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Urban Sprawl


Urban Growth Boundaries are an Urban Myth

Ill-planned urban growth in California reached such alarming proportions as long ago as the 1950s that then Governor Pat Brown created LAFCO specifically to rein in urban sprawl. Cities and towns bulged out beyond their borders and were eating up valuable land and spitting it out as pavement and urban decay.

Most people may object to urban sprawl on aesthetic grounds, but being ugly is not the problem. Water is the problem with urban sprawl. Sprawl consumes water and stops water from refilling the underground supply of water.

A city block of storefronts, housing developments, roadways and parking lots inherently reduce the amount of water able to flow back into the earth and recharge groundwater reserves. Pavement covers the ground. Water doesn't seep through asphalt to recharge the groundwater reservoir. Worse, the water that runs off building gutters and through culverts becomes fast flowing torrents that are redirected to San Francisco Bay and, while still inland, rip through local creeks and rivers dislodging soil and destroying the riparian habitat.

Urban sprawl has marched forward despite LAFCO and despite promises of "Urban Growth Boundaries "largely due to impressive profit temptations found in development. There's nothing wrong with making money but there is a lot wrong when greed destroys the water.

We are now up against a wall. We cannot make water. We cannot get more surface water from neighbors who are also fighting legal battles to keep their reserves. In the future our water resources and needs will be even tighter than they are today.

Growing our way to decay

The last election in Rohnert Park saw a number of "pro-growth" politicians sweep into office. There's a very good reason why this happened. Cities do not make money because they cannot generate wealth. Cities are not entrepreneurs who produce saleable goods or services. Cities live on fees. When they go broke, as so many cities do, the only conceivable salvation to mayors and city council members becomes physical extension of the borders to increase the tax base and collect fees for building permits.

This physical destruction of open space, unincorporated lands, wilderness areas, farmlands and designated scenic areas to generate money for strapped urban centers is the very definition of urban sprawl.

Unfortunately, cities cannot "grow" their way out of debt. Building permits are a one-time charge and must be repeated by more growth, which explains why we have so much urban sprawl everywhere. Cities can't raise taxes very easily. Residents vigorously contest tax hikes, so taxes never rise to the level of balancing a city's budget.

Unfortunately, people want all their city services for free. They want good roads, libraries, schools, parks, swimming pools and sports stadiums but they don't want to pay too much for them. Cities are forced to supply these amenities to attract residents.

Since cities spend so much on the amenities, make so little on taxes and can only charge one time for building permits, they are under enormous pressure to build out, to create urban sprawl, to destroy unincorporated open spaces and turn agricultural land into alleys and malls and parking lots.

In the process, urban sprawl is destroying groundwater reservoirs all over California.












Read Sam Kennedy's article in the Press Democrat on "pro-growth" politicos in Rohnert Park.



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