Do you like builders and contractors?

Well, if you live in a dry, warm, safe dwelling odds are you have a builder and his contracts to thank for it.

How about Realtors? For most of us who’ve ever bought or sold a home we relied on a Realtor to guide us through the mired legal requirements and contracts and it was our Realtor who was looking out for our best interest during what can be a complex transaction transferring ownership of real property.

How about developers? I live in the idyllic neighborhood of Sunny Brae, a residential subdivision that was once open pastures and someone’s ranch and now it is home to me and all of my wonderful neighbors. What many of us love about our communities are at least in part qualities that are indicative of a developed neighborhood.

Now here’s a tougher one. How do you feel about land speculators? I am ignorant of what if any benefit the land speculator provides to the rest of us. But I do know that in the futures markets some economists claim that speculators there play a role in stabilizing volatile markets. The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission maintains that speculators serve a function in the market. It may be a bit of an overreach to suggest there could be any redeeming benefit to the community at large or to society in general from land speculators, but I’d be willing to hear any such arguments.

Now, have you ever tried to build a new home? How about just a deck or a water storage facility or even a tree house? If so did you enjoy dealing with the bureaucracy of a government agency in order to obtain a permit, with all the hoops and hurdles that must be cleared and the mired zoning, codes and regulations that must be followed?

Not likely is my guess.

So I’m going to assert that most of you could agree that our lives are better off for the work that the contractors, builders, developers, real-estate agents and the many vendors they rely on, do for themselves, and in turn do for all of us.

And I’ll further stipulate that codes, zoning and building regulations make it difficult to get something permitted. Even really good stuff that most everyone agrees they’d like to see built!

Have said all that, I’d like to address the divide in local government that is most evident at the county level. While it’s true there is a great divide, it is NOT along party lines or even liberal vs. conservative. Supervisors who’ve found themselves at odds with each other about the issues that are the purview of the Board of Sups may well agree on say, marriage equality, or a woman’s right to choose, or immigration or even healthcare. But they rarely if ever exercise jurisdiction over any of those issues in a significant or direct way.

What the supervisors do have the greatest amount of jurisdiction over is land use, zoning, planning. And, of course, the mother ship of these issues is the infamous General Plan Update (GPU)!

Lets hope we all agree that we want a strong and sustainable economy, we need housing and we want to protect our environment for not just ourselves, but for our children’s children. Why then is there such heated disagreement on how best to achieve these goals?

I’ll try to lay out in a future article the roles and goals of strategic civic planning and how a well-articulated plan can provide a more lucrative opportunity for the developers, builders and the industry that supports them while also serving the long term best interest of our society.

When it comes to a Planning Commission, it is perfectly reasonable that these self interested industry representatives should have a seat at the table.

To however, appoint a majority of industry representative to a Planning Commission to decide our community’s future would be insanity.

Have you ever been on a freeway in LA or the Bay Area during rush hour and marveled at how the infrastructure is so totally inadequate for the population? Didn’t the civic planners in these wealthy markets, with their well-paid administrators and engineers and their access to the world’s greatest minds from Berkley, Stanford, UCLA and USC, couldn’t they foresee this result if they continued to allow development that would result in their infrastructure to be so over capacity?

Here is a little history lesson before I leave to contemplate these thoughts for the next week. In Southern California starting in the 1800s and up to the 1920s the Red Car system was the largest electric railway system in the world. This mass transit system in Southern California consisting of electrically powered streetcars covering 1,300 miles of track connected cities in Los Angeles County, Orange County, San Bernardino County and Riverside County.

The elected officials of the time, in their wisdom and foresight allowed for the Red Car lines to be dismantled in favor of buses. Some believe there was a profit motive involved in this ill-fated decision as General Motors would build the buses with their significantly shorter life span then the street cars they replaced.

Whatever the motive then, 70 years later, Los Angeles began building a new Red Line of subways and heavy rail. Metro Red Line’s first phase from Union Station to MacArthur Park, running just under 4.5 miles, this first segment has cost more than $1.4 billion. Not hard to understand now why dismantling the light rail system back then, was a bad idea.

Good planning should be directed by people who’ve studied the subject. The developers deserve a seat at the table, but if you think folks who stand to profit from the short term decisions we as a community make now should be entrusted with providing us the vision of a well-planned future, I know of a spectacular bridge I’d love to sell you.

That’s my point of view.

Richard Salzman represents applied artists from around the world who work as illustrators in the communicating arts.  Recent clients his artists have completed projects for include, Hyundai, Sephora and Money Magazine.  He may be contacted my email at:


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