Sprawl on

It's the political elite and moneymakers who truly lack vision

So Sacramento’s streetcar proposal, Measure B, has failed. Backers of the plan immediately told “no” voters just how small and unimportant they are.

Seriously. West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon complained that “98.6 percent of Sacramento’s voters were not eligible to vote,” implying, with no evidence, that a bigger electorate would have approved Measure B. Regional Transit general manager Mike Wiley similarly lamented that, “It’s unfortunate a small number of people didn’t see the value” of streetcar.

Bites would argue that 1,200 voters is a lot more representative than some developers, politicians and a newspaper editorial board or two. A small majority of property owners, and then a small majority of residents in the proposed streetcar district, each said no. This only suggests that Sacramentans are divided about streetcar. There’s nothing to suggest some “silent majority” of streetcar support out there, as streetcar backers imply.

Which means streetcar must go forward, of course. Because, aside from being an unimportant minority, streetcar skeptics also “lack vision” according to Sacramento Bee columnist and money mouthpiece Marcos Breton, who added they are also “opposed to greater public transit and cleaner air.”

Right. Measure B didn’t fail because Measure B’s promises of enormous ridership and fantastic economic benefits were not believable. Or because there’s legitimate disagreement about whether streetcars give you enough bang for your transit buck. The “no” voters are just bad people who hate clean air.

Funny how Sacramento’s self-appointed visionaries keep getting beat at the ballot box. Look at the 2006 arena-sales-tax measures Q and R, or Kevin Johnson’s strong-mayor Measure L. The downtown power crew went to drastic lengths to keep the 2013 Kings arena plan off the ballot, knowing voters would reject it.

On the other hand, tax measures to support libraries and parks and cops have been successful. So, either the stupid naysaying voters just randomly forget to say “nay” sometimes, or some ideas are better than others.

Not far from the Bitescave is the Fruitridge light-rail station. It’s surrounded by cheapo low-density office buildings and auto-supply stores. A few years ago, the Fruitridge station had five connecting bus lines. Today, it has one. The next stop heading south is the 47th Avenue light-rail station, surrounded by industrial facilities and vacant lots. It no longer has any connecting buses. It’s the same in other low-income neighborhoods.

So while streetcar skeptics are derided as anti-transit, big chunks of our transit infrastructure are going to waste. If we cared about transit and infill development and clean air, we might encourage a lot more housing and retail along the existing light-rail line, which—you know—exists. The neighborhoods around these underused light rail stations would especially benefit from that sort of “transit oriented development.” Maybe streetcar voters aren’t the only ones who lack vision.

Kevin Johnson has finally unveiled his“ ;Think Downtown” vision for adding 10,000 new housing units to the central city. Lo and behold, there are already 14,620 housing units proposed for the grid, under construction or somewhere in the approval process. So K.J. is either truly visionary, or he just has a knack for seeing what’s going to happen, then branding it as his idea.

As Bites talked has to folks in and around City Hall about the downtown-housing strategy, the city of Portland keeps coming into the conversation. It’s the same with streetcar. Portland did this, Portland did that. WWPD?

But Sacramento leaders never mention the most important thing Portland did to become the celebrated urbanist utopia it is today: They said no to sprawl.

In fact, Bites was surprised to learn that some Sacramento City Council members don’t know about Portland’s strong urban growth boundary, which for the last 35 years has helped Portland direct development and economic activity inward. It’s a big part of why Portland is Portland.

And it’s completely alien to Sacramento’s political leadership. In fact the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors has been busy poking holes in Sacramento’s already weak urban limit line. Witness the shameful approval of Cordova Hills, and the elimination of Sacramento County’s once reasonably progressive mixed-income housing policy, which would have helped mitigate some of the worst effects of sprawl and economic segregation.

No one works harder to promote Sacramento sprawl than the developers’ twin political arms, Region Builders and the North State Building Industry Association. These two lobbying groups have made it impossible for Sacramento to have any effective anti-sprawl policy.

So who does Johnson tap to lead the steering committee for his Think Downtown housing initiative? Region Builders, of course. And who does he hire (secretly, at first) as his new legislative director? Scott Whyte, legislative advocate for the North State Building Industry Association, and political director for Region Builders before that.

Hmm … Bites has suddenly seen a vision of Sacramento’s future. It doesn’t look like Portland.