Commemorating the 40th anniversary of the passage of Oregon’s “landmark” land-use law, known as Senate Bill 100, a columnist with the Salem Statesman-Journallooks back at the history of the passage and early implementation of that law. If he had looked a little closer at the long-term effects, rather than just the back-room dealing, he would have found an unhappier story.
First, the law made housing in Oregon unaffordable. Before the law was passed, median home prices were consistently about two times median family incomes. As Oregon cities began drawing urban-growth boundaries, prices quickly shot up to three time incomes and today stand at four times incomes. While developers in most other states were able to buy large parcels of land and design beautiful and affordable master-planned communities, such developments were rendered illegal in Oregon since no large parcels were available inside of urban-growth boundaries. Land-use regulation also made home prices more volatile, leading to a huge drop in prices in the 1980s and another big drop after 2008.
The Antiplanner’s presentation at last night’s debate over Plan Bay Area is now available in PowerPoint or PDF format. You can also download Tom Rubin’s presentation in PDF format.
The debate was one-sided in the sense that close to 90 percent of the audience opposed the plan. One little incident sticks in my mind. During the debate, one of the plan’s supporters admitted that it was hard to predict the future, but added, “As Abraham Lincoln said, ‘The best way to predict the future is to create it.’”
I am a stickler for sourcing such attributed quotes, and that didn’t sound like something Lincoln would say. So I pulled out my iPhone and looked it up. Sure enough, it has been attributed to Lincoln–and to Peter Drucker, and to some other people. But it seems the person who actually first said it was computer programmer Alan Kay in 1971. I hope readers will understand what I mean when I say that knowing that Kay said it gives it a completely different meaning than if Lincoln had said it.
An economist named Ed Dolan who lives in Washington state opines that the collapse of the Skagit River Bridge reveals an “infrastructure deficit.” That’s certainly the prevailing wisdom. But consider this.
The bridge collapsed because one of its supporting beams 14.5 feet above the pavement was hit by an oversized truck that should not have been on the bridge. If that oversized truck had hit that beam in 1955, the year the bridge was built, it would have collapsed then. Instead, the bridge stood for 58 years before being hit by such a truck.
Show me any bridge and I can conceive of a truck big enough to bring it down. That doesn’t prove we have an infrastructure deficit; it only proves that every bridge has a limit to what it can carry. Height and weight limits are posted for most bridges; the driver of the truck crossing the Skagit River last week apparently neglected to read the signs.
The Antiplanner will be in Marin County, California tomorrow to debate Plan Bay Area, the “sustainability” plan for the nine-county region. In the meantime, you can listen to a radio interview with the Antiplanner and, below the jump, watch a couple of educational videos put together by opponents of the plan.
Reports of riots in Stockholm suburbs probably brings to American minds images of single-family homes and SUVs burning. Though Stockholm has plenty of American-style suburbs, the riots were not in those areas.
Instead, they were in high-density housing projects that Sweden built in an effort to promote transit ridership, which planners today would call “transit-oriented developments.” Most Swedes, however, refused to live in these projects, so they became home to Sweden’s second-class citizenry, namely immigrant and often Muslim workers.
Within minutes of the announcement that a bridge on Interstate 5 in Washington state had collapsed, people posted comments saying that this was further proof that our infrastructure was in terrible shape and that America was becoming a third-world country. The comments then descended into a debate over whether the Repubicans or Democrats were to blame for this sorry state of affairs.
This morning, the Washington Department of Transportation announced that the collapse happened when an oversized truck hit an overhead span. The 58-year-old bridge’s most recent maintenance inspection, in 2010, found that it was in “better than minimum adequacy to tolerate being left in place as is.”
Here’s a toughie. Assume you support free-markets. That means you probably oppose government limits on what foods people can buy, such as New York Mayor Bloomberg’s so-called Big Gulp ban. A major reason for opposing such bans is that the government isn’t really capable of deciding what is healthy or unhealthy. If we ban sugary drinks, shouldn’t we also ban cholesterol-filled red meat? Vegan diets don’t have enough vitamin B-12, so maybe we should ban tofu. On the other hand, maybe Coca-Cola can escape the ban if it adds B-12 to its drinks.
The point is that free-market advocates oppose government control of what people eat because what gets labeled “healthy” or “unhealthy” will depend more on political power, fads, and urban folklore than on science and reason. Moreover, just as it is hard to end the corn ethanol program, once government labels something healthy or unhealthy, it will become very hard to change that label even if research proves it wrong.
On the other hand, the federal government gives out $75 billion a year in food stamps (technically the “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program” or SNAP). The National Center for Public Policy Research considers itself a free-market advocate, yet it argues that food stamps should be dedicated only to healthy foods–and that the corporations that sell unhealthy foods shouldn’t lobby to keep their products in the program.
Despite claims of a downtown population boom, the reality is that every demographic group is growing faster in the suburbs than the cities–and that includes poor people. According to an L.A. Timesreport on a new book from Brookings, between 2000 and 2011, the number of poor people living in suburbs grew by 67 percent and now outnumber poor people living in cities.
This is supposed to be a problem because antipoverty agencies are “unprepared to meet the need in suburban areas.” This being Brookings, one of the remedies is supposed to be “more (and better) transportation options” (meaning public transit) in the suburbs. But this begs the question: if antipoverty agencies and public transit are so critical to poor people, why did so many poor people move to the suburbs in the first place? The answer, of course, is that they aren’t that helpful.
Meanwhile, a report from Australia suggests that one reason why low-income populations are growing in the suburbs is that wealthy and upper-middle-class people are crowding poor people out of the inner cities. This is certainly the situation in many American urban areas, such as San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle. This, of course, is what the cities wanted: to lure the high-taxpaying people away from the suburbs. In many cases, however, the way they are doing it is not by making the cities attractive to the rich but by making them unaffordable for the poor.
Police cars today have cameras that can scan the license places on every car they see. Plate numbers are transmitted to a central computer and if a number is flagged as wanted in any way, the police in the cruiser get an alert and they can pull the car over. That sounds reassuring but it also represents a potentially serious invasion of privacy.
Compared with this, privacy concerns over such things as self-driving cars or VMT pricing seem tame. Yet conservatives manage to freak out over potential invasions of privacy by Google’s self-driving car as well as by proposals for VMT pricing.
Let’s get this straight. There is nothing about self-driving cars that are potentially an invasion of people’s privacy. Unlike police cars, the cars do not report to nor are they monitored by some central computer, Instead, all the electronics is on board the car. While some car systems being designed today could invade people’s privacy, the systems used to enable cars to drive themselves are not among them.
“Implementation of Plan Bay Area will require the demolition of more than 169,000 single-family detached homes, or one out of every nine such homes in the region, according to table 2.3-2 of the draft environmental impact report. Any earthquake or other natural event that resulted in this much destruction would be counted as the greatest natural catastrophe in American history.”
The Antiplanner would like to think this is one of the better opening paragraphs that I have written in some time. My complete comments on Plan Bay Area are now available for download.
In reviewing my previous post on this subject, my friend MSetty made the good point that Plan Bay Area planners put that 169,000 home figure in terms of a change in demand. Although 56 percent of Bay Area households live in single-family detached homes today, by 2040 only 39 percent will want to, so say the planners.