Failure to breathe

To reach LAFCO’s office, call 874-6458. Sacramento’s local reps on the commission include Sacramento County Supervisor Illa Collin, 874-5481, and Sacramento City Councilwoman Lauren Hammond, 264-7005.
It was no huge surprise to have Sacramento take home an “F” grade last week. The failing grade came from the American Lung Association’s annual report to determine which metropolitan areas nationwide are failing worst when it comes to tackling ozone air pollution problems.

Now is there any chance our region’s political and civic leaders are going to do anything about this “F,” especially as we head into the summer smog season? Not really.

In fact, it’s just the opposite, as an obscure regional agency called LAFCO (the Local Agency Formation Commission) prepares this week to vote in favor of even more air pollution and sprawl. The seven-member group is expected on May 10 to allow the city of Folsom to vastly expand its “sphere of influence” to include thousands of undeveloped acres outside city boundaries south of Highway 50.

Who will be the winners in this deal? The city of Folsom is first in line. The expansion (which will wipe out the rolling grasslands and majestic oaks that make Folsom an attractive spot to live in the first place) will allow the town to grow by an astounding 23 percent. City officials claim they don’t want to allow development of all that acreage, but if one looks at the fiercely independent, pro-growth history of this town, it’s pretty clear that Folsom will continue to grow as it pleases, regardless of regional concerns.

Also in the winner’s circle will be Angelo Tsakopoulos, Sacramento’s land speculator extraordinaire. Here is a man who built his fortune buying up loads of cheap land just outside a local city’s current limits (Pocket, Laguna, Folsom, Roseville, North Natomas), then getting politicians to rezone the land and builders to put up housing. Tsakopoulos motto: buy low, build sprawl, sell high. The man owns at least one-third of the property that will likely come under Folsom’s new “sphere of influence” after the LAFCO vote this week.

Who are the losers in this deal? You guessed right: it’s us and our air quality again. The Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management Board reports that the traffic that will accompany development in the expanded Folsom area will translate into close to “one million more automobile trips per day.” That’s civil engineer-speak for unimaginably jammed freeways and the guarantee of more failing marks from the smog watchers.

Now is the time to figure out a way to make growth decisions that advance the regional good instead of the narrow self-interest of one city, one developer. Now is the time to figure out a way to remove the financial motivations that assure sprawl. And now is the time to elect officials ready to create incentives—such as has been done successfully in Portland and San Diego—that encourage developers to adhere to smart growth policies.

Either that or it’s more “F” grades.