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Dick Turpin

Debate Keeps Growing Over Growth Issue

May 08, 1988|Dick Turpin

The affluence of Southern California, created by recent years of our unprecedented expansion, housing production and a diverse economy, has reached a detour, heading us into an unmistakable no-growth mode.

Our emergence as a global center of commerce and as the nation's leading real estate market is now leading us into an era when communities are raising stop signs. They are saying "enough, already" with lots of emotion.

Social philosophers might say that all the wonders and benefits of affluence have created all of the effluence we must now deal with--air and water pollution, hazardous waste, traffic gridlock, congested roads and freeways, and high prices.

Even the one-dimensional adage in real estate, "location, location, location," may have to give way to new bywords-- "people, pollution and politics."

People are unhappy about traffic congestion, air pollution, overbuilding of commercial and residential real estate and the performance of their elected officials.

They are reverting, once again, to California's formidable and open secret--the initiative weapon--to achieve what they feel government won't do, or doesn't want to do, for them.

Orange and San Diego counties are now hotbeds of such battles, and last year, in statewide ballot measures dealing with growth control, 15 of 17 measures were approved by voters. National attention last week was focused on the Los Angeles City Council's action curtailing sewer connections to limit new construction for three years, as requested by Mayor Tom Bradley.

The measure also affects surrounding cities tied into the Los Angeles system--Beverly Hills, Burbank, Culver City, El Segundo, Glendale, San Fernando and Santa Monica.

The volatile issues of growth and no growth were argued, sometimes rather heatedly, at a well-timed, two-day national media seminar in Newport Beach last week, sponsored by the National Assn. of Home Builders.

Labeled "Housing: The American Promise," the meeting included three panels on changing housing needs, now and in the immediate future; emerging markets and industry trends and the quality of life, public improvements and infrastructure.

Dale Stuard, NAHB president and a Newport Beach-based builder, in his opening remarks candidly questioned the often-used phrase, "America is the best-housed nation in the world." In his recent travels abroad, he said, he did not see "people sleeping on grates."

The burden of impact fees in construction and the other governmental requirements placed on builders and developers, he said, amount now to about $20,000 per completed new home and is a major obstruction and frustration in the effort to provide adequate and affordable housing.

As expected, the California imposition of such regulations has spread eastward, he added, raising the prices of homes and constantly delaying and stalling the orderly process of construction.

Peter Ochs, chairman and chief executive officer of the Fieldstone Co., Newport Beach home-building firm, provided a graphic example of public reaction to the no-growth movement.

Citing a planned, 11-unit housing project in Yorba Linda, he said 13 families are camped out to buy the as-yet unbuilt 1,800-square-foot, $200,000 homes. The prices, he quipped, "may have just escalated."

Ochs noted that the price of buildable land in Orange County is rapidly approaching $1 million an acre.

The building industry's position was clearly that stopping growth worsens many factors, such as increasing home prices, eliminating jobs in construction and all its related fields, increasing prices of land, stopping new businesses from entering the community and, therefore, lessening the entire job market.

Ochs said Southern California cannot separate itself from the impact of the Pacific Rim, that our economy is a "part of it," and that one-third of home buyers for his products are Asians.

Another builder, Gregory T. Smith, head of the Baldwin Co.'s San Diego division, pointedly described California's initiative process and those who use it as a "whole industry" in itself.

In the wake of Proposition 13 and its limitations on tax revenues, he said, today's master plan builders must provide roads, schools, fire stations, libraries and parks as mandatory conditions for the subdivisions and neighborhoods they want to build.

But Linda B. Martin, co-chair of the San Diego's Citizens for Limited Growth, charged that Proposition 13 was being used as a "straw man."

She and Peter Navarro, assistant professor of economics at the University of San Diego, argued strongly for the stemming of growth, particularly in their city.

City leaders were responsible for the lack of affordable housing, "foul air," much of it wafting down from Los Angeles, and a sewer system that is a "scandal," they charged, and cited the need for $1 billion for capital improvements in schools, jails and infrastructure.

Navarro, with sarcasm, referred to the sunsets visible in San Diego, as "beautiful" but seen "through the smog from L.A."

In the only non-controversial session, U.S. Sen. Alan Cranston, California's senior senator and chairman of the Senate's Housing and Urban Affairs Subcommittee, discussed hopes for Congressional adoption next year of a major housing bill which would deal with the needs of the nation for the last decade of this century.

There was also one subject that all sides agreed upon--that traffic congestion was getting intolerable because there are more cars per California home than ever before.

Robert Morris, executive vice president of the San Diego Building Industry Assn., pointed out the real culprits:

More teen-agers and seniors are behind the drivers' seats now than ever before.

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