Monday, November 12, 2007

Not smart, not sustainable

I just returned from the fourth of Randal O'Toole's American Dream Coalition meetings. An impressive group of speakers was assembled. We also toured San Jose and this is a must for all "smart growth" and "sustainable planning" advocates. The "revitalized" downtown is dead, the light rail is empty and fully one-third of the city is designated as "blighted" -- so that the SJ revedelopment agency can take even more private property to implement more stupid projects. Many of the "blighted" neighborhoods, by the way, are very attractive.

The tour was led by Lorraine Wallace Rowe (Coalition for Redevelopment Reform) who shared many eminent domain horror stories, some involving her own property near downtown San Jose. She grew up there and wants to stay. We also met some of the victims, "Mom and Pop" business people who are running businesses that real people actually patronize but who are being bullied so that San Jose can get a Neiman-Marcus (!) among other things.

Ms. Rowe's "Not for sale by owner" story was especially jarring. He group had made "for sale"-type signs to stick into their front lawns that read: "Not for sale by owner but call xxx if you think you qualify to take our property." The phone number posted was that of the redevelopment authority and, as expected, their phones rang off the hooks.

The agency wanted the police to remove the signs -- from private property. If you can trample on the Fifth Amendment, why not the First too? The police chief wisely demurred. But the agency sent out city staff to take the signs. Ms. Rowe had expected this and urged her fellow owners to be alert and take descriptions and license plates.

The agency was eventually embarrassed into returning the signs.

Other speakers (including keynote Joel Kotkin) demonstrated the housing affordability problems created in the various smart growth markets had barred many aspiring homeowners from realizing their American dream. "Bubble" aside, many prices are still at historic highs. Limiting supply will do that.

Today's "progressives" who do not miss a chance to bemoan "inequality" have helped to create a group of housing "have-nots," who have no prospect of owning their own home. Unless, as Wendell Cox showed, they leave California, Florida, the northeast for the fly-over cities that are not yet in the sustainability planners' cross-hairs. Many have already left.

Many of the pricey cities are becoming gentrified with just enough run-down areas to house the immigrants who will work for the well-to-do. But many young middle class families have gone missing. The result is neither smart nor sustainable.