A homeowner whose emotional plea helped to derail a massive redevelopment project that could have forced 1,000 Garden Grove families to move subsequently described the victory as "what America is all about." What the Garden Grove City Council did certainly was good and sensible policy, whatever else. It voted unanimously to drop huge chunks of land from a proposed 195-acre redevelopment project that would have wiped out hundreds of houses, mobile homes and apartment units.
The council vote reaffirmed that, at heart, Garden Grove is a residential community. An estimated 700 Garden Grove residents delivered that message during an intense seven-hour City Council meeting late in June. Thankfully, council members listened to constituents and dropped 500 houses, 300 mobile homes and dozens of apartment units from the rezoning that would have cleared the way for massive redevelopment.
Homeowners were the winners because, given the high price of housing throughout Southern California, it's difficult to imagine that the city could have kept its promise to relocate families whose properties eventually would have been taken, and long-standing neighborhoods faced the threat of being ripped apart.
Council members, though, had solid reasons for promoting the massive redevelopment project. The hodgepodge of houses, trailers, apartments and small retail establishments along the city's major thoroughfares--as well as the corresponding lack of big shopping malls, big hotels and big-box retailers--make Garden Grove the second poorest city in Orange County in terms of sales tax revenue collected.
Cities fight hard for a new Costco or an auto mall because they fear losing a potential cash cow to their next-door neighbor. Garden Grove officials long have cast an envious eye at next-door neighbor Anaheim, which benefits mightily from Disneyland and its constellation of revenue-generating hotels, restaurants and retail outlets.
San Juan Capistrano lacks nearby Dana Point's upscale hotels, so it's considering selling a tract that would be used to house a Home Depot--a deal that would generate a $9-million payday for the city. Cypress' plan to use eminent domain to seize land owned by a church and turn it over to Costco has generated negative national publicity in the form of a Wall Street Journal editorial and network news stories.
The game of civic one-upmanship has disrupted solid planning practices and created a cadre of rich cities and a second tier of have-nots.
The first step toward a return to rational urban planning is the passage of AB 680, which will be considered by the state Senate later this summer. Affluent cities oppose the bill, which would regionalize the distribution of sales tax on a trial basis in the Sacramento area, but it's a necessary step toward reducing the painful gap between haves and have-nots.