LA Streetsblog: More Rules or More Bikes?

Los Angeles is generally viewed, somewhat unfairly, as the epitome of bad land use planning and sprawl. That’s been countered over the years by local officials and projects intended to support alternatives to cars and freeways. In an interview with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa a LA Streetsblog, the Mayor points out something that many of us have experienced with land use, there are too many well intended rules that get in the way of doing the right thing:

On bike lanes, they’re telling me I have to do a CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act environmental review) process on bike lanes?” he asked rhetorically. “That’s why you can’t build anything here. Whenever you try to build something it’s World War XVI.”Environmental reviews — and the lawsuits they can spawn — have been a constant thorn in the side of the mayor who blames a political left wing for enabling a system where the environmental process slows or even stops small projects that could make a positive environmental difference.

As I pointed out yesterday in my post at Seattle Transit Blog, we need more than a slogan and some minor adjustments to the land use code, we need a whole new way of thinking about how we get to the sustainable outcomes we want.

In Seattle, that means less process. What does less process mean? As my colleague Dan Bertolet pointed out at City Tank, it means less listening and more doing. In Seattle, we now face a thicket of rules we created to stop bad things from happening, but those rules

More bikes, more housing, and more jobs, or more rules and more process?

are now limiting good things from happening too. And, even worse, they are handing a weapon to NIMBYs and others who are using them to stymie change.

Regulatory reform that passed this week by the Seattle City Council is a great step forward. Many thanks should be given to Councilmember Richard Conlin and his staffer Sara Nelson for his work to maneuver the changes through an always fretful Council process. I don’t mean to take away anything from that good work when I say that we need more and bigger shifts toward deregulating land use.

Doing that means a whole new way of thinking around here that starts with the idea that when left to their own devices people will work out good solutions when properly supported by good local government. That means letting things happen, not trying to make things happen. It also means we stop expecting every building and every project to be perfect.

We did it years ago with neighborhood planning, a process that produced 37 forward looking plans that were full of ideas and projects that would change the neighborhoods, not protestations about why they should stay the same.

It’s hurts the progressive left leaning brain to think like a business person for a minute. We worry that reducing costs and process will lead to more profits. Gasp! Our tendency is to focus on intervention and education, not promoting the success of private business as a way of changing things for the better. That sounds too Reaganesque. Asking Seattle liberals to think about less regulation is like asking a person who writes with their right hand to try writing with their left: it’s uncomfortable, but we have to try.

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