Commentary | Local Elected Control is Preferable to Unelected Regional Bureaucracies



By Susan Kirsch

Local control in the hands of elected city councils, with authority to make decisions regarding land use, zoning, and housing, is under attack. Bills originating in both the Senate and Assembly are chipping away at long-standing provisions that allowed citizens, through Housing Elements and General Plans, to decide density, set-backs, and parking, among other provisions.  YIMBYs (Yes, in my backyard-ers) are the cheerleaders for building big, without regard to infrastructure, town character, or impact on traffic and congestion.

Livable California, founded in early 2018, is forming coalitions with like-minded elected city officials and community leaders in neighborhood, homeowner, renter, and social justice organizations across the state. We value “livable” for neighbors, newcomers, and old-timers over profits that pencil out for out-of-town developers.

The goal that brings us together is to strengthen local control, integrated with regional collaboration and partnerships, as the answer to housing solutions and long-term, sustainable communities.

Local control isn’t perfect, but among everyday people, bottom-up problem solving is preferable to top-down state mandates. It has a greater capacity to shape solutions than the adversarial, stymied one-size-fits-all approach currently advocated by big business and Sacramento.

Occasionally local planning tools—General Plans, Housing Elements, CEQA—have been used inappropriately, but that is not just cause to throw them out in favor of state mandates or regional government. 

In community hands, these tools rely on local planning departments and elected city councils to engage stakeholders, conduct public meetings, issue progress reports, and measure results. Local officials live in close proximity to their decisions and witness their consequences, not far away in distant offices. 

Cities are not blame-free.  Some have approved massive commercial construction without encouraging adequate housing. Instead of tackling their own workforce/housing balance, some cities expect nearby communities to house their 9-5 commuters.

It’s become popular for economic and government groups to promote regional solutions. These follow a corporate model of maximizing profits by out-sourcing expenses.  That’s not fair.

Citizen volunteers spend thousands of hours in stewardship; not because it pencils out, but to assure safety and quality of life including the impact of housing on water supply, congestion, schools, and taxes.

The crisis we face is the legislators’ systematic effort to dismantle local control and replace it with unelected, regional bureaucracies.

The crisis is legislation that increases the financial burden on cities without calling it what it is—an unfunded mandate.

The crisis is believing the mantra “we have to do something,” justifies legislation that benefits a few, while jeopardizing the majority.

September 11, 2018 – A team from Livable California met with Gov. Jerry Brown’s Deputy Secretary Graciela Castillo-Krings to urge the Gov. to veto SB-828. The team included Susan Kirsch, founder of Livable CA; Michael Goldman, Sunnyvale City Council member (speaking for himself); Rand Martin, MVM Strategy Group; and Jill Stewart, Executive Director, Coalition to Preserve Los Angeles. SB-828 changes the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) from a planning tool to a heavy-handed production mandate, increasing the financial burden on already overburdened communities.

Susan Kirsch is Chair of Livable California, a new statewide group that celebrates local control in the context of collaboration.

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Eileen Tracy
Eileen Tracy
2 years ago

Did anyone notice the state is taking local control away; little by little