No blood for sprawl

Mark Dempsey is the former vice-chairman of the Sacramento County Community Planning Advisory Council

America sent soldiers to Iraq at least partly because of the petroleum-dependent infrastructure we’ve built here. This infrastructure means the ratio of America’s petroleum consumption for transportation vs. for all other uses is roughly 2-to-1. We depend on imports because U.S. domestic oil production began an inexorable decline in 1971. Even if we found all the oil projected to be in Alaska and offshore, it would not alter that decline.

Building petroleum consumption into our infrastructure ensures that we meddle overseas at least once a decade. Sprawl also gives us chronic health problems and makes energy-saving transit virtually impossible—more evidence that we need to stop building it.

Infrastructure aside, World Resources Institute officials say we subsidize petroleum $300 billion annually. In California, we subsidize sprawl even more egregiously. Here, speculators can option or purchase agricultural land for roughly $2,000 an acre and then cajole or suborn some local government to wave the magic zoning wand, and presto! The farm parcels become residential/commercial/industrial land worth $40,000 an acre. That’s a 2,000-percent profit. This is no small problem, either; the Sacramento region currently has 30,000 acres proposed for rezoning.

Why do local governments eagerly beg for sales taxes and pursue bigger builder fees? Because we’ve already given away the store to land speculators. What else can we call a 2,000-percent profit? Governments can’t get enough revenue from existing sources, especially since Proposition 13 removed the cushion of property taxes, so governments pursue auto malls and try to raise other fees.

Why not charge a different building fee for outlying development that needs new roads and schools than for infill development that uses existing infrastructure? The community’s costs are certainly different. Or, why don’t we do what the Germans do: have the speculators sell the land to the city at the agricultural price and buy it back at the up-zoned price? Where else does that 2,000-percent profit come from, other than community assets?

We cannot continue the subsidies we give sprawl now, unless we want more chronic health problems—sprawl means we drive rather than walk—and continued Middle Eastern depredations. Let’s really honor our troops; let’s stop sending them overseas unnecessarily to solve local problems.

No blood for sprawl!