Monday, January 12, 2004

Sprawl, Y'All

There are two kinds of people in the world--those who insist on dividing everybody up into two categories, and those that don't. But if you're in the first group, and one of those categories is finishing a marathon, I changed categories yesterday--along with about 20,000 of my close friends at the Arizona Rock & Roll Marathon. I didn't do as well as I had hoped; I'd been falsely optimistic based on a pretty good time at a 30K race two weeks before, but I had a rough time yesterday from about mile 16 onward, and a really rough time between miles 20 and 24, but I finished in 5:02:51. No photos available yet, but those in the know can pull up my split times here and see exactly how thick the wall was between 13.1 miles and 20 miles, and the even-thicker wall between there and the end. I'm not sure if I'll try another; ask me in a couple of days when I can walk without grimacing too badly (or too loudly).

For those of you interested in Arizona land use issues, you can read the USA Today article mentioned in the column here and the Good Jobs First report is available here.

Unions and Growth

East Valley Tribune, Jan. 11, 2004

One reason voters in 2000 rejected the Citizens Growth Management Initiative, Arizona’s first statewide anti-sprawl effort, was organized labor’s opposition.

Stop guffawing. Sure, unions here face the same impediments to organizing and effectiveness as elsewhere, only more so. Not only is labor law unfavorable, but our ruling ideology views workers fighting together for better wages, benefits, and lives for themselves and families as, for reasons that elude me, un-American. Like there’s some patriotic obligation for people making less than you to have no health insurance and get only minimum wage. It’s just nuts.

Yes, the construction trades aren’t a big part of our Real Estate Industrial Complex, and their opposition wasn’t the only reason CGMI failed badly. But having working men and women who do real things like pour concrete or install wiring oppose growth limits was politically useful. Construction workers provide much better visuals than a bunch of guys lobbying key legislators that Maricopa County taxpayers should pay for roads to increase the value of Pinal County real estate plays.

Labor’s opposition probably helped as much as Grant Woods selling out, or the soon-to-be-found-unconstitutional Arizona Preserve Initiative -- not dispositive, but still useful.

That was the experience in California and Colorado, where union opposition helped in having voters defeat anti-sprawl initiatives in 2000. But this March, San Diego County voters will decide another Urban Growth Boundary initiative, six years after defeating a similar proposal. And this time, organized labor -- which in 1998 opposed any limits on development for fear of losing jobs -- supports the initiative.

As reported by John Ritter in USA Today (and then spotted by Blake Hounshell of, in 2001 the AFL-CIO urged member unions to reconsider anti-sprawl proposals. And since then, in San Jose and in Contra Costa County in California, unions supported successful local initiatives to create urban growth boundaries, protect open space, and encourage infill and high-density urban development. In Las Vegas, the Teamsters now support “smart growth” initiatives, calling for growth limits until the city obtains new water supplies. Ritter quotes one Teamster official: “I’d rather lose a couple hundred jobs today than a couple thousand in five years when the builders go somewhere else.”

(Imagine -- a five-year time horizon! The guy automatically would lose his membership in our local Real Estate Industrial Complex.)

Unions have become convinced that smart growth offers more and better jobs than sprawl. A recent report by Good Jobs First, a DC-based nonprofit that watchdogs economic development subsidies, revealed that over the past decade, metro areas with growth controls had nearly one-third more construction jobs than areas without them. Infill, rehabilitating older buildings, and reclaiming toxic sites are more labor-intensive than sprawl, creating more jobs.

There’s also a more narrow economic interest at work here; unions see that sprawl creates more jobs for non-union contractors (or for guest workers on a Bush 3-year pass). Sprawl also serves and depends on non-union “big box” retailers like Wal-Mart. But unions also support smart growth policies because of the social benefits, in keeping with labor’s proud tradition of supporting things good for non-members, too. If smart growth policies can lead to less traffic, cleaner air, shorter commutes, and more open space, everybody benefits.

Ritter quotes Jerry Butkiewicz, secretary-treasurer of the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council, explaining his group’s new position: “People will automatically say this initiative is anti-growth. It’s not. We want to increase growth. We just want it to be dense, to stop this sprawl. It’s killing us.”

There’s no guarantee the San Diego initiative will win, or if it flies in San Diego it’ll fly here. But it’ll sure be more interesting if it does.

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