Dealing with California’s Statewide Growth Challenges

Growth best addressed at the local level

Legislation to limit growth and development at the local level has been introduced this year. As you consider these pieces of legislation, I urge you to consider a few points and resources.

  1. Limits on growth and zoning change restrictions sometimes work, and sometimes do not. Their success depends a great deal on local circumstance. Our recent study of San Jose’s growth boundary shows a good example of where the policy is not working:

    San Jose Demonstrates the Limits of Urban Growth Boundaries and Urban Rail

  2. Statewide approaches to growth problems rarely work, again because so much depends on local circumstances. Our study of statewide planning laws in Oregon, Washington, and Florida found that statewide restriction impose a “smart growth tax” that accounts for 26% of the increase in housing prices in those states:

    Smart Growth and Housing Affordability: Evidence from Statewide Planning Laws

  3. California has two connected growth related problems: accommodating approximately 600,000 new residents each year, and the vanishing of affordable housing. But the one unequivocal effect of state and local growth management laws is less affordable housing.

    See Smart Growth in Action: Housing Capacity and Development in Ventura County, and

    Line in the Land: Urban-Growth Boundaries, Smart Growth, and Housing Affordability

  4. That growth leads to some farmlands being developed is often seen as major problem, but only a small percentage of farmland conversion is caused by urban growth, and there are many simple, local ways to deal with the problem.

    See The Vanishing Farmland Myth and the Smart-growth Agenda

  5. There are ways to manage the problems of growth, manage them locally and without the many unintended problems created by statewide growth controls.

    See Market-Oriented Approaches to Growth: Outsmarting Sprawl’s Impacts

The simple message from all of this research and the experiences of California communities and other states attempting to manage growth is that broad, statewide growth management doesn’t work, and often creates more problems than it solves, not the least being making housing less affordable for new residents. Problems with growth are best managed at the local level with local knowledge of the problems, land markets, and potential local solutions.

Adrian Moore is Vice President of Reason Foundation.