SAN FRANCISCO — Builders, bankers and realtors have formed a coalition to fight back the proliferation of slow-growth initiatives throughout California.
But nobody should have any illusions about beating those initiatives, according to a prominent land use attorney. "This (slow-growth) movement has developed an almost Populist basis," Pamela S. Duffy told more than 1,000 attendees at an economic forecast seminar sponsored by the California Building Industry Foundation. "It crosses all political lines" and geographic boundaries, she said, adding, "I think it's here to stay."
Duffy was the moderator of a panel on growth management, one of the hottest housing industry topics in decades--and one based, according to Leo Andrade, a Northern California developer, on "frustration with the consequences of poor planning, particularly in the areas of infrastructure and more particularly in terms of traffic and schools."
Andrade said that the three basic flaws of slow-growth philosophy--which, with more than 50 such measures introduced in the state in the past two years is obviously a popular one--are that it fails to acknowledge the inevitability of growth, it ignores the socioeconomic consequences of stagnation and it offers no solutions to existing problems, "much less future ones."
Andrade, a director of the National Assn. of Home Builders and the Northern California Building Industry Assn., said that the "growing statewide coalition of business, labor and social groups" urging a return to a pro-growth agenda wants to find revenue sources to repair the state's battered infrastructure and to "educate citizens" on the economic realities of halting growth in California.
"We already have specific recommendations," he said, including building support for increasing the statewide gasoline tax; amended California law to allow increases in ad valorem property taxes; repealing certain spending constraints of the Gann Spending Limitation Initiative, and giving greater power to local authorities to raise sales taxes.
But Robert Gardner, a management consultant, said that one of the basic problems developers have in reversing slow-growth feelings is that "you people wear the black hats," as far as the public is concerned.
Gardner said that builders need to recognize that "the negative feelings out there are real." He also said that a probable cause of the slow-growth movement is the increased urbanization of the suburbs.
"Transportation patterns have created urban villages" instead of confining business growth to downtown core areas, he said. "Telecommunications (advances) make it so that we don't have to be in fixed locations" to perform our jobs. "It's also cheaper to locate (businesses) in the suburbs: there's cheaper land, more parking and . . . the jobs are really where the executives live."
Gardner said a study suggested 25,000 of Pasadena's 120,000 residents leave the city each day to go to their jobs, while 60,000 come to Pasadena to work. "And about 160,000 pass through Pasadena on their way to work" or other activities, he said, making the town ripe for gridlock.
He also said that people have a mistaken impression of business growth in downtown Los Angeles--based in part on the image of lighted buildings and "that slamming-down Jaguar trunk" that opens each Thursday night episode of the TV show "L.A. Law." Los Angeles is only a 1-million-square-foot market, whereas neighboring West Los Angeles is "a 2-million-square-foot market."
"Our cities are not downtowns anymore," he said, indicating that "little downtowns"--urban villages--have sprung up regionally, all linked by freeways and creating "pockets of high density."
Paul Hazen, president and chief operating officer of Wells Fargo, admitted that the banking industry is dealing with its own problems of "overcapacity--we have too many banks, too many savings and loans and too many branches." But Hazen added that the major consolidations of banks across state lines "will change the players and the landscape. We'll see clear winners and losers (in terms of bank and thrift closures). But I think you're going to see a good supply of (construction) funds available."