Today, Spence and Cole discuss the value of citywide general plans. Yesterday, they debated how Jerry Brown became the flash point in Sacramento's budget impasse. Later this week, they'll focus on California's cultural differences, local versus central control and more.

Give us the tools, and we will do the job


Unfortunately for California, neither party has staked out a consistent view on the relationship between local and state government. In recent years, both Democrats and Republicans have moved to impose rigid state mandates on localities when it suits the interests (or the ideologies) they serve — while both reserved the right to object vociferously when the other did the same thing.

I don't object to the state setting statewide policy goals — as long as it doesn't try to dictate how we achieve them. Let California's localities figure out solutions that work in our unique environments — and through our local decision-making processes.

That applies to greenhouse gas emissions. Although I favor "smart growth" land use and transportation policies to reduce auto pollution, I don't want Sacramento imposing them with a "one size fits all" approach to places as diverse as San Bernardino and San Francisco.

As Winston Churchill told America during the Battle of Britain: "Give us the tools, and we will finish the job!"

When the Air Resources Board writes the rules for meeting 2020 emission targets, it should confine itself to crafting equitable local targets, building in some flexibility for special circumstances. The ARB should not tell us exactly what to do and how to do it.

That worked for AB 939, the Integrated Waste Management Act. Back in 1989, the "landfill crisis" provoked the state to decree that cities would reduce the amount of trash they buried by 25% by 1995 and 50% by 2000. Cities went ballistic, claiming it would never work and complaining we would all be subject to the $10,000-a-day fines threatened by the legislation.

As it turned out, the combination of statewide urgency and local solutions achieved the goal. Not everyone made the deadline, but massive fines turned out to be unnecessary. By setting a clear goal and letting localities figure out the best way to achieve it, many jurisdictions actually exceeded the goals ahead of the deadlines. The people of Ventura are proud that 62% of our trash no longer goes to the landfill — and we continue to improve that score.

The same approach could work with greenhouse gases, without the delay that would come from polarized debate in Sacramento. Many of us would step up our efforts to promote mixed-use development, encourage greater use of transit and discourage suburban sprawl. But if there are other (or better) ways of reaching the goal, it would be counterproductive for Sacramento to bludgeon everyone into following our lead.

That shouldn't discourage Sacramento from changing policies that discourage smart growth and urban infill. Stealing $1.3 billion in funds earmarked for public transit in this year's budget was wrong. So is the way the state distributes sales tax revenue because it encourages cities to subsidize retail magnets that put more cars on the road for longer trips.

Ideally, both parties can collaborate to reform misguided policies and partner with local government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. No one has a monopoly on wisdom or virtue. Let everyone take credit for shared success.

Rick Cole is the city manager of Ventura and a member of the Sustainability Advisory Committee of the International City/County Management Assn. In 2006, he was listed as one of Governing magazine's "Public Officials of the Year," the only Californian among the nine honorees. His views are his own.

Lofts won't keep people from exhaling