Croker Sack

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." — Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956)

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Is "Sprawl" Any Worse Than "Smart Growth"?

The Washington Growth Management Act embodies many of the ideas of so-called "Smart Growth." That is, it attempts to concentrate property development and population increases in "urban growth areas," rather than permit them to occur wherever the market demands.

Supposedly, it's more efficient to concentrate growth in urban areas, and thus less expensive.

Why, then, is Senate Bill 6686 making its way through the legislature? That bill would take part of the state sales tax and give it to cities that annex areas in their designated urban growth areas. The diversion of state funding would be for the purpose of paying the costs of providing municipal services to those newly annexed areas for 10 years afterwards.

Is SB 6686 needed because there is actually no greater efficiency in concentrating growth into urban growth areas?

Or, is it just another way for King, Pierce and Snohomish counties to grab more state funding for themselves? Note that the bill wouldn't authorize this diversion of state revenue to cities unless the cities are located in counties that have populations greater than 600,000. Those three counties are the only ones who fit that requirement.

No other county need apply, no matter how similar the situation may be.

If it's a good idea in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, why is it not a good idea in other counties? Don't they elect a sufficient number of Democrats in those other counties?

Then there is House Bill 2670, which is an effort to divert state sales tax revenue to the city of Gig Harbor in Pierce County.

That city belatedly figured out in 2005 that the pending commercial developments near state highway 16 would overload the roads. The result was a delay in permitting the construction of a much-needed hospital.

Let's see: Urban area, planned growth, and a typical demonstration of the human inability to plan beyond tomorrow unless there is a profit to be made or a loss to be suffered as a result of that planning. In other words, the more power given to government to engage in planning, the higher the probability of "SNAFU."

Lest you think that SNAFU is too harsh a term, here's what the people who want to build the hospital noted:

Importantly, the anticipated traffic problem in Gig Harbor North will occur even without the hospital, according to the city’s traffic study.

To quote that report: “Nine developments are approved or pending in the [Gig Harbor North] area, which include Costco and other commercial and retail developments. These developments are referred to as pipeline traffic, and will produce large increases in traffic above existing conditions regardless of the hospital. … If the nine pipeline developments are built, five of the eleven study intersections will fail to meet the level of service standards of the City of Gig Harbor or WSDOT [Washington State Department of Transportation]. As a result, the traffic backup could be over three-quarters of a mile long at the SR 16 westbound off-ramp and over a mile long at the eastbound SR 16 off-ramp, affecting mainline traffic operations. Substantial mitigation measures will be required to bring the transportation system up to adequate operating conditions.” [Emphasis added.]

As the Tacoma News Tribune noted in its editorial:

Franciscan Health System has state approval and lots of community support to build an 80-bed hospital in north Gig Harbor. But the project has been stymied by the city’s discovery last year that the area where Franciscan wants to build needs $40 million in road improvements before it can handle more traffic.

Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, thinks the state can afford to chip in given how much it stands to benefit from the area’s development, which would include not only the hospital but also a Costco store and 1,000 new homes.

The "state can afford to chip in" sounds good, but why doesn't that apply everywhere? HB 2670 is even more restrictive than SB 6686: It applies only to Gig Harbor and that city's desire to permit the construction of a new hospital.

Are these two bills illustrative of problems with "growth management"? If so, what problems do they illustrate?

Both involve concentrating growth into urban growth areas, but one (SB 6686) involves areas that apparently are already developed while the other (HB 2670) involves a growing area.

Would "smart growth" advocates claim that one is the dreaded "sprawl" aborning while the other is "sprawl" from years past?

Does it matter? There seems to be no solution other than diverting revenue from other areas in the state to fix perceived problems in particular places.

Where's the efficiency from growth management? Is it supposed to be just around the corner, so that we shouldn't be so impatient as to wonder whether the purported savings will ever occur?

I guess I'll have to buy "Sprawl: A Compact History" and see if it offers any answers.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting.

I grew up east of Redmond, WA. I'm not against suburban growth, or for it. It just exists. Not everyone wants to live in an urban setting. I think the GMA is a good, basic set of rules to plan our growth.

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels notes that Seattle's share of road money goes down every time a city is founded. Seattle has quite a few transportaion needs, not all of which are high profile (as I write this, I am 50 ft away from a 50 year old elevated freeway which is slowly crumbling)

Either way, I'm all for Seattle's exurbs (like Gig Harbor) to get more road dollars. I probably will be able to afford a home in Gig Harbor much sooner than Seattle!

February 11, 2006 7:59 PM  
Blogger Micajah said...

I think you hit the nail on the head when you said "it just exists." Unless we stop growing entirely, money has to be spent where the growth occurs. I just worry that the planners will make such a mess of things that they stifle economic growth. I would rather see them responding than trying to foresee too much.

February 11, 2006 10:02 PM  

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