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In The Open: ‘Sustainability’ goes way back

Posted: Thursday, Mar 14th, 2013

Land planning — that is planning for the use of land, goes back as far as the history of civilization. In our country, the concepts of modern zoning began at the turn of the 20th century in an effort to separate noxious land uses — such as slaughter houses — from where people live and need clean air and fresh water.

It was intended to protect the “general welfare” for the good of the people, because certain land uses are inherently not compatible. In 1954 the United States Supreme Court stated, “The concept of the public welfare is broad and inclusive …the values it represents are spiritual as well as physical, aesthetic as well as monetary. It is within the power of the legislature to determine that the community should be beautiful as well as healthy, spacious as well as clean, well balanced as well as carefully patrolled.”

The California Constitution effectuates authority for cities and counties to govern themselves within the rubric of protecting the general welfare, through its authority granted under police power.

As such, California established the legal basis and requirements for community planning through preparing a blueprint for future growth, balancing resources and infrastructure so that future development has vital resources such as air, water, and land available to meet its needs. General plans are planning “blueprints” that express the vision of a community and embody how to meet and sustain present and future needs.

Theories on how to do land planning have evolved over time as a reflection of lessons learned and human nature wanting to do things better. (Separating land uses has gone too far in some cases, precluding diversity, but that’s another story.) In general, most cities of the last century were planned with the most intensive uses at the core, which then transition out to less dense residential uses — a feathering out toward the periphery.

Such was the plan of E.G. Lewis and his “Garden City” design with concentric rings around the community. This land use pattern is generally continued at the city’s edges into the County where there are rural home sites which then transition to agricultural land with ranches and farms. General plans typically do not plan for agricultural land to be entitled for future residential subdivisions.

General plans are generally required to keep their land intact as large parcels so that it can continue to be agriculturally viable and productive. Also, subdividing the hinterland requires people to drive everywhere which stresses road maintenance and unnecessarily pollutes the air, among other ills such as blurring where one city begins and another ends — where everywhere becomes “nowhere” in particular.

In these days of being fiscally conservative and efficient with our taxes it is prudent to direct new development to places where there is already capacity and is zoned for such uses, and where there are many un- or underdeveloped parcels within the city core. This would be an intelligent, “smart” even, or maybe a “better” way to plan, don’t you think?

Susan DeCarli has been a resident of San Luis Obispo County for over 30 years, and has worked in the private and public sectors. She is a Cal Poly alumni and is a land use and environmental professional.

For the complete article see the 03-15-2013 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 03-15-2013 paper.

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