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SACRAMENTO : Look for Bold Proposals on How to Manage Growth in California

BRADLEY INMAN is an Oakland writer specializing in California business issues

After a series of lively public hearings on how California should grow, a consensus is building within the Wilson Administration on what needs to be done to better manage the state’s burgeoning population.

Thirteen forums were held this summer by the Governor’s Council on Growth Management, which was created by Wilson on Jan. 22 in one of his first executive orders as governor. The five members of the governor’s Cabinet who serve on the council received more than 2,000 pages of testimony from 500 individuals and groups as diverse as California Women for Agriculture, the Ione Bank of Miwok Indians and the Irish Task Force.

A bevy of developers, environmentalists and transportation experts also offered their ideas on housing costs, traffic congestion and general concerns about California’s growth problem, which the Governor’s Cabinet Secretary Loren Kaye described as “our No. 1 issue in year two.”

Administration officials say growth management will be a central part of Wilson’s state-of-the-state address in January, with a detailed and comprehensive package of bills proposed at that time.

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Though the Administration is unwilling to reveal specific proposals that might be advanced, high-level officials say several themes have surfaced that will be addressed:

* There is general agreement that, to accommodate growth, funds must be found to expand the state’s infrastructure. For example, it is estimated that $17 billion to $20 billion is needed during the next five years to build enough schools to meet demand. However, the state, on average, spends only $1 billion annually on school construction.

* There is a growing consensus that the state’s real estate development patterns must change. Unchecked sprawl into far-flung rural locations is aggravating traffic problems and requiring greater spending from an already squeezed highway budget.

Instead, high-density growth that steers development into existing areas along transit lines needs to be encouraged.

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* The best way to reduce traffic congestion is to decrease the number of single-occupancy vehicles by encouraging people to take mass transit or to car-pool.

* A confusing maze of state, regional and local government agencies has created an obstacle to a coordinated approach to managing the state’s growth.

“Look for bold proposals in most of these areas,” Kaye said. “We aren’t going to shrink away because it hasn’t been tried.”

However, moving from broad policy areas to specific solutions could cause political problems for the governor. Wilson is reluctant to discuss the idea of raising taxes for funding new schools, highways or transit lines.

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“There’s isn’t enough money to do everything we want,” said Richard Sybert, the governor’s director of planning and research, who is coordinating the Growth Management Council.

Business Groups Stay Neutral on Gay Rights

One of the purported concerns with the proposed gay rights bill is that it would be bad for business in California. But two of the state’s largest business organizations are neutral on the anti-discrimination bill and have even drafted amendments that facilitated its passage.

Introduced by Assemblyman Terry Friedman (D-Sherman Oaks), AB 101 adds sexual orientation to the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act. Current law already bars discrimination against employees because of race, religion, creed, national origin, sex, age, marital status and physical handicap.

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The proposed law was approved by the Senate and the Assembly and awaits action by Gov. Pete Wilson.

Initially, the California Chamber of Commerce opposed the bill, but the powerful business trade group removed its opposition after Friedman accepted language drafted by the chamber that does not require companies to offer employment benefits for domestic partners. The California Manufacturers Assn. is also neutral.

Individual business leaders have sent letters opposing the bill, but Rand Martin, senior consultant to Friedman, said, “Their concerns are more religious than economic.”

The 4,000-member Manufacturers and Merchants Assn. opposes the bill because the Los Angeles-based trade group fears that it will spawn a raft of litigation against business firms.

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“Plus, it could lead to a quota for hiring (homosexuals),” said the organization’s spokesman, Louis Custrine.

Martin said the legislation has specific language precluding quotas. Concerning the litigation charge, he pointed to similar legislation in Massachusetts, where fewer than 50 anti-gay discrimination cases have been filed since its passage in 1989.

Survey Finds Execs Back Growth Limits

Gov. Pete Wilson may find that many of the state’s business leaders support a bold growth management scheme that in the past they would have rejected.

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The business-sponsored Bay Area Council did a survey of 44 Northern California executives and found that all but a couple agreed with a statewide growth management plan that included a strong role for regional government.

As outlined by the council, regional governments would “encourage the production of housing near job centers, coordinate land-use, air-quality and transportation policy; preserve open space, and coordinate the plans and policies of local government.”

Council President Angelo Siracusa said that just five years ago “such dramatic solutions would have had very little corporate support.” But he added that “business leaders have become more sympathetic because they are scared to death about what housing costs and traffic problems do to labor productivity.”

Workplace Bills on Wilson’s Desk

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Among several bills that would change workplace rules and influence business investment have reached the governor’s desk:

* Sen. Milton Marks’ (D-San Francisco) SB 834 would outlaw “English-only” rules in the workplace unless a firm can show that they are a “business necessity.”

Industry groups such as the California Chamber of Commerce are lobbying the governor to veto the measure, contending that business necessity is too narrowly defined by the legislature.

* Another bill would discourage three-day workweek plans. A few businesses--hotels, restaurants, moving companies, theaters and amusement parks--currently are allowed to have employees work 12-hour days. A company is not required to pay overtime on days that exceed eight hours of work.

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Companies may offer the three-12 schedule only after two-thirds of the workers in a plant OK it.

Introduced by Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles), SB 956 would eliminate the 12-hour workday agreements. Proponents argue that alternative work schedules reduce productivity and increase the number of work-related injuries.


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