Californians -- The Real Endangered Species

We pay more for gas, land, food, housing and the right to start a business than anywhere else in the country. And now it seems someone wants to herd us into tightly packed "transit villages." Why, exactly, is that again?


We are native Californians, we love this state, and we are wondering why everyone seems so all-fired ready to drive us out.

Sure, people still fight and claw to get here, just as the Joad family did in Grapes of Wrath, and the allure of the Great Golden State is just as strong today as it was back in the Dust Bowl Days. But how many people last when confronted by atmospheric housing prices, food bills, and overall cost of living?

We're told we're ahead of the national curve in terms of trends, business acumen, technology, personal health and surfboard wax. We're also told we're a state full of independent-minded folks descended (a lot of us, anyway) from hardscrabble gold miners who staked out their claims and defended them to their last breath.

We live in a state known as one of the greatest agricultural production centers of the Free World, yet our food costs seem to factor in shipping from outer space rather than the short ride from the Central Valley. Is it no wonder then that millions of hopeful voyagers and an increasing number of natives alike are piling back into their cars for the reverse migration eastward?

According to Wendell Cox and a story in the Wall Street Journal entitled "California Declares War on Suburbia," the reason behind the exodus is clear -- and likely to continue. According to Cox, a transportation consultant, the state has "declared war on the most popular housing choice, the single-family, detached home -- all in the name of saving the planet."

Now, we're all for doing our bit to save the planet. Our little slice of the California Dream grows much of its own food, recycles rain water from our minimalist roofline, pulled up its lawns to cut down on the need for EBMUD water, and houses home-based businesses which have drastically curtailed our need to drive any great distance, much less any distance at all.

As Cox writes and as we have noted in earlier articles, our home state and empowered government associations are pushing plans that call for at least 20 or more homes to the acre -- five times the traditional quarter acre per house -- and creation of new, hyperdense developments along established transit lines, so-called "transit villages."

We can't help but notice the ancillary creation of feel-good buzzwords like "vibrant" and "pedestrian friendly," words apparently developed to make us feel good about being herded into box-like condos straddling a BART line.

We're all for walking when we need to get things and cutting our dependence on the almighty V-6, but is this the best way? Cox, and more importantly us crusty old Californios, say "no, it isn't."

We would point the urban planners to a report co-sponsored by the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council, which found that substantial greenhouse gas emissions reductions could be achieved without forcing people to live one atop the other. Instead, the report found and we cannot help but agree, the state should concentrate on improved vehicle economy, improving the efficiency of residential and commercial buildings, upgrading coal-fired electricity plants, and converting more electricity production to natural gas.

While we're talking, how about providing incentives to suburban homeowners who take steps to reduce their carbon footprint and, in fact, blot them out completely? Instead of declaring war on the detached single-family home and attempting to move people into skyscrapers, wouldn't it be better to make the footprints of the homes smaller, the lots "greener" and more efficient, and to take steps to control our unbridled population growth?

Owen Murphy April 11, 2012 at 08:47 PM
Thank you, CJ, for shining a light on this important matter. I am reminded of the scene in the movie, The Blues Brothers, where the Reverend James Brown keeps shouting, "Do you see the light?!", until Jake finally does. Citizens need to become educated regarding how these non-elected forces, like MTC and ABAG, are pressuring local city governments and their staffs. Citizen intervention is required. The only other alternative is to wake-up one morning, and ask yourself, "How did this 5-story, stack-and-pack get here?" But then, it will be too late.
Jason Schmidt April 11, 2012 at 09:36 PM
Some who have posted on this topic actually believe if Orinda can just build a transit village, its downtown will become the equivalent of Paris' Left Bank. And there are others who share that peculiar vision; indeed, transit villages are the current developers' flavor-of-the-month, much like huge indoor shopping malls, high-rise urban low-income "projects" and multi-use mausoleum sports stadiums were all "must-haves" in the 1970s. But like those ill-fated concepts, transit villages, which have been at best major money-losing eyesores with high vacancies, and at worst bankruptcy-producing blight (see Hercules), are destined to end up on the ash heap of architectural history. Almost no one wants to live in suburban transit villages, and the reason is simple. Quoting the WSJ article on why young families are moving out of California: "Ali Modarres of the Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles has shown that a disproportionate share of migrating households are young. This is at least in part because it is better to raise children with backyards than on condominium balconies."
Hennagaijin April 11, 2012 at 09:48 PM
Fremont and Union City are in the same swing.....zoning is to provide for new, congested housing styles that mandate locations within x number of feet of "mass transit." That means, to ABAG hacks, new housing must be within walking distance of the worst transport system on the planet, save San Francisco....the AC Transit system is unreliable, though the drivers are mostly pleasant and courteous....they cannot do much about traffic or other influences to schedules......who wants to take a bus to San Jose or Dublin? ...it's like taking a United or Delta flight back from Narita versus ANA, JAL or Singapore Airlines.....Taking a Jitney from Subic Bay to Olongapo City would be a better choice. California is not Tokyo, Narita, Niigata, Atami or Hamamatsu.....without a solid infrastructure of reliable, local feeders, no system in the World will operate properly. Imaging taking a bus to or from Taft or Mendota to reach the High Speed Rail line in Fresno! No way, no how.....
CJ April 11, 2012 at 10:05 PM
Jason- I think we agree here. I submit to you the very real ABAG/MTC" planning" going on now that is essentially holding a knife to the throat of local agencies and governments to green light just the units you describe that are so loathed by the actual people. I would contend, since I pay attention to such things. That starting with the Feds pushing HSR and other rail projects (despite being basically bankrupt), Feds are also actively waging war on rural America by subjectively destroying any and all ways to make a living in these areas. Feds are waging war on all energy business with exception of failing green niche's that hold little promise of real scalability. These are not separate and unrelated policy decisions. Many articles keep outlining Agenda 21 and other "feel good" massive planning movements. This has led to the disastrous(wait till you see next year) AB32 that will handcuff all industry and energy markets in this state to drive energy costs through the roof, this is so they can tax something new and generate a new source of revenue. If you think it has something to do with Global warming you are being mislead. .Liberal Progressives will lambaste me as some tinfoil hat maniac for outlining the relationship all this has to either forthcoming legislation, energy costs and the future sustainability of merely remaining here in California much longer. All of the above is related and what is making the current overreaches of government so scary.
Harry Jenkins April 11, 2012 at 11:23 PM
No desire to live in these absurd transit villages. Same time. I've lived in rural America. They can keep it. No desire to go back to that.
El Cucuy April 11, 2012 at 11:34 PM
I haven't dug too deeply into your link to Vision 2050, but it doesn't seem like something that should cause panic. The core message is more people use more resources so plan accordingly. Most of it looks like the typical output of a brainstorming session with stakeholders from all walks -- industry, energy, ag, government, and activists routinely work together on 'vision' projects like this. Doesn't seem like brainwashing. If nothing else it's a good vehicle for a dinner table discussion at home.
Nancy Lee April 11, 2012 at 11:42 PM
I agree with the article. Smaller homes on greener lots with an eye toward individual sustainability for those homes. Capitalize on available alternative energy technologies and bring the neighborhoods online as they emerge (good luck fighting with PG&E over that one, but I'll leave that to others) and position people to work from home. City planners should allow for pedestrian friendly shopping areas to support the communities (electric bikes, golf carts for the elderly and large shopping runs). I for one will not live with twenty people above me and twenty below. That's not living.
El Cucuy April 11, 2012 at 11:54 PM
Last week I parked and sat in my car for about an hour on a side street near the Embassy Suites on Treat Blvd. -- my toddler was taking a nap and my wife was visiting family staying at the hotel. I'm shocked to find out now that this abandoned side street was actually part of the very continental-sounding "Contra Costa Centre." (Heck this sounds like a place with tapas bars or at least an Irish pub!) It was Friday at 6 pm but the only action anywhere to be found was in the hotel bar at Embassy Suites ... and that's only because they were serving up the manager's special happy hour -- two hours worth of non-stop free drinks!
El Cucuy April 12, 2012 at 07:33 PM
What are the terms and conditions for posting here? One of my comments from yesterday was either removed or deleted before posting. It was an innocuous comment about the Contra Costa Centre. Not sure what term I might have violated.
Jose April 12, 2012 at 09:04 PM
Yeah, it's not you. Something is amiss. If you check your own profile you might see the message marked pending. I had a couple yesterday that eventually posted, and I don't think I have been blacklisted... JD??
El Cucuy April 12, 2012 at 10:02 PM
Thanks for response, JD. FYI the comment I was talking about is now visible in a gray box, but is marked "Pending Approval." It wasn't visible earlier today. Thanks for your work on the site, by the way. It's a great site which does an excellent service to the community by covering the "hyper-local" news which wouldn't necessarily get reported otherwise. Just how hyper-local the news SHOULD be is still up for discussion (for me the dividing line is probably found somewhere within the gossipy politics of the Wagner Ranch debates), but we're getting there!
Harry Jenkins April 12, 2012 at 11:36 PM
Mine go to Pending Approval, as well, but only sometimes.
Public Citizen April 13, 2012 at 10:25 PM
I can see these high density "transit villages" as the 21st century tenement districts. Wait till the first viral pneumonia outbreak [or some other disease] occurs that can't be contained with anti-biotic due to the ~~planned~~ overcrowding. Where is the tax base going to come from to pay for the concentrated utility services required by these areas? You won't be able to generate the same amount of taxes for a 900 square foot beehive cell that can be levied on a 1600 square foot crackerbox palace, much less a McMansion.
CJ April 13, 2012 at 10:30 PM
Citizen- Don't you realize? Cap and Trade AB32 is the planned mechanism to pay for whatever grand schemes they want to implement. It is a whole new category of perceived sin tax the left is pushing to fund the Utopian Fantasy.........and 1 and 2 and 3(counting until they all chime in and call me names and insult my lack of worldliness).
CJ April 13, 2012 at 10:32 PM
Harry- I think JD has put some of us on a short leash.
Rosemary April 13, 2012 at 11:04 PM
CJ - You dispensed some wise words the other day. You might try them too, though. Think about self-editing.
CJ April 13, 2012 at 11:34 PM
Rosemary-Good point. What would I need to edit though? Just my anticipating your snarky post or the whole content?
Rosemary April 13, 2012 at 11:54 PM
CJ - The portions of your posts intentionally designed for trolling. You often make valid observations but you tend to encapsulate them inside snarky, negative, & hyperbolic statements. Unfortunately, that behavior tends to cause some observers to disregard your otherwise well-phrased, well-reasoned, and well-thought out comment. That's a shame when you clearly recognize the need for self-editing. Before doing anything in life, including leaving an on-line comment, it's always best to pour yourself a drink, pop a breath mint, put on your big boy underwear, and pull yourself together. Don't waste your good ideas by surrounding them with playground antics.
CJ April 14, 2012 at 12:12 AM
Rosemary- Thanks for the reminder. I do get snarky now and then. But that is part of my charm. What brings you in here to Lamorinda Patch? Lurking around? You seem to do this at Studio City and Danville as well. Are we just lucky?
Patrice Martens April 14, 2012 at 12:20 AM
Less snark. More beef.
Rosemary April 14, 2012 at 01:51 AM
CJ - I live here in Lamorinda & own a vacation home in Southern California. I've been poor. I've been rich. Rich is better. My mother in law lives in Danville, so I follow their news to see if any houses have fallen onto someone. Perhaps that was snarky. But, hey, she's a mother in law. See ya round the Patch!
Jose April 14, 2012 at 08:56 AM
CJ: I will not "insult (your) lack of worldliness", as you predicted. On the contrary, I think you and I are very much of this world. You seem to reject the very idea of "utopian fantasy" as utter nonsense, bizarre, stupid, even insane. Is that what you believe?
Rosemary April 14, 2012 at 12:23 PM
CJ - Charming isn't the word most of us would use. But, I'm glad you've appointed yourself the gatekeeper for Lamorinda Patch. How lucky for us...
Amy Chu April 14, 2012 at 03:55 PM
Rosemary April 14, 2012 at 11:31 PM
Increase childhood obesity? I saw a report that China is developing a problem with childhood obesity but only amongst those children raised in densely populated urban areas. There simply aren't enough places for the kids to go to get enough exercise. Considering we already have a problem with childhood obesity in America, I can't help but wonder if such transit villages won't make the problem even worse than it already is.
Valerie Sloven April 15, 2012 at 01:32 AM
Childhood obesity in China is probably linked to the sharp increase in cars, television, video games, and fast food establishments such as MacDonalds and KFC.
Nancy Lee April 15, 2012 at 01:51 AM
I like the idea of smaller suburban farms each growing some of its own food and one day contributing to the power grid, either by solar generated wattage, wind or some other form of alternative energy.
Eileen April 15, 2012 at 04:49 AM
I certainly walked a whole lot more, ona daily basis, when I lived in cities like NY or London, where the public transport network was inexpensive and far-reaching, and driving was an expensive proposition (in terms of both stress and money), than I do now, living in suburbia.
Fritz 'Congodog' Stoop April 20, 2012 at 02:26 AM
Holy Toledo! How'd I miss this one! The population centralization caused by the Industrial Revolution will have 'self-leveling' effects on population density. I does not mean that skyscrapers will be built at every exit on the 24/680 corridors (wherever), it means that fiber-optics will make places like Walnut Creek bigger. As the "visionaries" of the 60s claimed, the information that can be reduced to I/O, will be accessible everywhere. Local access to food, clothing, housing and associated bi-products, are going to be with us for quite a while but produced locally. The world population explosion will end badly for many, as a self-leveling pandemic will most certainly thin the herd. I see the current trend toward mediocracy (leadership by the mediocre) will take us down some blind alleys before real leaders emerge. And don't forget about the Monsantos and other beastly tamperers with life itself, and the Corporations that many claim are already controlling not only prices, but the very quality of our lives. Or economy theory that dismisses the existence of the teeming under-masses, Ayn Rand, indeed! Religion was able to handle fear of the dark, but individuals are in charge of the future. Do no harm, work hard, be generous. There is a way out of this.
KFrances May 01, 2012 at 04:39 AM
I wish it were enough to do no harm, work hard and be generous - unfortunately people like this are being exploited. We have been bait and switched - get involved to stop the government overreach !


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