Sprawl’s evil twin

While our leaders dote on K Street or the downtown rail yards or wring their hands over a new arena, lots of other neighborhoods in Sacramento go begging for attention.

Not far from the Bitescave here in north Sacramento, many streets don’t have storm drains or sidewalks. Hell, even some of the elementary schools don’t have sidewalks. It’s un-American. Good luck trying to find a grocery store, let alone the Starbucks or frozen-yogurt joints that other neighborhoods take for granted. The liquor stores are easily doing the best business.

It’s called urban disinvestment, and there are miles and miles of this stuff around the metro area. Florin Road, Del Paso Boulevard, Woodbine, Dixieanne, big chunks of Arden Arcade, the list goes on and on. All are aging commercial corridors and neglected residential neighborhoods that have been largely cast aside as new development pushes ever outward.

Urban disinvestment is sometimes called the evil twin of suburban sprawl. For Bites, that’s what makes the county’s proposed general plan so maddening.

Under the new plan, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors would add an additional 20,000 acres of sprawl to the east county landscape. The plan is due to be adopted in October. It’s a blueprint for sprawl, because it’s going in far beyond the existing urban area and because it’s largely unneeded to meet the region’s housing needs for the coming decades.

“I’m very concerned about it. The projected demand for housing does not justify anything near the amount of land this [plan] would make available for greenfield development,” says County Supervisor Roger Dickinson.

Dickinson has been dinged in the press for taking a good chunk of developer money over the years. Many of those developers who helped fund Dickinson’s recent primary victory for state Assembly own a lot of the east county land under consideration.

That said, Dickinson probably understands better than anyone else on the board the dangers of blowing out the east county.

Sprawl makes it extremely difficult to build an effective public transportation system, and it’s too complicated and expensive to provide police and fire and other services to these ever-farther-flung neighborhoods.

And, as Dickinson notes, “There is a strong connection” between development on the edges and the declining health of existing neighborhoods.

He figures the new general plan ought to allow somewhere between one-quarter to one-half of the new land developers are asking for now, with stricter “benchmarks” on when new development should be allowed to proceed.

Bites thinks we could do much better, by limiting development to existing urban areas, including strong preferences for high-density, mixed-use projects, and requiring all new projects to served well by public transit.

It’s hardly radical, considering the alternatives: ghettoization, environmental destruction and local governments that can no longer provide basic services.

Maybe Dickinson can help lead the board away from the brink before he leaves for the Capitol in December. Maybe more drastic measures are needed.

Bites knows some environmental groups are already eyeballing Sacramento County’s general plan, considering whether Sacramento ought to be the first to get hit with a lawsuit for violating Senate Bill 375. That law, carried by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, requires local governments to rein in sprawl to fight global warming. And Attorney General Jerry Brown has sued local governments, like San Bernardino, when they’ve slacked on their smart-growth obligations.

“The attorney general has gotten involved in other places,” Dickinson notes. “And I think there are other parties out there that are also keeping an eye on what we’re doing.”