Taking Control of Growth

traffic-congestionIf you’re tired of suffering the pains of growth with few apparent benefits, then the solution could be just one election away.   To set growth management on a more responsible course I urge you to join with other citizen groups active in your area to call for the changes suggested below. Mobilizing even a small number of voters in support of responsible growth management candidates can bring about change in a surprisingly short amount of time.   These changes can include:

  • Halting then reversing school overcrowding;
  • Preventing traffic congestion and crash rates from increasing then diminishing both; and
  • Curtailing pollution of your neighborhood waters followed by the restoration needed to create places where our children can catch a frog without catching an illness as well.

chamber-sierra-015Getting Good People Elected Is Easier Than You Think

Many races for county commissioner, town council, a board of supervisors, and other local offices are won by just a few hundred votes. Getting even a fraction of voters to support good candidates can transform a development-at-any-cost council into one committed to responsible growth management.

Identifying Responsible Growth Management Candidates

How do you identify candidates who will support responsible growth management once elected?

Well, if they already hold elected office (incumbents) then you need only examine their record.  Have they supported measures to deal with poorly managed growth?  Did they oppose rezoning requests that would have harmed neighborhoods or the environment? Will they support the responsible growth management measures suggested below?

For challengers who have never held office it can be a bit more tricky.  They are more likely to be a good candidate if they have a history of community service such as serving on neighborhood association boards or leading campaigns to improve growth management. The key test though is whether they pledge to support measures that will ensure everyone benefits from growth – not just maximize profit for a few.  Examples of these measures follow.

Responsible Growth Management Measures

The measures presented below are generally THE most effective first steps towards responsible growth management.  The focus is on three growth issues: schools, traffic and environment.  These issues tend to be of greatest concern to voters living in rapidly developing areas.  By no means should you feel compelled to call for the immediate adoption of all the measures.  Instead, start with the measure likely to generate the greatest degree of voter support, then plan on implementation taking up to several years.

crowdedclassroomSchools:  A development project should not be approved if it will cause a school to exceed design capacity or expand class size beyond generally accepted limits.  For other suggestions to preserve education quality in rapidly growing areas visit the CEDS webpage: Preventing School Overcrowding & Other Development Impacts.

Traffic:  If proposed development would cause excessive delay for you and other residents then it should not be approved until improvements are made that reduce congestion to an acceptable level of service. Additional measures for relieving congestion and improving safety can be found on the CEDS webpage: Traffic, Development & Neighborhood Quality of Life.

kidsinsuburbanstream

Children enjoying a typical neighborhood stream.

Aquatic Resources:  Plans for a proposed development project must show that stormwater runoff from all rooftops, streets, parking lots and other impervious surfaces will drain to highly-effective Best Management Practices.  To learn of other measures to preserve aquatic resources and accelerate restoration visit the CEDS webpage: Protecting Wetlands, Streams, Lakes, Tidal Waters & Wells from the Impacts of Land Development.

Shifting Growth Costs From Taxpayers To Developers:  As of 2015, 29 states had passed legislation allowing local governments to charge developers impact fees to cover the costs of growth such as: school capacity expansions, new roads, increased water-sewer capacity, as well as expanding police, fire and emergency services.

Adequate Public Facility Ordinance (APFO):  A number of states have authorized local governments to prevent school overcrowding, traffic congestion and other growth impacts with Adequate Public Facility or Concurrency laws.  Typically the law would prohibit the issuance of building permits for a development project that would result in excessive impacts, such as causing a school to exceed capacity or excessive traffic congestion.  Once school or road capacity is improved building permits can then be issued.  Some localities also adopt APFO standards for water, sewer, open space, police, fire, and emergency services.  APFOs get a bad rap for shifting growth from urban to rural areas.  However, the real problem lies with deficient master planning and the failure to make the capital improvements necessitated by growth.

Master Planning:  Most local governments have a master plan setting forth how an area should grow.  In far too many cases the goal of master plans seems more to maximize growth rather then preserving and enhancing quality of life.  A good master plan will:

  1. Identify each quality of life factor affected by growth;
  2. Present data regarding the impact of past growth with regard to each factor;
  3. Show the effects of anticipated future growth; then
  4. Recommend alternatives for preventing growth from further degrading each quality of life factor followed by measures to reverse past impacts with the net result that a community becomes a better place to live and work.

For example, in a good master plan you would find a list of schools including those serving your neighborhood. The plan would identify which schools have or will exceed capacity then recommend solutions to prevent more overcrowding.  There would also be actions for reducing existing overcrowding.  And of course the plan would describe how schools in the desirable range of 80% to 100% of capacity will be kept that way.

A good master plan will do the same for traffic congestion, water and sewer deficiencies, overcrowded parks, as well as shortfalls in police, fire and other emergency services.  The three CEDS webpages referenced earlier explain how citizen can conduct their own assessments of school capacity, traffic congestion, and aquatic resource health.  For other issues go to the main CEDS website and check out the topics listed along the right margin.

Implementing Solutions:  Even the best master plan is meaningless without implementation of the solutions.  Many solutions involve building (capital improvements) such as new schools, expanding roads, upgrading treatment plants, etc.  Once the plan is adopted elected officials must budget the funds needed to make solutions real.  In far too many instances officials postpone funding if it requires unpopular actions like tax increases or shifting funds from pet programs of well-organized special interests. Solutions frequently require other unpopular steps like rezoning and updating development regulations.

Winning the Adoption of Responsible Growth Management Measures

Here are the broad strokes for how to move a locality towards more responsible growth management.  Chapters 35 to 42 in the free CEDS book How To Win Land Development Issues provide detail on how to carry out these actions.

  1. Identify citizen groups active throughout your town, city or county.
  2. Poll the leaders of each group about what growth issues are of greatest concern: school overcrowding, traffic congestion, declining water quality-quantity, rising taxes, etc.
  3. Survey frequent voters (those who vote in every election) about growth issues they care about most.  Frequent voters, who make up 10% – 15% of the population, are key to winning primary elections, which is where responsible growth management candidates have the best chance.
  4. Identify responsible growth management measures that would resolve the issue of greatest concern.  There are usually several to choose from.
  5. Seek consensus among citizen leaders about the most effective measure then ask that they urge their group to become part of a coalition backing the measure.
  6. Request a meeting with each elected official who has the authority to implement the measure.  Ask coalition leaders with the greatest number of members in the official’s base of support to attend the meeting.  During the meeting:
    • answer any questions posed by the elected official;
    • ask if they have concerns regarding the measure;
    • if they do have concerns then solicit their thoughts on equally effective or better alternatives; and
    • when their concerns have been addressed request their support for change.
  7. ph-ho-cf-school-budget-oversight-legal-action-0915-20160907For an incumbent opposed to the measure, ask candidates running against the official if they will support the measure if elected.
  8. Ask coalition leaders to educate their members about the measure as well as which elected officials and challengers are supportive, undecided, or opposed.
  9. Well before the next election:
    • Begin a series of activities such as rallies, yard signs, etc., designed to demonstrate increasing public support for the measure; and
    • Ask coalition leaders to call for volunteers to work on campaigns of supportive incumbents and candidates.
  10. Beginning a month before the next election ask coalition leaders to urge their members to vote for the supportive elected officials and challengers.

Building On Your Success & Keeping Growth Management Responsible

If the preceding steps are well executed then you’ll have a majority of local elected officials committed to the specific measure.  They should also be supportive of other measures needed to move even closer to responsible growth management.  However, rest assured that those committed to the old growth-mismanagement philosophy will soon begin attempts to lure your friends to the dark side.  This is why it’s critical your efforts continue after the election.  You must make it clear to the officials you helped elect that they will be expected to make good on their pledge of support.  You must also demonstrate unwavering and preferably expanding public support for measures that allow everyone to benefit from responsibly managed growth.  For further assistance in taking control of growth contact CEDS at 410-654-3021 or Help@ceds.org.

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About Richard Klein

President of Community & Environmental Defense Services (ceds.org)
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