Out of Control Policy Blog

Bakersfield to Expand City Boundaries, Welcome Growth

At a time when cities across the country are doing everything they can to limit growth, it's refreshing to see a city (particularly a California city) acknowledge that growth is going to happen and take steps to accomodate it:

At a time when many areas of the country are trying to contain sprawl, the City Council won approval this year to expand an area chosen for development outside city limits that could nearly double Bakersfield's size in the years ahead.

Critics see the expansion as a green light to builders that will encourage more suburban sprawl, gobble up more prime farmland and aggravate traffic congestion and air pollution.

Many developers and politicians, however, see a way to satisfy a feverish housing demand that has turned a once-conservative backwater – hometown of country icons Merle Haggard and the late Buck Owens – into one of the state's fastest-growing cities.

Mayor Harvey Hall says Bakersfield has little appetite for higher-density developments and other urban design trends. "I certainly respect the interests of the smart-growth people," Hall says. "But as the mayor, I support prosperity. You just can't stop growth."

Bakersfield has swelled by more than 50,000 residents since 2000. Its 4.7% increase last year, to 312,000, was more than any other California city over 200,000. Fueling the influx are home buyers from coastal areas eager to accept long commutes for a chance at a house with a yard they can afford.

"Single-family homeownership, the American dream, is Bakersfield's bread and butter," says James Movius, city planning director. "Bakersfield is definitely proud it can provide housing to the common guy."

. . . .

"If L.A. wants to shut down growth, if Las Vegas is getting crowded, if Phoenix is getting expensive, you could come here and get a good house," says [Robert] Lang, director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech. "But it's rare to find cities that are flat-out still pro-growth."

Kudos to Mayor Hall and the City Council for taking a stand for homeownership and prosperity, rather than pursue the "close the gates" approach taken by so many of their peers.

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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