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Vision and Vitriol, Land Use and Abuse

ALPERN AT LARGE - It’s amazing how far-reaching the disconnect between the left and right remains on issues such as land use, transportation, population growth, and envisioning what California will look like by the end of the 21st Century.  The California High Speed Rail Initiative (CAHSR), to that end, is as good an example of any as to how some groups of people will scream for or against a project, and will do so with a vigor that makes the average Joe/Jane wonder what the big deal is.
The big deal is, of course, the issue of what to do with our land, and how we can preserve it for future generations.

And there are many who question whether it’s “our” land to begin with…but they’re proving my point, here, which is that California is moving at a pace that’s alarming to both sides:  too much pollution and spoilage of the land, versus not enough focus on ensuring that the average Californian (and his/her family) can enjoy the land that’s as treasured a gift as any.

Case in point:  a wonderful article by Ralph Vartabedian of the L.A. Times that goes far beyond the planning and funding issues surrounding the troubled CAHSR project.  Vartabedian addresses the divergent philosophies of many on the environmentalist (usually for) or conservative (usually against) sides of the debate surrounding this project.

Such a debate often leaves the average Californian wondering how those opposing the CAHSR often conclude it’s social engineering at its worst, no less that it leaves that Californian wondering how those supporting the CAHSR often conclude it’s necessary to accommodate the rising population in California and/or it’s necessary to save the environment.

In fact, it’s neither—the average Californian who voted for the CAHSR project are similar to those who’ve voted for local rail projects in L.A., Orange, San Diego or other counties in the state.  That average Californian just figured that traffic was a real pain, that it would be nice to create more options to get from here to there, and perhaps to enjoy life a little on a worthy public investment.

Of course, now that our collective learning curve has gone up on the true costs (and lack of environmental improvement) of the CAHSR project, it’s not surprising to learn that many Californians have soured on it and want a more cost-effective investment.  Like Metrolink or Caltrain.  Like MetroRail or BART.  Like freeway and road improvements.

Which is NOT to say that Californians want NO transportation investment…just a more cost-effective one.

Measure R is still popular in L.A. County, despite the traffic impacts of the freeway, road and rail project construction that has resulted from it, and Orange County residents are similarly pleased with their freeway and Metrolink projects that are being funding by their own county transportation initiative.

So to advocate for new initiatives, the mega-liberals who are screaming about climate change probably won’t get as far as those raising the issue of increased mobility in getting Californians to open their wallets on transportation.

Similarly,the mega-conservatives who are screaming about how rail will turn our state into an Asian or European megadense-city-based society probably won’t get as far as those raising the issue of cost-effectiveness in getting Californians to close their wallets on transportation.

Both conservatives and liberal extremists have raised all sorts of straw men and presumptive arguments with respect to land preservation, but it’s not hard to conclude that most of us, regardless of political bent, just want to make sure that open space and California’s beautiful parks and forests and landscapes remain unblemished by tourists, developers and industry.

The desire to have a house in the suburbs isn’t going away, and the desire to have a pad close to where the action is also isn’t going away—but different people have different desires, and both can, will and should be catered to by the free market.  Whether it’s creating urban parks like Sunset Triangle Plaza , or restoring roads to Big Bear or Sequoia, people want open space and a place to enhance their quality of life.

The Expo Line isn’t supposed to free the world of global warming (as some say it might), but it probably is a nice alternative to the I-10 freeway on a Friday night if you’d like to see a concert or go to the Museum of National History.  The Green Line to LAX will clearly be a “green” line with respect to an environmentally-friendly alternative to driving to LAX, but the lowered blood pressure of those working at or commuting to LAX will probably be the biggest motivator to use the line.

And ditto for the CAHSR project (even if it’s not megahigh-speed rail, it would be nice to have a faster and easier way to get to/from one end of California compared to the I-5 or 101 freeways).  And ditto to any Southern California to Las Vegas rail project as well (ever have fun on the I-15 traffic jam to Vegas on a Friday night?).

And that neverending population explosion in California?  Last we all checked, much of the population is leaving—both native Californians and illegal immigrants alike appear to be shunning the state, for a variety of reasons—and there’s a question of whether there’s even enough water to TRY to accommodate tens of millions of new residents.

So as historian Frederick Jackson Turner’s frontiersman-oriented, Westward-ho approach to the individuality of Americans takes a turn to new parts of the country, the era of “California being the only state where new things can occur with a can-do attitude” appears to be over.  California need not be forever on the decline, but it’s finally reached the point where, after all, it’s only just one of 50 states where people can move to and make a new life.

And with the major Californian port city of Stockton facing bankruptcy for a variety of reasons, its problems mirror that of cities and counties throughout the Golden State.  Issues of land use, downtown revitalization, reining in the excesses of public sector unions, taxpayer rights and responsibilities, etc. all exist in Stockton as they do in L.A. and all over California.

So beyond the hype of the left and the right (who perhaps are guilty only of living in their own cloistered worlds), the average Californian is left to confront the obvious—how to get a job, how to get a nice place to live for one’s family, how to preserve that nice place, and (of course) how to reasonably and realistically pay for a community that one can work, play, raise children and enjoy an exemplary quality of life.

(Ken Alpern is a former Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Vice Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at   The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)


Vol. 10  Issue 21

Pub. Mar. 13, 2012