Summer 2003 Newsletter
Coordinated Regional Planning Needed To Enhance Urban Neighborhoods
Nobody really knows how many elected entities run California's
public business: 58 counties, some 475 cities, 986 school districts,
70 community college districts, plus several thousand independent
districts-parks, fire, municipal utility, irrigation and community
Each of them has its own elected board-plus sheriffs, district
attorneys and other elected local officials. Each has its own
policy agenda. Few are geographically contiguous with any of the
others. And few totally trust the others, even when they're not
And then of course there are the elected Legislature, governor,
lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer, controller,
secretary of state, superintendent of public instruction, insurance
commissioner and Board of Equalization. They, too, have their
At the moment the state is being sued for its alleged failure
to provide decent schools; the governor, in turn, is suing the
Now add in local and state voter initiatives on everything from
tax limitations, criminal sentencing and state budget allocations
to medical marijuana and land-use planning, and you have a perfect
engine for inefficiency, confusion, buck-passing, interjurisdictional
feuding and voter alienation.
Is there any way even a diligent citizen can keep track of all
that stuff? All those separate public agendas, combined with what
David Abel of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Forum calls our "separate
silos of funding," make policy coordination and effective
planning nearly impossible. Maybe we love democracy too much.
Now there are some hopeful signs, despite those governmental
and fiscal structures that act as barriers rather than incentives
Recently, the Cities, Counties and Schools Partnership, a group
of leaders from the League of California Cities and the California
State Association of Counties, met in Sacramento to talk about
better coordination and joint planning at the local level.
They called it a "historic meeting." And while it's
far too early for that, something may be changing. The 50 or so
local officials who attended seemed to understand that all those
separate agendas-and the turf wars and distrust that came with
them-were a slow road to nowhere.
They seemed to realize that good schools should be an integral
part of every city plan, that schools should serve as neighborhood
centers and places to locate other community facilities: recreational
areas for both school and community, health clinics, police substations.
That means joint planning in the design and location of those
And there are other, more concrete signs as well.
Last month, when the Legislature approved the new $25 billion
school bond that will go on the ballot in roughly even parts this
November and in 2004, former Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg
included a $100 million item for design of joint-use facilities.
In San Jose, California State University and the city's redevelopment
agency are building a joint 575,000-square-foot city/CSU library,
a project that will not only save money and provide richer facilities,
but also will serve as one of the anchors of a new civic center
at the edge of the campus.
In San Diego, after the City Council declared "a state
of emergency" in the blighted City Heights neighborhood,
businessman Sol Price and his Price Charities leveraged its own
funds and brought together a long list of public and nonprofit
private agencies as well as the local community. The result is
a 30-acre urban village that includes a new school, a library,
police station, a community service center and recreational facilities
as well as office space and, now, 116 units of affordable housing.
There are also a "joint venture" educational program
with California State University, San Diego, a community policing
program and a low-interest home loan program. Price knew the problems
couldn't be addressed piecemeal-that the solutions required "holistic
strategies." This one brought in almost everyone and everything.
In Ukiah, after the school district's decision to build a new
school on agricultural land brought loud protests, local officials
found an alternate location on the site of a failed shopping mall
on the other side of town that is to include a sheriff's substation,
a community center and playing fields. Equally important, it will
bring a new school and other community facilities to a low-income
Hispanic neighborhood that badly needs them and foster urban infill
rather than more sprawl in an agricultural area.
None of these success stories suggests that the mess of dysfunctional
government structures has been cleaned up. The bureaucratic jungle
that faces school districts planning new facilities, for example,
continues to make the process too slow and too expensive. The
tax system still leads local agencies to favor shopping and auto
malls over light industry offering good jobs, housing and coordinated
community planning. Infrastructure plans are still collections
of separate agency wish lists.
But there is a growing realization that without more coordination,
without regional planning, without the understanding that good
schools are inseparable from good communities, every problem in
this rapidly growing state can only get worse. And that's encouraging.