NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 23, 2008

Former Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown is waging war on California suburbs because of global warming, says Joel Kotkin, a presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University.

Brown is concerned about the alleged environmental damage caused by the suburbs.  He wants to compel residents to move to city centers or to high-density developments clustered near mass transit lines:

  • Brown has threatened to file suit against municipalities that shun high-density housing in favor of building new suburban single-family homes, on the grounds that they will pollute the environment.
  • He is also backing controversial legislation -- Senate bill 375 -- moving through the state legislature that would restrict state highway funds to communities that refuse to adopt "smart growth" development plans.

The problem is, Californians do not want to leave the suburbs for the cities:

  • For two generations, residents have been moving to the suburbs, attracted to the prospect of good schools, low crime rates and the chance to buy a home.
  • A 2002 Public Policy Institute of California poll found that 80 percent of Californians prefer single-family homes over apartment living.

Ali Modarres, associate director of the Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University Los Angeles, points out that there is little evidence behind the science used to justify the drive to resettling the cities -- and plenty of power behind the argument that suburbs are better for Mother Earth:

  • Forcing developers to build near transit lines, a strategy favored by "smart-growth advocates," does not mean residents will actually take the train or bus; in fact, a survey by the Los Angeles Times found that only a small fraction of residents shunned their cars during rush hour.
  • Several prominent scholars have found there is little evidence linking suburbanization to global warming, pointing out that density itself can produce increased auto congestion and pollution.

Source: Joel Kotkin, "Jerry Brown's War on California Suburbs," Wall Street Journal, July 20, 2008.

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