went on to suggest that smart growth should be Lodi`s goal.

Let`s be clear on one thing: smart growth does not exist. Point to one smart growth project in Lodi.

Nevertheless, some sincere people continue to insist that smart growth is the answer.

But the smart growth concept—that sprawl induced housing developments and the environmental degradation that follow them could be alleviated by building upward instead of outward—has always been offensive to the enlightened among us.

Whether development takes the form of sprawl by building on the fringes of our communities or landfill by building inside the city limits, the net result is the same: our quality of life erodes, our sense of place vanishes and our hope of finding a small plot of land somewhere in this vast nation to retire to grows dimmer by the day.

To put in focus how difficult it is to execute a "Smart Growth" plan, consider what happened to California state treasurer and Democratic California gubernatorial candidate Phil Angelides.

A long-time advocate of "Smart Growth", Angelides in his pre-political career was a real estate developer.

The centerpiece of Angelides development career is Laguna West, south of Sacramento, which he touted at the time of its completion as "an environmentally sustainable community."

But years later Angelides is the only one who sees it that way. The Sacramento Bee and several urban experts called Laguna West "a catastrophic disaster."

If someone as wealthy and as committed to smart growth as Angelides is cannot make it work in California, who can?

Despite his own well-documented failures on smart growth development, Angelides promises on his website that if he is elected he will push for new laws requiring local governments to develop "meaningful regional growth plans" and targets.

The brutal truth is that in California smart growth doesn`t exist and never will exist.

Dr. Joel Hirschhorn, Director of Environment, Energy and National Resources at the National Governor`s Association and author of the new book, Sprawl Kills: How Blandburbs Steal Your Time, Health and Money, told me this when I asked him about why smart growth has failed in California:    

"Overall, considering its population growth and huge housing market, smart growth has not done well in California.  Frankly, there has been so much suburban sprawl already, using up so much land (often in very hazardous locations, re mud slides, forest fires) that the only bright spot has been good urban revitalization.  I should note, however, that much of the sprawl in California is different than in many other places in that single-family house lot sizes have been relatively small because of the very high land costs."

Pro-development forces hold the upper hand. But let`s not kid ourselves about where we`re headed: toward a much less lovable and livable Lodi.

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.