Saturday, July 10, 2004

'Compass' Points to New Direction for Growth

Southern California is taking the first steps toward building more energy efficient suburbs. Under a plan named "Compass," neighborhoods would be built near existing transit corridors and employers would locate near where people live.

Under the proposal, more than 100 clusters of high-density development would be built along the region's transit corridors, neighborhoods would become more pedestrian friendly and more employers would locate near where people live.

While some hailed the "compass" plan by the Southern California Assn. of Governments as a visionary approach to solving the region's traffic and housing woes, others predicted implementing it would be an uphill battle.

The sweeping blueprint, which SCAG officials unveiled last week, was unanimously adopted by the agency's regional council of more than 50 elected officials.

But decisions about implementing specific projects would be made by individual city councils.

Even if a city's SCAG representative agrees in concept with high-density development for the region, positions can shift once politicians start courting voters back home.

"Most cities do everything they can to decrease density. They hit developers over the head," said Montclair Councilman Bill Ruh. "You'll hear people say, 'This is a fine plan, but it's not appropriate for my community … not in my backyard.' "

In a 100-page report, SCAG outlines the need for the plan: The region's population is projected to grow by 6.3 million, to 22.9 million, by 2030, with most of the increase coming from births by families already here. If the region stays on its current course, traffic congestion in some areas would more than triple, air quality would worsen, the cost of transporting goods would increase and the region's economy would suffer, SCAG officials say.

Academics and urban planners say a key way to improve mobility in a metropolitan area is to integrate transportation with land-use planning — a central element in SCAG's effort.

But they also note that benefits typically come only after significant effort. Zoning laws often must change city by city, and substantial investment by private developers would have to be made project by project.

Naturally there is resistance. "The public is not going to stand for high-density tenements," said Gerald A. Silver, president of Homeowners of Encino, echoing the view of many community leaders and antigrowth activists. SCAG officials "can lead a horse to water, but they can't get it to drink."

Mark Pisano, executive director of SCAG, thinks that resistance will lessen over time. Peak oil will certainly be a major factor lessening that resistance.


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