Free Elk Grove

Director of Program Information for the Sacramento-based Pacific Legal Foundation

Progress, property rights and local control have been mugged by Big Government. The immediate victims are 75,000 residents of southern Sacramento County. After lengthy study and review, the city of Elk Grove in June approved a $500 million regional shopping center that would serve some of Northern California’s fastest-growing communities, provide $6.6 million in sales tax revenues, and, as one councilmember put it, give the area a “strengthened fabric.”

But never mind all that. The Davis administration and Attorney General Bill Lockyer (representing the Department of Conservation) decided to take the unprecedented step of filing a lawsuit that would scuttle Lent Ranch Marketplace, forcing area residents to continue driving 40 miles round trip to shop.

If the stakes weren’t so high for Elk Grove—and for the integrity of the land-use process—the political machinations at play here and the sudden policy shift by Lockyer and Davis might make a cynic smile.

After all, the official line voiced by both of these men, Lockyer in particular, has always been that local land-use judgments should be precisely that—local—so that decisions are tailored to regional realities and decision-makers are accountable to the people they serve. Indeed, the primacy of local control is one reason why the Conservation Department cannot recall ever suing to stop a local government land-use decision on the basis of a violation of the California Environmental Quality Act.

Between the downtown mall misusing the environmental review process to stave off competition and the administration attempting to force its vision of “enlightened” planning on a new city (for well-funded reasons), the ideal of government by those closest to the governed is taking a drubbing.

Not surprisingly, no-growth environmental activists have welcomed the state’s attempt to pull rank on Elk Grove. “We’re very pleased to see the Department of Conservation get involved in this issue, because the Davis administration has not really stepped forward on issues of growth management,” said the Sierra Club recently. They “hope this is a harbinger of things to come.” For the sake of local control and private property rights, we’d better hope not.